Wiz trade doesn't add up for Isles

December, 29, 2010
12/29/10
10:28
AM ET
As you’ve no doubt read by now, the Islanders dealt D James Wisniewski to the Montreal Canadiens for a second-round pick in this coming draft and a conditional fifth-rounder the following year.

The move has some Islander fans frustrated that this season's top defenseman -- who was also tied for the team lead in points -- was being shipped out, in December, for more draft picks. Yes, it’s yet another step in a seemingly never-ending rebuilding project, but everyone knows the Islanders aren’t going anywhere in 2010-11, so adding chips for the future makes sense. You can’t fault GM Garth Snow and the Islanders for that.

You can, however, fault the team for getting less than top value for one of their most coveted trade assets. And it certainly appears the Islanders sold a little low on Wisniewski.

The value of any tradeable asset is always relative to the market and already this season we’ve seen one team trade for an established blueliner, with the Washington Capitals acquiring D Scott Hannan from the Colorado Avalanche. In return for the veteran stay-at-home blueliner the Avs received Tomas Fleischmann one of the top young talents on the Caps’ roster (51 points in 69 games in 2009-10). That’s an NHL-ready contributor who has been a point-per-game player in his 12 games with Colorado.

As their career stats indicate, by any points-based comparison Wisniewski (.41 points per game in 286 games) is a better asset than Hannan (.23 ppg in 788 games). And Wisniewski seems to be flourishing with all of the power play time he’s received, already posting a career-best in the power-play points department. Such offensive skills have traditionally improved the value of a player on the trade market, so maybe Wisniewski's defensive shortcomings sapped his stock.

Defensive metrics are tricky to pin down and seldom tell an accurate story, but Wisniewski’s +/- was a very suspect minus-18. Pretty wretched. But considering he spent 70 more minutes on the ice than the next closest Islander and his team allowed 3.3 goals per game, while scoring just 2.3, that’s not as terrible as it could be. There are four other skaters and a goalie out there with him after all. For his career, Wisniewski’s +/- stands at plus-1, a figure that stood at plus-19 before he joined the Islanders.

Both Wisniewski and Hannan have contracts expiring after this season (as does Fleishmann’s) but Wisniewski is younger and any team acquiring him will have extra time to ink him to an extension, if they so choose (and with injured D Andrei Markov approaching free agency as well, that makes some sense for the Habs).

Compared to the Hannan trade it sure seems like the Isles got the short end of the deal, but that’s just one example. Take it back to last season’s trade deadline and the picture doesn’t get much better.

Last season, the Isles’ Andy Sutton was dealt for a second-rounder. And while the Islanders may have thought they’d stick to that price range for their top tradeable D commodity this season, it seems the Isles undersold last season as well. Other D-men switching teams at the trade deadline included Joe Corvo and Lubomir Visnovsky. Corvo netted Brian Pothier, a prospect and a pick from the Caps, while Visnovsky (and a sixth-rounder) returned Ryan Whitney.

While the Isles acquired Wisniewski for a conditional third-round pick in July, it certainly seems that D-men of Wisniewski’s caliber have yielded NHL-ready contributors in the recent past, which is obviously more than the Islanders received for him yesterday. But a rebuilding team doesn’t necessarily want talent ready to contribute immediately, more or less a pending free agent like Fleischmann, so draft picks make sense. But it’s tough to draw a conclusion until we know the value of a second-round pick. So exactly what is a second-round pick worth?

Last season, Alvin Chang of ESPN’s NHL Draft Blog studied that topic after we noticed second-rounders were common coin at the trade deadline.

While the Draft Blog is part of ESPN’s Insider package and you may not be able to see it in full, he found that since 1996 second-round picks have a 59-percent chance of reaching the NHL and a 25.8-percent chance of playing more than 82 games. Fifth-rounders? A 9.9-percent chance of playing 82 games in the league.

Draft picks are all well and good for rebuilding teams, but the Islanders essentially just traded their biggest chip for two lotto tickets with a 1-in-4 and 1-in-10 chance of winning a player that might give them equal production to Wisniewski. On average since 1996, defensemen taken in the second round average 20.9 points per season, forwards 31.9. Both totals are lower than what Wisniewski puts up on an annual basis. The Islanders would have to hit on both picks in order to better his production levels.

GMs have their own math for how they value picks, and I’m no GM, but from our math, this deal doesn’t add up for the Islanders.

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