Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Devante Smith-Pelly trade, Day 3

Offhand, the Jiri Sekac for Smith-Pelly trade reminds me of the Pierre Turgeon for Shayne Corson trade. In both cases, we gave up a player at a position in which we had a surplus, in order to get another we were short of.

Also in both cases, I was happy to receive the player we got, I always loved Shayne Corson, and have had a man-crush on Devante Smith-Pelly, but man is the cost of acquisition ever high. That smarts.

I really liked Jiri, wanted him to succeed, wasn’t worried about his slump, this was his first season, it’s not like everyone else around him was tearing it up. I figured he’d come around, it’s his first NHL season, he’s 22. I thought he’d be around for a while, he wasn’t going to be Andreas Engqvist.

I chuckled at the few mentions on social media that we ‘should have given them Pateryn and Hudon instead’, as if we set the price, as if the Ducks wouldn’t have had a say in this. As if Marc Bergevin opened the bidding with Max Pacioretty, and Bob Murray talked him down to Jiri Sekac, told him that’d be sufficient.

One point which was made yesterday is that the Ducks GM is Bob Murray, who was actually Marc Bergevin’s first roommate in their playing days. So they go way back, there’s some mutual respect.

They’ve already dealt with each other, scratched each other’s back with the Louis Leblanc trade, and the René Bourque for Bryan Allen deal. I have to think that the trade talks were done quickly, with no B.S., no initial demand of a Corey Perry or Alex Galchenyuk.

And I don’t think this was the climate when Pierre Gauthier was the GM.

All the reports out of Anaheim, from the ‘insiders’, talk about how Jiri was exactly what they were looking for, size with a little more speed and skill at forward, something they need for this playoff run, and that they don’t have in their system, full of Nick Ritchies, thumpers to compete against L.A. Sven Andrighetto, as intriguing a prospect as he is, wouldn’t have fit the bill.

So Jiri would be the guy they were targeting, not Charles Hudon or Christian Thomas.  They wanted to speed up, but not necessarily size down.

The trade confirms what we’ve repeated to ourselves since June, that Jiri Sekac was much in demand. That the Ducks took him in return for a player they drafted high in the second round, who is well-regarded, a player who got some NHL action at 19, says a lot. If someone had floated this rumour two days ago, I would have laughed, and thought the Canadiens would have had to throw in sweeteners, and more than the trusty fifth-rounder.

And I’ll repeat that the Canucks, who have roughly the same profile we do, a smaller skilled team that can skate and which opponents often try to physically dominate or outright goon, and consequently has been trying to add size with the Zack Kassians and the Shawn Matthiases and Bo Horvats, were asking for Devante Smith-Pelly in the Ryan Kesler trade. They were rebuffed, apparently told he was an untouchable.

We got a good one. We got a big young player with skill, something we’ve been whining we needed, except we’d dream of Wayne Simmonds or Brian Bickell, usually.

Alain Chainey, an analyst on TVA Sports and a former scout on the Ducks’ staff who was closely involved in the decision to pick him, is quite clear that Devante Smith-Pelly isn’t just a thumper and a grinder. He says that when he hits someone, you notice it, but he’s much more skilled than a third or fourth-liner. He says they scouted him and loved his goals and his energy, and were unanimous that they’d pick him if he were available in the second round.

They did okay in that draft, they got Cam Fowler at 12th overall, and Emerson Etem at 29th.

He also made the point that Trevor Timmins and his staff scouted the kid heavily in junior, and the Canadiens pro-scouting staff did the same, and they know exactly who they’re getting in this trade, it’s not a shot at the dartboard.

It’s a perfect fit for now, and for the future. A big strong winger who can play in the corners, in front of the net, plays right wing, shoots right. He plugs the hole that we hoped would be addressed in two years with Michael McCarron/Nikita Scherbak. He’s a great puzzle piece. He won’t be a UFA for five years, so he’ll be affordable, we have him for his ‘prime’ years.

We now have, in no particular order, Brendan Gallagher, P.A. Parenteau, Devante Smith-Pelly and Dale Weise on right wing, and that’s really good. All are true-blue RW’s, they shoot right, none is a displaced leftie. It’s not crystal clear who plays first or second or third line, and Dale may seem destined for the fourth, except that the coaches love him and he’s shown this season that he can play on the first line in spurts. That will be healthy competition. Pierre-Alexandre loves playing with David and Max, he’ll have to put up points, put out 100% effort to do so.

The good thing is the right wingers will have to stay on their toes, no one’s role is assured.

So the roster has better fits on the right side, rather than last season with a Thomas Vanek who preferred left wing, except that he also wanted to play on the top line with David and Max, but not so much when the Bruins were angry and mean, and a Daniel Brière who took the money but never relished the RW assignment, instead wanting to play centre.

One caveat I’ll have is that growing up, we were forever searching for ‘un gros ailier gauche’, or ‘un gros joueur de centre’, and would look longingly at the Islanders with Clarke Gillies and John Tonelli and Bob Nystrom. So we’d keep trading for big wingers who had big rep, and would come here and disappoint or flop completely. Perry Turnbull, Lucien DeBlois, Ryan Walter, I’m probably forgetting a couple, we’d find that these big guys weren’t that great, a cure for what ailed us.

Devante Smith-Pelly is a little under the radar in Montréal, but he was one of the precocious kids in the 2010 draft. As a draft/hockeydb nerd, I noticed how he was one of the first ones out of that group to play in the NHL, aside from the guys at the very top. So I paid attention when he played against the Canucks, and he’d give them fits, they’d have no answer for his size and skating, you’d see some very skittish defencemen swiveling their heads and rushing the passes.

Maybe the Ducks lost patience a little, maybe the bloom is off the rose, and they’re looking over his shoulder at the next best thing in their system. Maybe he would have benefited from a Red Wings-style apprenticeship in the minors, rather than the shuttle he was on, back and forth between the AHL and NHL, and high expectations when he was in the Ducks lineup.

So while we’re categorizing him today on HIO as ‘less-skilled’, a grinder and thumper, I don’t think that’s accurate. He was always described as a scoring forward with size, and he’s played Top 6 regularly with the Ducks, played with Ryan Getzlaf.

Maybe he’s taken some time to develop, and lately been in a slump and been relegated to the minors/fourth line/pressbox, but that’s definitely not his ceiling. He can definitely take a few steps forward.

So yeah, Jiri Sekac is a steep price to pay, but we’re not getting the “Travis Moen who doesn’t fight” who was described earlier in this thread, Devante Smith-Pelly is much, much more than that.

I’ll take comfort in what Pierre LeBrun reported yesterday, how another GM told him you don’t get players like Devante Smith-Pelly at their peak. We got him in a trade for a significant piece, but still relatively cheap because the Ducks had a surplus and maybe thought the kid needed a change. Maybe he blossoms with us.

We’ve used Gally with Max and David Desharnais out of necessity, to work the corners and the front of the net, but groused about two small players on the same line, wished Gally was a little bigger. Devo can maybe be that bigger Gally. He does have the hands for it.

And we should all congratulate Marc Bergevin, for his patience and also for his guts, for his perseverance in trying to improve the team. He doesn’t always hit a homerun, but a baffling Christian Thomas for Danny Kristo trade aside, his moves always make sense, they have an internal logic. He sacrificed a leftie to tick off many needs on his list in one swoop, yet didn’t take on an expensive veteran to do so. He didn’t give up the younger better player, he swapped youth for youth.

Without the profusion of smoke signals that would have emanated from Toronto. We learned of this trade once Jiri was in the hotel underground waiting for his cab, not from Louis Jean or Davren Dregnoniser. Berg runs a tight, professional organization, he’s always moving forward, climbing one rung at a time.

Nice work.

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