EDITORS NOTE – we wrote the following in a piece dated June 19th –
“……According to thecanuckway.com, VAN has only about $3mm under the salary cap for next year. Therefore they are somewhat hamstrung in their upgrading options. However, if they could move a player like Kevin Bieksa (-4.15 AB, $4.0mm) for a cheaper defensive alternative with better AB (assumedly to a team that doesn’t value metrics like AB), it would be a coup. The good news is that the Canucks are not necessarily compelled to resign or negotiate with players who are anything but middling or worse in terms of AB this summer…..”
That was fast!
On June 30, the Vancouver Canucks traded defenseman Kevin Bieksa to division rival Anaheim for a second round draft pick in 2016. On the surface, it appears as if Anaheim bolstered their backline with a solid, rugged, proven veteran who is worth every penny of his $4.6mm salary. While this is what Anaheim hopes is the case, we at hockeyfreeforall have a substantially different take.
According to our calculations derived through our proprietary metric, the Advanced Bracton Score, Kevin Bieksa (-4.15 AB) was the most costly cog on the entire Vancouver team last season. Said another way, Bieksa, despite his name recognition and leadership function, actually cost VAN over 4 goals at the margin due to his net penalties taken versus drawn as well as a propensity for turnovers. As a whole, VAN was a -13.09 last season. Therefore, by shedding Bieksa, if VAN is able to replace him with someone who can at least break even in AB, the Canucks will improve to around -9 AB. Since VAN finished eighth in the west in terms of AB and 7th in the conference, improvement in AB is critical for their 2016 campaign. This trade is a step in that direction (be mindful that all but one positive AB team made the playoffs last year).
Even though paring Bieksa will not allow VAN to leapfrog another team in AB (by itself), the addition by subtraction element of the deal within the conference to another slightly negative AB team is the Advanced Bracton in practice. ANA was a negative 2.43 AB last season and was the only team in the NHL to win a playoff series (in the second round) over a team with a higher AB. By signing Bieksa, ANA trends lower in AB unless the acquisition means that Clayton Stoner (-3.85 AB) or Simon Despres (-4.20) play fewer minutes, if at all. Under this scenario the deal is a basically a push for ANA. However, it is a disaster if these two players post similar numbers next year and Francois Beauchemin (+0.21 AB) is not re-signed. As such, we are watching for ANA’s AB to plummet, its goals for/ goals against number to be essentially even (from +10 this year) and the Ducks to barely make the playoffs. Yes, you read that right – we saw this year as positively fluky from and advanced statistic standpoint since ANA was the only team in the NHL to produce an outlying success outcome according to the AB Score.
Despite ANA awareness of this fact, it appears as if VAN is the one paying attention to metrics such as those incorporated by AB while ANA may not be. As a result, a trade like the one involving Kevin Bieksa is the value of the AB on steroids; one club trades a liability to division opponent for modest consideration and could, if past is prologue, increase their chances of winning against same opponent in the process. Bravo Vancouver for putting the AB to the test. We expect that when March 2016 rolls around and the Western Conference playoff race is heated, VAN and ANA will be fighting for the last spot. It would not surprise us if VAN edges ANA and secures at least 2 playoff home dates and the associated hockey related revenues as a result of the Bieksa deal. Let’s put this piece in a time capsule to be revisited around March 15, 2016.