Monday, May 4, 2009

The Acquisition of Joffrey Lupul

After checking out the recent transactions of the Edmonton Oilers I was struck by the relatively low number put up by Joffrey Lupul. He produced very similar numbers against the Oilers as compared to most other teams, although he did tend to score more goals and collect fewer assists. Kevin Lowe has taken a lot of deserved criticism for the return on the Pronger trade. This has been exacerbated by the fact that Getzlaf, Perry and now Ryan have all turned into very good players. But how were they all performing at the time of the trade? How did their general performance compare with their performance against the Oilers? I think these are relevant questions. I will only be using a one year sample instead of the regular two years for this exercise since most of the players in question were rookies in 2005-06. Here is the performance of the Anaheim young stars in that season:

I think that it's significant that Joffrey Lupul is at the very bottom of this list. It implies one of two things: (1) he may not have been Kevin Lowe's first choice of young forward given his other acquisitions over the last few seasons or (2) recent performance against the Oilers was not a significant factor in his acquisition.

The first thing worth noting is that Bobby Ryan isn't in the NHL at this point. Instead he's putting up 95 points in 59 regular season OHL games along with a -1 rating. He also scored 12 points in 11 OHL playoff games before his team was eliminated. After they were knocked out Ryan moved to the AHL playoffs where he scored 1-7-8 in 19 playoff games. Ryan would probably not have provided immediate help to the Oilers and I imagine the Ducks would have insisted he be one of the two main pieces (according to Guy Flaming this is what the Oilers were seeking) going back to Edmonton in any deal. The Oilers seem to have thought that Smid could play in the NHL immediately and decided they wanted him as part of the package. I can certainly understand not wanting Smid and Ryan to make up the bulk of the package coming back for Pronger and, as such, think it's pretty defensible that Lowe took Lupul over Ryan.

The elements at work here show some other interesting things. Firstly, Corey Perry doesn't look like a guy about to become an offensive star. He concluded his age 20 season with 28 points in 67 games which is a pretty paltry total. At the same age Lupul had 34 points in 75 games. I think Lowe can be forgiven for choosing Lupul over Perry.

If I had to bet, I'd say it's Getzlaf, Penner and Lupul that the Oilers were strongly considering. While Penner had played well against the Oilers and had registered a dominant AHL season, he was still a 23 year-old NHL rookie. I can see why the Oilers would have passed on Penner in favour of Lupul.

Last is Getzlaf. I think it's pretty likely that Getzlaf was the Oilers first choice for a forward. He had size on Lupul and his 20 year-old season is definitely more impressive. His play against the Oilers was also quite good. Much has been made about the "five assets" that Kevin Lowe was trying to get but as I noted earlier, it would seem the Oilers primary objective was securing two good young talents and extras. It seems quite plausible to me that the Oilers got the second round pick as a throw-in for taking Lupul instead of Getzlaf. The "five assets" mantra may not have started until after the second 1st rounder was sealed with the Ducks Cup run and after the disappointing performances of Smid and Lupul. In may have been a later narrative created to save face (P.S. It didn't work).

Including his playoffs Lupul had put up 64 points in 97 games in his 22 year-old season. Some of the underlying numbers may not have been good, but the boxcars were and I can see how Oilers management thought that Lupul would be ready to explode offensively.
Then there's the reaction of some astute fellows from around the Oilogosphere at the time of the trade. No one was glowingly positive and that's for sure, but there wasn't as much, "what about frakking Getzlaf!!!" as there is now. Here's Vic Ferrari's take:

"Don't get me wrong, I don't think the Pronger deal is a terrible trade, just that there is no right now! component."

Tyler Dellow on the same subject:

"Suffice it to say that I haven’t been a big fan of Joffrey Lupul in the past... I’m cautiously optimistic that, if fed PP minutes with Hemsky, Lupul can be a real producer on the PP. He just wasn’t a good EV player last year and I see no reason to expect that to change in the coming season; Lupul was EV+33 and EV-39. Given that he was playing in front of really good goaltending last season, this probably overstates his competence. He’s a good young offensive player but he’s going to need to be fed some soft TOI in order to keep him from sinking the ship. I’m somewhat concerned that the Oilers are starting to pile up guys like this: Hemsky, Torres, Stoll and Lupul are a lot of putative top 9 forwards to hide at ES."

And Pat McLean:

"I thought he was a good young player who would likely become a great player. I also thought he was a punk. Well, now he's our punk... But [Lowe] got a shooter, something the Oilers need, and he's a 22 year old who scored 28 goals playing with, who, Todd Marchant? That's a nice pickup."

This isn't a comprehensive look at the Oilogosphere's reaction, but I think it's pretty fair to say the general complaint was about getting someone that could help the team immediately, not about getting the wrong kid out of Anaheim. The trade was a poor one and that's the truth but I think it was poor because of the overall "young pieces that don't help now" strategy. I think talk of Getzlaf or especially Ryan/Perry/Penner needing to be included in the deal smacks a bit of revisionism when we know a lot better how each of these guys turns out.


Vic Ferrari said...

Give it enough time and almost every trade of 'now' for 'tomorrow' looks good. In twelve months Pronger will be headed to free agency, and he isn't getting any younger either. He probably won't outperform his next contract even if it is in ANA, though STL is probably final stop for him.

At that point the Oilers will have Smid, likely a bonafide NHL defender by then. One of Nash or Eberle (those are the picks via the ANA trade, no?) will probably be doing great in their league and looking promising for the future. Lupul begat Pitkanen begat Cole begat O'Sullivan. I think O'Sullivan is going to be a good NHLer player for a long time.

Even now, would anyone trade Smid/O'Sullivan/Nash/Eberle for one year of Chris Pronger? It would be insane, methinks.

And on Lupul, he took a bit of a rough ride from fans, and especially the Oilogosphere. His nightmarish road plus/minus got trotted out a lot, but really that was mostly just bad luck, I think. His underlying numbers actually weren't that bad. He wasn't driving results, but he wasn't a sinkhole either.

Every once in a while I'd start to think about writing something in Lupul's defence, then I'd catch Stauffer on the radio and his Lupul-love, and corresponding MacTavish hate, would grate my tit.

The return on Smyth was fine as well.

The big problem with the Pronger trade was that the money they saved was never going to be spent elsewhere. The EIG were cutting expenditures and taking profit, and they were quite right to think that they could do this while jacking up ticket prices and selling out the building.

And the cuts weren't done there, with the Smyth trade coming. When Lowe says that 'he didn't know the salary cap would be that high' when he traded Smyth, he means the Oiler's salary cap. The league salary cap is projected quarterly and sent to all the teams (more correctly the current HRR projection ... so just add 5% in every year that there hasn't been a global economic crisis).

So the Smyth decision was made in the summer, or it's extremely likely that it was.

The backlash from the Smyth trade partly, but mostly the Katz interest in the team, the EIG had some fractures at that point. That's when it got hairy.

All of a sudden he was trying to spend money in July, with no clear plan, the whole thing was a clutterbuck at that point. Then they had to sell hope, and Gagner and Cogliano were the poster boys. It made sense at almost every level to NOT burn years off of their entry level deals, but any port in a storm.

It's a big ball of shit that got rolling down the hill. EIG's greed is to blame, and they're gone. And the big ball of shit hasn't quite stopped rolling yet. Thank goodness they are a cap team now, or it would be much worse.

It's not easy being an Oilers fan.

Black Dog said...

I never said that!


Damn. I said that.

Nice work Scott.

I remember being decidedly underwhelmed when the trade crossed the ticker but mostly because visions of Bouwmeester etc etc were dancing in my head plus it was pretty clear that Lowe still had some work to do. And I didn't like Lupul personally - I thought he would score some though

Work that he never completed - all that summer there was the steady drumbeat - when they get that veteran Dman or two. And he never did. The team was competitive until early December but when Shaggy and Staios went down that was it, Smyth was traded and down down they went.

I think that is what burned me that season - they ended up tearing everything down when it was pretty clear that a little money spent on a vet D or two would have meant a reasonably competitive team while they figured shit out.

Black Dog said...

Vic - he also got a rough ride because he was a total pussy - I saw him play in the Pouliot Penalty Shot Game ;) and he was being outmuscled by Jeff O'Neill of all people.

Soft soft soft.

Scott said...

Yeah Vic, I'm not trying to say that the trade was a good one and that people need to retract old comments. I'm more frustrated by a couple of narratives that have grown up over time. The idea that "all Lowe wanted was five assets" is a later development I think. Or at least I wasn't able to find anyone commenting on it in the immediate aftermath.

The other one is that Lowe asked for the wrong young guys. That complaint wasn't really in the air until after Perry, Getzlaf and now Ryan have became players. People forget that all of these guys were rookies at the time of the trade. Lupul probably looked like the guy most able to pay immediate dividends and only Getzlaf looked like he would be better over the long haul.

You guys are both right though that the major problem was that they didn't spend the money and bring in some dmen. Smid in the top four was just terrible, but when you look back at the old quotes, management felt he should make the team from the day he was acquired.

Black Dog said...

Yeah the five assets thing came up a while later based on something Lowe said to that effect.

I think if Lowe had played it smart in terms of building a proper team for that fall then everyone would look at it a lot differently for sure but their failure (refusal?) to put some more veteran salary in there to replace Pronger left them short on the back end.

Losing two guys in Pronger and Spacek and then two guys up front who could do some heavy lifting in Dvorak and Peca and then losing Moreau to injury early left them a full five man unit down when it came to guys who could play tough NHL minutes.

When the D got thinner still then they decided to throw in the towel completely by moving Smyth.

The disappointing thing from a fan's perspective is that it did not have to be that way. Don't know if it was hubris on Lowe's part or just a series of bad bets or just plain bad luck but he dismantled a pretty nice club pretty quickly when it probably was not necessary.

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