The Oilers Won the Visnovsky Trade

Jonathan Willis
August 14 2009 11:09AM

In his latest column, veteran writer Jim Matheson asks a question that rears its ugly head every so often around these parts:

If the Edmonton Oilers could get a do-over, would they move Matt Greene and Jarret Stoll for Lubomir Visnovsky?

I know that I'd make that trade over again in a heartbeat.

It’s pretty simple, really: Lubomir Visnovsky is a far better player than either Stoll or Greene.

Matheson in his column talks about how the Oilers have a surplus of offensive defensemen, and how they never managed to replace Greene or Stoll, but both of those points are largely irrelevant.

The surplus of offensive defensemen isn’t a bad thing, and if the Oilers could I imagine they would keep their top four intact. The limiting factors are a pressing need for more help up front and salary cap issues. The former could have been addressed through free agency – and still could be - while the latter is simply a case of too many players getting contracts they aren’t likely to outperform. The point is that if the Oilers are moving a defenseman, it’s their own fault.

As for Jarret Stoll, he’s now recorded between 36 and 41 points in each of his last three seasons, and has been signed long-term for 3.6MM/season. As tempting as it is to look at his success in L.A. and say the Oilers made a mistake, the fact of the matter is that he’s playing a much different role for the Kings. Let’s compare his numbers, his quality of competition and teammates, and which faceoffs he’s getting sent out for:

2007-08:

  • 81GP – 14G – 22A – 36PTS, -23.
  • Quality of Competition: 1st
  • Quality of Teammates: 8th
  • Faceoff Split: 181 more defensive zone than offensive zone faceoffs

2008-09:

  • 74GP – 18G – 23A – 41PTS, -7.
  • Quality of Competition: 9th
  • Quality of Teammates: 2nd
  • Faceoff Split: 2 more defensive zone than offensive zone faceoffs

That’s a huge contrast. Stoll has gone from playing the best players on the other team with lousy linemates to playing third-rate players with great linemates. He’s gone from getting sent out in the defensive zone every faceoff to an even split. That’s why he’s gained +16 in plus/minus. On the flip side, he’s still a minus player, and although he does well on special teams (he does put up points on the powerplay and effectively kill penalties) he’s an offensive sinkhole at even-strength – just like he was in 2007-08. His 1.40 PTS/60 slides nicely into the bottom of the Oilers list:

  • Ethan Moreau: 1.50 PTS/60
  • Liam Reddox: 1.43 PTS/60
  • Steve MacIntyre: 1.43 PTS/60
  • Jarret Stoll: 1.40 PTS/60

Stoll was a mess as a checking centre in 2007-08, and L.A. wisely took him out of that situation. He’s a specialist on both the PK and PP, but at even-strength he’s nothing special and hasn’t been since a career-altering concussion in 2006-07. That year he managed 20 points at even strength in just 51 games, but in the years since he’s recorded 20 and 19 points at even-strength. The fact of the matter is that he has yet to be the player Oilers fans remember from before his concussion, and it’s completely plausible that he never will be.

Matheson talks about the need the Oilers have for a right-handed faceoff man to take defensive draws. Let’s compare Stoll’s numbers from 2007-08 with another right-handed centre from this past season:

Jarret Stoll, 2007-08:

  • Scoring: 81GP – 14G – 22A – 36PTS, -23.
  • Even-Strength Scoring: 20 points
  • Quality of Competition: 1st
  • Quality of Teammates: 8th
  • Faceoff Split: 181 more defensive zone than offensive zone faceoffs
  • Faceoff Percentage: 55.1%

Kyle Brodziak, 2008-09:

  • Scoring: 79GP – 11G – 16A – 27PTS, +4.
  • Even-Strength Scoring: 23 points
  • Quality of Competition: 13th
  • Quality of Teammates: 14th
  • Faceoff Split: 112 more defensive zone than offensive zone faceoffs
  • Faceoff Percentage: 51.6%

Granted, Brodziak wasn’t playing against the toughs the way Stoll did, and he wasn’t as brilliant on faceoffs as Stoll was. However, he contributed the same amount of even-strength offense with far less ice-time, was +27 better on the plus/minus scale, and costs about one-third as much as Stoll will for the next three seasons.

Also, when it comes to not replacing Stoll as a faceoff specialist, that represented an unforced error on Kevin Lowe’s part: in 2007-08, he not only traded away Stoll, but he also declined to sign Marty Reasoner. Reasoner, a cheap faceoff ace and a very good defensive forward, signed in Atlanta (again, for roughly one-third of Stoll’s price) and would have been a valuable part of the team this past season. Not only that, but according to his public remarks, he wanted to stay, and he’s always had the reputation of being a team-first guy in the dressing room.

That brings us to Matt Greene, who after years of struggling in a depth role with the Oilers finally paid off big-time as a shut-down defenseman in Los Angeles. He’s big, he’s nasty, and all of a sudden he’s helping his hockey team win games.

There are, however, two points worth making about Greene:

  1. He is not now, and likely never will be, a superior player to Lubomir Visnovsky.
  2. The Oilers have a very similar player in Ladislav Smid, except that Smid is a) younger and b) signed for the next two season at less than half the price of Greene (1.3MM vs. 2.95 MM)

I like both players the Oilers sent away to get Visnovsky, but frankly it was still a good trade. Jarret Stoll’s play has dropped off dramatically since suffering that concussion two years ago, and Matt Greene for all of his strengths isn’t in the same class as the guy the Oilers got.

One thing I haven’t gone to great lengths to emphasize is just how good of a player Visnovsky is.

Matheson talks about Denis Grebeshkov as a replacement for Visnovsky, but even at his best Grebeshkov doesn’t have the poise of the former or the same level of puck-moving ability. Visnovsky’s the most talented puck-distributing defenseman this town has seen since at least Chris Pronger, and quite possibly since Paul Coffey. The Oilers’ inability to bring in a third-line centre this past season shouldn’t be held against him.

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#51 The Villain
August 14 2009, 03:12PM
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Probably a slow news day for Matheson - needed something to write about.. I liked Greene - tough kid - made plenty of mistakes but still learning..Stoll wins faceoffs and gets constant headaches..At the end of the day, it's easier to replace them than to find a DMAN that brings what LUBO's qualities.

At the end of the day - an elite DMAN for a couple of jobbers is what it boils down to and I'll do that deal any day of the week.

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#52 Phil
August 14 2009, 03:13PM
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Fantastic article on Visnovsky JW.

Agreed on all points. And not to sound utterly swayed by anything you wrote because I loved Visnovsky as a player before, but I'd do the trade over 10/10 times.

Absolutely no questions asked.

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#53 Racki
August 14 2009, 03:27PM
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The biggest mistake in trading Jarret Stoll was not that we gave him up (and Greene) for Visnovsky, but that we did not replace him in any way.

All signs point that we need a new faceoff/pker in here, but unfortunately Tambellini (and formerly Lowe) is driving with his eyes closed. Or perhaps a better metaphor in relation to the Heatley-love-affair would be to say he's zoned in on the other side of the road somewhere.

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#54 Robin Brownlee
August 14 2009, 03:35PM
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"THE OILERS WON THE VISNOVSKY TRADE"

Did they, now? One year after the trade we know this conclusively? I'm thinking we might want to consider Visnovsky is 33, on the wrong side of the hill, coming off a significant shoulder surgery and has lots of money left on his contract. I'm thinking Stoll is in his prime and Greene is only now entering it. Can Stoll bounce back? Maybe, maybe not, but there's time. Will Greene be more polished and more dominant two seasons from now? Is Visnovsky's level of performance likely to improve or degrade over the same time period?

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#55 Ogden Brother
August 14 2009, 03:52PM
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Ender the Dragon wrote:

Ogden Brother wrote: all the “trade Moreau, trade Pisani, trade Horcoff” posts were “trade Stoll, trade Reasoner, trade Torres” posts last year. Moral of the Story: Just because the masses yell for something doesn’t mean that they necessarily know best.

:)

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#56 Milli
August 14 2009, 04:37PM
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I agree that it was a good deal. I do think the Kings got 2 good players back, and, at the time, I don't think anyone knew for sure how Stolly was gonna bounce back from the concussions. Still, he was one of my favorite Oilers, and I hope he can light it up. Before the concussions, I thought he would be Captain of our team one day. Vish is a great Dman, and I hope he stays healthy this year, because our top 4 look real strong.

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#57 Tull
August 14 2009, 05:15PM
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None of the players have made a difference for either team. The Oilers still finished out of the playoffs, so did the Kings.

That's the bottom line.

I could care less about individual stats, it;s the team stats that matter. Oilers finished better, but if you're not in the show, it means nothing.

Therefore, trade is a wash.

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#58 Jonathan Willis
August 14 2009, 05:27PM
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@ Robin Brownlee:

And those are all fair points, Robin. I suppose it would have been better to say "as of now, the Oilers are winning the Visnovsky trade". IMO, of course.

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#59 Lofty
August 14 2009, 06:36PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

I’m thinking we might want to consider Visnovsky is 33, on the wrong side of the hill, coming off a significant shoulder surgery and has lots of money left on his contract

Point taken but the way he plays the game, I see his career being only a couple years shorter than Chelios.

He plays the game with solid position, good skating, exceptional vision. Things that generaly dont shorten careers.

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#60 Reagan
August 14 2009, 07:12PM
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I admit, I do miss Matt Greene's toughness! That guy was one of my favorites. Oh Well. There is time left to decide if this trade will work out.

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#61 Robin Brownlee
August 14 2009, 07:24PM
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Lofty wrote:

Robin Brownlee wrote: I’m thinking we might want to consider Visnovsky is 33, on the wrong side of the hill, coming off a significant shoulder surgery and has lots of money left on his contract Point taken but the way he plays the game, I see his career being only a couple years shorter than Chelios. He plays the game with solid position, good skating, exceptional vision. Things that generaly dont shorten careers.

Like shoulder surgery does . . . Visnovsky plays the game as you suggest, but as he found out last season, all it takes is one hit. The point is he's an older player coming off surgery and I think it's foolish to suggest the Oilers have won this trade. They got the best player, but he's on the back end of his prime years with lots of contract left. The Kings have two players in their prime. It's not unreasonable to say this trade could look heavily weighted in favour of the Kings two years from now. Let's see who gets the better of it over the term of Visnovsky's five-year deal. All I know is that Visnovsky will be 37 when this contract is up and Stoll and Greene will be 31 and 30.

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#62 oilFan
August 14 2009, 09:58PM
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I like your articles JW, but the good thing about stats is you can sway them in any why to sound good. I like Lubo but how can you stay we won the trade. Stoll is a 3rd line center. What do the Oilers new right now. I'm not saying he is the answer. We don't know the cemisty in the room these days. When Greener was here he seemed to hype the guys up. If Vish stays healthy we will be happy with what he brings. But every player brings some thing differnt to help teams win. So far he hasn't helped us into the playoffs. That's how I will judge the trade.

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#63 Jonathan Willis
August 14 2009, 10:15PM
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oilFan wrote:

I like your articles JW, but the good thing about stats is you can sway them in any why to sound good.

Only when the audience is ignorant of the math involved. Here, the math is a matter of public record and the stats involved are fairly obvious. Stoll can't score at evens. Big shock, he couldn't do it in 07-08 either and I didn't need a formula to know that. None of the items suggested by the math above are controversial.

I like Lubo but how can you stay we won the trade. Stoll is a 3rd line center. What do the Oilers new right now.

"3rd line centre" is a misleading term. The traditional third line centre plays a defensive role against quality opponents. Stoll played an offensive role against opposition that wasn't all that special in L.A, so he doesn't fit the traditional mold.

While we're on the subject though, there are several players out there who do fit the mold - and will get paid less than Stoll's current contract. Manny Malhotra is the obvious example.

On the other hand, try and find an offensive defenseman of Visnovsky's ability on the UFA market. They're much rarer, and they don't come cheap. In other words: if the Oilers need a third line centre, there isn't any excuse not to have one.

We don’t know the cemisty in the room these days. When Greener was here he seemed to hype the guys up.

As Robin likes to remind me, we don't know the chemistry in the room period. All we know is what's passed on to us via media. Greene seems like a funny guy, but then again, so did Reasoner.

So far he hasn’t helped us into the playoffs. That’s how I will judge the trade.

That point was raised earlier by Tull and I skipped it then but I won't now. That's a ridiculous way to judge how good a player is. Mario Lemieux's Penguins made the playoffs once in six seasons. Did he suddenly become a better player? No.

It's a team sport - a player's effectiveness can't be judged by his team (and his 20+ teammates). It makes no sense.

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#64 Jonathan Willis
August 14 2009, 10:20PM
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@ Robin Brownlee:

The biggest item for me I suppose is how difficult it is to land these players. Guys like Greene and Stoll typically aren't that hard to find; at least, not nearly as hard as guys like Visnovsky.

It's hardly decided yet, but barring a collapse on Visnovsky's part (and it should be noted that his cap hit will disappear if he retires or his play means he ends up going to the KHL or anything like that) I can't see how L.A. wins this. Greene's a nice player, but I'd take two effective years from Visnovsky over four years from Greene, and frankly I don't think Stoll's a fit for this team because he's just not that effective in a checking role and his offense at even-strength isn't all that spectacular.

Still, that's just my opinion; I suppose time will tell.

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#65 oilFan
August 14 2009, 10:37PM
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We didn't get Vish as an UFA we traded for him.

I don't pay attention to the math that much. That's your deal I'm cool with that. Stats are easy to defend. But also like I said before you can lean anyway you like. Not sure what you were asking about Marios team but last time I checked they made the finals two years in a row. Mario has also won two cups. Malhotra is a good PK guy and at the draw, I have never seen his give a hit usually the third line center lays the body. The way it sounds Quinn like to forecheck a lot. Body checks , stick checks ect. When the forwards use the body in the offensive end you get take aways. We don't know the cemisty in the room we also don't know and never will know who won the trade.

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#66 Jonathan Willis
August 14 2009, 11:07PM
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oilFan wrote:

We didn’t get Vish as an UFA we traded for him.

Yes, because it's hard to get UFA's of Visnovsky's calibre.

Not sure what you were asking about Marios team but last time I checked they made the finals two years in a row. Mario has also won two cups.

So was he a better/worse/the same player when his team was winning/losing? He was the same player throughout; the results of the team simply aren't dependant on one player.

Malhotra is a good PK guy and at the draw, I have never seen his give a hit usually the third line center lays the body.

Malhotra isn't a head-hunter, but he hits, and plenty.

We don’t know the cemisty in the room we also don’t know and never will know who won the trade.

We will know. Maybe not for years, but we will know.

Besides which, chemistry in the dressing room is overrated.

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#67 David S
August 14 2009, 11:29PM
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I've heard it said often in the last while that Visnovsky going down was the point in time last season when the team lost its playoff momentum, a point of view I also agree with. Could you say that if you lost either Stoll or Greene, it would matter to the same degree? So in the short term, I would agree that we won the trade. Long term? Who knows, but I'm not going to disagree with a hockey scribe of Brownlee's caliber. Still, if Visnovsky in the lineup markedly helps us get into the playoffs in two of the next three years, I'd have to say that we did OK with the trade.

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#68 RossCreek
August 15 2009, 05:49AM
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@ Willis. If there guys like Stoll and Greene are so easy to find, why haven't they found them? Not saying that I disagree with that logic, but one would think if it were so easy, management would've replaced them long ago. Are they that inept? Are we all smarter than them? How about such LEGENDS as Brownlee and Matheson, are we all smarter than these guys who've been around the game on that level for so long. And are you certain that LA would reverse the trade if they could? I think they are just fine with the deal they made. I wasn't so sure about the deal from the Oil's perspective at the time it was made and I remain unconvinced. Time will tell.

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#69 Zamboni Driver
August 15 2009, 09:35AM
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@ RossCreek:

Exactly what I was thinking.

Debating Matheson by demonstrating your obsessive use of an abacus probably isn't going to fly.

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#70 Robin Brownlee
August 15 2009, 10:21AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

As Robin likes to remind me, we don’t know the chemistry in the room period. All we know is what’s passed on to us via media. Greene seems like a funny guy, but then again, so did Reasoner.

How often have I done that?

Chemistry is an aside. Teams with great chemistry, in the sense that everybody gets along and wants to play for the guy next to them, can be lousy if they lack talent or have holes in the line-up. Teams with lousy chemistry can win Stanley Cups, and have, if they're ridiculously talented and deep.

In many cases chemistry is overrrated, but in cases like the Oilers of the last several seasons, it's important because they're right on the bubble and any extra little edge, like good chemistry, can sway things just enough to make a difference.

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#71 Jonathan Willis
August 15 2009, 11:09AM
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@ Zamboni Driver: @ RossCreek:

Think for yourselves, guys. Or don't, it's up to you.

But just think about what this management team has done the past few years - do you really, firmly trust their abilities? Remember the defensive corps form 2006-07? How about the forward group from 2007-08? Penner offer sheet ring any bells?

Seriously, the argument that, "well, you're not any smarter than Tambellini/Lowe..." has absolutely zero weight with me.

As for why they haven't picked up a third-line centre, I assume it's the same reason as last year ("let's give the kids a shot) and we all saw how that one worked out.

Lastly, I have a ton of respect for Brownlee and Matheson - not just their reporting but their hockey opinion too - but if you've been keeping track over the years nobody is infallible. Again, think for yourself.

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#72 Jonathan Willis
August 15 2009, 11:12AM
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@ Robin Brownlee:

Probably only once, but it stuck ;)

And I agree with what you're saying about chemistry.

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#73 oilFan
August 15 2009, 12:35PM
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Chris Pronger one player that made the difference in making the playoffs. IMO Vish is tradeable we have lots of puck moving d-man ( also younger). Some one is going to be traded on the d line. I would like them to keep him but him or Souray would. Get us the best return. Our team is full of offensive d-man. We need to be able to bring up or trade for more physical defense.

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#74 David S
August 15 2009, 01:00PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Seriously, the argument that, “well, you’re not any smarter than Tambellini/Lowe…” has absolutely zero weight with me.

Its not "smarter" Jonathan. Its just that you don't have access to the entire information set. In lieu of such, fans use hearsay, stats and gut feelings based on the available knowledge. Perhaps if you had access to the same information as Lowe/Tambellini, you'd be singing a different song alot of the time. Maybe even the same song as management.

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#75 oilFan
August 15 2009, 01:40PM
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Saying that chemistry has nothing to do with win a cup is retarded. I still can't stop laughing at that one.

When the Oilers were winning every year you could tell the chemistry was great.

Why does ever team have some kind of team bonding exercise ? You win as a team.

Why is there so much talk about Heatly possibly going back into the Sens dressing room ?

Do. Teams trade players that are so called bad in the locker room ?

Chemistry plays a huge role in any team sport. IMO

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#76 Jonathan Willis
August 15 2009, 01:43PM
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@ David S:

I'm sure the tune would change on some things... but not on things lie, say, the availability of goaltenders. Or spending a 2nd round pick on 19 games of Ales Kotalik.

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#77 Jonathan Willis
August 15 2009, 01:48PM
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oilFan wrote:

Saying that chemistry has nothing to do with win a cup is retarded. I still can’t stop laughing at that one.

Nobody said that. I'd suggest re-reading the comments above.

When the Oilers were winning every year you could tell the chemistry was great.

Did you read the linked article? When Boston was winning the chemistry wasn't great.

You win as a team. That's hilarious. Weren't you just arguing that you can judge single trades by whether or not the player acquired got his team into the playoffs?
Why is there so much talk about Heatly possibly going back into the Sens dressing room ?
Because it's August.
Do. Teams trade players that are so called bad in the locker room ?
Do teams trade players that are good in the locker room? The answer to both questions is yes, isn't it?
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#78 oilFan
August 15 2009, 03:59PM
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Yeah ok cemistry has nothing to do with winning in a TEAM sport. Just because you can't put a stat beside chemistry doesn't mean it doesn't matter. Look at the Oiler team in 2006 not a good team according to stats but made the finals. Horcoff lead the team in points and didn't hit 80. Was Pisani a clutch sniper during the regular season ? Check his stats in the playoffs oh my god. Vish is a great offensive d man , Stoll is great at the draw, Grenner great team guy and solid in his own end. You can't compare stats when each player plays a different style. In the playoffs every year a player steps up and makes a huge impact in the series. Its not always goals and points. Blocking shots, hits, fights, forchecking, hype on the bench make the difference. I love stats on teams and players but it SOME times doesn't matter IMO.

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#79 oilFan
August 15 2009, 05:50PM
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So it has never been brought up weather Heatly walking into the locker room will effect the team chemistry. I agree with Robin with enough talent and key guys you don't have to have team chemistry. But the Oil aren't one of those teams. I did read the article and read it when you first wrote it. I guess the boys on the bus never got along.

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#80 stan_the_caddy
August 15 2009, 07:25PM
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Great analysis JW. Agree 100%.

Vish conjures up the same images for me as another top paring defenceman the Oil acquired by trade: "Wow, this guy is amazing. How have I never recognized his amazingness before?"

The two holes left by Greene and Stoll are easily filled, although inexplicably, they have not been thus far. Grebs will be an impact player (hopefully!), but nowhere near the caliber of Lubo in terms of all-round play. I think it was one of the better trades made by the Oil in the last decade.

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#81 Antony Ta
August 16 2009, 12:35AM
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@ oilFan:

Is it just me, or did you just suggest the immeasurable statistic of "team chemistry" produced the phenomenon that was Fernando Pisani scoring 14 goals in the spring of 05-06?

You can, in fact, measure the value of a player by determining their net affect on a team. The fact that players play different roles is irrelevant if in fact their contribution determines their role in the first place. That's the reason Peca is an average checking center nowadays instead of a first-line guy, like he used to be - it's due to his anticipated (and historical) relative contribution to his teams (which has dwindled).

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#82 rickithebear
August 16 2009, 07:56AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

“THE OILERS WON THE VISNOVSKY TRADE” Did they, now? One year after the trade we know this conclusively? I’m thinking we might want to consider Visnovsky is 33, on the wrong side of the hill, coming off a significant shoulder surgery and has lots of money left on his contract. I’m thinking Stoll is in his prime and Greene is only now entering it. Can Stoll bounce back? Maybe, maybe not, but there’s time. Will Greene be more polished and more dominant two seasons from now? Is Visnovsky’s level of performance likely to improve or degrade over the same time period?

What is the number of Dmen who were top 15 in points and top 15 in GA at the end of there season. The answer is One. He was an elite offensive Dman and an elite Defensive dman.

I will take a slight reduction in performance from the only dman capable of this.

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#83 Robin Brownlee
August 16 2009, 12:30PM
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rickithebear wrote:

What is the number of Dmen who were top 15 in points and top 15 in GA at the end of there season. The answer is One. He was an elite offensive Dman and an elite Defensive dman. I will take a slight reduction in performance from the only dman capable of this.

Not getting your point, if there is one. You can't just look at whatever Visnovsky has done and might do in deeming that one side has won a trade. What about what Stoll and Greene have done and more importantly might do as they enter their primes and Visnovsky leaves his? Does the trade look good from the Oilers end after ONE season? Yes. What about the next four, which the term of Visnovsky's contract? That's pretty simple.

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