Big Decisions: Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene for Lubomir Visnovsky

More than a few fans of the Edmonton Oilers have been watching the Stanley Cup Finals with some envy. In Los Angeles, both Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene did an excellent job in specific roles, helping the Kings to their first ever Stanley Cup win. The Kings acquired the pair from Edmonton back in the summer of 2008 in exchange for Lubomir Visnovsky.

We’ve previously discussed the way that playing for a good team versus a bad team can shift perceptions of a useful role player – Colin Fraser seemed like a much better fourth-liner in Los Angeles than he did in Edmonton, and to some extent the same effect is happening here.

Prior to this season, Stoll and Greene had never made it out of the first round with the Kings. In the three years before this one, Los Angeles had won a total of four playoff games. Stoll had never come close to recapturing the 68-point form he’d had in Edmonton back in 2005-06 (in fact, this season he picked up six goals and 21 points, worse totals than his rookie year). Greene was improved from his time in Edmonton – where both his discipline and positioning had been questionable – and had rounded into a solid #5 defenseman who could also kill penalties, but even so he wasn’t entrusted with the toughest assignments; the Kings brought in Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell to take those.

It’s important not to overstate the contribution of the duo to this year’s championship.

Jarret Stoll remains a physical center who excels on the penalty kill, has good size, and can play a third line role. That’s what he did in L.A., behind Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards. He’s a good NHL player in that role, but he’s also extremely limited – especially offensively. Despite playing 17:06 per game, he finished ninth of the Kings’ top-nine forwards in scoring. At times this season, when the Kings were starving for offense, Stoll was part of the problem. Colin Fraser was more likely to pick up a point on any given even-strength shift. Adjusting for ice-time, Shawn Horcoff contributed 35% more offense than Stoll – and unlike Stoll, Horcoff played top opponents all season long.

I don’t mean to beat up on Stoll here – he’s a very good defensive forward – but it’s important not to misstate what he is. He’s a checking line forward who needs power play time to get points; at even-strength, his attention to defense means that goals are few and far between.

It’s a similar story with Matt Greene. He’s a useful number five defenseman – and I was very impressed with his work on the penalty kill – but the way his coach used him betrays his limitations. Take Game Six against New Jersey. Ilya Kovalchuk played almost 15 minutes of even-strength ice-time; Greene lined up against him for less than two. Alexei Ponikarovsky played just over 11; Greene saw him for six full minutes. It’s a pattern that held true all through the post-season for L.A. – Greene and his regular partner, Alec Martinez, consistently got the bottom-six players from the other team as regular opponents, and consistently spent less time in their own end than the other two defense pairings.

That’s not a slight on Greene; he’s a good third-pairing defenseman. But it’s important to remember that he wasn’t a top-four, Jason Smith-style shutdown option for the Kings. Those jobs went to superior players – Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell.

That’s why I think the Oilers made the right decision when they traded for Lubomir Visnovsky. They moved a pair of good support players for a highly-talented blue-liner. It was a trade that made sense at the time, and if they could trade a third-line centre and a third-pairing defender for a talent like Visnovsky today they’d be crazy not to do so.

Visnovsky is not only a top-four defenseman, he’s the exact sort of offensive threat the Oilers have been lacking since they dealt him to Anaheim. In his first year, he picked up 31 points in 50 games. He scored 45 the next year; in 2010-11 he led all NHL defensemen with 68 points. This year he was slowed by injury but still managed to record 27 points, six more than Stoll did. Despite playing for two lousy teams in Edmonton and Anaheim, he’s a plus-21 since leaving L.A.; Stoll and Greene combined are plus-14 despite making the playoffs in three of four seasons with the Kings.

That’s not to say the Kings made a mistake when they dealt Visnovsky. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine he would still be with the Kings today even had they kept him; his salary would have made him an extravagance on such a deep blue line.

But the Oilers made a move that benefitted their team when they pulled the trigger on that deal, sending away depth players – good depth players, but depth players all the same – to address a position of need, a position that still needs to be addressed in the worst way. It was the right call.

Post-script: This piece was written prior to my reading Craig MacTavish’s thoughts on the Visnovsky trade. I’m still not convinced; for all the virtues of both Stoll and Greene, Visnovsky was easily the best player in the deal and the kind of piece the Oilers have consistently needed since Pronger’s departure.

Previously in this series

  • With Columbus I would not include Gagner in that trade. I think for some teams there is big value to go up to number one. I would trade Gagner straight across for Johansen, although I doubt Columbus would do this.

    I see Gagner as a proven commodity with descent value and I see Johansen as having a higher ceiling, but not currently as good. I would need something else coming back in this trade or I would include something of lesser value than Gagner. If they wanted Hemmer I would include him as i feel he has a bad contract that sets a bad precident. this would create another hole though.

    On the Hamonick trade i have no problem throwing in Teubert as I see him as an AHL defenseman.

  • If they would throw in Morrow or Despres for a faltering draft choice I would do this deal as long as Staal is being paid 5 million or less.

    I don’t think Pitsburg goes for this deal. Pitlick may very well be a career AHL player and these 2 are very good prospects.

    the reason I hated the Hemsky signing and the Smyth deal dragging out is if these are long term Oilers they should be taking a hometown discount in order to stay otherwise there is no way we sign everyone.

    If you can convinve the young guys that people want to play here and that they can win by staying together you may very well be able to sign them all at discounted but fair prices. If we have to pay them what they would get as UFA’s we will be lucky to keep 2 or 3 of them. if they see vets taking less than what they could get on the open market in order to saty here that can be a learned attitude. Obviously not everyone will follow suit, But if all the stars signed for 1 mill less then their true value that nets you an extra star, or that much better of a supporting cast.

  • Rogue

    Bottom line is that every GM would have made that trade. He who gets the best player wins the deal. Gregor has always said that. Now he seems to have forgotten that.

    • Jason Gregor

      Go back and read. I said Visnovsky is best player, never said they lost the deal. And Oilers didn’t really win the trade, because they never improved.

      You trade best player, usually you win trade right away, but not always in longterm, I’ve stated that numerous times.

      Years later the Pronger deal doesn’t look as bad with Eberle and Smid starting to emerge. In three years, some might like it even more.

      Fact is the Kings ended up with better results from the pieces of that deal…Four years later, but they did.

  • Hamonic: paired with Macdoanald had top 10 tough comp results. Better than suter this year.
    Good luck with that.

    J.stall faced first comp in 48% zone start last 4 years. he was .55 EVP/60 better than the league averag for this role. Jordan stall was =8 better than average for his role.he was a top 20 for centers at PK. Would have to trade for him and resign him to a 4.5-5M contract.

    P. Guastad faced first comp in 44% zone start last 4 years. He was .53 EVP/60 better than the league average for this role. In this role a player should be -12 each year. he was =1 each year. a plus/minus 13 better than average. He was top 10 for centers at PK. he is a ufa this year can be signed for 3M. only

    To me no contest. Gaustad is better suited to take on half of horcoff’s tough comp role free horc to move from his 21EVP/season role back to a 40EVP/season role. Heck play Horc with Hemsky and a solid winger in even role he might generate a 50 EVP/season pace like he did in 07/08 and 06/07.

    Gaustad only havng to eat half of the 13EVP/60 role could have a huge jump in EVP production

    I am smiling with a bottom 6 of:

    XXX-Horc/Gaustad-Hemsky

    Belanger-Horc/Gaustad-Jones

    protecting the kids for soft opposition.

  • Bucknuck

    Lubo might be over-rated, but with Stoll’s injury concerns and Greene’s upside being comparable with Sutton I believe it was a good trade. They needed a defenseman who could move the puck, and he qualified. He’s no Chris Pronger, but he’s a lot better than most d-men in the league.

    I think MacT saying it was a mistake should be setting off alarm bells in Oilers Nation.

  • Rogue

    They could of won the Cup with most any 3rd center and #6 dman. And Willis pointed out their actual contributions. Players who are marginal tend to rise to the occasion,for they know their limited value, that is why there is so many surprise performances in the playoffs. With your view, Jason, Willis will have to dissect every trade made to justify who won based on Cups won. Also, I guess this makes Stoll and Greene better clutch performers than Lubo. With that in mind, the Oil should of paid Pisani 5 mil.per for what he did.

  • Clyde Frog

    When we traded Stoll he was a 2nd liner for us and one for the Kings, not a 3rd liner at all.

    After struggling with full body arthritis it is interesting his most valued season by us (The last one) was also his worst.

    Before the Kings made their magical run in the playoffs, ex-Oilers like Penner and Stoll were having their worst seasons ever.

    No-one here could possibly claim any team would have traded for them at the deadline…. Not with that terrible performance.

    Yet give them a cup and BOOM, we re-evalute a trade everyone was comfortable with.

    I think I now see how the Horcoff contracts happens… Don’t suck in the playoffs and all of a sudden your regular season contribution doesn’t matter at all anymore. He at least posted a 70 pt season when we dropped that albatross on his shoulders.