It isn’t easy to land a really good defenceman in trade.
One very rarely sees the great ones moved unless there are internal factors (usually financial and/or trade request) that force a deal. It’s why the “trade Taylor Hall for Oliver Ekman-Larsson” talk is as nutty in its way as the “get Shea Weber” talk was a few years back. When they are moved, it isn’t usually a one-for-one deal; instead we see packages, like the ones the Oilers surrendered for Chris Pronger and the one they got back for him.
Occasionally, though, these players are available while there is still some question of whether or not they’re great. They still cost a bunch, but it happens. And that takes us to the question in the title.
This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list, but it does highlight some examples of quality defencemen moving from one team to another at a young age:
- 2001: Senators trade Alexei Yashin to the Islanders for a second overall pick, forward Bill Muckalt, and 24-year-old Zdeno Chara. Chara, of course, needs no introduction.
- 2005: Ducks trade Sergei Fedorov and a fifth-round draft pick to Blue Jackets for forward Tyler Wright and 25-year-old Francois Beauchemin. Beauchemin would average 25:28 per game the next year as Anaheim won the Stanley Cup.
- 2007: Bruins (Peter Chiarelli, btw) trade 24-year-old Brad Boyes to the Blues for 23-year-old Dennis Wideman. Wideman would score 50 points for Boston in 2008-09 and finish 11th in Norris Trophy voting.
- 2009: Canadiens trade Scott Gomez, forward Tom Pyatt and the suspiciously named Michael Busto to the Rangers for Chris Higgins, 20-year-old Ryan McDonagh and defenceman Pavel Valentenko.
- 2010: Thrashers trade a package of draft picks, prospects and forward Marty Reasoner to the Blackhawks for defenceman Brent Sopel, forward Ben Eager and 25-year-old Dustin Byfuglien. Byfuglien would score 53 points and finish seventh in Norris Trophy voting the next year.
- 2011: Penguins trade 25-year-old Alex Golisgoski to the Stars for forward James Neal and 24-year-old Matt Niskanen. Niskanen has since developed into a workhorse, which Goligoski already was.
There are a couple of examples of teams trading established talent (Yashin, Gomez, Fedorov) for a package that includes a good young defence prospect who later developed (though Beauchemin was sneaky-good when Anaheim grabbed him); that kind of trade happens far more frequently than the star-for-star deal people like to speculate about. The closest I could find to the latter example in recent years was Jeff Carter for Jack Johnson, and nobody wants to be the G.M. who trades Carter for Johnson.
The key thing with the Yashin/Gomez/Fedorov deals was that the forward in question was in every case already past his peak years of production. Teams that make those deals frequently end up winning them. That makes it a dangerous option for the Oilers, because the oldest star forward they have to deal is Jordan Eberle, who is only 25.
That – plus the fact that Peter Chiarelli was the architect – is what makes the 2007 trade of Boyes for Wideman so interesting. Boyes was having an off-year when he was moved, but the 24-year-old was coming off a 26-goal, 69-point campaign for Boston. Wideman was playing ~20 minutes/game but was trapped behind established options in St. Louis. That led the Bruins to trade their promising young forward for a promising young defenceman. Boyes ended up scoring 43 goals for the Blues the next year and 33 the year after, while Wideman’s value would have more sustainability.
Trading that Star
Again, as this bears repeating: It seems highly unlikely that any team in the league is going to trade Ekman-Larsson or the like for any price. Teams that have franchise defencemen don’t trade them unless forced to by circumstance; it’s very, very tough to pry them loose.
That means targeting players before they hit that level, and generally going to teams that have a deep enough defence that losing a good young rearguard isn’t out of the question. It’s what Chiarelli did this summer with Griffin Reinhart, with the risk of course being that Reinhart may not evolve into a top-pair defender, but with the benefit being that the cost was draft picks rather than established talent.
If we’re aiming a little higher, who might we look at? Seth Jones in Nashville would be a great addition; he’s a 6’4” right-shooting defenceman with a complete skillset. Adam Larsson in New Jersey might be available; he’s a 6’3”, right-shooting defenceman and again one who has a variety of strengths. Ryan Murphy in Carolina is a one-way player, but he’s a puck-moving right-shot defenceman who is only 22 years old. Mark Pysyk is another player worth considering; his value is primarily defensive but he’s a good, young right-side option. Finally, Dougie Hamilton has had a rough ride early in Calgary; could the Flames bail on him early?
Pysyk or Murphy might not cost that star player, but they also don’t have the ceiling of others on this list. So, dear readers: Is there a plausible deal you see which would see the Oilers send some young talent away to try and find a long-term answer on the right side of the defence? If so, what is it?