I wanted to talk today about a trade that Peter Chiarelli
made during his time as the general manager of the Boston Bruins. The reason I focused
on this particular trade is because it encapsulates a lot of the debate surrounding
Chiarelli’s handling of the Oilers without including the same emotion in
Edmonton that comes from discussing the Oilers.
I’m talking of course about the February 2011 deal which saw
Boston acquire Rich Peverley from Atlanta in exchange for Blake Wheeler.
The full deal was more than those two parts, but not a lot
- Boston acquired centre Rich Peverley and prospect Boris
- Atlanta acquired right wing Blake Wheeler and defenceman Mark
There isn’t any question that this was a good move for the
Thrashers, one of a bunch made by then-general manager Rick Dudley. It’s
unfortunate that Dudley never got to fully execute whatever his plan for
Atlanta was; the Thrashers died after his first year at the helm and he was
tossed aside by the new ownership group in Winnipeg.
Nevertheless, the Wheeler deal would prove fortunate for his
successor. Wheeler has contributed 371 points to Atlanta/Winnipeg over 446
games and is still a highly productive NHL right wing. Stuart is a more
polarizing figure, but he too has played 366 major-league games since the
trade. And all it cost Atlanta was a prospect who would never play in the NHL
again and a forward with less than 200 games remaining in his NHL career (Peverley ran into health issues which ended his career early, but even had he not his post-trade career wouldn’t be a match for Wheeler’s).
Atlanta fared really well here, and there’s only thing
stopping us from proclaiming this deal a massively lopsided win for the
Thrashers: Boston won the Stanley Cup.
What Peverley Did for
Offensively, there wasn’t much to choose between these two
players at the time of the trade. Peverley had 34 points in 59 games for a bad
Thrashers team while Wheeler had 27 points in 58 games for a good Bruins team.
Role explained the entirety of the difference; Wheeler had
25 even-strength points and two power play points while Peverley had 20
even-strength points and 12 power play points. Wheeler would slide into
Peverley’s 19 minutes/game job in Atlanta while Peverley would transition into
just a little more than the 15 minutes/game that Wheeler had played for Boston.
Wheeler was also bigger (6’5”, 225 lbs vs. 5’11”, 195 lbs)
and younger by four years, so it’s not like the Bruins were after size or
Peverley was cheaper and had an extra year on his contract, with Wheeler a pending RFA. Arguably, though, the key difference was
positional: Peverley was a utility forward who could play at wing or centre and
he had a 55% win rate in the faceoff circle at the time of the deal. Additionally,
while Wheeler was no slouch in the two-way department, Peverley excelled in
Peverley spent some time during the playoffs in the top-six
as a right wing, but for the most part was a third-line player next to Chris
Kelly and Michael Ryder in the playoffs. That third line got tough-ish assignments
at times, but Bergeron remained the primary matchup centre and still got a lot
of defensive zone work.
Peverley won 54 percent of his postseason faceoffs. He
played a major role on a penalty kill that was modestly improved in the
playoffs. He also took a job on the power play, which clicked at just 11
percent in the postseason. Of the 42 teams since 2005-06 to play in at least 16
playoff games in a single year, only the 2005-06 Anaheim Ducks (10.8 percent)
had a worse power play.
In summary, Peverley played an important depth role for a
Cup-winning Boston team, but wasn’t a world-beater.
Was It a Good Trade?
As to whether it was a good trade, we don’t have the luxury
of going back and replaying it again with Wheeler in Peverley’s spot. Quite
possibly the Bruins would have won anyway. Potentially, the presence of Wheeler
instead of Peverley might have helped Boston win more than just the one Cup. On
the other hand, if anyone here thinks that Peverley-for-Wheeler was the
difference between winning and losing, I can’t prove that wrong.
Every GM makes bad moves, but those aren’t what I’m getting
at here. Sometimes a general manager consciously sacrifices the superior player
to address a weakness in the lineup. To
what degree does losing the better player matter if the team succeeds? Would
the team have succeeded anyway, or perhaps be better off if an alternate path
had been followed? Does losing a battle that may or may not have needed to be
lost get forgotten if the general who lost it wins the war?
What will likely seem obvious to everyone reading is that ultimate
success or failure has a way of overshadowing the steps along the way. Winning
a Stanley Cup doesn’t retroactively turn mistakes—if they even were mistakes; a
reasonable person could argue that the Peverley deal was a necessary sacrifice—into
good decisions, but it does downgrade their relative importance. Internally, who
wants to bicker about whether or not Blake Wheeler would have helped win in
2012 or 2013 when there’s a championship to celebrate in 2011?
By the end of his time in Boston, Chiarelli was a far more polarizing
figure, a man who helped grow a team into a Cup winner but then couldn’t repeat
his success. But it wasn’t any individual mistake that doomed him; it was instead
the combination of the core he had inherited, his successes and failures, and
all the chance and randomness that is part of NHL hockey.
“Was it a good trade?” is, win or lose, a debatable question
and often there’s no consensus on the answer. All that’s clear when the dust
settles is that either the team was good enough to succeed or bad enough to
fail despite it.