Ducks Trade for Ryan Whitney

Jonathan Willis
February 26 2009 12:42PM

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As per TSN.ca, the Anaheim Ducks have sent forward Chris Kunitz and prospect Eric Tangradi to Pittsburgh in exchange for defenseman Ryan Whitney. First off, let’s look at the respective cap hits of the players traded:

Whitney: 4M per season through 2012-13, pending UFA

Kunitz: 3.725M per season through 2011-12, pending UFA

Eric Tangradi was signed to a three year entry-level contract in December which hasn’t come into effect yet; if anybody knows the terms of the contract please chime in below (with link) and I’ll include it up here.

Ryan Whitney belongs to a class of player that has always been an expensive acquisition for any team: offensive defensemen. Here are his statistics from the past couple of seasons:

  • 2008-09: 28GP – 2G – 11A – 13PTS, -15
  • 2007-08: 76GP – 12G – 28A – 40PTS, -2
  • 2006-07: 81GP – 14G – 45A – 59PTS, +9
  • 2005-06: 68GP – 6G – 32A – 38PTS, -7

Just to refine the picture a little bit, here are Whitney’s BehindtheNet even-strength rankings (among Penguins defensemen with more than 20GP) for the past few seasons:

  • 2008-09: QC-5th, QT-1st, Corsi/60-8th, PTS/60 – 0.95 (2nd)
  • 2007-08: QC-5th, QT-4th, Corsi/60-8th, PTS/60 – 0.88 (2nd)
  • 2006-07: QC-6th, QT-2nd

Looking at those stats, it seems very apparent that Whitney has been sheltered at even-strength, ranking either 5th or 6th in Quality of Competition in each of the past three seasons. He’s posted some fairly impressive even-strength offensive numbers, but both his +/- and his Corsi number would seem to indicate a player that is a bit of a train-wreck in his own zone. Let’s just compare his +/- numbers with those of his team; obviously a weaker team would drag him down as well:

  • 2008-09: 186GF/191GA (-5)
  • 2007-08: 247GF/216GA (+31)
  • 2006-07: 277GF/246GA (+31)
  • 2005-06: 244GF/316GA (-72)

I think at this point it’s fair to say that Ryan Whitney is simply not that strong a player in his own end at even-strength; in other words, he isn’t exactly a replacement for a player like Scott Niedermayer or Chris Pronger five-on-five. Let’s also consider his power-play numbers from the past few seasons (and since BehindtheNet only has powerplay points production numbers going back to 2007-08, we’ll use NHL.com’s numbers):

  • 2008-09: 6 PTS, 158:36 PPTOI, 2.27 PTS/60
  • 2007-08: 22 PTS, 398:02 PPTOI, 3.32 PTS/60
  • 2006-07: 33 PTS, 484:41 PPTOI, 4.09 PTS/60
  • 2005-06: 16 PTS, 308:50 PPTOI, 3.11 PTS/60

Those numbers, while impressive, lag well behind the numbers posted by Sergei Gonchar. In 2006-07, Whitney’s best season, Gonchar managed 4.78 PTS/60 on the powerplay, while in 2007-08 Gonchar managed 6.28 PTS/60 on the powerplay. None of this is to say that Whitney isn’t a very good offensive option on the powerplay; just that he isn’t the difference maker on the back end in Pittsburgh. Gonchar’s a highly-talented and perpetually underrated player, and as talented as Ryan Whitney is he doesn’t come close to providing the presence of Gonchar. It also seems likely that Whitney’s points production would drop away from the potent Pittsburgh powerplay.

Whitney’s been a bit player on the Pittsburgh penalty-kill for some time, but he has been surprisingly effective in that role.

Chris Kunitz is an interesting player in his own right, a member of the supporting cast on the Ducks’ cup-winning team and a player who has spent a lot of time on a line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Here are his numbers for the past few seasons:

  • 2008-09: 62GP – 16G – 19A – 35PTS, +9
  • 2007-08: 82GP – 21G – 29A – 50PTS, +8
  • 2006-07: 81GP – 25G – 35A – 60PTS, +23

Those numbers look very good initially (although his offensive totals are a little low considering his presumable linemates), but as with Whitney let’s try to refine the picture with some even-strength numbers from BehindtheNet:

  • 2008-09: QC-6th, QT-1st, Corsi/60-3rd, Points/60 – 2.07 (5th)
  • 2007-08: QC-5th, QT-4th, Corsi/60-3rd, Points/60 – 1.93 (4th)
  • 2006-07: QC-7th, QT-2nd

It seems fairly apparent that Chris Kunitz is another player who, while not out-rightly sheltered, has had the benefit of playing mid-level competition with some excellent linemates. I’ve seen quite a few Anaheim games during his time with the team, so I know he hasn’t played exclusively with Getzlaf and Perry, but I’ve never seen a game where he wasn’t on a scoring line. Let’s take advantage of Vic Ferrari’s Time On Ice tool and see how Kunitz has fared with and without Getzlaf and Perry on his line (#99 at the bottom is the combination of the three; Kunitz is 14, Perry 10 and Getzlaf 15):

With Getzlaf/Perry: 24GF, 15GA (+9); 608ASF/400ASA (Corsi +208) Without Getzlaf/Perry: 11GF, 10GA (+1); 291ASF/279ASA (Corsi +12)

That’s a fairly significant difference, and I don’t think there’s an argument to be made that Chris Kunitz is the difference maker on that line. Granted, Getzlaf and Perry are excellent players, and Chris Kunitz is still in the black playing without them, but I think it’s fair to question how effective he would be with less talented linemates.

Not that we’ll find out in Pittsburgh; the Penguins need wingers to play with Crosby and Malkin so Chris Kunitz will almost certainly continue his streak as one of the luckiest above-average support players in the NHL. His cap hit is reasonable for what he brings to the table.

Eric Tangradi is the wild card in this trade. He was drafted by the Ducks in the second round of 2007 despite some very pedestrian regular-season numbers, and likely (at least in part) because he had some other exceptional numbers to his credit (6’4”, 221lbs). He plays a “rough and tumble” game (according to his Hockey’s Future bio) and has improved offensively since being drafted. Let’s take a look at his junior numbers:

  • 2008-09: 52GP – 38G – 49A – 87PTS, +43
  • 2007-08: 56GP – 24G – 36A – 60PTS, +10
  • 2006-07: 65GP – 5G – 15A – 20PTS, +12

The +/- numbers on Tangradi are particularly interesting; let’s see how his team has done during that span:

  • 2008-09: 233GF/157GA (+76)
  • 2007-08: 280GF/175GA (+105)
  • 2006-07: 260GF/227GA (+33)

The Belleville Bulls have been a strong team over the past three seasons, but even so Tangradi’s numbers stand out. His +43 this season easily leads all forwards (Bryan Cameron is second with +27) and is tied for the team lead with Canadiens prospect P.K. Subban. In 2006-07, Tangradi was one off the team lead of +13.

It’s also worth noting that Tangradi’s draft ranking in 2007 skyrocketed after his performance in the OHL playoffs; after recording only 20 points in 65 regular season games, Tangradi scored 8 goals and 17 points in 15 playoff games.

In short, Tangradi’s a blue-chip prospect who would seem to have all of the facets NHL GM’s covet: size, scoring ability, a physical edge, and the ability to turn it up in the playoffs. I’m sure the Ducks were loath to trade him.

I’d say that the Pittsburgh Penguins likely turn out to be the winners of this deal. They traded away a big young defenseman with offensive talent but some flaws to his game for a capable winger who can play a supporting role and a blue-chip prospect. As for the notion that this trade means that the Ducks are certain to send away one of Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer; I tend to agree with Bob McKenzie that this deal doesn’t make it a slam-dunk by any stretch – the Ducks likely won’t trade Pronger unless they know Niedermayer is returning for another season, and once they do know they won’t trade Pronger until the right deal comes their way.

As a side note, this deal should set the value on young offensive defensemen; if the Oilers do opt to trade a player like Tom Gilbert, the return should be a capable roster player and a first-rate prospect.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Rice
February 26 2009, 12:58PM
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This article has informed us of the standard set for the value of a offensive defenceman. It is also a possibility that they want to trade Cole instead of loosing him for nothing in the summer. So if the oil was to decide to trade Gilbert and Cole, is it possible to deal them together and what could be gotten in return? It sounds like a sale, but the oil could pick up a valuable player and a pick for these two.

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#2 raged
February 26 2009, 01:06PM
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John, How would you compare Gilbert to Whitney. I agree that this trade is an indication of what Gilbert may be worth. Maybe I just have a man crush on the guy, but I have a feeling Gilbert will become a much better player than Whitney, same type, just better.

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#3 shakey
February 26 2009, 01:07PM
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Jonathan, this story broke like what...an hour ago and you already have this post completed? Impressive if you ask me.

Someone going to ask me?

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#4 Jonathan Willis
February 26 2009, 01:08PM
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@ raged:

I think Whitney's top-end offensive game is and likely will always be better than Tom Gilbert's.

On the other hand, unless Whitney develops to the point where he can handle tough assignments at even-strength, it seems likely to me that Tom Gilbert will be the better all-round player.

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#5 Jorge
February 26 2009, 01:09PM
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quite an impressive analysis

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#6 raged
February 26 2009, 01:14PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ raged: I think Whitney’s top-end offensive game is and likely will always be better than Tom Gilbert’s. On the other hand, unless Whitney develops to the point where he can handle tough assignments at even-strength, it seems likely to me that Tom Gilbert will be the better all-round player.

Cool thanks, I dont know much about Whitney, I assume he has a better shot. I really like Gilberts mobility though. Gregor apparently thinks this is part of a bigger deal, but I cant see the rake being moved, hes too good, and his wife likes SoCal too much.

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#7 Matt N
February 26 2009, 01:16PM
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Clear win for the Pens IMO. The on ice value of these players is roughly equal. However, the Pens dealt from a position of strength (puck moving D) to fill a position of weakness (winger). Add a great looking prospect to a depleted system and this looks like a very solid move by Shero.

Is Kunitz a good comp for Cole? Does this give us a clear picture of what his value is? They have similiar numbers this year, Cole is probably the better player, but he is only a UFA rental.

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#8 Jonathan Willis
February 26 2009, 01:18PM
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Matt N wrote:

Is Kunitz a good comp for Cole? Does this give us a clear picture of what his value is? They have similiar numbers this year, Cole is probably the better player, but he is only a UFA rental.

Yeah, that's the trouble. Kunitz is signed long-term at a reasonable rate, but I don't think he's as good a player as Cole (going by Cole's past history anyway).

I'm not confident that I'm right here, but I'd think Kunitz is the more valuable player because he's signed long-term; anybody (outside of Carolina, maybe) trading for Cole is likely only getting a rental.

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#9 5Cups
February 26 2009, 01:32PM
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Other lesser Bull Shitters keep mentioning Frolov being availbale. Would he not look good playing with Hemmer? What do you think the price of that would be? Not sure Gilbert would be of interest as they have Doughty and Johnson...

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#10 Tombo
February 26 2009, 01:53PM
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I would certainly give the edge in this one to the Penguins. Nice analysis JW.

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#11 reijo29
February 26 2009, 02:03PM
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Johnathan - Your stuff is unreal. You are very good at what you do. Pretty much all my thoughts were covered and supported in your article, saving me tons of time and validating my opinions on the trade. I do disagree that Kunitz's contract is at a "reasonable rate", I think it is a Dustin Penner type over pay and that is partly why I think Pittsburgh was able to get such a good prospect out of ANA. Robin - Interesting insight on Tambo's reaction. I'm sure glad that Kunitz isn't coming here though unless it was straight up for Penner and I don't even know if I would have done that deal.

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#12 Jack "FMNF" Bauer
February 26 2009, 02:11PM
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Thats a very impressive analysis considering weve only known about it for 4 or 5 hours.

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#13 BUCK75 - FMNF
February 26 2009, 03:08PM
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Now Begin traded from MTL to Dallas for (Dman?) Doug Janik.

Begin would have been nice here IMO.

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#14 Ducey
February 26 2009, 04:32PM
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I don't see Begin as adding anything to the Oilers. The guy has had more than 20 points in just on NHL season, and a few years ago too.

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#15 Colin
February 26 2009, 06:18PM
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AN interesting one to be sure. Glad Kunitz is gone, I sure didn't want him here.

Nice analysis tho JW, very impressive, especially the speed; however many peanuts wayne is paying you it isn't enough.

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#16 BUCK75 - FMNF
February 27 2009, 08:24AM
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@ Ducey:

He is a good replacement for Moreau - although Begin takes some pretty stupid penalties too.

He would be WAY cheaper I think, but it appears he is a UFA this summer.

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#17 humantorch
February 27 2009, 08:30AM
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"[T]he Penguins need wingers to play with Crosby and Malkin so Chris Kunitz will almost certainly continue his streak as one of the luckiest above-average support players in the NHL."

He's up there, but I think you still have to give that nod to Brendan Morrison, for the time he got to coast an in-their-prime Bertuzzi and Naslund's coattails to glory.

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#18 Jonathan Willis
February 27 2009, 08:31AM
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@ humantorch:

Although Morrison's biggest talent is his powerplay ability - he was a difference maker with the extra attacker.

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#19 humantorch
February 27 2009, 08:41AM
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@ Jonathan Willis: True, I'm not taking away anything from Morrison's skill set, but he was definitely the 3rd wheel on the West Coast Express.

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#20 Gord
February 27 2009, 11:04AM
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Morrison with Bert and Naslund, in my opinion, was very similar to Conroy with Iginla (the first time) and Horcoff with Hemsky right now. None of those three are great offensive players on their own but had good chemistry with the franchise player, which is difficult to come by. On any other team they are effective 3rd line checkers.

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