The One That Got Away

We’ve documented some of the worst trades in the history of the Calgary Flames here before, and for good reason, because under Darryl Sutter there were some bad ones.  And while there were some good ones as well, it seems like the legacies of the bad ones linger for a long, long time.  I still feel Darryl’s deal with the New York Rangers on February 1st, 2010 was one of the worst, in large part because of a player no longer here…Brandon Prust.

If you don’t remember the trade, I envy you.  Darryl traded Olli Jokinen and Prust to the Rangers in exchange for Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins.  It looked bad at the time; but Ales Kotalik’s tenure in Calgary has resembled a slug’s tenure in my mother’s garden.  The team didn’t re-sign Chris Higgins.  In short, it COULD have gone like this: let Jokinen’s contract run out, bring him back for cheaper the next year, keep Prust and don’t saddle yourself Kotalik’s semi truck dead weight.  Instead, Kotalik is junk, Higgins is playing well in Vancouver, and Jokinen is Jokinen.  As for Prust, well, he’s only turned into one of the most useful players for John Tortorella’s Rangers.

Look it, we knew Prust was turning into a useful player last season.  Even while being deployed as a fourth line guy for much of his time here, Prust did some decent things in that role.  He showed he could be more than a replacement player, as we saw him go to work on opposing fourth lines on a regular basis.  Even with a 56.1% offensive zone start, Prust had his value with the Flames, contributing to the shot rate against nominal opposition.  That alone made him a valuable player on the team, let alone his affordable cap hit.  Even with an expiring contract (he was on an NHL minimum deal), Prust wasn’t going to be getting a huge raise, and the Rangers signed him a to a two year deal at 800k per.

But remember, Prust was an expendable part.  He was traded FOR Jokinen in the initial deal that brough Olli to Calgary with the Phoenix Coyotes.  He was dealt WITH Jokinen in a deal with the New York Rangers.  For whatever reason, Sutter had no issue throwing the guy in on big deals…and the Blueshirts couldn’t be happier.

Head Coach Tortorella has used Prust in more than a fourth line depth role this season.  Is this guy going to be a top six forward at any stage in his career?  Probably not.  But he has evolved into a player that can play meaningful minutes in tough, tough situations.  No, he hasn’t been out there against the best of the best, but his 42.3% offensive start stat this year shows a large change in his utilization.

Granted, he’s on a very defensive team, and anyone can be deployed in defensive spots.  So, compare a similar player in a similar role on the other coast.  The Los Angeles Kings deployed Michal Handzus defensively 56.5% of the time with a -6.75 Corsi number.  That’s fair, as few players in that spot will tread water, it’s just how it is, but nobody is going to say Handzus isn’t an important part of LA’s success.  Exhibit B: Prust.  He was defensively deployed more at 57.7% with a better Corsi rate, with his number sitting at -4.52.  I’d argue, with watching both teams in the playoffs and plenty during the regular season, that one is as valuable as the other.  Those Qualcomp numbers, which some buy and some don’t (I’m on the fence), are a pretty good wash between them too.


I know the Handzus comparison isn’t perfect, and I also know that Handzus plays down the middle and Prust doesn’t.  But the contributions of the two are comparable, especially considering the similarities of the two teams.  The Flames had players like that this season; Tim Jackman, David Moss and Curtis Glencross come to mind.  But what’s the harm of having a guy like Prust too?  I’d rather have him that Kotalik!

Look, I’m not trying to build a case for Brandon Prust’s Selke Trophy nomination.  I’m building a case to show how helpful a player like Prust could be on the Calgary Flames, or any team for that matter.  For his cap hit south of a million dollars, what he gave the Rangers this year was very notable.  And he’s been traded by the Calgary Flames.  Twice.

  • *SIGH* Thanks for bringing that up, there, Pat. I’d been living under my peaceful rock, electing to forget that he was in New York doing well. Then this article happened. Now all those painful memories of losing the “Prusty Trombone” (as I heard two guys call him at the New Years game two years ago) are coming roaring back.

    I’m glad to see he’s doing well. I just wish he was doing well here and not there, dammit!

    • Even if Prustie would be willing to come back now that Sutter is gone, the Rangers love the crap out of him. He’s certainly not coming back via trade, that’s for sure. His presence would make me miss Glencross a lot less this summer, that’s for sure.

  • everton fc

    Brandon Prust ~= Tim Jackman. Sure, Jackman got a little more sheltered on the zone starts and qual comp, but his CorsiRel was sky high at 15.6. I suspect if places were switched between Jackman and Prust, the numbers would follow.

    For what it is worth, it is situations like this that make me question the labels we apply based on these stats to individual situations. In this case, Jackman is getting a net 0.76 more O-Zone faceoffs, than D-Zone Faceoffs per game, out of a total number of 7.95 faceoffs (in all zones) per game. So while it looks like Jackman is crazy sheltered, in reality he is on the ice for less than one more O-Zone than D-Zone EV faceoff per game, out of the 8 EV faceoffs per game he is on the ice for. That means, on average he is getting ~3 O-Zone draws (235/82), ~3 N-Zone Draws (245/82) and ~2 D-Zone Draws (172/82). I guess it is a little more than pure “luck of the draw” but I have a hard time calling that highly sheltered which his 57.7% O-Zone rate that calculates might suggest.

    • I can see why zone start seems confusing, because we implicitly assume in our minds that a 57% ratio means a player is starting 57% of all his shifts in the offensive zone. Not so, of course…just 57% of offense vs. defense.

      Still, the difference between Jackman and Prust is rather marked this year. Jackman o-zone to d-zone difference was +63 which would have inflated his raw corsi by about +50.4. Prust -71 in terms of zone start difference, resulting in a -56.8 hit to his possession rate.

      That’s more than 100 raw corsi difference likely due to staring position alone and we haven’t talked about quality of competition or line mates yet. Prust played against better players than Jackman (much better, frankly) more often and I’m guessing he didn’t get to skate with a possession monster like David Moss this year.

      In terms of dubbing 57% highly sheltered…well, we’re talking relative here. Less than 30 regular forwards in the NHL saw a ZS of that ratio or higher this season.

      • It’s kind of interesting that Jackman’s O start (57.7%) was the same as Prust’s D start.

        And Kent, you’re right…Prust played against better players on a season long basis. Jackman did it at times when he was bumped up to a third line role, but Prust did it all season long.

      • @ Kent

        Oh, I was well aware of what the zone start numbers actually mean, I just think that sometimes these numbers get chucked out there, but they become misleading in the aggregate.

        Take the Corsi numbers you present. I calculate Jackman’s raw corsi at a net positive of 199 and Prusts at a net negative of 73 (I am calculating this based on his TOI/60 at CorsiOn from if my numbers are off – where are you getting raw Corsi from?). So, over 82 games, Jackman is 272 net corsi events better than Prust. That is only 3.3 Corsi events per game. I don’t know what the shooting rate is including blocks and misses, but even if we assume the shooting percentage is a generous 7% for all Corsi events, that differential in Corsi is only about .23 goals every 4 games.

        If we compress the data for the zone start corrections you suggest, we get only a 164 raw Corsi differential, or 2 Corsi events per game, .14 goals per game.

        Now, I know Corsi is a proxy for possession, but if we are talking 2 or 3 corsi events per game, what kind of a realistic possession differential are we taling about? Maybe 30-45 seconds at EV over 8-11 minutes in EV ice time? Those kinds of effects are swamped, multiple times over, by shooting luck or score effects. You add that up over a whole team, I think you have something, but as between individual players the scale is just so small.

        This isn’t to say that Corsi and similar possession stats are not useful, just that the scale of what constitutes material differentiation between players frequently gets amplified. I mean, every NHL player is the best player you ever probably you, and anyone you know, probably ever played with or against at any point. It shouldn’t be surprising that most of what separates results is not the repeatable skill portions.

        • Good stuff Tach.

          As you suggest, though, the differences in middle of the rotation guys are minute. The goal is to add ’em all up to something meaningful. In any given night if each of your various players are +3.3 corsi better than their counter-parts on the other team, you’re murdering them in terms of possession.

          • Pat,

            It’s not that I wouldn’t like to have Prust back, it is just that it is so immaterial to where the Flames were exposed this season. For the most part, our third and fourth line depth guys were holding their heads above water or beating up on the other teams’ depth guys.

            The problem was that our top end (or purported top end – I am looking at Stajan’s stint as a fourth liner to end the year) were largely unable to consistently outplay other teams’ top ends. You couple that to an expensive set of players designed to compensate for the forward ranks possession frailties by keeping the puck out of our net (Bouwmeester, Regehr, Sarich, Kiprusoff at ~$20 million cap hit with no appreciable expectation of doing anything inside the other teams’ blue line) being totally inept at doing that (see Cleave’s earlier post) and you get a 10th place team.

            The best case scenario for having a guy like Prust is he replaces a bottom six guy. I put the Flames bottom six as – Moss/Glencross, Jackman, Backlund, Stajan, Kotalik, Kostopolous (top six last year Iginla, Tanguay, Jokinen, Morrison, Bourque, Moss/Glencross). The only guy I see Prust giving you any appreciable advantage on is Kotalik, and that is mostly the $2 million cap space that you could have paid to upgrade one of your top six guys.

            Again, I like Prust and I don’t disagree that it would be nice to still have Prust on the roster. Certainly better than watching Kotalik float around like a beer league player with a nasty hangover. I just think his addition would have absolutely no material effect on the Flames’ results this season.

          • SmellOfVictory

            I’d rather have Prust than Kotalik, Hagman, or Kostopolous. He may not have had enough of an impact to change the fate of the team last season, but he’d still be great to have around either way (and as I alluded to earlier, he’d make a decent Glencross replacement in the bottom 6; maybe not as good, but good enough).

  • SmellOfVictory

    The one that got away? That seems to be a bit dramatic for a 3rd or 4th line guy. The team has a lack of high end skill at the forward position; we should be mourning the loss of St Louis, Savard, Huselius, Lombardi, etc….way before discussing yet another mucker. This team has and will have more than enough of those guys….

    • SmellOfVictory

      Given that St Louis and Savard were gone years ago, it’s not something worth writing an article about anymore (unless it’s a historical look at stupid things the Flames’ management has done, which was written a few months ago). Huselius wouldn’t have saved the team, and Lombardi’s loss has been beaten to death with the Jokinen complaints (honestly, I don’t think he’s much better than Jokinen overall anyway; I like him more, but Joker has come around).

  • SmellOfVictory

    The one that got away? That seems to be a bit dramatic for a 3rd or 4th line guy. The team has a lack of high end skill at the forward position; we should be mourning the loss of St Louis, Savard, Huselius, Lombardi, etc….way before discussing yet another mucker. This team has and will have more than enough of those guys….

    • The point with Prust is that he plays like Jackman or GlenX, in slightly tougher situations, and has come in at a cheaper value. If we had him instead of GlenX say, we would be using this potential $3M to pay for higher end talent. We wouldn’t be chained to the “hope” that GlenX takes a hometown discount, or that he performs like this next season, etc etc. – we could use that money on a good forward with consistently proven scoring.

  • SmellOfVictory

    stats dont factor in prustie’s character. he was a warrior in junior, he along with bolland silenced sid the kid. that character is what separates winners from losers. set aside the stats and answer this simple question, who would i want going to war with me? kotalik,or prust.

  • Wonder how Todd could explain this? 5-0? Excellent! Just a quick question on that series: Who do you start in net for Vancouver in game 6?

    And on the article: I always liked Prust as a player and we could definitely use him over Kotalik, Stajan, Hagman.

  • Talk about monumental collapse for the Canucks so far, almost Bruins-ish from last playoffs.

    I mean, did they really think none of the Hawks were going to show up? Duncan Keith is a stud right now, Marian Hossa has it going again, Bolland tore it up in Game 4 – things are coming back. They came off a couple close games and lost 7-2, then lost 5-0. Luongo has let in 10 goals in the last 2 games and the Sedins are nowhere to be seen. Hawks have figured them out again, and I hope to hell they can win games 6 and 7 so the gloating ceases…

    At least until next season.

  • Oh, and where’s that 40 goal scorer… what’s his name? Klesla, Kupko… Kesler! That’s the one. And Burrows, where’s he? Enjoy the President’s Trophy boys, just don’t forget – season doesn’t end after 82 games (unless you’re the Flames, or Oilers, or Avs, etc etc).

  • Canucks Suck

    I think Jackman is only going to improve too hes probably not as skilled as Prust and isn’t as young, but I think Tim can see what he did this year and will probably even strive for better next year. I can see him hovering around the same amount of points maybe a little more or a little less but probably playing a slightly elevated role. He has easily become one of my favorite flames I wasn’t worried so much about his signing like I was with Stone(did he even play on the farm this season?) or Ivanans because I had heard what Brent thought about the guy. I was a huge fan of Prust and hes going to be hard to replace so I just try and fill that void with other good things, like Jackmans two goal game this year I may have been pretty intoxicated but this scar on my shin from falling into the guard rail in front of my seat because I was cheering so hard after he scored that second goal will always remind me how awesome Jackman is when he is going.

  • Scott

    I see someone is using my moniker…

    When you think of the mgmt’s motto of, “One player away”, you never think of a guy like Prust, but a top end guy. That being said, Championships are won by the 3rd and 4th line guys. Having depth players that can outplay the other teams depth players, see chicago last year, and how the rangers are being competitive in the series with Washington.

    Sure having Brad Richards on this team would be really nice, but if his line is the only one putting in goals and stopping the other team from scoring goals, then your going to have problems. Case and point is Vancouver, with no decent depth last year, the floundered in the playoffs. This year they picked up Malhotra, and became a dominant team all year. Sure you can say its the Sedins that carry the team, but that is because they have guys behind them doing all the heavy lifting. They will probably get passed chicago (Hopefully NOT!) but not much further since they are back to being a two line team with Malhotra’s injury, and Burrows and Kesler having to play that defensive role, and now not able to put up points.