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In a shocker of a trade, the New Jersey Devils acquired defenseman Sami Vatanen and a conditional third round pick from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi, and a 2018 third-round pick. The Devils have been in the market for a puck-moving defenseman and got their man in Sami Vatanen, while the Ducks added some much needed forward help for a group decimated by injury.
The trade makes sense for both sides, but fills a significant need for the New Jersey Devils in acquiring Sami Vatanen.
Vatanen has struggled a bit this season since returning from injury and his numbers are not overly impressive. However, there’s reason to believe he’s been dragged down by being paired with Kevin Bieksa. The following table shows Vatanen’s stats with and without Bieksa in 2017-18 (via Natural Stat Trick).
|Stat||W/ Bieksa||W/O Bieksa|
|Corsi For per 60 min||39.7||60.6|
|Corsi Against per 60 min||69.1||73.1|
|Scoring Chances For%||31.2%||46.5%|
|Scoring Chances For per 60 minutes||18.3||30.3|
|Scoring Chances Against per 60 min.||40.3||34.1|
I went ahead and highlighted all the areas where Vatanen’s numbers showed improvement and almost across the board, his numbers showed a significant uptick away from Bieksa. His Corsi jumped by almost 9 percent and his shot generation (Corsi For per 60) jumped by over 20. Vatanen was also significantly better at preventing and generating scoring chances away from Bieksa. So if there was concern about Vatanen’s play this season, there’s reason to be optimistic because Bieksa has been a drag on his play in the 12 games they’ve been paired together.
More over, if we look at Vatanen’s five-on-five numbers for the prior three seasons (2014-15 through 2016-17) his numbers were fairly respectable, He has a 50.3 percent Corsi with a relative Corsi of -1.1 percent. He also had a 53.4 percent expected goals for percentage with a relative xGF percent of 1.3 percent, which shows that the Ducks were generating more quality shots than not when Vatanen was on the ice. Vatanen was also a decent, albeit not great, shot suppressor at five-on-five allowing 55.4 shot attempts against per 60 minutes, which will also be helpful for the Devils.
While Vatanen’s five-on-five numbers were fairly decent prior to this season, much of his added value comes from what he contributes on special teams, specifically on the power-play. Over the last three seasons, Vatanen has averaged 4.78 points per 60 minutes with the man advantage, which is 14th best in the league for a defenseman with >200 minutes played while a man up and is similar to defensemen such as P.K. Subban and Shayne Gostisbehere. With Will Butcher already succeeding as a power-play quarterback, Vatanen gives the Devils another threat to help orchestrate the man advantage.
I don’t think there’s a loser in this trade. Both teams came out acquiring good talent that helps fill some big needs. That said, the Devils may have a slight edge in what they got in return. Vatanen has done well, especially when put in an offensive role, which is how John Hynes wants his team to play. Vatanen’s numbers took a bit of a hit when he played some tougher defensive minutes in Anaheim, but I wouldn’t expect the Devils to entirely use him that way. Those minutes will probably be given to Andy Greene and Damon Severson while Vatanen will be allowed to play a more offensive role, which plays to his strengths.
In closing, Vatanen will help the Devils in the short and long-term, as Henrique will for Anaheim. While Vatanen doesn’t make the Devils a Stanley Cup contender by any stretch, it is a big upgrade for a blue line that has had their fair share of struggles this season. They get a young, puck-moving defenseman who has term on his deal and will play top-four minutes right away. It’s just another addition in a long-line of moves that Ray Shero has made that has now made the Devils serious playoff contenders for the first time since their 2012 run to the Stanley Cup.
Advanced stats in the table above via Natural Stat Trick
All other advanced stats are via Corsica Hockey