A lot of people have been commenting on the Penguins' acquisition of Douglas Murray from San Jose. Some view it as a positive, others a negative. But this story over at Hockey Prospectus prompted me to dig around a little bit and see how Murray's numbers looked. Admittedly, a big red flag is that Murray has been the Sharks worst defenseman this year in terms of possession. But I tend to think Shero and Company know what they're doing, so I continued to poke around and found some important context to these initially troubling numbers.
His campaigns in 2010 and 2011 were pretty good. He was seeing a lot of ice time at even strength against tough competition, and he did reasonably well in terms of possession (his zone start can explain some of the drop off in Corsi from 2010 to 2011). Obviously this year sticks out like a sore thumb. But it's only been 29 games so far as opposed to the 133 game sample from the previous seasons. I've looked around and I haven't seen anything regarding an injury or catastrophic event to indicate that something happened this offseason which permanently changed Murray as a hockey player. I'd be more concerned if Murray's stats were consistently bad the last couple of years, but his positive play the last few seasons makes me hopeful that his past performance is more indicative of what we'll see in the future than the smaller sample this season.
The second piece of context in the Murray deal looks at the quality of his teammates in San Jose. I looked at his Corsi Rel QoT numbers at behind the net, and among the six Sharks defensemen who played 20 games or more this year, Murray is second to last with a Corsi Rel QoT of -2.613. That seemed really bad, so I decided to look at all defensemen in the league who have played at least 20 games this year. The results? Murray is third from the bottom, out of 172 players. So it looks like he's getting no help. Some might say that Murray is actually the worst hockey player in the last 20 years, and is making his teammates who would otherwise be positive possession players that bad. I find this unlikely given Murray's history, and also because anyone who is actually that bad would have never made it to the NHL in the first place.
I also looked at Murray's top linemates and found similar results. Three out of his four top linemates are negative possession players on the Sharks. I also noticed that among the Sharks defensemen, Murray has spent the most time on the ice with Adam Burish. Burish has the worst Corsi rating on the Sharks. In fact, it's so bad that he ranks 334/339 in Corsi ON for forwards who played 20 or more games this year. It would be tough for any defenseman in the league to put together positive possession numbers with so little help when he steps on the ice.
FInally, the last piece of context that is important is the cost of what we gave up. We traded Murray for a second round pick, and another conditional pick which turns into a second if we win two rounds in the playoffs or re-sign Murray. How valuable are these picks? Scott Cullen at TSN compiled some stats on this question by looking at the success of players who were drafted by NHL teams. For players who are drafted in the late second round (when the Penguins will be picking), the chances that that player will play at least 100 NHL games is around 25%. Those are not good odds, especially in light of the fact that these players will take years to develop. I think most would be surprised at how low those numbers are. Indeed, even the players drafted at the top of the second round have only a 25% chance of success. And of course, even if a player plays 100 or more NHL games, there's no guarantee he will be an impact player or rather a career fourth liner who chips in when he can. I think all of this means that people tend to overvalue draft picks when GMs make deals. Frankly, based on the data culled by Scott Cullen, it doesn't seem like there's much success outside the first (and even bottom first rounders have a less than 50% chance of making it). So the result is that we got a proven NHL player from the Sharks (who has put together solid season-long performances in the past) and in return sent them two picks that very likely won't develop into NHL players.
With all of this context in mind, I don't think this was as bad a deal as Jonathan Willis made it out to be in the Hockey Prospectus article. I think that Murray will fill a role for the Penguins that they've been trying to fill for a while, and hopefully a change of scenery will kick him out of the slump he's been in this season. I also want to be clear about what I'm saying. I'm not saying that this was a steal by the Penguins, that Murray is the next Nik Lidstrom, or that we've solved any and every problem we might have ever had on defense. What I am saying is that viewed in light of the context I mentioned above, I think this is a fair trade, and one that Ray Shero should do again if given the opportunity. I mentioned in one of the comment threads that it's hardly ever a bad move to give up an unknown (pick or prospect) for a proven NHL player. I think that holds true in this case as well.