Buyer beware in NHL trade market

Martin Erat has just nine points in 30 games this season, but had 58 in 2011-12. Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

After the calendar flips to January, the NHL trade talk will begin to heat up. As a fan of a contender, it is exciting to dream about the shiny new toy your team may pick up, as we are in the holiday season. But as in free agency, "winning" the sweepstakes for a big-name player isn't a guarantee of a victory parade around the corner, and it frequently falls far short of that.

Analytics can give us clues as to which potential trade targets may be successful, and which ones will be busts; or at the very least, which ones will deplete organizational resources and cap space without the team gaining much ground.

It doesn't take much effort to develop an eye for it. You want to look for players off to uncharacteristically hot starts. Is a player greatly surpassing his career shooting percentage? Are his linemates too hot to be believed? Has the goalie stopped nearly every puck while he is on the ice? And in the same vein, is a skater putting up a big plus/minus while his team is regularly outshot with him on the ice? One must also be mindful of a player's circumstances. Is he generally matched up against top-six forwards, or the opponent's fourth line? Is he deployed for more offensive or defensive zone draws? How is he doing at even strength alone?

The metrics that are commonly used to answer these questions are just the tip of the iceberg in comprehensively analyzing potential trade targets, but they can give a solid indication of deals that may go wrong, or can confirm or question scouting opinions.

With that in mind, let's look at eight potential trade targets -- some of them already in the rumor mill -- where we suggest the potential buyer beware:


Martin Erat, RW, Washington Capitals
Cap hit: $4.5 million (through 2014-15)
Issues: Aging forward, potential distraction

For years, Erat was a quality top-six scorer for Nashville (with 1.80 even-strength points per 60 minutes being the commonly accepted cutoff for that designation), so a team looking to acquire the 32-year-old Czech winger would be banking on a return to that fairly recent output level. While some of his dip in production has been due to a significantly diminished role with the Capitals, with a loss of four to five minutes of ice time per game, age should be factored into the equation, as well. Another issue -- and this is certainly not lost on NHL teams -- is his recent history of trade requests. An acquiring team may get more veteran headache than veteran leadership.


Shawn Matthias, C, Florida Panthers
Cap hit: $1.8 million (through 2014-15)
Issues: Underachieving, lack of consistency