Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Thrashers deal Havelid

In a move that was only surprising by the timing (two days before the trade deadline), Don Waddell, general manager and vice president of the Atlanta Thrashers Hockey Club, dealt the franchise’s best defenseman Niclas Havelid along with ECHL toughman Myles Stoesz for to the New Jersey Devils for Finnish defenseman Anssi Salmela.

Initial reaction from 99.9 percent of Atlanta Thrashers fans? Who?

Anssi Salmela is a hard-nosed, hard-shooting blueliner that has been tagged with the label “offensive defenseman.” Salmela is somewhere between 5-11 and 6-0 tall and 185-195 lbs. according to different sports websites and has been in involved in some shady moments both on and off the ice.

Salmela is rumored to have been in a bar fight in Finland a couple years ago and also took on David Backes (one very tough customer) at the World Junior Championships not too long ago. Anssi is 24 years old an was an undrafted free agent signed this summer by New Jersey.

Before coming to North America, Salmela played for Tappara Tampere in the Finnish League with Thrasher prospects Jonas Enlund and Niclas Lucenius, both forwards. According to Ben Wright of the Blueland Blog, Don Waddell had between 35-40 scouting reports on Salmela before he pulled the trigger on this deal.

Anssi has played 17 games with the Devils this season with three assists and six minutes in the penalty box. Salmela has scored well at the AHL level with 24 points (8 goals, 16 assists) with Lowell, New Jersey’s minor league affiliate.

Also in the Blueland Blog were Waddell’s plans for Anssi Salmela. Due to a blow to the head in an AHL game last week, Salmela has been off the ice recently. Atlanta plans on sending Salmela to Chicago for a conditioning stint over the weekend and then calling him up for the road trip that begins on Monday.

Some other news and notes involving this trade… Waddell said he received offers for 2nd round picks but opted for a player that could step in now… The Thrashers didn’t settle for Salmela but actually got a player they wanted (according to Waddell)… Due to little ice time at the ECHL level, Myles Stoesz’s agent had asked Waddell to look into the option of moving Stoesz to a team that might give him an opportunity.

So, there is the news… Zim’s take:

• Not that this was near as dramatic as the Marian Hossa saga of last season (that obviously affected the team’s play on ice), but the Thrashers’ moving their biggest chip in the early stages of the “trade frenzy” might not be such a distraction to the team tonight as they take on the Panthers.
• Anssi Salmela is young, experienced, and tough as nails. The Thrashers are starting to assimilate a defensive unit that has players with multiple skill sets. So many years in the past Atlanta has had a tough guy that can’t skate or shoot or an offensive-minded powerplay specialist that can’t play a lick in his own zone. Salmela brings a chippy game with some offensive upside. He’s by no means a blue chip, but the Thrashers seem to think he’ll fit the system.
• Salmela is Finnish. I know this might not seem like a big deal, but Kari Lehtonen is a Finn and communication, along with comfort, for foreign players in North America can be very helpful on the ice. The Thrashers also have a pretty promising center prospect in Jonas Enlund that has already played with Salmela and doesn’t know much English. Salmela, though not brought in for this purpose in any way, shape, or form, could help the small, but potentially growing group of Finnish players on the Thrashers.
• Salmela is cheap and an RFA after this season. Anssi is making $562,000 and unless he completely impresses in the final 19 games of the season, Salmela won’t be too expensive to re-sign.
• With Havelid and Schneider gone, the Thrashers have committed to the youth movement… especially on the blueline. In honesty, this is what I’ve wanted all along; to grow defensemen together. With veteran presence from Ron Hainsey and Garnet Exelby, the young group of Zach Bogosian, Boris Valabik, Anssi Salmela, Nathan Oystrick, and possibly Artus Kulda are part of the immediate future. Atlanta also has brought up Grant Lewis, maybe to play tonight, along with Chad Denny, Scott Lehman, Brett Skinner, and Clay Wilson as depth defensemen. The Thrashers have some promising youngsters in Paul Postma (tearing up the WHL) and Andrei Zubarev (highly touted Russian).

• First and foremost, the Thrashers lose a consummate professional and a rock steady presence on the blueline in Niclas Havelid. Though it may not be a boast to call Niclas Havelid the best defenseman in franchise history, the fact is that it is true.
• Waddell is taking a slight risk on Salmela. He’s not an established talent and Waddell has yet to see a similar trade that brought promising, but unproven players to Atlanta (Hossa bringing back Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen) pay off.
• The Thrashers could have tried to push the price up by waiting until closer to the deadline. Waddell was receiving offers that included 2nd round picks. In a deep draft, the Thrashers could have picked up a second pick in that round and draft three of the top-60 players available in the world. There is always a chance that Salmela will not be as good as the player that could have been drafted.
• If Salmela does play in the NHL, Atlanta still has seven defenseman and somebody is going to have to sit each and every game. Honestly, this doesn’t bother me as I believe that Nathan Oystrick is a perfectly serviceable seventh defenseman in the NHL.

To me, the pros outweigh the cons on this deal. Atlanta gets a player that the front office wanted, for whatever reason, and right now I trust that judgement. I’ve been much more impressed with the type of young talent that Waddell has brought in over the past three drafts/seasons. The Rich Peverley acquisition has worked out well, I’m willing to wait on Anssi Salmela.

Personally, with some of the youth already in the system and the fact that we still have all of our draft picks for June and then some, I like Waddell’s approach of trying to find players that can contribute now or very soon. Prospects and promising young players are the GM’s targets this deadline and I agree.

Everybody always wants to look at draft picks as the right way to go, but the percentages are lower than you might think… I believe The Falconer valued 2nd round picks as yielding NHL regulars 15-20 percent of the time.

I look forward to watching Anssi Salmela the rest of this season and I certainly wish Niclas Havelid well in New Jersey. We will miss his steady play.