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Baertschi the Bargain?

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

March 5, 1991. That was the last time the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames were involved in a trade together; the Flames sent speedster Dana Murzyn to the West Coast for Ron Stern and Kevin Guy.

Almost twenty-four years to day of the Murzyn trade, the Canucks and Flames engaged in a rare inter-division transaction during the final hour of the trade deadline, with Calgary sending the 13th overall pick in the 2011 entry draftSven Baertschi – to Vancouver for a second-round pick in this year’s draft. Baertschi will report to the Utica Comets for the remainder of the season, barring any serious injuries the Canucks may face in their forward group. Comets head coach Travis Green coached Baertschi in his WHL days as a member of the Portland Winterhawks, where Green witnessed firsthand Baertschi tallying 179 points in 113 games.


Heading into Monday's deadline, Canucks general manager Jim Benning indicated that he wasn't interested in sacrificing draft picks or prospects for a rental type player; nor did he want to shop pending UFA's Derek Dorsett, Shawn Matthias and Brad Richardson.


Instead, Benning and Flames General Manager Brad Treliving executed a pure hockey trade, one similar to when Benning acquired Linden Vey from the Los Angeles Kings for a second-round pick at last year’s draft. Back in late January, Benning offloaded World Junior standout Gustav Forsling to the Chicago Blackhawks for defenseman Adam Clendening.


"I love draft picks... But you know what, sometimes when you make trades it’s got to hurt a little bit for the trade to be worth it. So giving up a second-round pick on our part, that hurts, but I believe that we’re getting a top-six forward back and a player that’s going to be really good for us for a long time. I don't like giving up draft picks, but in this case we think Sven Baertschi is - we feel - going to be a top-six NHL player for our team someday. So we weighed getting Sven against what we could get in the second round with our pick and we made the decisions that let's go ahead and do this," Benning told reporters following the conclusion of deadline.

Targeting minor leaguers that are close to the Nation Hockey League level isn’t a new concept to Benning. Vey, Clendening and Baertschi would've all had to eventually clear waivers if each of their respective clubs decided to keep them in the American Hockey League for one more season. Strategically, the Canucks seem to be finding a pattern that acquiring older prospects who've already found success in the minors may be more rewarding to the short-term success of the franchise. After all, the Canucks need to inject more youth into their current lineup to help ease the current generational transition they currently find themselves in the early stage of; and waiting for prospects like Hunter Shinkaruk, Jared McCann, Nicklas Jensen, Brendan Gaunce, Jake Virtanen etc. to reach their potential may take longer than Canucks fans would ideally like. The notion of trading out draft picks for older prospects that are closer to contributing at the NHL level could pay off in the long run because there is no guarantee that the draft picks they'd pick instead would pan out. Although Vey, Clendening and Baertschi aren't assured to be productive NHLers in the future themselves, their success at the AHL level is somewhat encouraging to see going forward, and is worth the chance in Jim Benning's eyes.

"We’re acquiring players that fit a profile that we like in terms of the way we play. "From that 20-year-old to 26-year-old hockey player to set the foundation for our group going forward."

So Why Did The Flames Give Up On Baertschi?


Baertschi hasn't exactly torn apart the American Hockey League in scoring, say like Linden Vey did in Manchester (although Los Angeles' farm system has been more successful than Calgary's of late), as his AHL production has declined ever since he notched 26 points in 32 games (10-16-26), good for an 0.81 points per game output in the 2012-13 season with the Abbotsford Heat. The following year, he scored 29 points in 41 games (13-16-29), dropping his PPG to 0.71. This year with the Adirondack Flames, he put 25 points in 36 games (8-17-25), coming in at 0.69 PPG. Still, Baertschi managed to score at an above rate of 0.70 PPG, a figure which Edmonton Oilers analytics consultant Tyler Dellow regarded as the benchmark for an AHL player to contribute at if they want to be more than a bottom-six player in the NHL. The fall off from year-to-year in Sven's AHL offensive production may have been one of the reasons why Flames GM Brad Treliving chose to give up on their 2011 1st round draft pick. But, as Sportsnet's Chris Johnston tweeted out Monday, Baertschi requested a trade out of Cowtown and notified management that he wouldn't be re-signing a new contract when his entry-level deal expires this summer.

Sven denied asking for a trade when the Calgary media found out about his demand.

"Between me and my agent, the goal was to find a solution, ‘How do I get to play in the NHL?’ We were just trying to find a solution and for me, personally, in Calgary at some point it just didn’t seem to work anymore. But it wasn’t like we called and were like, ‘OK. We want to get out of here,’ "Baertschi told the Calgary media after finding out he’d been traded away from the team that drafted him.

The scouting report of Baertschi is that he's an offensive talent with exceptional puck skills and a willingness to go to the congested areas in front of the net. Noted more as a play-making winger than a pure goal scorer, the Swiss-born Baertschi didn't really fit the "truculent" style of play Brian Burke – Vice-President of Hockey Operations of the Calgary Flames – is trying to build in Calgary. Baertschi is listed at 5'11" and 190 lbs with the knock being on his game is that he's not overly physical and sometimes has trouble matching up against aggressive opponents. Upon arriving in the Flames management in the fall of 2013, Burke didn't shy away from verbally attacking Baertschi’s attention to all three zones and overall consistency.

"All I’ve seen so far is flashes of brilliance. Flashes of brilliance are fine if you’re working in the university, but they’re not much good to people in an NHL building. There are three zones in the ice surfaces in this league. I don’t see that he’s learned to play and compete in two of them. He’s got to learn there’s a clock in this league and there’s so many minutes in the game and that you’ve got to compete through all of it. I’m not ready to quit on a young kid. I’m not ready to throw him under the bus here today and rip him, but I think you can tell from my comments that I see big holes and I see a lack of commitment that’s not going to get him anywhere in my books."

Baertschi burst in the NHL scene amassing 3 goals in his first 5 games as an emergency call-up in the 2011-2012 season. During that same year in junior, he totaled 94 points in 47 games as an 18-year old in his second full year after transferring from the Swiss-B league. In the lockout shortened season, Sven scored an impressive 10 points in 20 games; not bad considering it was his rookie year. Fans in Calgary were in awe that they'd finally had a decent prospect coming through their system, a system ran by a management group that were so reluctant to start a rebuild and replenish their farm system, while holding on to depreciating assets Miikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla. The expectations that were placed on Baertschi may have been unwarranted; as Calgary's system at the time didn’t have any other top-end talent to glorify on. You can see how the pressure was put on Baertschi to excel in a system that was begging a glimpse of youth to come in and make a difference in a lineup riddled with washed-up veterans. But when Brian Burke entered into the picture, everything started going downhill for Sven. Enforcers Tim Jackman and Brian McGrattan started taking Baertschi’s position in the lineup and Sven was subsequently sent down to the AHL after Jay Feaster was fired, with Burke taking over as interim GM despite Baertschi netting 11 points in 26 games. The production was neither impressive nor bad, but it became evident that Burke didn't feel Baertschi was ready for regular duty. This year was relatively no different than the previous seasons: Baertschi was sent down to the AHL at the conclusion of training camp in favour of Devin Setoguchi, Brian McGrattan and Brandon Bollig. He was recalled because of injuries, but saw limited minutes playing on the Flames fourth-line with Paul Byron and Bollig, picking up only 4 assists in 15 games. Talent-wise, he’s better than the aforementioned players. The emergence of youngsters Johnny Gaudreau and Josh Jooris didn't help his case, but clearly, Baertschi simply didn't fit into the style that Burke and Brad Treliving are trying to mold in Calgary. For a more in-depth article on why Baertschi didn't work out in Calgary, check out this article posted at FlamesNation.ca

Baertschi's 5-on-5 Possession Stats

Name

Season

Age

Salary

AAV

Team

Gm

G

A

P

G60

A60

P60

PenD

CF%

PDO

PSh%

ZSO%Rel

TOI/Gm

Sven.Baertschi

2014.15

21

0.925

0.925

CGY

15

0

4

4

0.0

1.8

1.8

-2

43.1

97.3

0.0

5.8

9.2

Sven.Baertschi

2013.14

20

0.925

0.925

CGY

26

1

6

7

0.2

1.1

1.3

5

43.2

99.5

3.8

19.3

12.7

Sven.Baertschi

2012.13

19

0.925

0.925

CGY

20

2

6

8

0.5

1.6

2.1

5

46.4

99.0

8.7

5.7

11.5

Sven.Baertschi

2011.12

18

NA

NA

CGY

5

3

0

3

3.7

0.0

3.7

-2

40.0

112.4

30.0

-26.1

9.8

*Stats courtesy of WarOnIce.com

Baertschi's possession stats are discouraging when initially browsing over them, but keep in mind Calgary's been one of the worst possession teams in the league; the Flames occupy the third worst 5-on-5 CF% -- sitting at 44.7% -- only in front of the Colorado Avalanche and Buffalo Sabres. In the previous three seasons, he mostly played alongside Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler -- players that aren't particularly known for their strong defensive game. In his 14 games this season, Baertschi mostly played with Paul Byron, Brandon Bollig and Josh Jooris. Not surprisingly, Baertschi had a positive impact on Byron and Bollig's possession numbers when skating on a line together, a clear indication that Baertschi didn't belong being deployed on Calgary's fourth line, skill-wise, while averaging 9.2 TOI/Gm. Baertschi's 43.1 CF% and -0.3 CorsiRel is not too bad considering how brutal the Flames have been, possession wise, and the line mates that were ultimately detrimental to his success this season.


Benning's Approach On Acquiring Sven


Jim Benning did take a risk surrendering a second-round pick in what is slated to be a very strong entry draft this season, but this deal has many Flames fans wondering how Baertschi only netted a second-round pick in return when he was once considered one of the top prospects coming out of junior hockey. Benning decided to take a gamble when Treliving called him regarding Baertschi’s availability.

"Yeah I was surprised, but for whatever reason sometimes players need a change of scenery, I think Sven is sort of at that point. A couple years ago scouting all through North America, I thought Sven was the best junior in the country. He was a dynamic player and he played on some real good teams, he played for Mike Johnston who likes to play a fast style of game, and he was excellent. I can't comment on his development the last couple of years, but we're very excited to have him, we think he fits our profile of being a fast, talented, skilled player so I think he's going to fit in good with our young players going forward."

Baertschi may be the best overall offensive talent in the Canucks prospect/young guns pool; he gives the organization a true offensive dynamo that could one day look good alongside the tenacious Jake Virtanen and one of the many centres in the system. Among the Canucks' prospects playing in Utica, Baertschi is the leader in PPG with his cumulative point total carrying over from Adirondack. Benning is now starting to round a balanced forward lineup that has a little bit of everything: speed, skill, play-makers, crash-and-bang power forwards and 2-way shutdown specialists. The fountain of youth in Vancouver is starting to assemble inside the system, which is a positive sign for a team that started the season being the second oldest team in the NHL (28.8), only behind the New Jersey Devils (31.0). Acquiring a skilled player like Baertschi may be a surprise to some, given Benning's "meat and potatoes" look he built in Boston, which he stated he'd like to emulate here.

With trading away their second-pick in this year's draft, the Canucks will not pick until the fourth-round following their first-round selection since they traded their third-round pick away to Anaheim in the Ryan Kesler deal. They do, however, have an extra pick the fifth-round from sending Raphael Diaz to the Montreal Canadiens at the 2014 trade deadline, who ironically is now a member of the Calgary Flames. Benning could very well try to acquire a few draft picks at this year’s draft if he decides to move out Chris Higgins’ contract or part ways with either Eddie Lack or Jacob Markstrom. The Canucks could potentially only have one pick in the top-100 draft picks if they decide not to become active on draft day. The Canucks don’t have a seventh-round in this year’s draft as they traded that pick to Tampa Bay in the Jason Garrison deal. The Baertschi move is a calculated risk made by Benning upon examining the surface of the deal. But consider that Boston had to give up two second round picks for Brett Connolly, the 6th overall pick in the 2010 draft whose production resembles Baertschi’s, and suddenly, the deal doesn’t look as risky. If a change of scenery does wonders for Baertschi’s game, then the risk of parting with this second-rounder becomes a bargain if Baertschi can reach his untapped potential.

AHL Update:


Baertschi played his first game in Utica on Wednesday night, skating on the Comets’ first line alongside Cal O’Reilly and Alex Grenier. Cory Conacher, acquired at the trade deadline for Dustin Jeffrey, played on the Comets’ second line with Hunter Shinkaruk and Alex Friesen. Conacher notched a secondary assist on Andrey Pedan’s opening goal to give the Comets a 1-0 lead. Baertschi picked up his first point as a Comet when he sent Bobby Sanguinetti a pass to the point to for Sanguinetti’s 14th goal of the season which give the Comets a 2-0 heading into the first intermission. Baertschi finished the game with 2 shots on goal and an even rating. Conacher produced four shots on net and finished with a +1 rating. Baertschi and Conacher both missed with their attempts in the shootout, but the Comets managed to pull out a 3-2 victory thanks to Sanguinett’s sixth-round winner. The Comets snapped a three-game losing streak and recorded their first home shootout win of the year. Utica is back in action on Saturday night when they take on the Montreal Canadiens affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs, at 3PM EST at the FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton. The Bullgogs are coming off a 5-4 OT win over Bartschi’s old team, the Adriondack Flames. You can see Baertschi's first point as a Comet at the 0:36 mark of the video below:

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