The Poni Debate


    On the heels of Saturday night’s rumour from the Hockey Night in Canada Hot Stove panel that the dealing of pending free agents Matt Stajan and Alexei Ponikarovsky is a virtual certainty, TSN’s Darren Dreger has listed the pair as the fourth and fifth most-likely trade candidates this trade deadline (Stajan followed by Ponikarovsky) as Brian Burke seeks to re-equip his club with picks lost or equivalent prospects.

    On the topic of the big Ukranian, I sarcastically remarked in the Leafs-Kings game day thread “[Who knows?] that late 2nd round pick we might fetch for Alexei Ponikarovsky might turn out being as good as Alexei Ponikarovsky some day if we’re lucky.” To prove this wasn’t just some uneducated quip, I’ve amassed a list of all players drafted between 45th and 60th overall inclusive of entry drafts 2000-2005, working under the assumptions that the best return on the market will be found in a playoff team or contender (therefore later on in the order) and that the market’s ceiling for a player of Ponikarovsky’s credentials is set in the second round. Here’s that list of 90 players:

    2000 – Mathieu Chouinard, Jarret Stoll, Jared Aulin, Gerard Dicaire, Jonas Nordqvist, Sergei Soin, Kris Vernarsky, Shane Endicott, Alexander Tatarinov, Andreas Lilja, Antoine Vermette, Alexander Suglobov, Matt DeMarchi, Vladimir Sapozhnikov, Ivan Huml, Dan Ellis

    2001 – Martin Podlesak, Mike Zigomanis, Alexander Polushin, Tuomas Pihlman, Mike Cammalleri, Chris Thorburn, Jaroslav Bednar, Ed Caron, Kiel McLeod, Noah Welch, Jason Pominville, Andrei Medvedev, Jay McClement, Nathan Paetsch, Matt Keith, Victor Uchevato

    2002 – Tomas Linhart, David LeNeveu, Alexei Kaigorodov, Alexei Shkotov, Kirill Koltsov, Sergei Anshakov, Anton Kadeykin, Dan Spang, Barry Tallackson, Duncan Keith, Denis Grot, Vladislav Yevseyev, Matthew Stajan, Jiri Hudler, Maxime Daigneault, Adam Henrick

    2003 – Dan Fritsche, Matt Carle, Dmitri Chernykh, Shea Weber, Ivan Baranka, Colin McDonald, Corey Crawford, Evgeny Tunik, B.J. Crombeen, Stefan Meyer, Patrick O’Sullivan, John Doherty, Jeremy Colliton, Michal Barinka, Marc-Andre Bernier

    2004 – Ryan Garlock, Adam Pineault, Blake Comeau, Dane Byers, Carl Soderberg, Enver Lisin, Bruce Graham, Raymond Sawada, David Booth, Nicklas Grossman, Brandon Dubinsky

    2005 – Guillaume Latendresse, Dustin Kohn, Tom Fritsche, Philipp Gogulla, Chad Denny, Dany Roussin, Mason Raymond, Chris Durand, Andrew Kozek, Dan Bertram, Adam McQuaid, Marc Andre Cliche, Matt Kassian, Nate Hagemo, Pier-Olivier Pelletier, T.J. Fast

    Players I’d confidently prefer above Alexei Ponikarovsky include: Mike Cammalleri, David Booth, Jason Pominville, Duncan Keith and Shea Weber.

    A total of five players out of 90 players (or 5.55 percent) could be considered of greater value to their franchises than Alexei Ponikarovsky – a consistent 20-25 goal scorer for a club that drafted him in the fourth round and developed him into a competent defensive presence with the goal-scoring upside to be a two-way contributor in the supporting cast of a winning team. While Ponikarovsky may not be a game-changer and has come under criticism for not using his weight more aggressively, he’s coachable, possesses great physical tools and is one of few on the current club willing and able to screen an opposition goaltender effectively. He also loves the city, appears to want to be a part of the winning formula and is a considerable developmental success for the organization as a former fourth round draft pick – going against the odds in acquiring a second rounder seems like a case of throwing away a homegrown asset simply because he’s earned a pay raise.

    The expiring contract and Ponikarovsky’s worth dollars-wise is going to be the subject of much debate in the coming weeks, but there’s something to be said about how if both sides can hammer something out to the tune of $3-3.99 million, Ponikarovsky is an asset worth keeping on a two or three year contract.

    There’s always a certain allurement to a draft pick due to the element of the unknown – technically it’s not impossible, if very unlikely, that the Leafs could turn over a Cammelleri, Pominville, Keith or a Weber. The counter to the argument presented throughout this blog will suggest that the second round pick is not a bad investment return for a fourth rounder who has gone on to serve the club in parts of 7 seasons and contribute more than 100 goals during his tenure, and that it’s time to change the guard and let the developing likes of Christian Hanson and Victor Stalberg assume his playing time. Both, however, have plenty to prove yet – Hanson doesn’t appear to quite have the offensive upside of a Ponikarovsky, and while Stalberg does appear to have more natural offensive talent, he has a while to go before he becomes a consistent NHL scorer.

    There also other options in terms of clearing roster space and playing time that make more practical sense than moving a player like Ponikarovsky. We’ve all had to go through the painful process of accepting the fact that Jason Blake will have to play out his contract in Toronto. But Niklas Hagman, despite teasing us with spurts of offensive flair, struggles with consistency and doesn’t have as clearly defined of a role etched within Burke’s mould. If you factor in the fact that Lee Stempniak’s contract is expiring, finding top 9 playing time for a Hanson or Stalberg on the wing next season shouldn’t be an issue even with Ponikarovsky in the fold.

    I’m curious as to your thoughts,

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