Straight up: Would you trade Vesa Toskala for Logan Couture? Let me give you a moment to think about it.
As ludicrous as it sounds, that swap went down in a roundabout way in 2007 and the San Jose Sharks can thank their own proclivity in developing netminders for landing them their best current player.
It’s labyrinthine, but went something like this: San Jose trades Toskala and Mark Bell to Toronto for a first and second round pick in 2007, plus a fourth in 2009. The first and second then go to St. Louis for selections that become Lars Eller and Aaron Palushaj, in exchange for the No. 9 slot – where Couture is nabbed. The fourth eventually went to Nashville, where the Preds took Craig Smith.
San Jose made a killing for several years thanks to the organization’s ability to find and develop goaltenders and Toskala wasn’t the only chip. Miikka Kiprusoff, buried behind Toskala and Evgeni Nabokov, was sent to Calgary for a pick that became Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Even Timo Pielmeier (along with Nick Bonino) yielded Travis Moen and Kent Huskins, who were brought in from Anaheim as part of a stocking-up for an eventually failed 2009 Stanley Cup run.
The Predators do the same thing. GM David Poile pulled off a nice deal the other day when he shipped Anders Lindback to Tampa Bay in exchange for two second-round picks this weekend and a third-rounder in 2013 (there were other minor pieces to the deal, but the picks were the big score). And he can do that, because he has a Vezina-worthy netminder in Pekka Rinne as his starter and a future ace in his pocket – Magnus Hellberg. The 6-foot-5 Swede (the first goalie taken in the 2011 draft, 38th overall) just signed his first NHL deal with the Preds and will undoubtedly benefit under the watch of Nashville netminding guru Mitch Korn.
Dan Ellis came from the Dallas Stars organization, but he bloomed in Nashville and eventually turned into Sergei Kostitsyn.
And how’s this for the circle of life: The only reason Nashville got Lindback in the first place was due to a trade that saw a seventh round pick in 2008 (Lindback) and a fourth-rounder in 2009 (Smith, from the previously mentioned Toskala trade with Toronto) come from San Jose for a fourth round pick that became another netminder, Harri Sateri.
Goaltenders are the only players you really can have too many of – there’s one crease and the best ones want to be in it 65-70 games a season. But as bargaining chips, they’re fantastic. The potential Lindback brings to Tampa is mouth-watering and GM Steve Yzerman knows it.
It’s true, goaltenders are notoriously hard to peg when they’re still developing, but that’s where teams with track records such as San Jose and Nashville come in. During their draft year, many of the most talented aren’t even starters on their junior teams and the same goes for players in Europe. Projection is huge and scouts often look for factors such as frame (Nashville is quite fond of 6-foot-5 and up northern Europeans, if you hadn’t noticed), compete level and even how the player performs in practice. But there’s also a measure of reassurance needed for the future, which is what San Jose director of scouting Tim Burke told me for an article in THN’s goalie issue this year: You want to make sure the kid has a crease to call his own the next season.
I’m sure that’s one of the reasons 2012 prospect Oscar Dansk has made overtures about coming over to play major junior after being confined to Sweden’s junior ranks this past season. And if Russian netminder Andrei Vasilevski should slide down the board this weekend in Pittsburgh, it will be due to uncertainty of his workload next year. Will he get a shot in the Kontinental League or stay in the junior ranks? And even if he does play in the KHL, does he get more than a handful of starts?
All important questions. But for the NHL teams that answer them, riches can await in the future.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN’s associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.