The St. Louis Blues announced on Tuesday that they had acquired Marco Scandella from the Montreal Canadiens. The team gave up a second-round and fourth-round pick for the defenseman. This was notably more expensive than when Scandella was dealt to Montreal earlier this season. In that deal, Montreal dealt a single fourth-round pick for Scandella, reeling him in from the often-greedy Buffalo Sabres.
While it may not seem like much, this additional second-round pick is a dramatic increase in price. The defensemen market was set earlier Tuesday, when the Winnipeg Jets reeled in the greatly underrated Dylan DeMelo for only a third-round pick. DeMelo’s price was significantly less than the Blues paid for Scandella, completely going against the ‘norm’ set by the DeMelo deal. It was a horrid deal, definitely the worst move that Doug Armstrong has made in his very impressive career so far.
Explaining the Dark Side of the Scandella Deal
The Market Price
DeMelo was the first defenseman moved in the loom of this year’s NHL Trade Deadline. The 26-year-old truly shot up his trade value this season. While his point-totals have remained steady, on pace for just-under 20 points, his possession numbers and on-ice play has notably improved. He’s overall become a much-improved playmaker on an Ottawa Senators team that’s been in-the-dumps all season long. Statistically, this includes a career-high Corsi-For of 53.1 percent and a career-high xGF/60 of 2.76. Through-and-through, he’s finally breaking out after a fairly ‘meh’ start to his career. This new-and-improving right-hander only cost a third-round pick.
Alec Martinez has been on the trading block all season. The Los Angeles Kings are in the last, and most difficult, phase of what’s been a tremendous rebuild. This is the phase that’s sees the rebuilding team finally part ways with their former selves and sell off their aging veterans. Tyler Toffoli and Martinez are seeing the brunt of this, Martinez especially. The defenseman is a two-time Stanley Cup winner and a hero in LA. In double-overtime of Game Five in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, Martinez netted the Cup-winning goal, giving LA their second Stanley Cup in franchise history. He’s also provided the team with five more-than-20-points seasons through his 10-year career with the Kings, ultimately becoming one of the league’s most reliable blue-liners. Per Pierre LeBrun on Tuesday, the price for this still-solid veteran is two second-round picks. Some other reports have a bottom-six forward joining that mix but, by all means, it’s still a cheap price and not a very large jump from the price paid for Scandella.
Brenden Dillon was the third defenseman dealt away on Tuesday and was the name that many Blues fans expected the team to reel in. He’s a reliable, gritty defenseman that packs a noticeable defensive punch, even if his scoring totals have been lackluster throughout his career. Still, Dillon was heavily sought after since his name hit the deadline earlier this season. There isn’t much to be said about Dillon other than his reliability, devotion, and defensive prowess. This reliability was dealt to the Washington Capitals for a second and third round pick, nearly what the Blues paid for Scandella.
Scandella’s Terrible Past
Martinez and DeMelo are not great, top-pair defensemen but they are solid, reliable, and either have a solid track record or are noticeably breaking out of their shell. Despite this, both players are set at much lower prices, relative to what they bring to the table. Scandella, on the other hand, does not bring enough to the table to warrant the price paid for him. In fact, Scandella has hardly been an NHL-caliber defenseman for most of his career.
There’s far too much evidence backing this seemingly-hot take up. His standard stats begin to paint the picture, with his career-high in scoring being a bleak 20 points set in 2017-18, virtually no special-teams use, and low hitting, block, and even shooting totals. These stats don’t give the whole picture, though. It’s his advanced stats that truly show how bad he is.
The Advanced Numbers
Plenty of numbers show this but there it’s his isolated impact that stands out. In these graphs, the higher the offensive-threat, the better; and the lower the defensive-threat, the better. League average for both is around zero, although the league’s best players can reach double-digit tallies. For example, Ryan O’Reilly proves his dominate talent with a +15 offensive-threat and a -22 defensive-threat; truly dazzling numbers earned by the league’s reigning Selke Trophy-winner. Scandella’s numbers, though, go in the absolute wrong direction. In fact, here are his isolated impact charts between 2016 and 2019:
These are atrocious tallies and show a trend of worse-and-worse play. The 2017-18 season was especially awful. He brought down the already-poor Sabres offense to a terribly ineffective bunch. On the other end, he was (coincidentally) exactly just as bad. He was a complete disaster and, in the same vein that O’Reilly’s dominance builds up the already-good Blues, Scandella’s incompetence totally tore down the already-bad Sabres.
It Gets Worse
If those numbers weren’t enough, Evolving Hockey’s tremendous work with goals-above-replacement and wins-above-replacement stats show even more. During his 2018-19 season, Scandella ranked 18th and 19th-lowest in the league. He was placed in the same grouping as Roman Polak, Nikita Zaitsev, and Derek Forbort; three well-below-average defensemen that performed better than Scandella that year. The numbers weren’t much better in the year prior, where Scandella ranked 31st-worst in both stats. This is out of a sample size of 351 in 2018-19 and 298 in 2017-18, yet somehow Scandella manages to be in the bottom-10 percent of both.
Above-replacement stats in hockey are far from what they are in baseball but the numbers at Evolving Hockey are among the most accurate in the business, and all of these numbers point towards one thing: Scandella has been hardly-NHL-caliber for years. In fact, he’s only dragged down his team for years.
That is, until this year. Scandella has spent all season racking up his trade value with great play. While it’s been far from jaw-dropping, it’s a nice refreshment from his track record. In fact, Scandella was the best defenseman in Buffalo up to the point that he got dealt. It was the entire basis of his trade. Scandella was on Buffalo’s trade block for years but his strong boost this year finally convinced a gullible team to take a risk on him and his terrible $4 million contract. With Montreal, Scandella had a meh three points in 20 games and strong possession metrics: just enough to get by for a bottom-pair defenseman.
But the weirdly-strong play is, well, just that: weird. In fact, Scandella’s PDO proves this. He’s averaged a 102 PDO on the year, with a dramatically-high 104 with Buffalo. While this is an admittedly-rather thin debate, such a high PDO shows just how unusual, and lucky, this year has been for Scandella. His possession metrics may be a small glimpse of his true self but his work has, statistically, been incredibly out of the ordinary. Combined with low scoring and, honestly, not doing much at all on the ice; Scandella’s strong 2019-20 year seems riddled with holes.
The Silver Lining
Of course, this is making a mountain out of a molehill. Scandella is a bad NHL defenseman, and far from the skillful, young players in the Blues minor leagues, but acquiring him isn’t the end of the world. With the modest play of Jacob de La Rose this year, the Blues have proven that even below-NHL-caliber players can perform up to par. This seems even more true for Scandella, who will be lucky enough to play alongside Alex Pietrangelo or Colton Parayko; two names who make life much easier for their partners.
The Blues also didn’t, really, give up too much for Scandella. It was a tremendous overpayment, with Montreal coming away like bandits, and the Blues could have easily gotten a better player with the same package; but a second and fourth-round pick isn’t a terrible loss. This is especially considering the fact that these picks will, likely, be within the bottom-three of their respective rounds.
Ultimately, this trade very closely resembles the deal made by Armstrong last season. On February 25th last year, Armstrong sent a sixth-round pick to the Anaheim Ducks for Michael Del Zotto, who served as a emergency-blueliner. This is the same role that Scandella will end up serving, after playing a handful of games upon joining the team. It’s not an ideal role to spend a second-round pick on but it’s not the end of the world. So while the Scandella acquisition is a black mark on Armstrong’s flawless record, it’s not going to take down a St. Louis team that has emphatically been among the best in the league, has the higher chance at a winning a Stanley Cup than any other Western Conference team, and is finally back in the win column. The Blues are tremendous and one trade isn’t going to take that down.