Do you hear it? If you don’t, just wait until the TNT telecast of the New York Rangers game on Wednesday night. It will the constant chatter about Pavel Buchnevich and how the Rangers gave up on him and basically handed him to the St. Louis Blues. They will talk ad nauseum about his goal scoring, his penalty killing, his fabulous season etc. God help us if he scores a goal. Okay, we’ll concede that this season, the return that the Rangers got was meager, but lets dive in a little deeper.
First off, Blue Line Station’s Matthew Tricomi eloquently made the case for Ranger fans to get past the trade. What’s done is done and it can’t be undone. You can read it here. But there are even more reasons to take a realistic look at the trade. As we dive into this, we are going to make one key assumption, that Buchnevich would have been the right wing on the line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. There is no way that Gerard Gallant would have meddled with the KBZ line, based on it’s prior success.
There’s no question, Buchnevich is having a career season in terms of goals and points. He has scored 19 goals and added 27 assists for 46 points in 46 games. His career highs are 21 goals and 48 points. He is playing 18 minutes per game on the left wing, mostly on a line centered by Robert Thomas with Vladimir Tarasenko on the right side.
At even strength this season, Buchnevich has scored 13 goals and 31 points. That’s an average of .29 goals per game and .68 points per game 5v5.
Last year with the Rangers, at even strength, Buchnevich scored 16 goals and 36 points in 54 games. That’s a .30 goals per game average and a .67 points per game. So, he is NOT having a career year, he is playing at almost exactly the same level that he did last season.
The big difference is the power play. The Russian is averaging 2:20 per game on the power play for the Blues and he has five power play goals and 14 power play assists. With the Rangers last season he had one power play goal and seven power play assists.
With the Blues he is getting much more quality time with the man advantage. There is no way he would be playing on the top power play unit if he was still with the Rangers and the current Blueshirts’ second unit is getting barely a minute per game.
The point is when comparing Buchnevich’s stats, the key numbers are at even strength as he wouldn’t have been in the position to get much PP time if he was still in New York.
One more thing. Who has replaced him on the KBZ line this season? It looks like Alexis Lafrenière has inherited that role and he has 12 goals and four assists, all at even strength, as a 20-year-old learning how to play the off-wing. That’s one fewer 5v5 goal than Buchnevich.
How would he have changed the Rangers?
It’s easy to say that if they had kept Buchnevich, it would have been the solution to the Rangers even strength scoring woes. But remember, he would have slotted on the right side of the top line. Last season when Buchnevich, Kreider and Zibanejad were on the ice at even strength, the Rangers scored 16 goals versus 10 by the opposition.
This season, when Kreider and Zibanejad have been on the ice 5v5, the Rangers have scored 37 goals versus 23 for the opposition.
Could Buchevich have improved the numbers for that line this season? No way.
The difference would have been if Gerard Gallant had broken up the KBZ line and put Buchnevich on with Strome and Panarin. That might have made a bigger difference.
One more factor that raised eyebrows was Buchnevich’s newfound prowess as a penalty killer. The fear was that his departure would hurt the Rangers penalty kill, rated 10th best with a 82.3% success rate last season. Guess what? This season’s version is seventh best in the NHL with a 82.7% success rate.
Some reasons the trade made sense
So, could Chris Drury have gotten more in return for Buchnevich? One issue is that he was very limited in finding a trading partner. The Blues gave Buchnevich a $5.8 million contract after the trade. Currently, there are nine teams with over $6 million in cap space when you don’t take LTIR into account. That’s how tight it is. 23 teams don’t have the cap flexibility to even think of acquiring a player who needs that kind of payday. That means Drury had to find a team with enough cap space to sign Buchnevich to a multi-year deal with an average annual cap hit of around $6 million.
Could Drury have gotten more than a player like Sammy Blais and a second round draft pick from Buffalo, Detroit, Ottawa, Anaheim, Columbus, Nashville, New Jersey, Seattle or Arizona? Don’t hold your breath.
When Drury pulled the trigger on the deal, he avoided a costly potential arbitration with Buchnevich, a player he wouldn’t have been able to sign to an extension after this season. He was also able to send him to a Western Division team, minimizing the damage if he had this kind of season for a playoff rival.
As a matter of fact, one could argue that the return was better than expected. Blais is a cost controlled, young forward who can play physically and has shown that he has the potential to be a 15 goal scorer. The second round pick is a decent return if the Rangers make a good pick. Think Will Cuylle.
When it came to the Buchnevich deal, the worst case scenario came to pass when Blais suffer the torn ACL that ended his season. He was just beginning to find his role on the team when he was hurt.
Wishing him well
There’s no denying that Pavel Buchnevich is a talented hockey player. He was popular with his teammates and well liked by the fans. But it’s much too easy to look at his goals and points totals and proclaim that the Rangers were fleeced.
If you take into account the different role that he has been given on the Blues and the fact that the KBZ line has not missed a beat without the “B,” the angst over the trade is an overreaction. Pavel Buchnevich playing for the 2021-22 Rangers wouldn’t have been the panacea for the Rangers’ depth scoring issues. Drury thought he was helping to solve that problem with the acquisition of Sammy Blais. You can thank P.K. Subban for making sure that that didn’t happen.
So, when the TNT announcers start yapping about how the Blues “stole” Pavel Buchnevich from the Rangers in a one-sided deal, remember all of the various factors at play. Then hit the mute button.