1709757046 NHL trade deadline Analyzing 5 players to avoid on the

NHL trade deadline: Analyzing 5 players to avoid on the market

The trade deadline is a time for the league's best teams to improve their chances by taking useful pieces away from the league's worst teams.

But it doesn't always work that way. Buyer beware.

Every deadline comes with dangers to avoid, red flags to watch out for, and snake oil to stay away from. The players who aren't worth the price of admission because the price is too high for what they bring or because their addition could be a legitimate disadvantage. The players whose reputation exceeds their performance. The players who contribute to why their current bad team could be so bad.

This doesn't mean that the players listed here are worthless or unsalvageable – it just means that you should be careful. This is especially true after starting last year's roster with Vladislav Gavrikov, who exceeded expectations with the LA Kings. He looked like a stone on the team's blue line. Oops.

This mistake provided a learning experience. While the new version of the model should limit such errors (a greater emphasis on eating minutes versus efficiency), it would still be wise to approach this year's “buyer beware” list with a little more vigilance. And while a projection is always a helpful starting point, a big change in context can drastically change a player's value. Fit is very important and it is more than possible that everyone on this list can find a new and better life with a stronger fit with their new team.

However, caution is still key. Based on Chris Johnston's recent trading forum, these are the five names I would be cautious about acquiring.

Deadline Day is often about supply and demand. Because of this, prices for some assets seem to be much higher than some would expect based on the player's skill alone. With the defenseman market appearing to be thin, particularly on the right side, this could be Arizona's gain.

In previous seasons, Matt Dumba may have been a strong contender. He had a certain offensive talent and a certain finishing ability. He was an excellent puck player who could handle difficult minutes well. Dumba was a true top four guy and guys like that are usually worth the price.

However, Dumba hasn't looked great with the Arizona Coyotes this year. There were already some signs of that in his final season with the Minnesota Wild, and his work with the Coyotes seemed to be confirmation of that.

This year, Dumba played the second few minutes with the Coyotes and scored 47 percent of expected goals and 43 percent of actual goals. Compared to his teammates, he underperformed in both categories for the third straight season.

In earlier years, his harsh treatment could be used as an excuse. Or that his raw defensive numbers were solid. In his move from Minnesota to Arizona, which also plays a smaller role, Dumba's weaker relative numbers have remained consistent. This suggests that you need a lot of support or an even smaller role to be successful.

He's also not quite the puck mover he used to be. Dumba can still lead a charge effectively and is good at denying entry. But when it comes to getting and leaving pucks in his own zone, his game has taken a real step backwards over the last two seasons. In 2021-22, he had 10.2 disposals per 60, 66 percent of which were controlled – both above the 80th percentile. Over the past two years, both his workload (6.1 and 9.0 strikeouts per 60, respectively) and his efficiency (43 and 45 percent controlled, respectively) have declined. The frequency with which his calls led to exits has also fallen significantly.

These underlying signs are not promising and point to a player who could be closer to a passenger than a driver these days. That can still be a useful player, and it's possible that Dumba can still play top-four minutes if he's partnered with someone who can fill the current gaps in his game.

But the question is whether he can become a true top-four defender on his own – and whether he will cost that much. If so, it's probably best not to overpay for a guy who isn't sure where he really belongs on a competitive depth chart. It's worth it more for the brand name than the quality.

NHL trade deadline Analyzing 5 players to avoid on the

Can Matt Dumba become a true top-four defenseman on his own? (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

I know, I know, I know. Everyone loves Frank Vatrano and his season was an incredible story. He scored 29 goals and 48 points in 61 games, giving him one of the most productive offensive seasons of all time. Vatrano is a good player who has always had a strong finishing instinct and makes sense in a protected role as a center forward with six goals.

The concern is what the price might be for a player whose point total could drive up his perceived value. At the right price, Vatrano can be a smart addition, especially with another year left on his contract. However, there are some warning signs that suggest caution regarding its acquisition costs.

Vatrano has scored 29 goals this season, but a lot of that has to do with his power play effort. He is Anaheim's primary shooter and has earned big in that role, scoring 4.6 goals per 60. That's an excessive shooting rate of 25 percent, which would be difficult for any player to maintain. In the last three seasons, Vatrano has taken half as many shots with the man advantage. Some may cite playing with better players on a top unit as a reason for the increase – but that's not a role he would get on a playoff team. For this reason, expectations regarding his goal tally need to be tempered.

Perhaps the bigger problem is Vatrano's play without the puck. It's worth taking his on-ice numbers with a grain of salt given his location, but it's not exactly ideal that the Anaheim Ducks have been superior and scored more points with Vatrano on the ice the last two seasons. That's probably because he plays too high up in the lineup, which is exactly what makes him look like a much more productive striker than he probably is. It shows that while he can perform in these extended minutes, his defensive acumen means the team is a net loss.

This limits Vatrano's suitability as a top-six striker. If teams understand the risks and it doesn't cost as much as the going rate, then no harm will be done. He may be a good choice as a protected scorer. However, there's a good chance its surprising score will drive up the acquisition cost. And if he's given a larger role than he can handle, acquisition costs may not be the only concern.

Teams love a veteran presence with championship experience. Coming from a former captain who is a resilient right-back? Sounds too good to be true.

That might be the case with Erik Johnson given how the season went for him. Johnson faces the weakest competition in the league and yet with him on the ice the Buffalo Sabers have conceded 0.36 expected goals against per 60 and 0.83 goals against per 60 more. This is incredibly bad when you consider how protected his interactions have been so far.

With not a single assist for him all season, Johnson's value depends on lockdown defense. It's always been that way for him, but at 35 years old, it feels like he's left the game behind him this season – a decline that only really became noticeable last year.

Johnson takes on a huge burden by getting the puck out (without control), and it's possible that by easing that burden he can focus on the little thing he does best without the puck. As long as he plays a very protected role, he could be passable enough to make his intangible element worthwhile. If the price is low enough, it's not the end of the world.

Still, it seems like there are better ways to improve defensive depth than with Johnson, whose play this season has left much to be desired – with and without the puck.

1709757042 871 NHL trade deadline Analyzing 5 players to avoid on the

Erik Johnson doesn't have a single assist for the Sabers this season. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

When it comes to fit, Dominik Kubalik is a prime example of how important it is. He had a miserable season with Ottawa, whose goals-against rate (28 percent) and expected goals-against rate (39 percent) when he's on the ice are well below what they are when he's off. He was a huge liability and didn't produce much of anything special with just 13 points in 55 games. When it comes to advancing possession, he doesn't shoot much, doesn't pass much, doesn't check much, doesn't put the puck up the ice much, and doesn't help much in his own game. That's consistent with how he looked in his final season with Chicago: like a low-calorie scorer who doesn't do much else.

The silver lining was what he was in Detroit. Sure, he was still a liability on defense, but he did enough offense to make up for it while scoring 20 goals and 45 points. He created average chances and looked like a capable midfielder.

The difference? He spent a lot of time with Dylan Larkin, where he scored 1.87 points per 60. Without him it was 1.29. Compare that to the mix of bottom-six talent he played with in Ottawa, and it's easy to see why he doesn't score like he did in Detroit.

And there lies the dilemma. Kubalik only seems useful when playing with other experienced players. This goes back to his time in Chicago alongside Patrick Kane. He's someone who can complete plays, but doesn't often start or advance them. That's a good skill in the right situation, but is that the right situation for a contender if it means they're exposed higher up the lineup? Probably not. So a team either has someone who can play too high up in the lineup or a player who can't do much and is a liability further down the lineup. A poor man's Vatrano.

This makes Kubalik a very difficult candidate for a playoff team. Maybe he's working on a protected goal line with a game-winning center who can keep up without the puck, but that seems like a very rare combination and probably goes against what many teams expect from a bottom six.

Kubalik probably won't be an expensive signing, but he doesn't look like someone who would work well in a contending squad.

I understand the appeal of Andrew Peeke. He is 1.80 meters tall, weighs 100 kilograms and is a tough player who stops a lot of shots and hits a lot of people. He also doesn't receive as many penalties as some defenders of his ilk. This type of defender is one that many teams covet for the playoffs.

From 2021-22 to 2022-23, his expected goals ratio wasn't that bad compared to his teammates, just slightly below average. The fact that his actual rate was between 42 and 44 percent is not a good sign, but his less dire relative numbers mean he may be able to compete in a better environment.

That's the best case scenario: that he can keep up.

However, the worst-case scenario makes him truly risky, and that starts with what he's done this season.

It's never a good sign when one of the league's absolute worst defensive teams doesn't have room for you in the top six. Peeke has spent many nights as a healthy backup and has seen his role shrink significantly compared to last season. He only played 21 games and those games weren't pretty. He has scored just 35 percent of expected goals for a relative expected goals ratio of minus 1.21, the worst in the league. This is difficult on a bad team in the simplest role possible. If Peeke wasn't good enough for the Blue Jackets of any team, how likely is it that he can be good enough for a true contender?

The other problem is that things look worse when it comes to actual goals. This has been consistent in each of the last three seasons. In the last three years, his goal percentage has been 40, 32 and 42 percent – all lower than the team average. During that span, no defenseman was outscored more than Peeke at 36.6 percent, and only four defensemen were worse compared to his teammates, with Columbus' goal differential per 60 dropping by 0.63 when Peeke was on the ice.

His data collected by Corey Sznajder doesn't paint a particularly flattering picture either. As expected, he offers next to nothing in the offensive zone, in the defensive zone he doesn't move the puck often or well, and he can only stop controlled attacks. All indications are that what we're seeing from Peeke's on-ice numbers probably isn't a complete mirage, especially considering his usage.

Based on his projected net rating, Peeke is worth minus-9.2 goals – one of the absolute lowest ratings in the league. Maybe he can figure it out somewhere else with more structure and support. It's just not a risk I would take, especially given its price.

– Data on Evolving Hockey, Natural Stat Trick and all three zones

(Top photos of Matt Dumba, Erik Johnson and Frank Vatrano: Christian Petersen / Getty Images, Jeff Curry and Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)