Prior to the start of the 2005-06 season, the Atlanta Thrashers found themselves in the unfortunate but common position of needing to trade away a troubled superstar. Fortunately, they found a trading partner with a roughly equivalent asset that also needed to be moved, and soon Dany Heatley was shipped to the Ottawa Senators for Marian Hossa, with veteran defenseman Greg de Vries thrown in to make up the difference. Five years later, can we determine who walked away with the winner?
Goals Versus Threshold (GVT) is a great way to analyze historical trades at a high level because it summarizes all of a player's contributions, both offensive and defensive, and because it can be applied to different leagues and eras. For example, we recently used GVT to determine the worst trades in post-expansion NHL history.
There are several reasons why evaluating the Heatley-Hossa trade is more difficult than evaluating either the Esposito or Gretzky trades, the first being that their careers are still very much in progress. While Greg de Vries is retired, both Dany Heatley (age 30) and Marian Hossa (age 32) are still going strong.
Player GP G A PTS +/- GVT
Dany Heatley 464 241 255 496 +101 110.7
Marian Hossa 412 192 227 419 +83 103.5
Greg de Vries 312 15 64 79 -10 14.7
Totals as of March 4, 2011
More importantly, this trade occurred as the salary cap era was introduced, and you can't evaluate trades the same way. Even if you were to shrewdly acquire superior assets, you may be using more cap space than necessary'cap space that could have been used to upgrade your team at other positions. Indeed, that was the whole reason Ottawa dealt the overpriced Hossa in the first place, at the time he cost almost 50% more than the more talented youngster for whom he was swapped.
Player $ Million
Marian Hossa 41.3
Dany Heatley 39.5
Greg de Vries 6.6
Totals include 2010-11 Season, and I'm in the wrong line of work
As of now, the difference is about $8 million, or $1.6 million per season. That may only be enough savings for an extra depth winger, or to have upgraded a depth winger to a top-six forward, but even that is certainly enough to make up the slim differences in the two packages.
The final confounding factors are the subsequent trades. Typically, we only look at which team left the negotiation table holding the superior collection of assets, but Hossa's higher trade value earned the Thrashers not only the greater collection of spare parts (Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen instead of Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo), but also two prospects whose value is yet to be determined (Angelo Esposito and Daulton Leveille).
So Who Won?
Without digging into the finer details, Atlanta left with assets worth 118.2 goals, while Ottawa left with 110.7. They also got a player with superior trade value, which they parlayed into a better collection of spare parts and prospects when a deal inevitably had to be made.
On the other hand, Dany Heatley is two years younger and it's a safe bet that his career production will continue to outpace Hossa's. Ottawa also walked away with enough savings to make other minor but significant improvements to their club.
Therefore, it's fair to conclude that both teams won. Forgive the cop out, but Ottawa got the piece they needed to be the NHL's best team for a year or two (even though they couldn't turn that advantage into a Stanley Cup), while Atlanta got fair value for a player they were desperate to move, and are ultimately left today with more assets than they would have had if they had this deal never been made.
We'd like to hear your take, so please leave a comment or drop us a line, and please remember to include any other trades you'd like analyzed, because we'd be happy to oblige.
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.