The Tampa Bay Lightning traded defender Nikita Nesterov on Thursday to the Montréal Canadiens for Jonathan Racine and Montréal’s 2017 6th round pick. Racine is a non-scoring, big penalty minute AHL defender who is not waiver exempt, but would pass through easily.
Nesterov is on a cheap $725,000 contract that expires this summer. He will turn 24 in the spring, and is not waiver exempt. He is a left-shooting defender, and we know that right-shooters are more rare, but Tampa still seems to have believed, likely correctly, that they could not get Nesterov through waivers, and they have other defenders they wanted to play instead of him.
What Tampa got back for him is being described as “nearly nothing” and that might be fair. Racine is unlikely to ever get more than a cup of coffee in the NHL, and a sixth round pick isn’t valueless, but anyone taken with it has only a small probability of ever playing in the NHL as well. In fact, the Lightning had to take back a contract in Racine, so they didn’t even reduce their SPC space.
What does all of that have to do with Frank Corrado and his pressbox adventures?
Nesterov vs Corrado
Corrado is on a cheap $600,000 contract that expires this summer. He will turn 24 in the spring, and is not waiver exempt. He is a right-shooting defender. Toronto seems to believe, likely correctly, that they cannot get Corrado through waivers, and they have other defenders they want to play ahead of him.
To begin to compare them, have a look at their usage:
Time on Ice and Usage
Nesterov has a lot more data, so we should recognize that his results are more reliable. Their Offensive Zone starts are close, and the defensive and neutral zone numbers not shown here are nearly identical, so their deployment has been broadly similar.
The other two numbers in this table are for Quality of Teammates and Quality of Competition. The first one should be seen as much, much more meaningful than the second. This is the Corsi percentage of the people they are on the ice with or against. They are identical, and they play with good teammates and against slightly weaker players.
Next the individual numbers or what do they do to the puck with their own stick.
Individual Goals, Shots and Expected Goals
They have identical goal scoring rates, low ones, and the iCF60, or Individual Corsi For per 60 minutes, is very close, and a shot or so per game below a good but not great offensive defenceman. Nesterov clearly has the edge in Primary Points per 60 minutes, but even he is well below the good offensive defenceman range.
The final number, where they are closer together again, is Individual Expected Goals per 60 minutes. Nesterov has actually performed below expectations over his career which might mean he’s been unlucky, or it might mean he’s just a bad shot. Frank Corrado has done what you should expect of him given his shot location and type.
Next their on-ice Corsi results. This is all the shots (sometimes called shot attempts) for and against while they are on the ice, not just their own.
The relative number shows that they are both just slightly positive to their teams’ averages over their careers and should put the Corsi For percentage in context a little. Nesterov has been much better this year in his limited games played than his career numbers as a whole, however. Corrado, in only two games played, has been much worse.
They have broadly similar Corsi For and Against rates as well. Nesterov is on the ice for more shots against, but not by a lot.
The final comparison is the expected goals while they are on the ice. This is a way of weighting shots for location and type and coming up with an idea of what should have gone in or not against average goaltending. It’s a way of contextulizing Corsi numbers.
What we see here is that Corrado has lower expected goals both for and against. He’s not participating in as much effective offence, but he is part of better defence. The end result as a percentage is essentially equal. At 50 percent, both players neither hurt nor help overall in the structure of play on the ice.
That’s the structure, not the detail of on-ice play. Both players take a considerable number of penalties. They both are anecdotally known as prone to defensive zone mistakes, turnovers right in front of the net, that sort of thing. That is the kind of thing that turns a good enough structure into a goal against.
Corrado’s actual GF% over this period is 36, and Nesterov’s is 51. Some of that is in the on-ice shooting percentage, which is partly random. Nesterov’s is higher. Some of that is in the on-ice save percentage, which is not controlled by a defender’s play. Nesterov’s is also higher. High enough to think his defensive shortcomings are being partially hidden by some good goaltending. Meanwhile, Corrado has been the victim of some bad goaltending that contributes to him seeming worse than he is.
They are very similar players with approximately equal historical impact on team play—none. They don’t score themselves much, they don’t shoot much, they don’t suppress shots with any kind of skill. They are the kind of depth defenders you can play in certain circumstances—with defensively responsible, but offensively minded forwards. And if that is what your team needs out of its third pair, they might be good for you. They aren’t going to make those forwards better though. At best, they won’t kill them too much defensively.
If you made me pick between them I’d take Nesterov, despite Corrado’s coveted right-handedness. Nesterov has a bit of an edge in offensive impact. Some of the very optimistic takes on this trade are pinning hopes on his very recent performance as a sign of growth and assume, without any reason to, that it will continue. But he is showing more signs of that than Corrado, to be sure.
And that explains Corrado?
Why then is Frank Corrado sitting in the pressbox while Nesterov played most of Tampa’s games and has now gone to a playoff team looking for depth?
First of all, Nesterov may get familiar with the pressbox in the Bell Centre very soon. He is depth insurance for Montréal, not a key piece of their lineup. Second, Tampa chose a similar sort of player in Luke Witkowski over Nesterov. Witkowski is a little older, cheaper, and is a UFA this season who may sign for a low salary to play on the team that likes him. Nesterov is an RFA with arbitration rights whose salary will inflate. Tampa clearly wanted that profile of player on their third pair, they chose for reasons outside style of play.
Meanwhile, Corrado is on a team that does not want that type of player on their third pair right now. You may disagree and believe he is an improvement over Roman Polak, and that the Leafs are all wrong in how they organize their defenders, but Polak’s actual and expected Goals For percentage this season is right at 50 percent, and there is that special teams usage that must be considered if you remove him from the lineup. Corrado might add some more on-ice shots for, but he has no track record of actually adding to a team’s chances to outscore their opponents.
What Nesterov truly shows us is that the market for a marginal depth defender of this type is not great. The take for Peter Holland should emphasize how much you get for a slightly over replacement-level player.
So, no, until someone invents the emergency defender hologram program to go shimmer over the ice when someone is injured, the Leafs are not going to trade Corrado for what amounts to less than nothing, considering the contract coming back. The Leafs also don’t have anyone waiting in the wings to make a trade a wise move, while Tampa has Slater Koekkoek in addition to the useful and easy to pay Witkowski.
Both of these defenders remind me of a pair of players I watched recently: Michal Jordan and Stefan Elliott. They were both good Corsi-producing, offensively focused defenders who looked good in lesser leagues like the AHL but could not stick in the NHL. I watched them play in the KHL where they were both excellent and integral parts of the team’s offence. It won’t surprise me to fine Nesterov there very soon, despite his agent’s protestations to the contrary.
As for Corrado? The Colorado Avalanche would likely pay a bucket of pucks for him after the expansion draft. Until then, he seems stuck in limbo for use in emergencies only.
All data is from Corsica.hockey and is five-on-five unadjusted. I left off the few games Corrado played in his first season when Vancouver rushed him into the NHL to keep their results to the same age group and the same number of years.