Nick Bonino arrived in Pittsburgh in the summer of 2015 after being acquired in a trade from Vancouver. The 27 year-old center slotted in on the third line behind superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. In two seasons he scored 66 points, grew a hellacious beard, collected two Stanley Cup rings, then left for unrestricted free agency.
When the parade ended, Bonino shaved the beard to convince prospective teams there was plenty of tread left on his 29 year old tires. Youth and vibrancy secures many of the favors in life including dollars in free agency. After witnessing his Stanley Cup contributions first hand, GM David Poile was interested in signing Bonino on July 1st. He did score two goals in game one of the Final after all.
Filling out the center position after Ryan Johansen was seen as the last piece to the Predators Stanley Cup puzzle. Bonino checked off alot of the proverbial boxes— He could fill a middle-six role, would come relatively cheap and knew how to win in June, and more importantly he was available for nothing more than salary cap dollars. David Poile clearly knows how to manage a hockey team, but you have to wonder if the bitterness of coming so close to a Cup served some part of the impetus to sign Bonino, recency bias and all of that.
I’m not going to douse you with my usual amount of charts, but permit me a few here to explain some generalities. They all reveal the same hard truth we all inherently knew last summer. The insinuation that Bonino was fit for second line center duties come October was a dubious claim at best. The moves the team made afterwards, namely the Turris trade, were done to remedy the glaring hole down the middle of the lineup.
Bonino’s On-Ice Results
Bonino wasn’t an offensive black hole per se, but that extensive use of blue in the slot here would be enough to make Picasso blush. The team generated much more offensive activity without him on the ice, especially from the right side.
Yeah, but the defense was good right? Well, it wasn’t bad but certainly nothing that really moves the needle on a contending team. The Preds gave up just as many chances at Rinne’s feet with or without Bonino on the ice. The only place they were perceptually better was to the goalie’s left, a fact not entirely creditable to Bonino’s defensive acuity.
We can sum up his zone entry and exit data by simply stating he wasn’t particularly good at entering or exiting the zone with possession. The former is particularly useful in generating shot attempts, which explains some of the lack of shot generation above. Essentially what you got from Nick Bonino in the offensive end, could have been had for free in the form of a guy like Marcus Kruger, who kept the guys at the Post Office busy with the change of address forms he had to file last year.
Let’s spend a minute on this chart below though. This is a viz made by the incredible Andi Duroux. An Avs fan by trade, but a mutual admirer of Sam Girard to be sure. From top to bottom here is what stands out: Bonino had a career high in shooting percentage but still only netted 12 goals. His goals against numbers were fine for a depth center, but the expected numbers indicate there was a bit of luck in the final results, and on the very bottom of the viz, the zone entry and exit point is driven home again. Bonino doesn’t do much to help the Preds enter the offensive zone or to exit their own zone with control. You’d expect some higher zone exit numbers from a guy tabbed as a defensive two-way kind of guy. Someone like Ryan O’Reilly is particularly good at this, helping the defense get the puck out of the zone. This omission as a positive result is grim.
The Nick Bonino #2C experiment didn’t last long, given his injury and availability in some manner of Kyle Turris. Nashville stepped into the Matt Duchene mix as the middle man in a three-way deal that saw him finally get moved out of Colorado where he ended up as a member of the Ottawa Senators. From all accounts, the Turris camp and Sens management were miles apart on his next contract number, which made the 28-year old expendable. Enter David Poile to grease the skids.
Give Joe Sakic credit though, he stuck to his price on Duchene, and waited until someone stepped forward to pony up. As a traditional trade we will likely never know what the asking price for Duchene or Turris would have been without the third team being involved, but let’s not discount the value of what Nashville had to send out the door to land Turris. Corey Pronman recently ranked Sam Girard and Vladislav Kamenev as the 5th and 7th most valuable Avs aged 23 and under,
Let’s start with Girard. While he got his feet wet in Nashville, both the good and the bad aspects of his game were on full display. He is a masterful puck carrier, but can take some irksome risks making plays and isn’t totally reliable in his own end. As the year wore on however, he became more confident in his ability to play at the NHL level, and he rounded into the playoff human ball of offensive creativity we all saw zipping through the neutral zone in round one. Having just turned 20, Girard will be a part of the next competitive version of the Avs squad that will become increasingly difficult to handle in the Central Division. Within a few years he could very well be among the leagues better offensive defensemen.
The question of course is, what would have been the plan with Girard had he stayed in Nashville? Behind Josi and Ekholm, there really wasn’t a place for him to move up, but with a full year of playing third pairing minutes with some sheltered zone starts, would his price be higher on the trade market right now? How many teams in the current NHL are looking for adept puck carrying defensemen?
Would Girard have been a long-term replacement option for Josi? After resigning Ryan Ellis a few weeks ago, his is the next big contract that needs to be negotiated. Would it have made more financial sense for the team to retain Girard as he entered his RFA years, over going long on a 30 year old Josi? Can we confidently say that Josi will be a better offensive player in three years than Girard?
The other piece given up in the Turris deal is 22 year old Russian center, Vladislav Kamenev. After spending two full years in Milwaukee with the Admirals, Kamenev was ready to enter the NHL in a third line role. After he arrived in Denver, his season was derailed by an injury, but based on Corey Pronman’s assessment below, he has many of the same traits as Bonino. He’s a guy who can play tough minutes and can make it hard on the opposition in the defensive end. Would Nashville be any worse off with Kamenev as the third line center, than they are currently with Bonino?
Every roster move in sports has an opportunity cost. The long run ramifications of signing Bonino and his inability to play the 2C role is a long term loser for the Preds. It cost them Samuel Girard, whose skill from the blue line could have given the team the option of trading Roman Josi for a healthy ransom, or at the very least he could have provided a bolt of offense in a third line role. Losing Kamenev cost the team a depth center who could adequately hold down an NHL job. They also lost pick #58 in past June’s draft, which robs a thin Predators farm system of another prospect. Losing both Girard and Kamenev cost the team the services of NHL capable players on entry level contracts, of which the Predators have precious few. This cost will be felt either with contentious negotiations with Kevin Fiala or Roman Josi, in an effort to keep both under the salary cap. Any way you look at it, the Predators would have probably been better off yet again bypassing June 1st altogether.