The Newest New Jersey Devil: Trent Hunter

Trent Hunter is now the newest New Jersey Devil. Let's learn more about what he can possibly bring to the table by looking at his past four seasons. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The big news today coming out of New Jersey was that the Devils traded Brian Rolston to the New York Islanders for Trent Hunter.  That's right - Brian Rolston got traded.  Look out for unicorns. He waived his no-trade clause - according to Tom Gulitti, Rolston did so without complaint given he was (deservedly) waived last season - to go the Isles.   While Lou Lamoriello told Gulitti that this was a "business decision" and not necessarily cap-related, I think of this deal as Rolston for Hunter and the Right to Sign Parise Without Breaking the Cap Ceiling or Hoping Bryce Salvador Goes on LTIR.  Yes, even my thoughts are verbose.

I also think this trade is a winner for both sides. The Devils obtain a right-shooting right winger and now have $7.96 million in cap space according to CapGeek which includes Salvador being active.  The Islanders are closer to the salary cap floor and added a veteran winger to their roster without committing to anyone long term.  Rolston even gets to stay in the general area instead of having to pack up and move across the country.    I'm not the only one who think it was a mutually beneficial trade. Sean Leahy at Puck Daddy said it helps both sides.  For the other side's perspective, Dominik at Lighthouse Hockey came to the same conclusion as well.  So if you want a second and third opinion, there you are.  Incidentally, Kevin explained why he really liked the move. Though I wouldn't go so far as to say he's better than David Clarkson or that this means he's gone.

That being said, I want to focus on Trent Hunter, the player the Devils got in return from the Islanders.  Here are the basics from his player profile at NHL.com. He's 6'3" and 217 pounds; he's 31; and he plays right wing and has a right handed shot.  On the injury front, he's coming off a torn MCL in his left knee, though Gulitti did tweet that he's been cleared by doctors - so it should be expected that he'll play in 2011-12.  Check that - do expect it because Lou said so.  Therefore, it's important to take a closer look at what Hunter has done to see what he can bring to the table other than saving the Devils a little over $3 million on the cap.  Let's learn about the newest New Jersey Devil after the jump.

The Basic Stats

I pulled the following numbers from NHL.com, which is a good resource as any for basic stats like goals, points, shots, and minutes.  Let's look at his production first.  I'm focusing on the last four seasons played so they fall in line with the advanced statistics I'll highlight later.

T. HUNTER
GP G A PTS PIM SOG S% SOG/GP
2007-08 82 12 29 41 43 222 5.4 2.71
2008-09 55 14 17 31 41 154 9.1 2.80
2009-10 61 11 17 28 18 159 6.9 2.61
2010-11 17 1 3 4 23 30 3.3 1.76

 

Hunter will not be confused with being a big time scorer any time soon.  In his last full, injury-free season, Hunter achieved the second highest point total in his career.  His best came in 2003-04 in his rookie season where he put up 25 goals and 51 points.  Still, based on this, I wouldn't expect him to put up much more than around 30 points depending on his health.  At least he stays out of the box. 

Health is probably the biggest concern surrounding Hunter.  In each of the last three seasons, Hunter has been undercut by injuries which has limited his production and use.  I'm not talking about little things that cause players to miss a few games, I mean significant injuries.  In 2008-09, he broke his left ankle in early March which ended his season 17 games earlier than the team.   In 2009-10, Hunter had a chest injury that caused him to miss 15 games from October to early November. Later in that season, he missed another 6 due to an "upper body" injury in March.  Last season, he tore his MCL in his left knee near the end of November, causing him to miss 61 games.   If you want a reason why the Islanders were willing to give up Hunter in exchange for Rolston, this is probably the biggest one.  It's unclear whether he'll be even be able to play regularly.

Based on his minutes, the Islanders have decreased his role somewhat from season to season - specifically on special teams.

T. HUNTER TOI/GP Shift/GP ES TOI/GP PP TOI/GP SH TOI/GP
2007-08 18:12 22.7 12:44 2:29 2:58
2008-09 16:22 20.7 11:50 3:30 1:01
2009-10 15:10 19.2 12:06 2:53 0:10
2010-11 12:39 18.2 11:18 1:13 0:07

 

I should point out that Hunter probably got so much time in 2007-08 as the team was pretty awful and hurting for guys who can do something.  As the Isles added pieces from season to season, there wasn't as much of a need for Hunter to do so much on special teams.  Therefore, his penalty killing time dropped; and it seems to me that Hunter wasn't as necessary on last season's power play.  Of course, he only played 17 games last season - it's possible that he could have received more time had he been around to get his game going.

Still, the even strength ice time per game is indicative that Hunter is really a third-line winger.  He's not going to take top minutes, but he's not limited like a fourth liner.   The past seasons of power play time suggest that he could be an option there, but I wouldn't count on him to play a lot there unless he proves himself worthy in 2011-12.

The Advanced Stats (with Special Guests)

Let's focus on that even strength situation - the most common one in hockey.  Behind the Net is a powerful resource run by the venerable and terrifying Gabe Desjardens; and one of it's many features is the ability to filter stats across multiple seasons for multiple players.   I decided to use this feature to look at several advanced statistics in Hunter's last four NHL seasons with those same stats for Brian Rolston and David Clarkson along side them.  It's not so much for comparison purposes as it is putting Hunter in perspective.   Rolston is the player he was traded for, and Clarkson could be seen as a similar player to Hunter in terms of role.

Here's the link to all the advanced stats - rather than dump it into an unwieldy table, it's all in here.  Here are four points that I think are important from these numbers.

1. Hunter didn't play against really weak competition.  Only in his injury-shortened did he have a negative quality of competition, and even in that season, his Corsi Relative QoC (a.k.a. the relative Corsi of his opposition) was positive and in line with other seasons with higher QualComp values.  He's not someone you want out there against the tough competition, but he doesn't need protection either.   Sure, he was outscored in three of his last seasons at evens when he was on the ice; however, he was also on some pretty heinous Isles teams too.

2. Hunter usually played with some pretty good teammates given the QualTeam values he had. Interestingly, his worst came in hat 2007-08 season.  Perhaps that would partially explain how he got outscored by 12 goals?

3. Furthering the point that Hunter wasn't protected as an Islander.  Only once in the last four seasons did he have an offensive zone start percentage above 50, which was 50.1% to be precise.  I wouldn't call him a defensive specialist, as he only was well below 50% back in 2007-08; but he has been used in those situations more than offensive ones.

4.  Hunter has maintained good relative Corsi and on-ice Corsi values.  Not great numbers, but he's been above zero with the exception of last season.  You can argue that with a 47.4% offensive zone start percentage and a -0.94 on-ice Corsi rate, that might get him up above zero.  Still, the point is that Hunter hasn't been a net negative for the Isles in the possession game; and in 2008-09 and 2009-10, the Isles were far better off in terms of possession with Hunter on the ice than without.

Just a quick comparison: The advanced numbers show Hunter generally took on tougher competition than Clarkson, and his team enjoyed more positive possession when he was on the ice than Clarkson.  Of course, it could be argued that both players were used for different purposes, despite playing similar minutes.  Rolston played many more minutes than Hunter, and his 2010-11 season makes him stand out from Hunter significantly.  One could take that as evidence that playing with great players on a line that works quite well and can match up against power makes one look stronger by these metrics.   Whether you do or not, it's clear to me that since Rolston has played much more at evens than Hunter in these past four seasons, Rolston has had and will likely have a larger role than Hunter on a team.  Basically, the two aren't really comparable like Clarkson and Hunter.

A Take from the Other Side

In the comments of Kevin's post about the trade, Dominik of Lighthouse Hockey had this insight into Hunter.

think Hunter performs to the best of his abilities and health. Unfortunately, it’s the health thing that has constantly limited him (well, that and speed).

He’s a very smart two-way player — he was used on the PK not because "the Isles had no one better" (as someone said above), but because he’s a smart defensive hockey player. Problem is the injuries slow down an already slow guy. I had real reservations about whether he could rebound from the latest knee injury. It may be worth a shot though, since at full health Hunter fits the Devils "smart, not flashy" profile.

This is instructive of both a positive and a negative. The positive is that he's an intelligent player - and as such he has received special teams duty and while that has been cut, his even strength minutes really haven't.  On top of that, he's not taking a lot of penalties while he plays his game.  The negative is a rather important one: he's slow and coming off a significant injury to his knee.   It belies that faster players can be a problem, and so Peter DeBoer will have to factor that in for matchups.   While the doctors may clear him, the possibility of Hunter losing a step is worrisome.

So What to Make of Hunter

If an animal walks like a duck, looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and displays other duck-like tendencies, then it's probably a duck.  Hunter's basic numbers make him look like a third-liner, his minutes at even strength are indicative of a third-liner, and his advanced stats are indicative of a third-liner, where he has a somewhat favorable comparison to a third-line caliber player on the Devils.   Therefore, it's fair to say that Trent Hunter is a third-line right winger. 

Is he worth $2 million? Despite the advanced stats at even strength, I'm not so sure.  His past injuries are certainly worrisome.  It's hard to justify a contract if you're not able to play.  While he's been cleared to play, he's coming off a significant torn MCL in his knee; and it's not unreasonable to think that a slow player will now be slower.  On top of all of this, Hunter's not going to break out any time soon in terms of scoring. At age 31, he is who he is, a two-way third line winger who can bring some positives to the Devils but nothing gamebreaking.  As Dominik says, he's smart, not really flashy; and the advanced stats belie that he has some use.  I'm not fretting over the 17 games he did play last season; just that he only got to play 17 games.

Short of reverting to his 2008-09 season or earlier, $2 million per year may be a bit much for his services.  It's not a heinous contract, though.   If - and I understand this is a big if - he can be healthy and he hasn't lost too much of a step, then I don't have too much of a complaint over Hunter. I would have a similar feeling about it as I do for David Steckel's deal - a little overpaid, but not enough to get really worked up over.  Plus, should Hunter to prove he can play over a full season, it would make it easier to trade him if necessary. It's not like his contract is a Rolston-like albatross; but it's a palatable contract just in case if it comes to that.

Going back full circle to the trade itself, I do really like the trade and ultimately, I don't think Trent Hunter is a bad return.  That said, I wouldn't expect Hunter to be anything more than he is and I would hope he can avoid injuries for at least a season and not get too much slower coming off the torn MCL in his knee. 

That's my take on Trent Hunter.  I want to know your thoughts about Trent Hunter now that you read all this.  Do you have a better idea of what he can bring to the table?  Do you agree he can be a useful third line winger or do you think his services aren't that good? Do you think the Devils will benefit from having Hunter on the team, or do you think they didn't really need someone like him? Is there anything I missed?  Please leave your thoughts about Trent Hunter and what he can do for the Devils in the comments.  Thanks for reading.

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