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Rumour: Winnipeg Jets in on the Brandon Pirri sweepstakes

Here is a picture of Pirri fighting, so that everyone will love him more.
Here is a picture of Pirri fighting, so that everyone will love him more.
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Even as February 29th increasingly draws near, the Winnipeg Jets fan base remains relatively news-starved. The conversation over Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien has been run into the ground more than 2015-16 Pekka Rinne. In this context, it's not terribly hard to cause a fair-sized commotion. Enter Gary Lawless.

The film co-starring Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy piqued the interest of Jets fans yesterday, with news that Winnipeg was sniffing around Florida Panthers forward Brandon Pirri:

In a subsequent tweet, Lawless specifically mentioned the Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators alongside Winnipeg as interested parties, in addition to unnamed teams in the Metropolitan. George Richards of the Miami Herald doesn't do rumours, but did lend credence to the interest in Pirri:

Before going into possible trade scenarios and whether there's a fit, let's take a closer look at the player in question.

Who is Brandon Pirri?

Pirri is a 24-year-old 2nd round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks from way back in 2009, when he went 59th overall. During his time in the Blackhawks organization, he scored 200 points in 238 regular season games with the Rockford IceHogs, including a 2012-13 season featuring 75 points in 76 games.

However, this AHL scorer never quite fit in at the NHL level (Joel Quenneville, am I right?), playing just 35 games over the course of four seasons. The result was a total of 13 points as a Chicago Blackhawk, though Jets fans with long memories may remember one of those:

Eventually, the numbers game became unsustainable and opportunity came knocking in the form of the Florida Panthers. The March 2014 trade, in which Pirri was exchanged for a 2014 3rd and 2016 5th round pick, came as little surprise given how Florida's General Manager is Dale Tallon, the former Blackhawks GM who in fact drafted Pirri.

In his subsequent 116 games as a Florida Panther, Pirri has gone on to score 59 points, including a remarkable 22 goals and 2(!!) assists in 49 games last season. This is despite being a secondary option on the power play and receiving bottom-six 5v5 minutes both this season and last.

With a stat line such as 22 goals and 2 assists, the first question which comes to mind is likely one of shooting percentage. NHL.com reveals that it was indeed high, though nothing so outrageous that his goalscoring was a complete anomaly:

pirrinhl

As a part of their 2014-15 season-in-review, our friends at Litter Box Cats tackled the question of Pirri's shooting percentage. Their conclusion was surprising:

Pirri did have an extremely high shooting percentage in 2014-2015, as the 15.4% he shot was much higher than the 11% average he shot in the AHL, so the initial, gut reaction would be to say that the former Blackhawk is due for some regression.

Digging deeper tells a slightly different story, however. True shooting talent for forwards usually stabilizes around 223 shots, and over the course of his NHL career, Pirri has taken 231. His career NHL shooting percentage currently stands at 15.2%, so there's reason to believe that he could continue to have an above-average shooting percentage next season. Combine that with one of the league's highest shot attempt rates (23rd out of skaters with 500 minutes played), and Pirri could be primed for a huge goal-scoring season.

His 2015-16 shooting percentage of 8.7% is a far cry from his 15.4% last season, but that only tells part of the story. Last season, Pirri's 5v5 shooting percentage was 11.43%; this year, it's just 5.41%. With both his 5v5 and overall shooting percentages, the truth is likely somewhere in-between. As is, he's on pace for 16 goals and 21 assists.

Pirri's reputation is that of an overwhelmingly offence-oriented player, but the fancy stats don't reveal a complete defensive liability. In 2014-15, his 5v5 Close Corsi Against per 60 ranked 7th out of 14 qualifying forwards, while his Corsi For per 60 came 3rd. Pirri's numbers have taken a dip this season, with a 5v5 Close CF60 and CA60 ranked 7th and 10th out of 15, respectively. Taken together, Pirri's Corsi For % at 5v5 Close ranks 5th among Panthers forwards, down from 4th last season.

Litter Box Cat's assessment from last season seems to still apply today:

When it comes to possession numbers, Pirri isn't exactly impressive, but he's not a huge drag on the team. Though he can't really drive possession on his own, he could probably succeed next to a player who could.

Now onto the fun part: goal highlights. A quick survey seems to reveal a sniper who can beat you in a multitude of ways, whether it's via a backhand:

Courtesy the one-knee one-timer:

Or my personal favourite, in Spanish tight, short side:

Finally, while recognizing his sleekness of movement, let's give some additional love to Pirri's shot. Back in March of 2015, the Panthers held a "Goal of a Lifetime" contest for the chance to be a backup practice goaltender. Litter Box Cats caught up with one of the participants, who had an intriguing take on things:

When I asked him who the most deceptive shooter on the Panthers was, he immediately answered "Brandon Pirri." No hesitation, no internal debate. When I went back and looked at video of some of Pirri's goals over the season, it was easy to see the deception in his shot. Goaltenders just aren't set when Pirri shoots, and as a result, the puck finds the back of the net more often.

What is the price?

Okay, so he's an intriguing enough player to justify interest in. But what is the proposed cost of a Brandon Pirri? Again thanks to Lawless, we've gone from generic "gritty F" to something a bit more specific:

As @allan5oh pointed out, the Florida Panthers were likely to want more than the 3rd and 5th they paid for Pirri. The suggested price of a 3rd line forward and 2nd roundish pick does seem potentially steep, though it is of course just rumour at this point.

On the other hand, he's inexpensive and controllable. Pirri is currently in the second of a two-year, one-way deal worth $925,000 per, while actually making $975,000 this season, and remains an RFA at season's end.

20-30 goal scorers don't come cheap (see: Stafford, Drew). If your assessment places Pirri in this category, he becomes a potential buy-low candidate not just in terms of Florida's asking price, but also when it comes to his next contract.

Option 1: The Bang

Andrew Ladd. Now that I have your attention, let's think about this.

A look at the Florida Panthers line combinations quickly reveals why they might be interested in forward depth. 3rd line wingers Quinton Howden and Logan Shaw have been neither productive nor possession positive. An external addition bumps one down, simultaneously improving both lines in the bottom-six (hopefully).

And Florida has good reason to improve. With the Great Montreal Collapse of 2015-16 and Tampa Bay's early season mediocrity, the Panthers find themselves 1st in the Atlantic and 2nd in the entire Eastern Conference. Florida's young corps is in place throughout the roster, while Jaromir Jagr is 43, Roberto Luongo is 36 and Brian Campbell is a pending UFA. The time may be right for both exposing the kids to playoff experience and going for a run with this current group of veterans.

Dale Tallon has experience with Andrew Ladd; he's the GM who brought Ladd to Chicago back in 2008. He knows that the Jets captain is more than capable of playing a gritty leader man role on the 3rd (or perhaps even 2nd) line. With preexisting cap room, plus Brian Campbell and Willie Mitchell coming off the books at season's end, Tallon might even be inclined to turn rental into 2016-17 Panthers captain (though replacements will be needed for the aforementioned LHD).

Let's say that the Panthers have interest in Andrew Ladd, regardless of if it's with the intention of re-signing him. There's a hurdle which needs overcoming: the values don't add up, and would necessitate a larger deal.

What is Andrew Ladd worth?

This is deserving of its own article, so I won't dwell long upon it. In 2015:

  • Daniel Winnik was worth a 2016 2nd and 2015 4th
  • Curtis Glencross fetched a 2015 2nd and 3rd
  • Antoine Vermette went for a 2015 1st and Klas Dahlbeck

2015-16 Andrew Ladd is a superior player to all three of the then-pending UFAs above, but it's hard to imagine him garnering a return much greater than Vermette's. A 1st and middling prospect, perhaps even a conditional 1st and superior prospect à la the Andrej Sekera trade, is where I personally set the high bar.

Even if you feel that's lower than appropriate, it's still quite a lot more than Brandon Pirri. A 2nd roundish pick would likely have to head in Winnipeg's direction, rather than the other way around.

Option 2: The Whimpers

For a moment, let's ignore the rumoured asking price of a forward in order to tackle one particular scenario:

After signing a two-year, one-way contract, Paul Postma has played all of 2 NHL games this season. On a related note, he was recently loaned by Winnipeg to the Manitoba Moose on a conditioning stint, which is reportedly going well.

Whether that will be sufficient for him to draw into the lineup is uncertain. However, while he may likely welcome a change of scenery, the Florida Panthers may not be any more ideal than Winnipeg.

Between Aaron Ekblad, Erik Gudbranson and Alex Petrovic, their right side defence is already set, and with RHD to boot. Seeing as how those players are age 19, 24 and 23 respectively, they're both the Panthers defence of today and the future.

With Willie Mitchell injured, Florida even has Steven Kampfer playing on his off-side; they're in no real need of another depth RHD. Not to mention that Pirri's value is likely significantly more than Postma's, which can't be more than a sack of potatoes at this point.

On a side note, this abundance is also why I didn't consider Dustin Byfuglien as a return. It would exasperate their roster situation, unless one of those young RHD was part of the package; if Pirri were involved, he'd be a piece at best.

With that out of the way, which Winnipeg Jets players fit the bill of gritty 3rd line forward on the whimper side of the trade spectrum? I'm left with two names: Alexander Burmistrov and Adam Lowry.

The eye-test says Burmi has been better of late; the spreadsheet might contest that observation. As per Natural Stat Trick:

ab69

Those are a lot of negatives in the CF% column over the last 15 games. At 5v5 Close, Burmi has the lowest CF% among qualifying forwards, at 45.9%. Yes, lower than Anthony Peluso.

Burmistrov has a creative mind and soft hands, not to mention a good deal of versatility and a quiet mean streak. His skill set is rather desirable, but it's also translated to just 10 points in 46 games, while averaging 15:49 TOI and shooting at 7.7%. Teams have to give to get, but is it too soon to bail on Burmi Pt. II?

If one makes the case that it's too early to give up on Burmistrov, that almost certainly goes more so for Adam Lowry. The 22-year-old is in just his 2nd NHL season, and endeared himself to Jets fans as the 3rd line shutdown centre of the future last season. This year has been a rougher go for the 6'5" giant, but Lowry remains a young player with size, versatility and defensive upside.

That last comment is a backhanded compliment, for Lowry's offensive game leaves much to be desired. In the long run and with greater forward depth, his offensive limitations may consign him to the 4th line in an NHL increasingly moving towards three scoring lines. A trade involving Lowry and Pirri is almost a study in contrasts, and might send an intriguing message of stylistic direction.

In my mind, both Lowry and Burmi constitute solid enough returns where that 2nd roundish selection might become a later pick. Unless we think GM Tallon might accept Chris Thorburn and a 2nd, in which case they can have it.

onlyhope

Conclusion

This is not the first time Pirri's name has come up in trade discussion this season, but it is the first involving Winnipeg.

In their review of Pirri, Litter Box Cats mentioned how he wasn't a driver of possession, but could succeed beside players that were. The Winnipeg Jets have at least one, if not three centremen of that ilk in Bryan Little, Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault when need be. Not to mention that here is a system which, when operating smoothly, produces good possession metrics. Look no further than Drew Stafford to see the impact of linemates and system.

Is Pirri worth Andrew Ladd? No. Is he worth a Burmistrov or Lowry and a pick? Very possibly, depending on the pick and your pro scouting assessment of his game. If the belief is he can be a regular 20+ goal scorer, that is of tremendous value in today's NHL, where league-wide lack of offence is a constant source of belly-aching. And for a Jets power play ranked 29th out of 30, a relatively young, controllable scorer with upside might be part of the answer moving forward.

Thanks for reading! I look forward to Pirri being traded to Minnesota 5 minutes after I hit "Approve & Publish".