After yet another long stretch as a healthy scratch, Jarred Tinordi was traded by the Montreal Canadiens Friday. (The story of for whom he was traded, via three-way deal, is an interesting one. More on that at the end of this post.)
For Tinordi, who the Canadiens actually traded up to draft, it ends a saga in a kind of no man's land where a team values a young asset enough to keep him on the active roster but not so much that they actually, you know, play him over six or seven other defenseman.
It's also a familiar one for defensemen who are trying gain a foothold in the league but whose youth and contract status combine to keep them in limbo: Coach doesn't quite want to play them, general manager doesn't quite want to risk losing them on waivers.
But the player decent enough to maybe be good one day -- if given the chance -- and the team would like him around as injury insurance because: 1) defensemen do tend to get injured, and 2) what better way to find out what a player has than in an injury situation where you have to use him?
New York Islanders fans might call this the Matt Donovan Treatment. But you could call it the Jarred Tinordi Treatment, the Jamie Oleksiak Treatment, or use the name of any other on-the-cusp but seldom-played defensemen around the league.
Whatever you call it, it happens when a defenseman finishes his entry level contract and sticks around long enough to lose his waiver-exempt status, but doesn't have enough reps, experience or plain old coach's trust for a full-time role.
Elliotte Friedman was talking about this in his 30 Thoughts column back in early November:
It’s not exactly a news bulletin teams are looking for defencemen, with a chunk of focus on Dallas and Montreal because they carry eight. GMs Marc Bergevin and Jim Nill refused to expose Jarred Tinordi and Jamie Oleksiak (respectively) to waivers, so they’ve got other executives calling to ask what they might want to do to alleviate their excess.
"Trouble is, since both teams are going so well, they can be patient," one said. "No need to do anything until they get what they want."
This is more of a guess: but I would not be surprised if a Montreal ask was something like two second-rounders for Tinordi.
It sounds so much like the situation Matt Donovan was in last season.
At the time Friedman's column, Oleksiak had appeared in two games over the first month of the season. He added four more in November, four more in December, and one so far in January.
Tinordi's fortune, if you can call it that, has been even worse: No appearances until a three-game stretch around Christmas, and no appearances since.
Both Oleksiak and Tinordi were first-round picks, a brand that always increases or at least extends a player's value and makes other teams more likely to bite on a waiver claim -- and thus, makes his own team more likely to cling on to him at the NHL level.
Either Escape, or Descend
It doesn't always end up this way. Sometimes players either escape to NHL regular status, or descend into "career minor leaguer and callup" status.
In the former camp: Ian Cole was in limbo for a while in St. Louis, though he gained enough traction through part-time play to be held on to, used -- and ultimately traded to Pittsburgh for a similar defenseman in Rob Bortuzzo. Now he's a regular with the Penguins.
In the latter camp: Aaron Ness, an Islanders draft pick who like Donovan came up through the AHL after leaving college, was passed through waivers by the Islanders and eventually became captain of their Bridgeport team. Last offseason they let him leave, and now he's filling a similar role in the Washington Capitals organization. He's had a couple of injury callups this season and has appeared in six NHL games this month, which is more than all of last season (0 games) and 14 short of what he saw with the Isles in 2013-14.
And then there's Donovan. A scoring defenseman in the AHL, he could never secure a regular role with the big club.
In 2014-15, a season where the Isles brought two top-four defenseman in via trade at the beginning of training camp, there simply weren't enough injuries to get Donovan more than 12 games spread from late November-early December and then three in March. Ironically, the injury bug finally hit the Islanders blueline hard for the playoffs, which got Donovan into two final games as an Islander on the biggest stage.
Isles fans long debated the merits of Donovan, and the wisdom of using 7th defenseman Brian Strait -- who ironically became an Islander through this same kind of situation, when Pittsburgh put him on waivers and lost -- over de facto 8th defenseman Donovan. But evaluating bubble defensemen is hard, particularly if they have an offensive rep but aren't going to get offensive opportunities. Management pays close attention to the nuances of their defensive game right as they are trying to shake rust off in their rare appearances. Donovan had some memorable mistakes as an Islander that may have soured the coaches on his game, he wasn't particularly physical, and he was a guy who actually preferred playing his off-hand side.
Many thought a fresh start was exactly what Donovan needed, and last season's last-place Buffalo Sabres seemed like an ideal landing spot.
But he was cut by Buffalo during training camp. He's yet to appear in an NHL game with them. The Sabres remain in last place.
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About that Tinordi Trade: The End of John Scott?
Tinordi, by the way, was sent to Arizona in a three-way deal that brought John Scott to Montreal (where he was assigned to the AHL immediately) and defenseman Victor Bartley from Nashville.
Holding out for value, they did not. A defenseman, Bartley is 27 and the Predators have even tried him at forward recently. But he may fill the depth role that the Canadiens didn't trust Tinordi with, and they can feel a little less wasteful when he spends time in their pressbox.
Oh boy. So Scott, a pretty bad NHL defenseman or forward, keeps getting work as an enforcer in a league that increasingly doesn't want that. But when prankster fans expose that by voting him an All-Star captain, the league tries to get out of it? And the Coyotes -- the team that freely signed him last summer, remember -- are too embarrassed by it?
Someone has no clothes.