Let's get one thing out of the way: Michael Frolik is a good hockey player and I for one am disappointed that he will not be playing for the Jets for the next several years.1 Like, he's even better than Drew Stafford. So that's a bummer. And in a likely close playoff race ahead, not having Frolik may just be the difference between a playoff berth or not.
But Frolik is now gone and some are suggesting that the Jets have "lost him for nothing" or otherwise wasted him as an asset. I'd agree with this, except, y'know... the Jets made the playoffs, thanks in part to Frolik's help. Making the playoffs and competing for the Stanley Cup has value (for me at least), so I'm pleased in general with the value we got out of Frolik. That's pretty much it but since my editor wants a higher word count I'll go into more detail below.
History, and a few details
The Jets traded for Michael Frolik in the summer of 2013 from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a 3rd round pick (74th overall) and a 5th round pick (134th overall). Frolik, 25 at the time, would be under team control for two more seasons.
Frolik played well his first year, scoring 15 goals and 42 points with excellent underlying numbers. Unfortunately, the Jets finished last in the Central and 9th worst in the league. He received a pay raise as an RFA during the summer of 2014 but he and the Jets did not agree to a long-term deal.2 He would earn $3-million and enter the 2014-15 season as a pending unrestricted free agent. The consternation began.
Having failed to sign Frolik to a multi-year extension and knowing that asset management is critical to a successful NHL franchise, what should the Jets have done heading into the 2014-15 season? How about halfway through the season when still no deal had been reached?
Entering the season, Frolik seemed a likely trade candidate since the Jets finished the previous season seven points out of a playoff spot and seemed determined to continue the insane Frontal Assault On All That Is Good And Holy by continuing to call Ondrej Pavelec an NHL starting goalie. The Jets were a near-consensus to miss the playoffs. If you believed the Jets season would be dismal, getting ready to field offers on Frolik would make sense.
However, even a shit-show like the 2014-15 Edmonton Oilers didn't begin to jettison good players until January 2nd, trading David Perron to the Penguins in the first "Good-Player-for-Future-Hope" swap of the season. Fans spending money on tickets need some modicum of excitement before flushing the season down the toilet - even Oiler fans. So it's unsurprising that the Jets did not trade Frolik before or very early in the season. Still, one could make an argument for trading him before the season if a good deal was out there, depending on if you thought the Jets would be good/bad. The consternation continued.
Frolik, the "the-trade-deadline-is-looming" pending-UFA
By the time January 2nd rolled around it turns out that the Jets were... good. They were getting the goaltending that had eluded them for years and had survived lengthy injuries - OR DRUG REHABS! - to pretty much every one of their defencemen. Two weeks later, James Mirtle wrote an article titled, "Yes, The Jets Are The Real Deal". And that felt pretty nice. As for Frolik, he was a valued contributor and was a notable part of this success.
The Jets' strong play continued and on the eve of the trade deadline, they destroyed the L.A. Kings and found themselves comfortably in a playoff spot. Already with the 7th-best score adjusted Corsi in the NHL, the Jets added depth forwards Jiri Tlusty and Lee Stempniak. This was considered by many smart hockey people to be a team that could do some damage in the playoffs and became a popular "dark horse" pick. Trading Frolik at this point would have lessened the Jets chances at going deep or even making the playoffs - which aren't really that different anymore, given the parity in the NHL. The consternation... abated because we began buying white t-shirts.
Having not been traded, was Frolik a wasted asset?
Of course, getting swept adding an exclamation mark to the Jets' eventual first round playoff exit (which was a definite buzzkill) but I don't think we should get all "the Jets are worse than Hitler" over it. The Jets were banged up. Our goaltending picked a bad time to wear off. Whatever. Luck happens. The better team won. That happened to other teams, too, and it doesn't mean that St. Louis, Nashville, or the Islanders, should have sold all expiring assets on March 2nd, either.
Whether or not you consider Frolik a wasted (or, more defensibly, "underutilized") asset depends in part on how much you value "higher playoff odds now" or "higher playoff odds later". Unless Frolik was some kind of surprise cancer in the dressing room, any realistic trade would have meant hurting the Jets' playoff chances now and helping them later. Draft picks, or the compromise option: a roster player with more term remaining - would have logically made the Jets weaker last season. On a well above-average possession team in a playoff spot, an equally valid question would be, "Would trading Frolik have wasted an opportunity?"
Clearly not all 8th seeds are the 2014 L.A. Kings and making a regular habit of trading/passing up future assets in order to squeak into the playoffs would likely not be good for an organization. But this was a chance to make their first playoff appearance and the Jets had a hungry core in their primes. If this were an underachieving team with only a slim chance at the playoffs at the trade deadline then you might as well trade him. However in the context described above, missing out on a couple draft picks seems a cheap price to pay to be a playoff "dark horse" and give your players playoff experience in the process.
If you find yourself disagreeing with this and having visions of that second and third round draft pick haunting your sleep I have to ask... just what exactly would those draft picks be for? To me at least, the correct answer is "to make the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup". And the Jets did that this spring. Maybe your standards such that we should always look to trade pending UFAs unless we are in a divisional playoff spot. Or we need to feel 60% sure we can make the Conference Finals or something. Those standards are unnecessarily high to me.
While things could have worked out better, such as via a team-friendly extension or longer playoff run, the Jets still made off well enough in their acquisition and employment of Michael Frolik. Costing the team only a 3rd and 5th round draft pick, Frolik played an important role in giving the Jets their first playoff berth, which is a notable accomplishment. His two years of service capped by the playoff experience was solid value received.
NOTE: I'd like all rebuttals to my argument to refrain from using the Curtis Glencross trade and how it somehow got Calgary draft picks and a playoff series win and how Brad Treliving spent the entire 2014-15 shoving horseshoes up his ass. Thanks.
1 There really needs to be a "ceterus paribus" (all things being equal) NHL equivalent... like "without thinking about his cap hit and the implications of that cap hit on signing other good players and other complicated shit like that.... he's a good player".
2 If the 4 years, $16-million rumors are true, the Jets missed out.