THE MYTH OF THE ‘BAD DRAFT’

“Yeah, but this year is a weak draft.”

We’ve all heard this a hundred times already. Whether it’s a
TSN Insider, hockey Twitter, some bogus blog or that dummy you work with who
has a Leafs tattoo, everyone seems certain this draft is unusually terrible. Granted,
there isn’t an Auston Matthews this year, there certainly isn’t a Connor
McDavid and there might not even be an Aaron Ekblad out there up for grabs this
time around. Does that automatically mean this draft is terrible or simply that
it just hasn’t been as good as the previous few years? I think it’s more
realistic that a Matthews, Laine or McDavid is the exception here and not the
rule when looking at a top five pick and thus this draft should be viewed with a much wider scope. That is to say, this might not be a weak draft, it may just be a return to normal. The myth of the ‘bad draft’ is exactly what the Red Wings need to exploit immediately to kick-stick this rebuild. 

PREVIOUS ‘WEAK DRAFTS’

When is the last post-lockout draft people consider weak or
just plain terrible? Most people’s first thought goes to 2012, the Yakupov
draft if you will. Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray, Alex Galchenyuk, Griffin
Reinhart, Morgan Rielly. A pretty weak top five in comparison to last year or
2015. 2008 was another not so stellar year. Tavares, Doughty, Bogosian,
Pietrangelo, Luke Schenn. While some of the high picks may be much weaker in
comparison or downright laughable now, every draft moves well beyond the first
few picks. In fact, the first round in general has been a gold mine for
full-time NHLers.

That should be a somewhat obvious statement. Why then are
picks in this years draft being talked about in contrast to previous drafts we
knew were exceptional going into them? When someone remarks how a
mid-first round pick this year is equal to a late first or even second rounder
last year they are actually holding this draft up to exceptional standards. If we look at this
draft as just a regular old draft (which it is) then teams should be out there
every second from now until deadline, looking to burn any team willing to throw
away a first rounder. Trading Jurco for a 3rd rounder is an excellent start and helps set future prices on much better assets like Brendan Smith and Thomas Vanek. 

Even in those “bad draft” years the numbers are still
staggering. In 2012, 15 of the first 30 picks have played 200+ games and only one
player has yet to play an NHL game. The 2008 draft has 17 players skating in
300+ games, seven of which have 250+ points in that time and four even have
350+ points. Only four players never made the big show. The point is almost every draft has 2-5 first rounder’s who
never play in the NHL. They all have hits, they all have misses and they all
have anomalies. It’s no longer 30 teams trying to grab the same four farm boys from Alberta or Ontario, if the World Junior’s have taught us anything lately it’s that the entire world has caught up to North America. If more countries are producing high-end talent, there is quite simply more high-end talent to be had. 

The most important factor though, whether the draft is deemed
“good” or “bad” by outside forces, is that it’s always a gamble. Sure, maybe this
entire draft turns out awful. But with the metrics available to us, the history
of the NHL and the quality of today’s coaching and training for kids, that seems like basically an impossibility in 2017. It’s statistically unlikely
we’re now going to see an entire round traditionally know for producing
high-end talent fall off into a depth player factory as coaching, international hockey programs and expansion of the game has only gotten better. The fact is we have absolutely
been spoiled by the past few drafts and that is what has distorted our expectations this
year. 

Here are the percentage of players drafted each year that actually
play in the NHL:

2007: 45%
2008: 50%
2009: 53%
2010: 49%
2011: 54%
2012: 42%

2013: 32%
2014: 19.5%

2012 begins the fall off not because it was a horrible draft (it was definitely
below average) but as you can see time simply hasn’t caught up to those later
drafts yet to allow for those picks to mature. But 2007-2011 shows they’re
all pretty much around that 50% mark with a “bad draft” only accounting for a
few percentage points of difference in actual NHLers being produced. So being coined a ‘bad draft’ really only means about 3-6 less guys play in NHL games across all thirty teams. 

BAD DRAFT OR BAD DRAFTING?

I’m not saying
teams are going to be finding a Jamie Benn in the fifth round again,
or a Palat in the seventh but what I am saying is history shows over half those
first round picks become substantial NHLers fairly quickly and that percentage
skyrockets with time. Bad drafting is just simply bad drafting. Picking Luke
Schenn before Erik Karlsson is just bad drafting. Schenn wasn’t even putting up
0.5 points per game in the WHL while Karlsson was a point-per-game defenceman
in the SuperElite and 13 points in 15 games at the World Juniors. So while Luke Schenn being a top five pick in a draft
makes the draft look bad, it’s actually just horrible drafting. Teams misevaluating prospects and drafts happens all the time. In this instance the Leafs had
the data they just chose to care more about the passport that kid was holding.

The Dallas Stars are another great example. A brief history
of their first round picks that have had a shot at the NHL:

2013 – playing in Russia

2012 – 39 points in 100+ games

2011 – 18 points in 100+ games

2010 – 2 NHL games played

2009 – 1 NHL game played

2008 – Traded for poor return (Normstrom and Pushkaryov) 

No wonder Anaheim risked losing their first rounder to the Stars, they certainly don’t have to worry about getting burned by them for it down the road the way they draft. 

CAN THIS ‘BAD DRAFT’ HELP THE RED WINGS?

Absolutely. 

The Wings need high picks. Their first rounders have been brutal at times but have improved as of late. More picks only help their chances of getting at least one right. They need cap relief and the need roster spots. Moving Jurco already helped, moving Ott makes room for Bertuzzi next year, moving Vanek opens up a top six spot of Athanasiou or Larkin, moving Smith allows the Wings to not sacrifice Sproul or Jensen to the waiver wire. 

The elephant in the room is also the expansion draft. If the Wings can get rid of all of these players at the deadline it puts into play the idea that Vegas might be forced to take someone off the roster the Wings really need to get rid of. Maybe these weren’t players at risk anyways but less players simply improves the chance of a bad contract getting picked up or Holland sacrificing future picks for them to snatch up a player like Smith instead of whoever else Vegas may want. Losing a Helm or a Howard opens up cap and roster space, either is a win at this point. 

With the recent phenomenon that is “tanking” there are teams like the Leafs and the Sabres who have stockpiled picks and prospects who are running out of both roster spots and ability to afford future contracts for so much elite young talent. Teams like the Ducks also have multiple second rounders yet need to make a run this season. Exploit those mismanagements and start snatching up those picks for cheap asset rentals like Brendan Smith or Mike Green in the Leafs case, who would come off their books right as some of those rookies need new deals. Or Thomas Vanek in the case of the Ducks who need scoring on expiring contracts and they need it now. 

BAD YEAR FOR THE STREAK TO END?

While most Wings fans enjoy feeling sorry for themselves with the realities of the streak ending in a bad draft year this is actually the best case scenario. Next year those first rounders aren’t going to be the cheap currency they are this year. The Wings have bad contracts and mediocre movable assets, we’ve already seen teams are willing to part with picks this season and we’ve already realized that the early rounds are a safe bet for talent despite how people project them in February. 

The Red Wings have needs at every position. Owen Tippett being a top 10 pick this year even though he would have been a late first last year doesn’t change the fact the Red Wings need right handed scoring wingers desperately. The reality that this draft is loaded with defenceman who no one has any consensus on how to order them doesn’t automatically mean they’re all mediocre, it means there are more chances to score some reliability on a blue line that has been chaos since Lidstrom retired with a kid like Cal Foote. 

What I’m saying is if teams want to sulk or use the idea of a ‘bad draft’ as an excuse to throw away picks, it’s time to capitalize on that. Holland was once a draft-saavy general manager and he needs to sharpen those old skills and start forcing teams into making mistakes. After a poor showing, the last three years of Mantha, Larkin and Svechnikov have all been great grabs. The league is shifting and the youth are taking over. It’s time to attempt to fix the ghastly mistakes he has made as of late and start steering this ship back in the right direction. The end of the streak will give him the freedom to finally accept this idea and cash in big on a frankly undervalued draft class.