As I watched the opening round of the NHL playoffs, I couldn’t help but notice how many former top-3 overall picks are playing. Five of the six players who were picked in the top-3 of the 2016 and 2017 NHL drafts are making first round appearances, mostly in crucial and leadership roles for their teams. Three of those teams weren’t in the playoffs last year and four of them missed the playoffs the year before.
While there are obviously other things at play in these teams’ success, it can’t be understated the immediate impact a top-3 draft pick can have on a roster. Patrik Laine has led his team in goals for the last two years (which includes his rookie season) and cracked the 70 point barrier this year. Auston Matthews led his team in goals and points in his rookie season. Nico Hischier was second on his team in points this season.
These players took a team in the midst of a rebuild to the next level. While they may not have immediately made them Stanley Cup contenders, they made them competitive again. And what more can a rebuilding team want?
In the case of the Red Wings, they are only in the beginning stages of their rebuild. After a twenty-five year playoff run, the former perennial contender picked in the top-10 of the 2017 draft for the first time since 1991. Their ninth overall pick, Michael Rasmussen, is tearing up the WHL’s playoffs for the Tri-City Americans right now and will likely find himself in the winged wheel on opening night of the 2018-19 season, but he’s far from the kind of game-breaker that some of the recent top-3 picks have ended up being.
He’s part of the rebuild,not the one to accelerate it. That player is yet to come, if they arrive at all. This coming year, it’s all going to come down to the draft lottery this Saturday, April 28th. So much of the Red Wings’ future is going to come down to what happens that evening. A move up into the top-3 seriously alters the rebuild, as they’ll receive the kind of NHL-ready player that made an immediate impact in Toronto, Winnipeg, and New Jersey.
This draft is especially special with Rasmus Dahlin as the clear number one pick. Wings fans can easily trace the decline of the team back to the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom. The team has never been able to fill that hole on the blueline and defense continues to be its biggest flaw. Dahlin has drawn numerous comparisons to Lidstrom and with the Wings’ strong history with Swedes, it’s easy to see how this pairing could seem like destiny.
The Wings get their Lidstrom back and Dahlin gets to play with four of his fellow countrymen. It’s the kind of end result that has fans salivating. The truth is, though, it probably won’t happen.
The Wings only have an 8.5% chance of landing Dahlin, but let’s look at it from a different angle. The Wings have a 91.5% chance of not landing Dahlin. I don’t like those odds.
So the best way forward for Detroit is to assume that they will not have Dahlin on their roster next season. In fact, if I were running the team, I’d be moving forward with the assumption that the team is drafting outside of the top-3.
As it currently stands, the Wings have a 26.1% chance of moving into one of those three coveted positions. One in four. I like those odds a little better, but there’s still a 73.9% chance that they don’t move up.
When you’re running a business, or in this case a hockey team, you can’t base your decisions on hopes and dreams. We all, including management, coaches, and players on the team, hope the Wings will win the draft lottery (or at least move up), but the reality of the situation is that they will likely miss out on the draft lottery and proceed with their rebuild how they intended to in the first place: by riding out bad contracts, acquiring draft picks, and developing young talent.
For fans, hope can be a good thing. It keeps us engaged and positive about the team. But it also means the disappointment is that much greater when reality comes breaking down the doors. Though generally a positive person, I’ve always been a realist. I don’t pray for the unlikely and I don’t hope to get lucky.
Only one team a year gets lucky at the draft lottery and there are those who never see their day. The Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes are in the mix every year, but they’ve never won. I’m not getting my hopes up too much that the Wings will be the lucky ones, and neither should you.