Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Things Done Changed: The Value of a First Round Pick

I was going to wait to post this until closer to the trade deadline, but since Burkie and Sutter have gone crazy I thought it was appropriate to post it sooner.

GMs of terrible teams look fondly upon the 2007 trade deadline with the same wistful eyes that cocaine dealers get when remembering the 1980s.

This is the trade deadline that made rebuilding even more difficult than it already is. That’s because the 2007 trade deadline is better characterized as the year of overspending or the year of ignorance. Since it was only the second year after the lockout teams didn’t quite realize the tremendous value of draft picks in a cap system, especially first round picks. When you commit a large sum of your cap space to a small group of core players you continually need to replenish your remaining roster spots with young, cheap talent. Having young players make meaningful contributions, while still on their rookie contracts, is essential. GMs who believed they were on the cusp of a Stanley Cup run, or worse, on the cusp of only the playoffs, traded their picks faster than a crack addict selling their sex.

The only player traded for a first round pick that was probably worth a first round pick was Ryan Smyth, who wasn’t much of a point getter, but already had multiple 30+ goal seasons and already scored 31 in 53 games by the time of his trade in 2006-2007. However, this was the 2007 deadline, so only a first round pick wasn’t enough. The Oilers also got Robert Nilsson and Ryan O’Marra from the New York Islanders (I guess not too much extra now, but at the time it was).

If you had a bad team, but had a player with an ounce of talent then you were assured a first round pick. Craig Rivet got the Montreal Canadiens a first round pick plus Josh Gorges (now turning himself into a pretty good defenceman) from the San Jose Sharks (again thinking they could win a Cup). Rivet had never topped 35 points in his career and had only one year over +10 (career even plus/minus at that point). The Sharks also gave up another 2007 first round pick for 9 points from Bill Guerin. The Blues turned that pick into David Perron. Don’t feel too bad for the Sharks, they got plenty of picks back from the Leafs for some scrub named Toskala.

The Stars were another team guilty of over-estimating their chances at the Cup. 35-year-old Mattias Norstrom of the LA Kings, who at the time had 6 points and was -20, was worth Jaroslav Modry, a 2008 first rounder, a second round pick in 2007, and a third round pick in 2007. Norstrom wasn’t a viable top-four defenceman for at least five years, but he still netted the Kings three picks and a player! Dallas also traded a 2007 first round pick to the Coyotes for Ladislav Nagy. Nagy was a perennial breakout candidate who was seemingly on the cusp of putting everything together after 56 points in 51 games the previous year and 41 points in 55 games before the trade. This wasn't a total waste of a first round pick, but it didn’t pan out for the Stars and Nagy took his disappearing act to the KHL in 2008.

Washington’s Danius Zubrus, who had only eclipsed 50 points once, was worth a first round pick from the Sabres. Tampa Bay even traded a first round pick to Anaheim for Shane O’Brien! Seriously! Everyone was worth a first round pick.

Florida's Todd Bertuzzi, who hadn’t played a game since November, was traded to the Red Wings for Shawn Matthias (currently Florida's third ranked prospect according to Hockey's Future). It wasn’t just first round picks that teams threw away, but quality prospects as well.

Some of the worst trades were perpetrated by Atlanta Thrashers' GM, Don Waddell. Poor Don Waddell was in the unenviable position of selling hockey in Atlanta and desperately needed to make the playoffs. Consequently, he gave up a lot for very little. His first mistake was trading Brayden Cobourn (taken one spot ahead of Dion Phaneuf in the 2003 draft) for 35-year-old Alexei Zhitnik. Zhitnik actually played pretty well down the stretch for Atlanta, putting up 14 points in 18 games, but played horrendously the following year, prompting the Thrashers to buy him out. Cobourn turned himself into a top-four defenceman with the Flyers and became an integral part of their rapid re-build. To make matters worse, Waddell banked on Keith Tkachuk helping the Thrashers. Waddell traded a first and third round pick in 2007 and a second round pick in 2008 to the Blues for Tkachuk. The Thrashers were swept in the first round of the playoffs and their short term solutions turned into long-term pain. They've only begun to recover this year and will most likely lost Ilya Kovalchuk by the start of free agency, if not this trade deadline.

Alternatively, the Flyers actually made out like bandits at this deadline. In addition to stealing Brayden Cobourn from the Thrashers they were able to get Scottie Upshall (later traded for Daniel Carcillo), Ryan Parent, a 2007 first round pick, and a 2007 third round pick from the Nashville Predators for a broken down Peter Forsberg (he only played 40 games at the time of the trade and wouldn’t top 60 on the season). They ended up swapping the first round pick back to the Predators before July 1st for the rights to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell. So, the trade netted the Flyers Carcillo (in a roundabout way), Parent, Timonen, and Hartnell. Not a bad trade to start a re-build. This was a major reason why the Flyers were able to bounce back so quickly from their horrid 2006-2007 season. Plus, they already had Carter and Richards, not to mention the 2nd overall draft pick. What an easy re-build.

The trade deadline also had some minor trades (for the time) that are paying off huge now. The Chicago Blackhawks traded Brandon Bochenski (once famously projected as the rookie of the year by Don Cherry in Crosby and Ovechkin’s rookie season) for Kris Versteeg. Not much of a deal at the time, but looks pretty one-sided today. The Bruins also made a pretty decent trade with the Blues trading the well-travelled Brad Boyes to the Blues for Dennis Wideman. So there was one example of a trade that worked for both parties.

It’s still too early to tell if the players drafted with all these picks will amount to anything, but considering that none of the teams that traded their first round pick did anything in the playoffs I think it’s safe to say that the draft picks were the better investment.

Now because of this year of ignorance most GMs realize you can’t just throw away all your draft picks. You should prudent. Save your stupidity for July 1st when you can spend $50 million on someone decent.

The last two trade deadlines have seen considerably less first round picks traded by contending teams, even though there has been just as much movement between teams (25 trades in 2007, 25 trades in 2008, 22 trades in 2009). In 2007 there were 9 first round picks traded (almost a third of the league traded their first rounder at the deadline! CRAZY!) and since then there have only been four! Only two first round picks were traded each of the last two years.

In 2008, the Thrashers traded Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis to the Penguins for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito, and a first round pick. Hossa was certainly worth this price. Hossa was nearly a point a game player in his career and topped 80 points four times (once hitting 100 and once hitting 92). He was certainly worth a first round pick plus. This was a good deal for the Pens since went to the Cup finals versus Detroit that year. Fair trade. Good value for your first rounder.

The other first rounder spent packing in 2008 was traded by the San Jose Sharks (in addition to Steve Bernier) for Brian Campbell and a seventh round pick. Campbell was a premier offensive defenceman who was really starting to come into his own as a player and looked like the missing piece to the Sharks (failed) Cup run. Campbell was so well thought of that he actually went second overall in a playoff pool I was in that spring. That raised a few heads after the selection, but it stills shows how highly regarded Campbell was. Or maybe it just shows the effects of beer on fantasy drafts.

In 2009, Olli Jokinen and a third round pick were traded from the Coyotes to the Flames for Matthew Lombardi, Brandon Prust, and a first round pick in either 2009 or 2010 (Calgary's choice). I believe Calgary settled on the 2010 pick, which looks pretty good for the Coyotes considering Calgary’s current slide. Anyways, Olli Jokinen was having a somewhat underwhelming campaign in Phoenix, but scored 71, 91, and 89 points the three previous years in Florida. People spoke of him as the game’s most underrated superstar. Well, it didn't worked out at all. Jokinen was absolutely lost in Calgary before being traded to the Rangers today and maybe he looked like a superstar because no one cared about what happens in Florida. He could play without any pressure. Regardless, at the time Jokinen was a big time player and certainly worth a first round pick.

The other first round pick traded was a little perplexing. The Sens traded their first round pick plus Dean McAmmond to the Islanders for Mike Comrie (a player who has hit 60 points only twice) and Chris Campoli. Ottawa was out of the playoffs and ended up missing them by 10. Maybe they felt the Dany Heatley trouble brewing and wanted to see if they could get one more playoff run in before he bolted. At least they still have Campoli who is only 25.

Apart from the Comrie trade all the first round picks given up in 2008 and 2009 were for established stars in their primes. In 2007, the first round picks were mainly traded for older veterans on the down side of their careers or younger players with glimmers of hope.

GMs certainly learned from the mistakes of 2007 and no longer willingly give up a first round pick except in certain instances for big name players. Fans of rebuilding clubs should temper their expectations for returns this deadline.

Although, second round picks are the new first. You can trade anyone for a second. Dom Moore, anyone?

I have a dream that the deadline of ignorance is postponed until 2008 and there is no such thing as no-movement clauses. In this dream the Leafs trade the Muskoka-5 (Sundin, Kaberle, McCabe, Kubina, and Tucker) for an absolute fortune. IF we are dreaming, then Sundin probably nets a similar return to Forsberg in 2007, Kaberle goes for the famous first rounder plus Jeff Carter offer, Kubina nets a Rivet type return, McCabe gets a Norstrom type return, and the Leafs probably get rid of Tucker for a second round pick (maybe a first since this is the year of stupidity…and also a dream). The re-build begins with a bang. Of course this must be a dream because if the 2007 deadline of ignorance doesn’t happen then the Flyers aren’t in contention and don’t want Kaberle and there’s probably some Back to the Future space-time continuum non-sense we fuck up. This is beginning to sound more like a nightmare.


Jordan said...

We can't live in the past Roy.
Don't forget half those leafs from the 2007 year had no trade clauses

Matt Horner said...

But in my dreams there's no such thing as no trade clauses.

Bo Dangles said...

Oh the Muskoka 5.....

I thought about that situation after reading this article and I have a feeling the "dream" team would eventually be in a similar situation as the current maple leafs are now.

Had all those players waived their no trade clauses, JFJ would most likely still be the GM for a few more years. He would find some way to fuck it all up, get fired, the leafs would need a new gm and a new re-building plan.

Matt Horner said...

I thought about that as well, but then remembered that JFJ was fired in January and Cliff Fletcher took over on an interm basis with the idea that someone (*wink wink*) would take over full-time when their contract was up.

Or maybe Cliff gets power hungry after these trades, sticks around and makes more Ryan Hollweg and Jamal Mayers type deals.

History is fun.

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