Tuesday, June 22, 2010

We Don't Need No Stinking Draft Picks

alexander daigle sucks sens
Here's another guest post from our good friend Ted Rigby. He's previously written about the glory of the moustache and if you are a fan of his writing you can check him out over at John Olerud's Helmet. He's writing today to make sure everyone in Leafs Nation isn't too depressed on account of this Friday's NHL Entry Draft.

After the fanfare and renewed optimism that followed the signing of Phil Kessel this past off-season, Leaf fans are now faced with a grim off-season to match the disappointment of the regular season. Yes, things looked brighter when Burke called in some serious favours back in Anaheim to off-load Blake and Toskala, and bought low on Dion Phaneuf, but the 2009-2010 season was not an overall success. The Maple Leafs secured 30 wins this season (as opposed to last year’s 34), the goaltending situation was not cured by bringing in the best goalie in the 3rd best league, and the team still hasn’t completed the 1st phase of Brian Burke’s master plan (Kaberle... seriously, get out). The off-season is usually what losing teams can look forward to most, because then they’ll be able to convey their inability during the season into a juicy 1st round draft pick, but for the Leafs, this is unfortunately not the case. Leafs fans will no doubt be dreading the next two off-seasons, as Burke traded not only the 1st and 2nd round picks of this year’s draft, but also the Leafs 1st round selection for 2011.

Looking at the 2nd overall selection with a bracketed FROM TOR, many Leafs fans have been investing in high-pillared roofs and sturdy lengths of rope, however, I say, do not be so rash my Blue and White friends, for there may not actually be so much to worry about. The NHL draft is anything but predictable with some drafts giving a steady stream of all-stars calibre players (2003- Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal, Nathan Horton, Vanek, Phaneuf, Carter, Parise, Perry, Getzlaf) and others giving a whole lot of nothing (1996 gave us the likes of Chris Phillips, Andrei Zyuzin and JP Dumont as top three, and the best players drafted were Danny Briere 24th and unibrow-era Tomas Kaberle 204th). So draft shmaft, here’s a few reasons why Leafs fans shouldn’t listen to Morrissey with a hand full of razor blades on June 25th:

1. Alexandre Daigle – Even the French spelling of his first name is enough to turn me off this guy (here’s looking at you, Burrows!) but his status as king of all draft flops has led him into NHL Entry Draft infamy. The 1993 Draft was laden with talent, with 11 of the first round picks being future all-stars (including names such as Pronger, Kariya, Koivu, and Bertuzzi), but luck was not on the side of the bottom-feeding Ottawa Senators of the early-90s. Years before they began their streak of humiliating playoff losses to the Leafs, the Sens faced the humiliation of obtaining the worst 1st overall pick of all-time. Touted by scouts as a “can’t miss” forward, and following a season in which he scored a ridiculous 137 points in 53 games in the QMJHL, Daigle seemed to be the real deal, but it all fell apart. Things began ominously when he absent-mindedly exclaimed that he was happy he was picked first because “no one remembers number two”, a comment that no doubt helped alienate/motivate his teammate Alexei Yashin, the number two pick in the entry draft the previous year. Yashin outplayed Daigle every season. To add insult to injury, the Sens gave Daigle an obscene contract (5 years, $12.25 million) which led to a rookie salary cap being implemented a few years later, to protect other teams from being so stupid. After 4 and a half years in Ottawa, Daigle was tossed around the league for a while before ending up out of the league for 2 seasons and returning for a career year in Minnesota in 2003-2004 before being waived the next season. So you see, even the surest of things can go wrong.

2. The Law of Averages – Looking at every single draft in the past 20 years, for every player in the first round that makes it as an everyday NHL player, there is usually one who doesn’t. Unless you’re a diehard fan you’ve never heard of these guys (see: anyone drafted by the Leafs not dealt to the Boston Bruins) and there’s good reason, so many top picks just can’t adjust to the big game. A story well-circulated amongst my friends is of Stefan Legein, a kid from our hometown, whom many knew from school and hockey. Drafted 37th overall by the Blue Jackets in 2007 and openly man-crushed on by Pierre Maguire during the 2008 World Juniors, it looked like he was poised to become at least an everyday NHL-er, but there were always stories around town that he was pretty off-the-wall and nobody could believe that he was doing so well with so much pressure. Whether it was the pressure of heightened expectations or just a coincidence, Stefan announced his retirement from the game before the 2008-2009 season. He later redacted the announcement, but it shows that the demands of this sport are definitely more than just those of a game.

3. Undrafted college players – This has become a more common trend in the past few seasons, one that Brian Burke has been rolling the company dice on, since joining the Leafs management. With a rookie maximum base salary of $900,000, and rookie contracts generally set at 3 years, this gives the opportunity for a possible surprise from an undrafted collegiate player at a reasonable price. Personally I’d rather see three college players signed than one Jeff Finger, just my personal preference. Burke has gone head-first into this strategy signing two of the biggest collegiate players last year: Slapshot-progeny Christian Hanson, and the big fish of the collegiate class, Tyler Bozak. With performance bonuses these salaries can get pretty high (Bozak’s cap hit is just under $4 million if he reaches all his bonuses), but paying a player based on their present performance rather than past anomalies (See: Why Leafs Nation hates Jason Blake) is definitely preferable, and safer financially.

4. The Detroit Red Wings – How can the lowly Leafs even be uttered in the same sentence as the glorious Red Wings?! Well they actually have something in common! You see the Red Wings couldn’t give a crap about draft picks, in fact, over the past 11 seasons they have traded away 13 draft picks at the trade deadline, more than any other team. In comparison, the teams who have acquired the most picks have been perennially out of the playoffs (LA Kings, Florida Panthers) The Red Wings instead have focussed on the strongest scouting department in hockey, and turning late picks (Franzen 97th, Datsyuk 171st, Zetterberg 210th in their respective entry drafts) into legitimate superstars. So as long as Burkie holds onto a few late round picks, Leafs Nation can still breathe easy, because this isn’t JFJ drafting, so no matter who Burke’s 220th pick is, it will seem like the next Stevie Y in comparison to anyone Fergie would choose.

5. Aki Berg was drafted 3rd overall – I think I’ve made my point.

1 comment:

Matt Horner said...

The draft is certainly the safer route, but if it was a sure thing then the Florida Panthers wouldn't be languishing where they are.

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