Trevor Timmins is a BPA man. We know that, and, in theory, picking the best player available when you step up to the podium at the amateur draft isn't a bad strategy. But this year, I think it might be time to make an exception to the rule.
The fact is, the Canadiens need a solid, offensively-talented centre with some size. They've had the same need for well over a decade and drafting the BPA has failed to address it. I hate to beat the 2003 draft to death yet again, but if Timmins had been looking for a big, strong centre that year, he might have chosen a guy like Getzlaf, instead of the best player available who, in Timmins' book, was Andrei Kostitsyn. Not that I don't think Kostitsyn's got talent. On the contrary, I think only a lack of consistency is preventing him from becoming a seventy-point player. But Kostitsyn is another winger on a team with lots of wingers and no top centres either on the big team or in the system.
The theory behind the BPA is that you can't draft for immediate needs because the dynamic and composition of a team will likely change by the time the kid you draft is ready for the big time. The common defence of Timmins' strict adherence to that theory is the Carey Price selection. Just about everyone was surprised to see the Price pick when Jose Theodore was number one in Montreal and had won a Hart and Vezina trophy in the not-too-distant past. Who would have predicted Theo's massive implosion after Price was picked? So, by choosing the BPA in 2005, according to Timmins' list, the Habs snagged themselves a possible franchise goalie who became the organization's top hope at that position after Theodore was traded. Sure, they could have taken Kopitar who would now be the team's number-one centre. But they wouldn't have Price to guard the net for the next ten years. It's still too early to say whether that argument is a valid one. Would the team be better or worse off with Kopitar centering the first line and a Halak/Huet tandem in nets? We won't know until Price develops fully and we see how important he is to the Canadiens in the next several seasons. In the meantime, the hole at centre is still not filled.
The other argument in favour of the BPA theory is that you can't have too much talent. So, in theory, if a team decides the best player available is a defenceman four or five years in a row, that's no problem because it can later trade one of those talented young D-men for the other pieces the team needs. Or, it can bring in free agents to plug the holes. That's great...in theory. But the reality is because of the salary cap, teams are placing greater value than ever on cheap, young talent. That means they're reluctant to trade prospects until they have a very good idea about the kid's upside and potential to contribute in the NHL. Nobody wants to unload a kid if there's a chance he might bloom for another team. So they hold onto the prospects until they know if they're NHL quality or not. But by then, the other teams know it too, so there are few bargains to be had in trades. The strange irony of the value teams place on their own prospects, however, is that they don't place the same value on other teams' kids. So, while a GM might be willing to part with a couple of D-prospects in exchange for a good young forward, the other GM might not think prospects are worth as much as his NHL-calibre forward. And most organizations have only a few real prized prospects that might interest other teams. The problem is, those are the kids a GM's own team needs to build around.
Take the Habs for example. While they're flush with defence prospects, they have very little at centre. If they want to trade for a centre, what can they offer? Subban and Weber for Getzlaf or Staal? Right. So, the trading thing, while ideal in theory, doesn't exactly pan out as imagined very often.
As for filling holes through free agency, well, that might work for other teams, but Montreal has never been successful at that. As we know.
So, it's back to the draft. I agree that in most cases it's tough to predict what a team's needs might be in five years, when a mid-round draft pick is finally ready to contribute at the NHL level. But in Montreal, the greatest need is the same one the team has had for years, and there's nobody on the farm team who looks like he'll be capable of filling that need in the next several seasons.
That's why, when Trevor Timmins steps up to the mic, I hope he picks the best centre available. He may gamble and miss, but the draft is just that way, regardless of which strategy you use. I'm sure he thought David Fischer was the best player available three years ago, and that's not exactly been a huge homerun yet. Perhaps if he'd been drafting for need that year, Patrik Berglund would have scored 21 goals in his rookie NHL season in Montreal instead of St.Louis. While I agree drafting for need isn't the best way to go generally, I think it's a special circumstance in Montreal this year. At least we'll know the team tried to fill that hole in centre, even if it ultimately doesn't work out.