Remember that story from your childhood? The one about the emperor? He believed the shifty tailor who claimed the clothes he'd made were so fine they were invisible to the naked eye, and he ended up parading around the city, starkers. The only one with the courage to point out the emperor had been shafted and was actually in the altogether was a naive little girl.
Unfortunately, I think I have to play the role of the little girl in the story of the Canadiens' recent draft history. After the atrocious legacy of first-rounders to the Habs' (dis)credit throughout the nineties, we've been cutting Trevor Timmins a lot of slack because he's actually picking guys who are able to play in the NHL. However, it may be time to finally admit the head scout isn't doing such a great job. His responsibility to the team is to pick players who make the it better, not just guys who can play in the NHL. And so far, not one player Trevor Timmins has picked has really made the Habs a better team.
Seriously, the most recent Habs draftee that's actually making an impact on the big team is Tomas Plekanec. He was picked in the third round in 2001. Eight years ago. Eight. That's a huge number of years in a league in which a team's window to win typically amounts to five years or less. Trevor Timmins has been drafting for the Habs since 2003. In that time he's picked guys like Andrei Kostitsyn, Guillaume Latendresse, Maxim Lapierre, Kyle Chipchura, Ryan White, Matt D'Agostini, Greg Stewart, Ryan O'Byrne, Carey Price, Jaro Halak, Mathieu Carle and Max Pacioretty. Disregarding the players he might have picked instead of any of those guys (although Carter, Richards, Getzlaf, Parise, Lucic, Kopitar, Perron et al are enough to make you cry) the fact remains none of the Timmins draftees on the team right now are difference-makers. And that's what drafting is all about. In the end, the only thing that matters is that the player you pick helps your team win. Nobody cares at this point that Datsyuk was drafted in the seventy-ninth round of his draft. What matters is that he's helping his team win games.
The first rounders are particularly grievous. If we look at all the other teams in the East, we see at least one player drafted in the first round by most of those teams that have become important, if not franchise players. In the northeast, Ottawa has Spezza. Buffalo has Vanek and Stafford. Boston had Kessel, and has now turned him into TWO first rounders. Only the leafs' draft record is worse than the Habs', with no first rounders of their own choosing on the roster in important roles. The other teams in the East also have first-rounders who make a difference. Pittsburgh? Okay...let's not talk about them. Philly has Carter and Richards, Gagne, Giroux and Van Riemsdyk. Caps? Again, an embarrassment of riches. Atlanta has Kovalchuk and Little, Isles have Okposo and Tavares, Devils have Parise, Zajak and Brodeur, Florida has Olecz, Horton, Weiss and Frolik, Tampa has Stamkos and Hedman, Carolina has Staal and Ward and the Rangers have Staal and Del Zotto. So, every team in the East, bar the Habs and leafs has a first-round pick contributing significantly to its success.
Looking at the Habs' first rounders, it's too early to judge Leblanc from 2009. Their first rounder in 2008 went to Calgary for Tanguay. The 2007 picks were Pacioretty, who's struggling to score at the NHL level and McDonagh, who's now a Ranger. In 2006, the Habs picked David Fischer, who's in his fourth year of college hockey and still considered a "prospect." The year 2005 saw the selection of Carey Price at number five overall, which was a risky pick at the time and still hasn't been justified by the player's performance. (Don't think about Kopitar...don't think about Kopitar...) In 2004, the Habs picked Kyle Chipchura who's been fighting and failing to nail down a fourth-line role on the team for three years now. And Timmins' first draft year with the Habs, the 2003 Super Draft, brought us Andre Kostitsyn. He of the five points in 18 games. So, yes, the first round under Timmins has been less than stellar, to put it kindly.
I have another issue with Timmins' picks though, and that's their similarity. When the team picked Lapierre, it was picking a good defensive centre with heart and great leadership qualities. Fine. But then, Timmins went out and drafted Chipchura, Olivier Fortier, Ryan White and Mathieu Aubin. Description? All good defensive centres with great leadership qualities. So then Timmins picked defencemen to address the organization's deficiency in that department. He chose Ryan O'Byrne, a big guy with mobility, if not a lot of offence, who was headed to college. Then he picked Joe Stejkal, Fischer and Mcdonagh...all mobile guys with some size and not a lot of offence. To offset that, he picked an offensive D with a great shot and not stellar in his own end in Mark Streit. Then he picked Yannick Weber, Mathieu Carle and PK Subban who all fit the exact same bill. You can't fill a roster with those kinds of players without sacrificing something.
Timmins gets a lot of credit because of the sheer number of his picks who have made the NHL. But if you look at the number of his picks who actually make a significant contribution to the team, you begin to realize he's possibly overhyped. That's because for a team like Montreal, which has been middle-of-the-pack for more than a decade, drafting is vital. It's the only opportunity a team has to get really good players for free. If they can't draft well, they have to fill important roles on the team through trades or free agency. Trades are tough when you don't have assets you've drafted to send to your trading partner. Free agency costs money and eats cap space which keeps you from filling other holes on your roster. Drafting well gives you a leg up on the opposition because you can use your assets and money to ADD to the team you've built, rather than use them to build from scratch.
I guess we can ignore the fact that many of the successful picks on other teams have managed to make an impact at an early age, and accept that most of the Timmins picks are 25 or under. But at some point we're going to have to stop using youth as an excuse for lack of talent.
So, I have to say, right now...Trevor Timmins has no clothes. And neither do the Habs.