Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Pick

The ten players taken first overall in the NHL's last decade of draft picks have played a total of 3548 NHL games and scored 3009 points. Three of them are captains of their teams, and three are Stanley Cup winners. All of them, with the exception of Erik Johnson, who chose to play one more year of college following his draft, jumped directly from junior hockey to the NHL. Scouting, it would appear, has evolved to the point at which a consensus first-overall pick is almost a sure thing to not only be an NHL player, but to be a very effective one. Psychological testing, number crunching, character interviews and medical care translate promising kids to big-league stars sooner rather than later. That's why holding that first pick is the dream of every team that's had to give up other dreams when they weren't good enough to make them come true. It's a ticket on the express train back to respectability.

Lottery picks, generally, are a pretty good bet for producing NHLers. The thing is, however, after the top two positions, while first-rounders still make the big league at a pretty high rate compared to later-round picks, their  overall production doesn't compare to the cream of the crop. The last decade's second-overall picks have played 3080 NHL games between them, and put up 2079 points. There are 2 assistant captains and four Cup winners in that group. Then, when you move down to the third-overall picks, they've played a comparable number of NHL games, with 3027 among them. They've produced one guy wearing his team's "C" and another with an "A" and they boast two Cup winners, but they've only compiled 1543 points. Third-overall picks are also much less likely to make the big team right away than the guys chosen just two places ahead of them. That can be frustrating when a team needs that pick to make a difference as quickly as possible.

It might be argued that the Canadiens aren't as badly off in terms of assets as some other lottery teams. With a solid goaltender in Carey Price, a good, young stud D-man in P.K.Subban and an excellent power forward in Max Pacioretty, the bones of a youth movement are there. Reliable veterans like Erik Cole, Brian Gionta, Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec add to the Habs' assets. Lars Eller, David Desharnais and Alexei Emelin are keepers as well. So, the cupboard, at least at the NHL level, isn't exactly bare in Montreal. They have the luxury of drafting a third-overall pick and letting him marinate in juniors for a couple of years until he's ready for a shot at pro hockey.

The question is, is that the wisest move? The Canadiens haven't had such a high pick since 1980, so this year's draft offers a great chance to add an important asset to a team with an already-decent core. Yet, a lottery pick, once you get past the number-one overall, is never as valuable as he is when he's still a possibility. Possibility, as it relates to hockey players, is like gold on the stock market. Or, maybe it's like virginity on the Victorian bridal mart. You're never as valuable as when you have it intact. Once a player is chosen, he's no longer a "lottery pick."  He's a real guy, with shortcomings and injuries and attitude and...well...never quite the same as he was when he was a mystery who could have been anything. So, the Habs have to decide now how they're going to handle the promise that's worth so much. There are several choices.

First, they can keep the pick. They can draft the best player available at the number-three spot and let him develop within the organization. That's a good plan because if the BPA is, say, a defenceman, he could add to the stash of Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu and Mac Bennett. If he's a forward, he could end up being a really good NHL centreman or a winger, and the Habs could use help in either position.  If he develops on schedule, and he's got the sense and the balls to deal with Montreal at a young age, he could be a star. Of course, if all the young Habs prospects end up proving themselves, the development of the pick could make one of the other guys expendable to fill another hole in the system; an additional benefit.

Second, there's the option to trade it. That choice, in itself, comes with several possibilities. Bergevin could, for example, try to package the third with something the Oilers need and trade up for the chance to pick consensus number-one, Nail Yakupov. The Oilers are stacked with young, scoring talent up front, but need veteran leadership and defence. The Canadians have both, but would have to weigh very carefully whether the acquisition of the first pick would be worth the loss of a roster player like Plekanec or Subban, because that's probably what the Oilers would demand, if not a solid prospect like Beaulieu who could grow up with the other young guys there. The rumoured interest of the other lottery teams in trading up would raise the stakes and let Steve Tambellini pick the juiciest of the offers. He'd then add a nice piece to his roster while still choosing a blue-chip young defenceman like Ryan Murray or Matt Dumba.

The Canadiens, considering the prospects remaining after Yakupov, might be interested in trading down a pick or two. Trevor Timmins has carefully weighed his options and probably has a pretty good idea by now who's at the top of his want list. If he's still on the fence, he'll certainly know his mind by draft day, and if he thinks his guy (maybe Filip Forsberg?) will still be there at number four or five, the Canadiens might take a roster player or prospect from another team in exchange for swapping draft spots.

There's another trade option as well. Some other team might really want one of this year's top prospects and be willing to part with a star prospect of their own, straight up, for the Habs' pick. Would Bergevin, for example, be interested in moving his third-overall this year for Florida's third-overall last year? So, Jonathan Huberdeau for the guy Florida wants in this year's draft? That would give the Panthers two first-rounders this year and the Habs a home-grown prospect one year closer than this year's pick to making the big team. That's potentially the best value Bergevin can get from his draft choice, and would make a lot of fans deliriously happy.

G.M. runner-up Pierre McGuire, among others, has suggested the Habs might want to use the pick to solidify the NHL roster with a proven player like Jordan Staal. That would certainly help the team fast-track back to competitive status. On the other hand, a move like that would assume that the draft pick's potential wouldn't meet or exceed Staal's, which is a big risk to take. It would also mean taking on a cap hit that could be put off by keeping the draft pick on an entry-level contract for three years. And the likelihood of Pittsburgh demanding something extra to sweeten such a deal for a proven player would lower the trade's return for the Canadiens.

Bergevin has some great options with this draft position. Whatever he decides to do with the pick, the Canadiens are winners. It's going to be an interesting few weeks until he makes his selection.


Robert Rice said...

I've never been a fan of this 3rd overall for Huberdeau talk. This proposal gives all the power to Florida, Dale Tallon will know it is a political pick and will not simply swap 3rd for Huberdeau, he'll want concessions knowing MTL is trying to do a PR Move with Huberdeau and Huberdeau doesn't flash the upside of Galchenyuk, Yakupov or Grigorenko from the scouting notes I've read.

I can't believe the Jordan Staal idea is a serious one in hockey circles. He is not, nor will he ever be a No. 1 Centre on a Contending Team. He's never shown the offensive talent that his brother Eric does and he's a pending free agent. Trading 3rd overall for a 2nd-line Centre who's a pending UFA is a fool's errand in my view and highlights why McGuire doesn't belong in an NHL Front Office.

In my view, trust in Trevor Timmins to pick the next potential franchise player of the Montreal Canadiens. He's already done so twice from 2005 to 2007 with Price and Subban.

pedro said...

long time reader first time leaving a comment.BPA is probably our best option.As your second option to trade picks with the oilers plus a roster player or prospect such as Beaulieu or tinorty in my mind is out of the question.the ryan mcdonagh trade (prospect)at the time now 25 min. a game D-man gives me nightmares and probably will until he retires.in other words i really hope M.B.never gives up on our prospects.give them time to grow and improve.Not to say yakupov could be a dynamic player some day but thats a high price to pay.On the flip side if Ryan Murray was available come third pick id take him in a hart beat.could you imagine in 3-4 years from now P.K. beaulieu,tinordi,morgan ellis,ryan murray.all growing and improving together for the next 5-10 years.add price in net for those years and you might have a making of a dynasty from behind our blue line.know doubt some of our prospects may flop,but sometimes its nice to dream nice thoughts instead of nightmares.option 3 if yakupov or murray were not available in the no. 3 spot then trade down for two first and possibly a second (toronto)anyone?LOL.great blogs J.T. keep them coming.

Hadulf said...

"...holding that first pick is the dream of every team [...]. It's a ticket on the express train back to respectability."

Not if your the Edmonton Oilers where it seems 2 picks (and a 3rd one on the way) is not enough to get you out of the basement...Something's gotta give at some point!

Personally, I would not go for the Jordan Staal option. Salary cap era, and we have Price and Subban coming down the pipe...If we want to keep them, they will still be moderately expensive. Price will fetch a good price for sure.

I'm all for keeping the pick and go for draft development...I would not gamble and trade down a pick or 2, just in case "the guy we want" isn't available anymore. I'd go for the best player available. If that player is a forward and we need a defense, I'd trade him right after picking him.

the Maritimer said...

OK, I usually don't respond to some of these so called "experts" or "serious fans", but come on. I've never watched Yakupov or Galchenyuk play, I have seen Grigorenko, once. I've watched Jonathan Huberdeau play many times. He makes great plays, has great hands and has no fear of playing in the corners or going in the so-called dirty ares to score. He's money in the bank when it comes to shootouts, look it up. 2011 QMJHL MVP and Memorial Cup MVP. What more do you want? Dale Tallon wouldn't be dumb enough to trade Huberdeau for any of the three mentioned. He knows what he's got, another Jonathan Toews to build around. Try again Mr. Expert.

Adam said...

Great article, finally someone talking about the draft with an opinion.....instead of stating the obvious.

I hope we take the best player available. Hopefully not Grigorenko. I want us to build with youth, players who are drafted here and learn what it is to be a Montreal Canadian.

I'm all for a trade to get Yakapov but not trading "young" assets. (Subby-Tinordi-Beaulieu-Eller)

Pick & Vets are available to swap but a good blend is still needed to grow together.

Pick # 3?

Hopefully one of Forsberg/Galchenyuk/Murray i'll be happy.


Anonymous said...

Good write up sir.
Options abound for Bergevin/Timmins.
Not a Hurberdeau fan, Couturier yes i would trade #3 pick for.
But not a fan of trading up option as the #3 pick will not be that much lower value than the #1; as Duchene would be to Tavares, a toss up.
But if a player slides in 1st round, i would be all for trading a few 2nd round/later picks to grab; say a Gaunce/Collberg at 20th. Then a haul of Dumba at 3 and a skilled forward at 20 would be a good deal. Pitt would want too much for Stall and would have a ton of teams offerin deals.

Anonymous said...

Thank god Pierre Mcguire isn't the gm of the habs.He may know a lot about players but he can he make a smart hockey decision?? Doesn't sound like it. He said on tsn 990 that if he were gm of the habs he would trade for Vinny Lecavlier.

Hadulf said...

Oh God no...

Please, Vinny, stay in Tampa Bay...play out your contract in Florida and retire there! Please.

We don't need Vinny in Montreal, really. Not now, not ever!

I think the guy is a good player and all...but this monster contract and declining performances from Lecavalier, no thanks. He'll be an anchor in about 2 years for Tampa Bay...

Steve said...

Sam Gagner is still a trading pc, what about him and Edmontons 2nd pick, for our 3rd? Keep in mind we are in the shot blocking era, maybe we should get the guy who is best at billards.