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July 3, 2009
Numbers On Ice
Numbers On Ice: Team Draft Report Cards, Part 2

by Tom Awad


In my last article, I began evaluating NHL team’s draft success over the past 15 years, using discounted GVT as my success metric. We are now in the upper half of teams as we count down who has had the most success on draft day, the most important day of the year for achieving success in the NHL.

Rank Team        Expected  Obtained  Value   Best Players Drafted 
15   Bruins      446       463       17      Joe Thornton, Sergei Samsonov, 
                                             Kyle McLaren, Patrice Bergeron,
                                             Nick Boynton, Hal Gill 

14   Stars       366       391       24      Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, 
                                             Jamie Langenbrunner, Marty Turco,
                                             Todd Harvey 

13   Maple Leafs 335       359       25      Tomas Kaberle, Kenny Jonsson, 
                                             Fredrik Modin, Sergei Berezin, 
                                             Nikolai Antropov, Brad Boyes 

12   Hurricanes  454       482       28      Chris Pronger, Jean-Sebastien 
                                             Giguere, Eric Staal, Sami Kapanen,
                                             Jeff O'Neill, Manny Legace, Erik 

The Bruins had one really good draft, in 1997 in which they drafted Joe Thornton #1 and Sergei Samsonov #8, and other than Kyle McLaren that was pretty much it for most of the 90s, during which they did poorly. Since 2003, they’ve regained a good touch: Patrice Bergeron as a 2nd rounder in 2003 was an excellent choice, while David Krejci in 2004 and Phil Kessel in 2006 have helped return them to powerhouse status now.

The Dallas Stars chose the best player available in 1995 11th overall, and then traded him away. Jarome Iginla never played a single game for the Stars, but they did trade him for Joe Nieuwendyk who helped bring them the Stanley Cup in 1999, so it wasn’t all for nothing. One of the strongest teams in the NHL since their move to Dallas, the Stars have had few high draft picks over the years, but managed to keep most of the good players they did draft (other than Iginla). Murrow, Langenbrunner and Turco have all been key cogs of the Stars machine.

While the Maple Leafs have always been a dysfunctional organization in my mind, they’ve actually done OK at the draft, but have preferred to trade away their draft picks for players. From 1995 to 2008, the Leafs had only 9 first-round and 10 second-round picks in 14 drafts. Most of their successful draft picks were in the 90s; nobody they’ve drafted since 2003 is an NHL regular today.

The Carolina Hurricanes, as the Hartford Whalers, drafted two of the biggest stars in the NHL, who won the Stanley Cup together in 2007. Unfortunately they won it together in Anaheim, as both had left the franchise more than a decade earlier. Pronger was traded for Brendan Shanahan who would be traded for a package including Keith Primeau who would eventually be traded for captain Rod Brind’Amour, while Giguere was bounced to Calgary and eventually to Anaheim. Most of their other big names would have long solid careers with the Hurricanes, and many were present for the Cup win in 2006. One name not on my list above is Cam Ward: this is because I am using regular-season GVT as my metric and Ward, other than this year, has been a pretty poor regular-season goaltender. He has been excellent in the playoffs, however.

Rank Team       Expected  Obtained  Value   Best Players Drafted 
11   Red Wings  278       312       35      Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, 
                                            Mathieu Dandenault, Tomas 
                                            Holmstrom, Johan Franzen, Niklas

10   Islanders  614       654       41      Roberto Luongo, Wade Redden, Bryan 
                                            McCabe, Todd Bertuzzi, Zdeno Chara,
                                            J.P. Dumont 

The sheer irony of seeing these two franchises side-by-side in the draft rankings was too sweet not to underline. The Red Wings, the model franchise of the NHL, has actually been out-drafted by the New York Islanders, one of the league’s perennial basket cases. Despite the Red Wings vaunted expertise at late draft picks, they’ve actually come out pretty dry other than Datsyuk and Zetterberg, but this may have as much to do with always drafting 28th in the first round as anything else. What’s amazing, looking at this list, is that every single one of these players other than Dandenault has played his entire career with the Red Wings. If the Wings have been so average in the draft, how have they dominated the league?

I believe the Falconer at put it best: “When you draft Hall of Fame level talents and they play 10-15 years you don't need to have as many draft day "hits" as other teams do. Having a Nick Lidstrom on your roster for his entire career means you don't need to draft another #1 defenseman for a decade and a half. The key to Detroit's dominance position is not drafting, but player retention.”

The Islanders, on the flip side, have drafted possibly the best goaltender in the league, the current reigning Norris trophy holder, as well as many other high-caliber players. However, none of them played a long time for the Islanders, and many were traded away for a pittance (the Islanders traded Bertuzzi, McCabe and a 3rd round pick in 1998 for Trevor Linden… go figure), ensuring that Long Island’s stranglehold on the bottom of the standings would continue. Expect to see John Tavares traded away for a depth player sometime in 2011.

Rank Team       Expected  Obtained  Value   Best Players Drafted 
9    Sabres     426       472       46      Martin Biron, Thomas Vanek, Derek
                                            Roy, Curtis Brown, Maxim 
                                            Afinogenov, Jason Pominville 

8    Wild       163       210       46      Marian Gaborik, Pierre-Marc 
                                            Bouchard, Nick Schultz, Brent 
                                            Burns, Mikko Koivu 

7    Blues      268       321       53      Michal Handzus, Ladislav Nagy, 
                                            Jochen Hecht, Mike Grier, Alexander

6    Canadiens  440       504       65      Saku Koivu, Tomas Vokoun, Andrei 
                                            Markov, Jose Theodore, Mike 
                                            Ribeiro, Mark Streit 

5    Sharks     539       611       72      Patrick Marleau, Jeff Friesen, 
                                            Marco Sturm, Evgeni Nabokov, Brad 
                                            Stuart, Miikka Kiprusoff, Viktor 

We are now in the ranks of the “good but not awesome” draft teams. Had my analysis started in 1997, the Sabres would rank 3rd, as they’ve been judiciously drafting good offensive talent since that time, as well as a pretty good goaltender in Martin Biron. The Sabres have done OK at player retention, but their small-market status has ensured that they’ve lost several of their biggest names to impending free agency, and their consistency has ensured that they’ve only drafted higher than 12th overall twice in the last 15 years.

The Wild have a shorter track record than most of the other teams here, with only 8 drafts, and their high position is based almost entirely on the 2000 draft in which they picked Marian Gaborik and Nick Schultz.

The Blues, up until 5 years ago, traded away more draft picks than any other team in the NHL. From 1990 to 1995, they didn’t have a single first-round draft pick! The players they picked up were a consequence of this drafting strategy: mid-range players, pretty good, but no superstars. This strategy served them well for some time, and the Blues remained among the stronger NHL teams until 2004. Since then, as they went into rebuilding mode, they changed approaches dramatically: 2 first-round picks in 2006, 3 first-round and 2 second-round picks in 2007, 1 first-round and 2 second-round picks in 2008. Some of these players, such as David Perron and Erik Johnson, are already helping the team.

The Montreal Canadiens have historically been a very good drafting team, and they haven’t lost their touch recently. Saku Koivu, Andrei Markov and Jose Theodore (remember when he won the Hart trophy?) have been team stalwarts in recent years. Tomas Vokoun was lost in the expansion draft, while Mike Ribeiro and Michael Ryder have continued the team’s tradition of drafting strong offensive players and then trading them away for nothing or giving up on them altogether.

If we eliminate the playoffs, the Sharks have been perhaps the most successful “bang-for-your-buck” franchise in the NHL, and this is in large part due to drafting success. With the exception of Joe Thornton, almost all of the key Sharks of recent years such as Marleau, Cheechoo, Nabokov and Milan Michalek have been Sharks draftees, and even Thornton was obtained by giving up good young drafted talent in Brad Stuart and Marco Strum. While they may choose to blow up their roster because of their playoff frustrations, as long as they remain strong in the draft, they’ll always be contenders.

Rank Team       Expected  Obtained  Value   Best Players Drafted 
4    Avalanche  465       643       179     Alex Tanguay, Milan Hejduk, Chris
                                            Drury, Adam Deadmarsh, Jocelyn 
                                            Thibault, Mark Parrish 

3    Flyers     307       502       196     Simon Gagne, Roman Cechmanek, Janne
                                            Niinimaa, Justin Williams, Mike 
                                            Richards, Joni Pitkanen, Jeff 

2    Devils     416       647       231     Patrik Elias, Petr Sykora, Scott 
                                            Gomez, Steve Sullivan, Brendan 
                                            Morrison, Zach Parise, Brian Gionta
1    Senators   618       918       300     Daniel Alfredsson, Marian Hossa, 
                                            Pavol Demitra, Martin Havlat, Jason
                                            Spezza, Bryan Berard, Radek Bonk, 
                                            Sami Salo 

Here we have the best of the best, the four teams that have dominated the NHL draft for the past 15 years, and it’s no surprise to find four of the league’s perennial contenders in the top spots. Only 5 years ago, there was a discussion as to whether the Avalanche or the Red Wings would be remembered as the powerhouse team of the 90s, and while that team was always built on the troika of Sakic, Forsberg and Roy, there was quite a supporting cast as well. Since becoming good, the Avalanche no longer had the high draft picks that the Nordiques were given in the late 80s and early 90s, but they made good use of the ones they had: Alex Tanguay, Milan Hejduk, Adam Deadmarsh and Chris Drury were quality wingers for their two #1 centers. Having Jocelyn Thibault, a good francophone goaltender, made it possible for them to trade for Patrick Roy, possibly the key moment in franchise history.

The Flyers have had the third-least drafting opportunities of any team, after the Blues and Red Wings, but they’ve made the most of the few they had. In 1993 their highest pick was #36 and they still got Janne Niinimaa and Vaclav Prospal; in 2000 their top 2 picks were #28 and #94, yet still managed to draft Justin Williams and Roman Cechmanek. Other years have been good to them too: in 1998 Simon Gagne, in 2001 Patrick Sharp, in 2002 Joni Pitkanen, and in 2003, that mother of all draft years, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. In 15 years they only had 3 picks better than 15th place: Pitkanen, Carter and 2008’s James Van Riemsdyk. Is it any surprise the Flyers have only had one losing season in the last 15?

I’ll be honest, when I started this exercise I expected the Devils to finish in first place. While some of the luster has gone off the franchise in the last few years as they have struggled in the playoffs, this was for years considered the best-managed team in the NHL, with Lou Lamoriello getting most people’s vote for executive of the decade. Indeed, had I backed up my analysis all the way to 1990, the Devils would have finished first by a mile, since they drafted Martin Brodeur that year as well as Scott Niedermeyer and Brian Rolston in 1991. However, they’ve done pretty well since then as well: in 1994 they drafted Patrick Elias, one of the most underrated forwards in the league, who has been a pillar of the team since arriving; and in 1995 Petr Sykora, who was key to their 2000 Cup run and 2001 Final run. While Scott Gomez is better known now for his big contract, he was a huge find at #27 overall in 1998, the same year they drafted Brian Gionta. The Devils seem to have done everything right for the last 20 years, and drafting has been a huge part of that.

Amazingly, the Senators have done even better than the Devils since 1993. Being a weak team when they entered the league, they had high draft picks for their first few years and made good use of them, other than flop Alexandre Daigle: even in 1993, they somewhat redeemed themselves by choosing Pavol Demitra, and in 1994 they chose Radek Bonk 3rd overall, not a bad player by any means, but the real gem was a Swede chosen at #133: Daniel Alfredsson, who would be the face of the franchise ever since. Choosing Bryan Berard in 1995 would be a decent pick, although they would trade him for Wade Redden less than a year later. 1996 would shore up their blue line with Chris Phillips and Sami Salo, and 1997 would prove to be one of the best drafts ever, as they would pick up not only decent players such as Magnus Arvedson and Karel Rachunek, but one of the most sought-after offensive players in the NHL right now, Marian Hossa. There were other hits after: Martin Havlat in 1999, Jason Spezza in 2001. For two years, the Senators actually had Alfredsson, Hossa, Havlat and Spezza on the same team together. While the team seems to be falling apart now, if they can reproduce their draft success of years past they will rise again.

Tom Awad is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Tom by clicking here or click here to see Tom's other articles.

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