The Opportunity Cost of Drafting a Goalie

Why goaltenders are approaching first-round extinction

Everyone knows you need a good goalie in order to win games. But what you may not know is that many of today’s star goaltenders weren’t always the cat’s pajamas. In fact, many of them came from relative obscurity.

In the 5-year period from 1997-2001, 14 goalies were drafted in the first round. Apparently this number satisfied some type of equilibrium, because it stayed exactly the same from 2002-2006. Then suddenly things changed. In 2007, not a single goalie was taken in the first round – the first time this had occurred since 1992. Then it happened again in 2009, and again this past year. Collectively, only 4 goalies were drafted in the first round between 2007-2011. Why? Continue reading

Too Much too Soon

The following tables represent team depth charts based on where each player was taken in the NHL Entry Draft. The top 30 picks take place in the first round, hence 1-30 overall is a first round pick, 31-60 is *generally a second round pick, 61-90 is a third round pick, etc.

*Sometimes teams are awarded additional compensatory picks for failing to sign top draft picks, and so the later rounds may occasionally include extra selections.

TEAM A
LW C RW LD RD G
4th overall ’04 12th overall ’06 5th overall ’04 239th overall ’03 245th overall ’03 41st overall ’05
4th overall ’09 8th overall ’10 10th overall ’98 13th overall ’00 3rd overall ’08 122nd overall ’95
50th overall ’01 30th overall ’02 Undrafted 221st overall ’01 21st overall ’03
265th overall ’03 54th overall ’08 Undrafted Undrafted

Continue reading

To Fight Another Day

4th overall pick in 2009, Evander Kane

Why losing today will help the Jets win tomorrow

Many people are asking why the Jets have been so inactive in the free agent market. Is it that no one wants to play in Winnipeg? Are they simply too cheap? Perhaps there’s another explanation. Take a peak at the organizational chart below:

JETS ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART
NHL
LW C RW LD RD G
Ladd Little Wheeler Enstrom Byfuglien Pavelec
Kane Burmistrov Antropov Hainsey Bogosian Mason
Thorburn Slater UFA/Trade Oduya Stuart
Glass Cormier Rypien Jones
Stapleton
AHL
LW C RW LD RD G
Gregoire Maxwell Mahacek Meech Flood Manino
Klingberg Gagnon Pettersson Festerling Postma
Holzapfel O’Dell Kulda Zubarev
Chiarot Redmond
Junior/College
LW C RW LD RD G
Lowry Scheifele Brassard Yuen Serville Kasdorf
Leveille Telegin Melchiori

NHL

Promising youngsters with Kane, Burmistrov, Little, Bogosian, Pavelec, and a few just entering their prime – Byfuglien, Enstrom, Ladd, Wheeler. Definitely not a playoff roster.

UPDATE: The Jets acquired RW Eric Fehr shortly after this article was written, filling the “3rd line RW” spot I had held open for an established NHLer. Fehr – a product of Winkler, Mb – is a very talented winger who has been hampered by injuries throughout his career thus far. (Back and shoulder problems.)

AHL

Solid defensive depth, but the only d-men that are likely to have significant NHL careers are Postma and Kulda. Klingberg is a big, fast, skilled winger, but the jury is out on whether he has top-6 potential. Maxwell and Mahacek are nearly NHL ready, but neither looks like they’ll ever play in the top-6. The rest will probably never play a full season in the NHL.

UPDATE: Since the writing of this article, the Jets have acquired Kenndal McArdle – a quick, hard-working forward who has some potential to play in the NHL as a 3rd or 4th liner – and signed Jason Gregoire, a player with top-6 potential. Gregoire is a goal scorer, and about as good a prospect as Klingberg. He is also two years older than Klingberg, and closer to being NHL-ready.

Junior Prospects

The most problematic segment of all. The only prospect that has any chance of being an impact player is 1st rounder Mark Scheifele. The next best prospect is Russian centre Ivan Telegin, but it’s very difficult to project what (if anything) he might become at the NHL level. The rest are bottom-6 forwards and 3rd pairing D at best.

THE REALITY

With a non-playoff roster in the NHL, very few quality prospects in the AHL, and only one high-end junior prospect, Jets management knows exactly what this team needs: high draft picks. That doesn’t mean that the team can’t be competitive in the here and now, but ‘competitive’ would be best defined as playing in tight games rather than piling up wins.

I think I see the strategy. A solid goaltending tandem combined with a good crop of defencemen should keep the games close, providing fans a team that’s good enough to stomach. If the goal was to make the playoffs now, they would have added 3 forwards capable of playing in the top-9; that is the obvious and pressing need. The fact that they haven’t added any quality forwards (Glass is a 4th liner; Rypien is a fringe NHLer) leads me to believe that they’ll try out the Cormier’s, Maxwell’s and Mahacek’s up front and accept a lottery pick this time next summer.

I’m 100% in support of this strategy. Why add some complementary pieces on one or two year contracts just so you can barely sneak into the playoffs? I think it’s crucial that a team finish either in the top 5 or bottom 5 overall. At the beginning of each year, you can usually name about 5 teams that are truly ready to compete for the Stanley Cup. Meanwhile, only the bottom 5 teams (often fewer) have a shot at a truly magnificent prospect at the draft. Certainly there’s more room at the top – a team can move from 7th to 1st within a few years with responsible drafting and development. But to go from the middle of the pack to serious contention is extremely difficult.

How come? Well, to win a Stanley Cup, obviously you need to have several excellent players. There are only three ways to acquire players: through draft, trade, or signing. Generally to get a great player in a trade, you need to give up a great (or potentially great) player. There are examples that disprove this, but they are the exception rather than the rule. There are very few top-line forwards, top-pairing defencemen, or elite goalies available in free agency, as teams make resigning these types of players a top priority. For instance, of the douzens of free agents signed this off-season, only one – Brad Richards – is unquestionably an impact player. Furthermore, free agency isn’t a level playing field. For years, even average free agents have been avoiding places like Edmonton, Columbus, Atlanta, Minnesota, Florida, and (until recently) Buffalo in favour of more desirable teams/cities like New York, Toronto, Boston, Vancouver, Chicago, etc. For a team like the Jets, free agency is not a viable means of acquiring top talent.

That leaves the draft. The draft is the best – some say the only way – to build a team. When you look at great teams, generally their core (best) players were drafted and developed by the organization:

Pittsburgh – Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Staal, Letang, Orpik

Detroit – Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Holmstrom, Lidstrom, Kronwall

Chicago – Toews, Kane, Bolland, Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson (though not Sharp)

Washington – Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Laich, Green, Carlson, Alzner

Vancouver – Sedin, Sedin, Kesler, *Burrows, Raymond, Edler, Bieksa

Buffalo – Miller, Myers, Vanek, Roy, Ennis, Stafford, Pominville

*Burrows was signed and developed by Vancouver alone – basically akin to drafting

There are small exceptions. The two best players Boston Bruins from this past year are Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas, both of whom were signed through free agency. However, Thomas was not an elite goalie when he was signed. In fact, no one (probably including the Bruins) expected him to be anything more than a good backup, otherwise there would have been intense competition for his services. Also, four of their five most important forwards were drafted – Krejci, Bergeron, Marchand, Lucic. (Horton came over in a trade). San Jose is another. Their best player – Joe Thornton – was acquired from the Bruins in one of the most lopsided deals of the decade. They also acquired their top defenceman (Boyle), a top sniper (Heatley, who has since become Havlat), and a top D (Burns) through trade, and their goalie (Niemi) through free agency. However, it is worth mentioning that in order to make those trades, they needed to give up once high draft picks, including Marco Sturm (21st overall, 1996), Brad Stuart (3rd overall in 1998), Milan Michalek (6th overall, 2003), Devin Setoguchi (8th overall, 2005), Ty Wishart (16th overall, 2006), and Charlie Coyle (28th overall, 2010). So although these deals break the mould, good drafting still played a large role. (LA is a similar story – a team who drafted a few core pieces in Doughty, Kopitar, Brown, etc, but used other important draft prospects to acquire talent, i.e Schenn and Simmonds for Mike Richards).

First round talents are essential. Everyone knows that Detroit pulled Datsyuk and Zetterberg from the depths of obscurity, but this is rare. Of the top-30 point producers in the NHL last year, 5 of them were 1st overall picks, 4 went 2nd overall, 3 went 3rd overall, and another 11 were first round picks. Far more dumbfounding is the following stat: of the top-20 goal scorers in the NHL last year, ONLY ONE (Patrick Sharp) was not drafted in the first round. (The previous year, only 2 of the top 19 were drafted past the first round.). Goal scoring doesn’t tell the whole story, but with second assists filling scoresheets on an all-too-regular basis, goal totals are probably the single best statistical expression of talent. And acquiring talent on draft day operates like money in a pyramid scheme – most of it goes to the top.

As the summer goes on, I’ll be looking at other draft related topics. One thing I’m particularly interested in is a nature-nurture style debate – are good hockey players drafted, or developed? It’s a chicken-and-egg thing, but you can learn a bit if you look at opposite sides of the spectrum: failed 1st round picks, and glorious late round gems. Is there anything common to the groups? Absolutely. For now I’ll say this: the top four scorers drafted furthest from the first round were developed by just two teams.

NHL Draft and Free Agency – The Victors

Big Winners

Washington Capitals

In:

F: Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer (from Chi), Jeff Halpern

D: Roman Hamrlik

G: Tomas Vokoun

1st and 2nd round picks in 2012 (Colorado)

Out: 2011 1st round pick (to Chicago), Semeon Varlamov (Colorado)

A very good defensive group got even better with the addition of Roman Hamrlik, who many think was Montreal’s best defenceman last year. Up front, Joel Ward provides them exactly what they need – a big, gritty, two-way winger who saves his best for playoffs. Troy Brouwer is a top-6 forward with good size and some grit, while Jeff Halpern is a solid veteran who will make small but important contributions in the bottom-6.

But the crowning jewel for Caps GM George McPhee is the cloak and dagger artistry he displayed with his goaltending. McPhee dealt young Russian netminder Semeon Varlamov to Colorado in exchange for first and second round picks in next year’s draft – the first of which will almost certainly be in the top 15, and even has the potential to be a lottery pick (top-5). Meanwhile, he managed to sign veteran Czech netminder Tomas Vokoun, giving them a bonafide #1 goaltender, and a mentor to young Czech goalie Michal Neuvirth. While a conference rival like Philadelphia blew up their roster to sign Ilya Bryzgalov to a mamoth 9 year, $51M deal, Washington managed to get an equally good goalie on a 1 year, $1.5M deal, and an early first round pick to boot. The man is a magician. His team, elite.

Buffalo Sabres

In:

F: Ville Leino, Ales Kotalik, Joel Armia (2011 1st round pick)

D: Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff Continue reading

2011 Jets Draft Prospects

1st round pick Mark Scheifele (shy-fil-lee)

Here’s a preliminary look at the new recruits, with a statistical bias (since I haven’t really seen them play yet.)

Mark Scheifele: A similar story to last year’s 4th overall pick, Ryan Johansen in that he didn’t play in the CHL at age 16 as most top prospects inevitably do. (He was previously committed to Cornell University). Instead, his draft year was also his rookie year in the OHL. Thus, he was nowhere to be found in the top-30 prospects at the beginning of the year, but steadily shot up the rankings, after finishing second among all OHL rookies in points. However, it was his play at the Under-18 World Championships that really endeared him to scouts, as he led Team Canada forwards in scoring (6G, 2A in 7GP) and was named the top Canadian forward as selected by the coaching staff.

While a –22 rating is normally some cause for concern, it was actually quite good considering that his team was outscored 231-348 on the year, and the two players near him in scoring (presumably linemates for some part of the year) were –42 and –50. Scheifele is in fact a very heady player who plays both ends of the ice well, and at 6’3, 175, he’s still very much growing into his body. With 53 assists on the year, he appears to be more of a puck distributor, but his performance at the Under-18’s showed that he can also find the back of the net when the pressure is on. Continue reading

2011 NHL Mock Draft


***WILL BE LIVE AT THE DRAFT IN MINNESOTA ON FRIDAY***

After several weeks of anticipation, it’s finally time.

Some may wonder what the process is. One way to start is by looking at a team’s draft history – some teams have a clear preference for players out of Canadian junior hockey, others for US college hockey, and still others for European leagues. You can look at team needs – team ‘A’ badly needs a centre; team ‘B’ a defenceman. Or you can assume that teams will just take the ‘BPA’, or best player available – a strategy which becomes more arbitrary as you get further down the list. Continue reading

2011 NHL Draft – Scouting Reports

Highly skilled forward Jonathan Huberdeau is a lock to be a top-5 selection

***MOCK DRAFT COMING TOMORROW***

While it’s difficult to say exactly who the top-10 players will be in this year’s NHL draft, most scouts have no problem telling you who the top 9 available prospects are. They include 6 forwards – Nugent-Hopkins, Huberdeau, Landeskog, Couturier, Strome, and Zibanejad; and 3 defencemen – Larsson, Hamilton, and Murphy. With an eye to the top-10, here is a small scouting report on all the potential top-10 selections (grouped by position) in this year’s draft.

Forwards

Sure-fire top-10 selection

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: The most skilled player in the draft. He’s a classic playmaker who makes all those around him better. His vision and hockey IQ are off the charts, drawing some comparisons to #99. The only knock on him is his size, as he’s around 6’, 170 lbs. However, he’s extremely quick and shifty, with an unbelievable ability to avoid ever being hit. He has the rare ability to do incredible things with the puck at high speed. He looks a bit like Blackhawks star Patrick Kane when handling the puck; and while he prefers to set up teammates, he has no problem scoring either. His offensive game could be compared to Avs great Peter Forsberg, minus the power-forward type of approach. Overall, Nugent-Hopkins is a near-sure bet to be a first line centre, if not a franchise centre. Continue reading

Draft Rankings

Here’s a compilation of draft rankings from Bobby Mac, the International Scouting Service, and Craig Button. NHL Central Scouting Bureau (CSB) is also widely available, but I chose not to include it since it was made back in early April and is now outdated (due to the World Under 18 Championships which finished in late April).

Scouting reports for the players in bold will be posted shortly. Continue reading

Top Draft Prospects

(#1 ranked prospect Ryan-Nugent Hopkins)

This list should cover most of the first round picks. It includes 27F and 11D. It also specifies the players that are likely to make up the top-10. (Though Beaulieu could sneak in ahead of Bartschi). After the top-10, the remaining prospects are only somewhat in order, with ‘rank’ becoming more arbitrary as you go down the list.

I’ll take an in-depth look at the top-10ish players later this week. Continue reading

Path to Glory: The NHL Draft

(Top Prospect Ryan Strome of the OHL’s Niagra Ice Dogs)

I’ll be at the NHL draft in Minneapolis on June 24th, so feel free to follow me on twitter for live draft-day tweets. (HouseOfPuck)

If there’s any question as to the importance of June 24, look no further than the Chicago Blackhawks. Or the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Detroit Red Wings. Of course, these are the last 3 cup winners, all of which have been built primarily through the draft. The first two were fortunate to get a string of very high picks, while the Red Wings have simply drafted well for years without the fortune of a lottery pick.

In terms of hockey operations, Friday June 24th is without a doubt the most important day for the Winnipeg (Blanks). It gives the team the opportunity to add a key piece of their future at virtually no cost – apart from the cost of well-paid scouts and the youngster’s inevitable entry-level contract, which will range from about $1.75-$2.5 million including bonuses. Here are the teams that are ahead of Winnipeg in the draft queue: Continue reading