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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

20 Years of 1st Round Mythology

Particularly since the inception of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement within the National Hockey League, there has grown a strong following of people who believe that the only way to get ahead in a cost-constrained environment that the NHL now represents is to bottom out for a few years, and collect some top 5 picks.

Do top 5 picks help? Undoubtedly. They can be the cornerstone to any franchise for years to come. However, they are by no means a slam dunk.

Here is something to consider to all you people who believe you have found the holy truth to rebuilding a professional hockey team. Be warned, what you are about to see may shock and amaze you.

We will go back 20 years, to the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. For each year, I will show how many times one of those top 5 selections have picked up a Stanley Cup.

1990 : 2 (Jaromir Jagr X 2)
1991 : 7 (Scott Niedermayer X 4, Aaron Ward X 3)
1992 : 0
1993 : 2 (Chris Pronger, Rob Niedermayer)
1994 : 2 (Oleg Tverdovsky)
1995 : 0
1996 : 0
1997 : 0
1998 : 2 (Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Stuart)
1999 : 0
2000 : 0
2001 : 0
2002 : 0
2003 : 2 (Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal)
2004 : 2 (Evgeni Malkin, Andrew Ladd)
2005 : 1 (Sidney Crosby)
2006 : 1 (Jordan Staal)
2007 : 0
2008 : 0

Just a few footnotes to add to that - from 2003 to 2006, the funny thing is that 4 of the 6 won were from one team called the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were so terrible for so long... not to mention the fact that Mr. Bettman rewarded mediocrity twice for giving the Penguins with both Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby for being the worst team in hockey, but that's a whole new post.

It's also noteworthy that a lot of these Cup wins are from guys who weren't impact players when they won - Aaron Ward has been a 4-6 defenceman and by no means a stalwart, Rob Niedermayer has always been a bottom 6 plugger, while Oleg Tverdovsky was so inconsistent that he no longer plays in the NHL. It's also worth noting that only 3 of these players won multiple Cups, and only one did it with the same team (Jagr).

So out of a possible 90 players, how many Cups do we have? 21, but among only 14 players.

That means, statistically speaking, with every top 5 pick you make there is a 15.5% chance that you will win a Cup with that player on your roster.... unless you pull a Pittsburgh and tank out for half a decade, and are then gifted with the most anticipated player of the generation (again, another post.)

More funny information? Lets look at a few other teams.

Columbus has selected in the top 10 in 2000 (Rostislav Klesla), 2001 (Pascal Leclaire), 2002 (Rick Nash), 2003 (Nikolai Zherdev), 2004 (Alexandre Picard), 2005 (Gilbert Brule), 2006 (Derick Brassard), 2007 (Jakub Voracek), and 2008 (Nikita Filatov.)

Number of playoff appearances? 1.

Number of playoff victories? 0. And I'm talking games, not series.

How about Atlanta? Dany Heatley in 2000, Ilya Kovalchuk in 2001, Kari Lehtonen in 2002, Braydon Coburn in 2003, Boris Valabik in 2004, Zach Bogosian in 2008. They've posted an identical condition ; 1 series, and not a single game in their favour.

Now the other end of the spectrum : the New Jersey Devils. Since 1990, they have had a single player picked in the top 5 named Scott Niedermayer. However, in other spots in the top 10, they've drafted such names as David Hale, Petr Sykora, and Scott Gomez who became key contributors to Stanley Cup victories, along with other players they converted into assets such as Jason Smith and Mike Van Ryn.

Oh, and they also drafted some guy name Brodeur in 1990. The spot? 20th overall.... selected after such vaunted, hallowed names as Scott Scissons, John Slaney, Drake Berehowsky, Trevor Kidd, Michael Stewart, Turner Stevenson, Mark Greig, and Shawn Antoski.

I could go on with other stories, but the message is clear - bottom line is that to build a hockey team takes more than just some easy picks. It takes a strong scouting staff, and wise asset management. Do you need picks? Absolutely, and 1st rounders are a great place to start laying the foundation.

But don't tell me that easy gimme picks in the top 5 are any replacement for a top shelf scouting staff.

Just ask Nik Lidstrom (selected 53rd overall in the 3rd round of the 1989 Entry Draft.)


  1. Usually, my rant on what's wrong with the Leafs starts with poor drafting, and I'm guilty of making it seem like a top pick would solve all the problems. Of course, it won't, and a post like this provides pretty conclusively that there's a whole lot more to success than high draft picks.

  2. The salary cap era makes it imperative to get cheap talent. High draft picks represent exactly that for the duration of their rookie contracts.