Finally, the NHL offseason is upon us this weekend. Already teams have resigned plenty of the biggest names in the free agent market, while others that are under contract are candidates that could be traded. That buzz will intensify when the 2014 NHL entry draft begins on Friday. Whether it is the current rules under the latest CBA or “small market” teams being scared out of their minds from possibly losing their best players, the unrestricted free agent market is looking more and more barren despite the salary cup going up close to $7 million next year. This forces teams to spend any free agent at some of the dumbest rates you’ll see in sports.
In the NBA, restricted free agency turns out to be more fun than you would expect because teams that do not hold a free agent’s rights can still offer contracts and potentially snag away said player. Even if the opposing team does not get that free agent, the current team has to decide whether to begrudgingly match the offer that they did not want to give in the first place and ruin their salary cap situation or let said free agent walk. In the NHL, that almost can not happen because of some garbage internal policy called the “gentleman’s agreement” that would make you think the NHL was run by Bowie Kuhn with the reserve clause still being in effect. Even worse, trades nowadays are looking like salary dumps or excuses to get rid of draft picks instead of something that could make both teams better. The Martin St. Louis trade was an example of the latter, but that is still the exception rather than the rule in recent seasons.
This circles us back to the NHL draft, which in my opinion, is by far the most fun event in the off-season. Personally, it is a weird thing to observe because you are watching 18-year old kids become people that multi-million dollar NHL teams count on to be the biggest brand of their city, let alone their franchise. What is it like to be someone like Gabriel Landeskog or Sidney Crosby who was told to become a captain on a professional sports team at such a young age while others their age were too busy doing dumb things in college or still living at home with their parents? Either way, thanks to all the unnecessary restrictions the NHL has put on themselves from having pure free agency, the draft has become the best opportunity for front offices to improve their teams. It may take years for the majority of the draft picks to see their full potential, and there will almost never be a high percentage of these 210 players that will make an impact in the NHL, but succeeding in this event separate who will win Stanley Cups and who will lose their jobs. With that in mind, let’s see which teams are the ones that have the upper hand to collect plenty of assets, who is the most screwed coming into this weekend and which teams that we all need to pay attention to in the draft.
How I determined this is by looking at two websites for data in determining draft value. This data comes from Matt Pfeffer from hockey prospectus and from the Colorado Avalanche blog, jibblescribbits. With these two resources, I created three ways to calculate NHL draft value. The first version comes from jibblescribbits, who decided to create a player value in relation to a league-average position player’s time on ice from the 1997 to 2006 drafts. The other two versions were created from Matt Pfeffer’s work, which is a collection of hockey prospectus’ Goals Value Threshold for each selection from the 1970 to 2011 drafts. I created my own player value using the average number of Goals Value Threshold for each pick during that 42-year sample and a 12-year sample (2000-2011 drafts: the time period when the NHL has had 30 teams). I then created scatter plots for the three data sets and created a logarithmic line of best fit. The equation used for that trendline was used to calculate the draft value of each pick for the three different methods. You can find all the charts, graphs and results by clicking this link. When adding these picks together, you get these teams that do and don’t have the edge coming into Friday night.
26. Montreal (66.2 points of Goal Value Threshold)
Traded Away: 2nd-, 7th-round picks Acquired: 5th-round pick
With a fantastic playoff run, Montreal was already set up for having a bad collection of draft picks. After trading their second round pick (57th overall) and Sebastien Collberg in the Thomas Vanek trade, that total looks worse. To top it all off, odds are Vanek will not be calling Bell Centre his home anytime soon after having another mediocre playoff performance, individually, and calling out head coach Michel Therrien as the main reason for all of this. But hey, the Canadiens at least get the 125th overall pick as a souvenir. Weirdly enough, this might be to their benefit because Montreal has developed eight 100-game players drafted in the third round or later in the last ten drafts.
27. Boston (projected to be 63.5 points of Goal Value Threshold)
Traded Away: 3rd-, 6th-round picks Acquired: None
Next up is the team that the Canadiens eliminated in the playoffs in the Boston Bruins. Not only was Boston eliminated in a miserable fashion against their arch rivals, GM Peter Chiarelli will have to embarrassingly give up a third round pick (86th overall) to Philadelphia in the Andrej Meszaros trade and a sixth round pick (176th overall) to St. Louis in the Wade Redden trade. Both defensemen were mid-season deadline deals that were expected to shore up the bottom pairings during the playoffs and, instead, saw more time in the cheap seats than on the ice. Now the Bruins have less than $5 million in cap space with at least Shawn Thornton expected to leave and uncertainty as to whether Chiarelli can resign Jarome Iginla.
28. Ottawa (51.6 points of Goal Value Threshold)
Traded Away: 1st-, 5th-, 6th-round picks Acquired: None
Within the span of twelve months, the Ottawa Senators went from being a sleeper Cup contender to wishing that Bryan Murray can retire very soon. The oldest general manager in the NHL is now stuck with having no choice but to trade captain Jason Spezza and may have to fire head coach Paul MacLean if the Senators get off to a rocky start. The Bobby Ryan trade could end up backfiring as the first round pick they exchanged to Anaheim turned into the 10th overall pick. To top it off, Owner Eugene Melnyk just refuses to ever see his franchise come close to the salary cap, so veteran free agent signings are almost non-existent.
29. Pittsburgh (49.9 points of Goal Value Threshold)
Traded Away: 2nd-, 3rd-, 5th-round picks Acquired: 5th-round pick
If you have followed me on twitter, you should know by now that it is an absolute miracle I have not lost any IQ points from witnessing all the shear stupidity that has been going on in Steeltown with their General Manager and head coaching search. Within a span of six months, they went from having their coach and GM be an integral part for Team USA in the Olympics to having a general manager that had the most unnecessarily longest tenure in modern NHL history in Jim Rutherford and a head coach that is only the second in the league to come out of the junior ranks in Mike Johnston. Their initial allotment of draft picks were used in plenty of Ray Shero’s trade failed deadline moves. Their second, third and fifth round picks were used for a cup of coffee’s worth of Douglas Murray, Lee Stempniak and Marcel Goc. That results in the Penguins having to wait until the 113th overall pick after using their first-round pick (22nd overall).
30. New York Rangers (46.4 points of Goal Value Threshold)
Traded Away: 1st-, 5th-, 6th-, 7th-round picks Acquired: 5th-round pick
If it wasn’t for the Ottawa Senators, the New York Rangers would have sole possession for the least amount of draft picks at four. Their first round pick was used to take Martin St. Louis and that certainly paid off in their playoff push into the Stanley Cup final, but they will also lose their fifth round pick from the Ryan Clowe trade and their sixth round pick in the Brandon Mashinter trade. They also gave up their seventh round pick in the Daniel Carcillo trade, which wierdly gives Los Angeles the last two picks in the draft. Now that Brad Richards was amnestied, Rick Nash is the only Rangers forward committed beyond next year but GM Glen Sather will still only have more than $2 million each in cap space for 11 roster spots.
8. Tampa Bay (112.9 points of Goal Value Threshold)
Traded Away: 4th-round pick Acquired: 1st-, 5th-round picks
After talking about New York, we have to talk about Tampa Bay. I don’t think I stated enough how much I hated the Martin St. Louis trade. Let me get this straight, if you’re GM Steve Yzerman, the biggest reason why you traded St. Louis, arguably the most important player in Tampa Bay’s history, was because he had a little hissy fit towards you for not selecting him on the Canadian Olympic Team!?!? Yes, St. Louis is a prideful hockey player and human being, but how dare you not tell his camp to suck it up for this season and talk it over in the off-season, especially when Tampa Bay was the second best team in the East outside of Boston at the time. The end result is the first round pick Yzerman got is only the 28th overall pick and witnessing your former star player play for a Stanley Cup. Now, all the mojo that was riding from John Cooper and the rest of the 2012 Norfolk Admirals alumni are at a stand still. Should they be back in the playoffs in a terrible Eastern Conference? Absolutely. Will they ever have a chance at being a Stanley Cup contender after such a great first half from last season? Who knows in the short term.
13. St. Louis (106.3 points of Goal Value Threshold)
Traded Away: 4th-, 5th-round picks Acquired: 2nd-, 4th-, 5th-, 6th-round picks
Speaking of teams that should have contended, boy did St. Louis’ future get messed up after that first round exit. There are still four conditional picks that could be trading hands and three of them involve St. Louis and Buffalo from the Ryan Miller trade. From the looks of things, Miller will be playing for a new team next year. As a result, St. Louis will keep it’s first round pick (21st overall) in this year’s draft, but they will only give up a 2016 second round pick if St. Louis resigns him after July 1st or a 2016 third round pick if Miller leaves to join another team. Buffalo will keep their 49th overall pick and 61st overall pick since St. Louis will not lose their first round pick. However, the Blues will have nine draft picks, including Edmonton’s second round pick from the David Perron trade last summer. They will also have between $10 million and $15 million in cap space after resigning RFAs Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Sobotka.
18. Edmonton (95.5 points of Goal Value Threshold)
Traded Away: 2nd-, 3rd-, 4th-round picks Acquired: Two 4th-round picks, two 6th-round picks
After returning the fifth round pick they received for the Nick Schultz trade to Columbus to take Nikita Nikitin, it was a continuation of Edmonton showing that they are done rebuilding. Even if anybody else does not think that is true, there has to be a valid explanation as to why the Oilers are not picking until the 91st overall pick after selecting third overall. All those mid round picks were used in trades to pick up David Perron (33rd overall), Ben Scrivens (63rd overall) and Mike Brown (93rd overall). Last year, they thought having Perron, Boyd Gordon and Andrew Ference plus another year of growth from their young core of players was enough for them to get into the playoffs. Instead, it got them to another season where they couldn’t hit 70 points in the standings. Unless Aaron Ekblad does not get selected within the first two picks, does GM Craig MacTavish decide to draft another top of the line player or do they trade down to replenish a farm system that is lacking in quantity and quality at foward and in goal?
23. Minnesota (77.3 points of Goal Value Threshold)
Traded Away: Two 2nd-round picks, 4th-round pick Acquired: Two 6th-round picks
Speaking of teams that are winning now, the Minnesota Wild started that two years ago after the major signings of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. The lack of a second round pick is what will hurt Minnesota for having any long term success in the playoffs. One of them was used in trading for Jason Pominville in 2013 and despite getting an extra one last offseason by shipping Devin Setoguchi to Winnipeg, that same pick was used in this year’s trade deadline to pick up Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick. Despite advancing to the second round and having young players like Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin come through the last couple of years, goal scoring has plagued this franchise since it’s inception and unless they luck out with the 18th overall pick, having three picks between 160-169 is not enough to get players that can come through the system and have them consistently contend in a tougher Central Division.
5. Nashville (132.4 points of Goal Value Threshold)
Traded Away: 7th-round picks Acquired: 2nd-, 4th-round picks
For the second straight year, Nashville missed the playoffs in the deadly Western Conference. However, they will receive an additional second round pick from Detroit after trading aging centerman David Legwand for Calle Jarnkrok. Along with Filip Forsberg and Seth Jones, Jarnkrok is seen as part of a younger group of players that hope to carry them past their current playoff slump and more reinforcements could come from the 19 picks in the last two drafts. There will be another eight more to come from this year’s draft.
4. Calgary (137.2 points of Goal Value Threshold)
Traded Away: 4th-, 5th-, 6th-round picks Acquired: 2nd-, 3rd-, 6th-round picks
Calgary finally began their rebuild last season and some will argue that they overachieved in the standings with the roster they had. Still, they will be selecting fourth overall. Even though they have seven draft picks, five of them will be in the top-100 as the Flames have two second round picks and two third round picks. The extra second round pick came from trading backup goaltender Reto Berra to Colorado while the extra third round pick came from trading Lee Stempniak to Pittsburgh. Again, Reto Berra had more trade value than Lee Stempniak!!! Isn’t the NHL dumb?
3. Anaheim (139.5 points of Goal Value Threshold)
Traded Away: 4th-, 5th-, 7th-round picks Acquired: 1st-, 2nd-, 5th-, 6th-round picks
Everything is coming up roses for Anaheim. Even after seeing Teemu Selanne retire, they no longer have to worry about resigning Saku Koivu and Jonas Hiller to expensive contract extensions and players like Matthieu Perrault, Devante Smith-Pelly and John Gibson came into the lineup to boost the team’s long term prospects. Now the Ducks have the most cap space per roster opening of any team in the NHL and despite only having seven draft picks, five of them are in the top-100. That makes them the only team that made the playoffs to have that many high end picks. It certainly helps to have the Bobby Ryan trade fall flat on Ottawa’s face and have the first round pick they gave to Anaheim turn into the 10th overall pick.
2. New York Islanders (156.1 points of Goal Value Threshold)
Traded Away: 4th-, 5th-round picks Acquired: 2nd-, 3rd-, 4th-round picks
The team that has the most top-100 picks overall is the New York Islanders with six (5th, 3th, 57th, 65th, 78th and 95th overall). They had the option to trade their first round pick to Buffalo in the infamous Thomas Vanek-Matt Moulson trade, but they will decide to trade next year’s first round pick instead. That means that the Islanders ownership and front office are banking on the fact that this team will not be a shambles next year and they started this summer making sure that is the case by trading for Jaroslav Halak and the signing rights to Dan Boyle. Boyle still has not signed with Long Island and is hoping to sign for a contender that can give him a two-year deal, despite being 38 years old. If the Islanders don’t sign Boyle, it will be another in a long list of embarrassments under owner Charles Wang and GM Garth Snow. That will also mean pressure will be on to make their fifth overall pick an NHL contributor as soon as this upcoming season.
1. Buffalo (projected to be 171.7 points of Goal Value Threshold)
Traded Away: 2nd-, 4th-round picks Acquired: Two 2nd-round picks
Honestly, you did not this article to let you know that Buffalo has the most assets coming into this draft. They are the only team that has four picks in the top-50. This comes after the Sabres had five picks in the first two rounds of last year’s draft. Those same two first round picks, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov, were very impressive at the World Juniors. Ristolainen would go on to win gold in that tournament: the first in the country’s history. In 2012, Zemgus Girgensons was selected with one of Buffalo’s two first round picks and already looks like a long term contributor for the team. Buffalo has the pieces to become a contender, but now they need to use them to round out their team and, unlike Edmonton, have all of them become positive contributors.
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