Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Is Trading Down the Smarter Move?

The topic du jour in Calgary these days is the Flames' three first round draft picks (6, 22, 28) in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft and what to do with them. Just like visiting the Banff Candy Store with two children and a pocket full of loonies, there's no shortage of options on what you can do nor other people's opinions on what you should do.

One of the most popular notions is turning those three draft picks into every hockey fan's current man-crush Nathan MacKinnon. And, as I explained two days ago, if you can liquidate those three particular picks to get the 1st overall pick, history says you should absolutely do it. However, Flames General Manager Jay Feaster reportedly tried, got rejected, and here we are today contemplating an alternate tact.

While many puck pundits are pondering what current player could be included to sweeten the offer for No. 1 -- names like Curtis Glencross, Mark GiordanoSven Baertschi and Johnny Gaudreau have all been bandied about by the swooning throngs of MacKinnon Nation. Instead, let me propose that for maximum rebuild effectiveness, the Flames might be better off moving the opposite direction. 

In the spirit of the Stanley Cup final, here are five reasons why the Flames draft philosophy should be 'trade down and expand' rather than 'trade up and downsize':
  1. Patrice Bergeron
  2. Milan Lucic
  3. Corey Crawford 
  4. Duncan Keith
  5. David Krejci
I'm Intrigued, Please Tell Me More

Lost in all the chatter about Calgary having multiple first round selections for the first time in team history is the harsh reality that for the seventh time in the last 10 drafts, the Flames possess no second round picks -- zip, zero, natta. Their second round selection at No. 36 which is rightfully theirs based on their 25th place finish, was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens in January 2012. That pick, along with Rene Bourque and prospect Patrick Holland, were shipped off to the Habs in exchange for Mike CammalleriKarri Ramo and a fifth round draft pick in last year's draft.

As things stand today, after the Flames select at 28th, they don't pick again until the third round and 67th pick. Recent draft history has shown that a lot of very good hockey players will be selected in-between Feaster's trips to the podium. This includes the aforementioned quintet of Stanley Cup finalists, who in case you haven't noticed, are pretty darn good.
  • Bergeron (2nd round, 45th overall in 2003)
  • Lucic (2nd round, 50th overall in 2006)
  • Crawford (2nd round, 52nd overall in 2003)
  • Keith (2nd round, 54th overall in 2002)
  • Krejci (2nd round, 63rd overall in 2004) 

The Art of Acquiring Second Round Picks

In a perfect world, the Flames would love to be able to move out some veteran players in exchange for second round picks in this year's draft -- Mike Cammalleri and Alex Tanguay are two players that immediately come to mind. However, Cammalleri's contract size ($6 million in 2013-14) and Tanguay's contract term (signed through 2015-16 at $3.5 million) will work against Calgary getting that type of return.

Instead, the best option to pick up one or more second round picks for 2013 is for the Flames to leverage one or even two of their current first round picks and trade down to create even more picks.

To be clear, I wouldn't do this with the No. 6 pick. The player they get at that rung, should they stay there -- be it Sweden's Elias Lindholm, OHL's Sean Monahan or by some act of divine intervention either Finland's Aleksander Barkov or Russia's Valeri Nichuskin, that player is going to be the key building block of the future. However, the two latter picks should very much be in play and if you have a chance to turn each of them into two or more picks, it should at least be considered.

With every draft class, once you get outside the top few tiers, the differences between the players diminish and the subjectivity from team to team, scout to scout increases. It's not unusual for one team to have a guy at No. 25 while another team has him at No. 40. If Calgary Assistant General Manager John Weisbrod and the player evaluation crew for the Flames feel they can get four players of nearly the same ilk for the price of two, this year's deep draft might just be the year to do it.

Here are some examples from past drafts of how teams, picking in the general vicinity of where the Flames are positioned this year, have traded down from those spots to generate an extra second round selection.
  • 2011 - Anaheim traded 22nd pick to Toronto for picks No. 30 and 39 (Ducks selected stud American goaltending prospect John Gibson with that 39th pick)
  • 2010 - Chicago traded 30th pick to NY Islanders for picks No. 35 and 58
  • 2009 - Anaheim traded 21st pick to Columbus for picks No. 26 and 37
  • 2008 - New Jersey traded 21st pick to Washington for picks No. 23 and 54
  • 2008 - Anaheim traded 28th pick to Phoenix for picks No. 35 and 39
  • 2007 - Washington traded 28th pick to San Jose for picks No. 41 and 57
  • 2007 - Phoenix traded 21st pick to Edmonton for picks No. 30 and 36
Now I said I wouldn't trade No. 6 but what about this. If the player the Flames liked best at No. 6 is someone they also felt they could get at No. 8, and if you can add a second rounder by dropping down two spots, should the No. 6 pick be in play too? In 2008, the New York Islanders did exactly that with Nashville, dropping from 7th to 9th pick, and picking up the Predators second round pick at No. 40. (Nashville selected Colin Wilson at No. 7, Islanders selected Josh Bailey at No. 9).

What a 2nd Round Pick Can Get You

Once you get into the latter half of the first round and especially into the second and later rounds, you get into players that in most cases are going to take longer to develop. Flames defenceman TJ Brodie, as an example, was drafted in the fourth round in 2008 and last year was his breakout season. This longer development period should not be a concern for the Calgary Flames. A proper rebuild is going to require a couple of these kinds of drafts anyway, where cupboards are re-stocked with fresh prospects and plenty of them. That should be the priority for his year and next year, at minimum. 

To give you a small sampling of what you can get in the second round, here are the best in each slot over the last 13 drafts, dating back to 2000 when the NHL expanded to 30 teams. There are many others not mentioned here but this is my subjective look at the best-of-the-best in each spot.
  • 31 - G Jacob Markstrom
  • 32 - D Slava Voynov
  • 33 - LW James Neal (This pick has been especially good -- Ryan O'Reilly, Loui Eriksson, Nick Schultz)
  • 34 - G Jake Allen
  • 35 - D Marc-Edouard Vlasic
  • 36 - C Jarret Stoll
  • 37 - D Justin Faulk
  • 38 - D Roman Josi
  • 39 - LW Jakob Silfverberg
  • 40 - D Fedor Tyutin
  • 41 - LW Bryan Bickell
  • 42 - LW Justin Abdelkader
  • 43 - D PK Subban
  • 44 - C Paul Stastny
  • 45 - C Patrice Bergeron
  • 46 - G Jhonas Enroth
  • 47 - D Matt Carle
  • 48 - LW Dane Byers (This pick is haunted. Under no circumstances should you trade for 48th pick)
  • 49 - LW Mike Cammalleri
  • 50 - LW Milan Lucic
  • 51 - C Derek Stepan
  • 52 - G Corey Crawford
  • 53 - D Travis Hamonic
  • 54 - D Duncan Keith
  • 55 - RW Jason Pominville
  • 56 - D Nicklas Grossman
  • 57 - C Matt Stajan
  • 58 - LW Jiri Hudler
  • 59 - LW Jason Zucker
  • 60 - C Brandon Dubinsky
  • 61 - RW Wayne Simmonds
  • 62 - RW David Backes
  • 63 - C David Krejci
Note: In case you're wondering, sometimes for various circumstances there are supplementary picks awarded in the first or second round. this is why the above list goes beyond 60. All of the above were classified as second round picks.

Stay Tuned, More to Come

Considering all the time and resources that the Flames have put into scouting and player evaluation this year given the pressure on this draft and what's being billed by many as the most important day in the history of the franchise, I would be shocked if where Calgary is slated to draft today doesn't change considerably between now and draft day -- and even on draft day. This is especially the case now that the Flames have traded away their fourth round pick in 2013 for the rights to former Florida Panthers 2009 fifth round pick Corban Knight, a centre who played U.S. college the last four seasons.

As a result of this June 18 trade, Calgary is currently slated to have only one pick (3rd round, No. 67) between their last pick of the first round (No. 28) and their pick in the fifth round (No. 135).  That stretch of 106 picks is an awful long period of hopelessly and agonizingly waiting around, watching other teams select those gems that as a scouting team, you've had your eye on for months if not years, who you felt could deliver 1st round value while being taken in the 2nd, 3rd or 4th round.

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