Friday, May 20, 2016

The Great Heist: Can 'Bandit Brad' Steal Third Overall Pick Away from the Blue Jackets

The summer of ‘63 was famous for the Great Train Robbery.

Will the summer of 6-to-3 be known for the Great Trade Robbery?

Time for Flames fans to start referring to Brad Treliving as 'Bandit Brad' if he can find a way to swipe 3rd overall pick from Columbus in the upcoming draft, in exchange for 6th overall, and make off with highly-touted Finnish right winger Jesse Puljujarvi.

Rumblings out of Ohio would have you believe that after winning that prime spot in the draft lottery, the Blue Jackets are open to dropping down. That said, it would still be considered a major heist should the Flames general manager be able to pull it off as going 6-to-3 is the type of jump that almost never happens.

In fact, it would be about as rare as a gang of unarmed thieves stealing £2.6 million (equivalent of $71 million USD today) from a train in the middle of the night as famously took place on August 8, 1963 in Buckinghamshire, England.

Now don't get me wrong, trading up in the first round of the draft takes place all the time. In the last 10 years, there have been 30 such trades where two teams swapped picks with one team either moving higher in the first round or moving into the first round. The team trading down receiving an extra second and/or third round pick in the deal.

The caveat is in almost all of those swaps, it's picks later in the first round -- usually much later -- that end up in play, not top-10 picks and especially not picks in the top five.

Last Trade-Up Into the Top 10

Only twice going back to 2005 have two teams -- both in the top 10 -- flip-flopped draft positions in this fashion and both involved Isles GM Garth Snow. They actually happened the same year and just minutes apart.

In 2008, Toronto made a deal with New York to move from 7th to 5th to grab Luke Schenn. In that swap, the Islanders also got a second and third round pick from the Leafs.

Shortly after, Nashville came knocking and arranged to jump from 9th to 7th to select Colin Wilson. In the deal, New York received a second round pick from the Predators.

The Islanders eventually ended up taking Josh Bailey at No. 9 while none of the other three picks panned out.

Over that span, the next closest was in 2007 when San Jose traded up with St. Louis to get into the top 10, jumping from 13th to 9th. Sharks GM Doug Wilson also gave up a second and third rounder in that deal but it worked out nicely as San Jose drafted Logan Couture.

The Blues took Lars Eller at No. 13 and in a similar outcome to above, the other two picks did not work out.

As for moving into the top four as Calgary would be seeking to do, the last instance of that happening was a dozen years ago.

DeJa Vu For the Blue Jackets

The last time in this type of scenario a team traded out of the top four was in 2004 and coincidentally enough, it was Columbus. It would also turn out to be a regrettable decision for then GM Doug MacLean.

In a trade that is not at all indicative of what the cost would be today, Carolina GM Jim Rutherford fired up the hometown crowd (draft that year was in Raleigh, North Carolina) by making a deal with the Blue Jackets to flip-flop picks No. 8 and No. 4. Astonishingly, jumping up four spots and that high in the first round only cost the Hurricanes the 59th pick.

These days, that absurdly low price of a late second rounder is the typical cost to go from something like 32nd to 29th. So don't get too excited, it will take a lot more than that to get the Flames to where they want to go.

As the story goes, the Hurricanes used that 4th pick to choose Andrew Ladd from the Calgary Hitmen while the Blue Jackets settled for Alexandre Picard at No. 8.

Well, one of these did not turn out like the other:
  • Ladd - 769 gm, 466 points (210 goals, 256 assists)
  • Picard - 67 gm, 2 points (0 goals, 2 assists)

To be clear, Picard is not a defenceman either. He and Ladd are both left wings. Picard was a 40-goal scorer in the QMJHL that did not score once in the NHL despite playing parts of five seasons in the league. He's played in Switzerland the past four seasons.

Meanwhile, Ladd has been an NHL captain, he's won two Stanley Cups and he will be one of the most sought after UFAs on the open market this summer.

Now that was a great trade robbery.

While the Blue Jackets have had a couple GMs since -- Scott Howson was at the helm for six seasons until 2013 -- and it's now Jarmo Kekalainen, you can bet that draft day robbery from long ago remains a sore point for the organization.

Why It's a Discussion

As unlikely as it would be for the Flames to be able to pull off such a deal, the reason I broach the possibility is some hinting earlier this week from Sportsnet Analyst Elliotte Friedman in his weekly 30 Thoughts column that Columbus could be open to the idea of trading down.

He wrote:
"The conventional wisdom is the Blue Jackets will go with Jesse Puljujarvi there, as Toronto and Winnipeg are expected to take Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine one-two.
Columbus needs centres as much as anything. If the Jackets believe Puljujarvi can play there long-term, it’s a no-brainer. If not, could they trade down a couple spots, add an asset and still get, say, Logan Brown? Might be something to consider."

While Puljujarvi has apparently played some centre, most project him as a right winger. Similar story for Pierre Luc-Dubois., who most rank 4th or 5th. Potentially he could become a centre but he's viewed for now as a left winger.

After Auston Matthews at No. 1, the next natural centre doesn't come along until you get beyond the top six on most lists and get into players like Logan Brown and Tyson Jost.

With Columbus mostly in need of a top young centre to fill the void left by the departure of Ryan Johansen, who was traded to Nashville for Seth Jones last season, perhaps the play for Columbus would be to pick up one or more assets in a trade and drop down a few picks and still be able to draft that next best centre.

Where this gets interesting for the Flames is top line right wing is a pressing positional need for Calgary and you know they would love the opportunity to head the opposite direction and move up and select Puljujarvi.

What it Would Take

Make no mistake, the Blue Jackets know the stud of a player they're in line to draft with 3rd pick and they are likely just posturing, in case someone comes along and pays an insane ransom to get that pick from them.

Going from 6th to 3rd in some draft years would not be as significant as that jump is this year given everyone in the hockey world is in agreement that in this draft, there is a sizable drop-off beyond the top three.

So, what would the cost be?

It's not like going from 36 to 33, or 26 to 23 or 16 to 13. There's always a sharp curve in a draft once you get beyond the few can't-miss guys anyway. Going 6 to 3 this year could be even more expensive. Plus, the Blue Jackets have all the leverage.

There are also a few teams Columbus could be pitting against each other should it come to a bidding war. Dropping to 5th (Vancouver), 7th (Arizona), 8th (Buffalo) or even 9th (Montreal) could also still get them that young centre they covet while adding some other high-end assets.

One thing history has taught us is that quantity cannot buy you quality. There needs to be quality in that quantity. To that point, I am not even sure the Flames have the right blend of assets to make such a deal but I did come up with a few scenarios to mull over.

Three Possible Trade-Up Scenarios

As I see it, there are three different approaches you could take. Well, there's actually four as multiple players headed both directions, involving a bad contract, etc., there are a myriad of possibilities I'd categorize as 'other'. But keeping it simple, here are three basic scenarios:

1. Three-for-One

a. Flames 2nd round pick - In 2016, 35th overall
b. Prospect - e.g. Mark Jankowski, Morgan Klimchuk, Emile Poirier, Mason McDonald
c. Roster Player - e.g. Jyrki Jokipakka, Joe Colborne, Tyler Wotherspoon, Micheal Ferland

Some fans will feel this is a lot for the club to surrender to move up only three places but is it really? Keep in mind that while all prospects could be great, so often they don't live up to the hype.

I'd say Calgary is more interested in making this deal than Columbus.

If I'm the Blue Jackets, I doubt I pull the trigger. For Kekalainen, there's no assurance that (a) or (b) will pan out and if not, Columbus is left with a lower tier NHLer as the net gain in passing up on what appears to be an elite winger in Puljujarvi.

2. Two-for-One

a. Flames 2nd round pick - In 2016, 35th overall
b. Mikael Backlund

While it would be hard for the team to part with Backlund, who was such an instrumental part of the team last year, you have to give up something to get something. Backlund will be a UFA in two years. There's a good chance the team won't be able to afford him then anyway so this just means moving on a couple years sooner in order to address a huge organizational need.

As a centre, he's probably a little bit older than what Columbus has in mind but he improves their club instantly and with less of a crowd up the middle, perhaps Backlund could be a long term solution there.

3. One-for-One

a. Sam Bennett or Sean Monahan

The real ballsy move to make would be to trade one of the young-stars-in-the-making from a position of depth for hopefully a star-of-the-future at a position of need.

This is a much different scenario. Now I'm no longer talking about swapping 3rd and 6th pick, but instead this would be the Flames adding the 3rd pick while still keeping the 6th pick.

However, it seems extremely unlikely either side would want to make this deal. If you're Columbus and you're feeling greedy, you're still dealing a 3rd overall for what was a 4th or a 6th. Calgary might need to add in a sweetener like a prospect or a pick. The giant payday Monahan is on the cusp of could also be a showstopper for the Blue Jackets.

For the Flames, they know what they have in these two players, they've been moulding them for years and they're happy to have them. Giving up an established young star like Monahan, or Bennett, to draft a player that you hope will be equally good or better would take some guts.

I can't see it happening but to acquire that pick without doing a swap, that would be the price tag.

Final Word

While this makes for stirring debate in the pub over a plate of salt and pepper ribs and a couple pints of the house draught, my advice is don't get your hopes up.

While the possibility does exist that 'Bandit Brad' can pull off an Ocean's Eleven-calibre of theft that nobody saw coming, history is not on his side.

Depending on how much the Blue Jackets' asking price is, what you don't want to do is end up the victim in the Great Trade Robbery of the summer of 6-to-3. Backlund's presence alone will give some people the shakes, never mind the thought of parting with Monahan or Bennett.

Sure, Puljujarvi at 6-foot-4 with tons of skill, looks like he will be one helluva player but if to get him, it involves giving up someone already a helluva player and a core piece of the Flames future, you're taking a big risk.

Personally, I don't think Treliving is the kind to gamble like that but then again, nobody suspected what would shake down on the train tracks that quiet night in England 53 years ago either. Then suddenly all the money was gone, and most of it never to be found again. So, you never know.

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  1. How valuable a trade trip do you think Gio would be? Likely to remain one of the NHL's best D-men for the next few years, but also likely to be too old and over the hill by he time our young core is in their prime...It would hurt a ton, but there is an argument to be made for moving the captain now while his trade value is at its peak

    1. I could say I delayed responding purposely until I addressed your Giordano point (with a counterpoint) in my latest piece about what the Flames can learn from Pittsburgh, just posted yesterday. I think he will age well and his responsibility on the ice will eventually curtail but he will still pack plenty of value on a team ready to win. Championship teams have veteran guys and while I don't see anyone else from the current roster that would be in a similar situation, I do see him as a Kunitz/Cullen like important player on a successful Flames team 3-4 years from now. The thing with Giordano and it's impossible to know so this is just speculation but his career arc has been so different in that he's peak way late at all stops that I think he'll be better than you expect as he gets older. Just a hunch.

  2. Are flames fans too worried about a top line right wing ? Most elite lines in the NHL are duo's, Getzlaf and Perry, Benn and Seguin etc . I think is very rare to have all three . Tampa's triplets line ? I'd prefer the Flames use the assets on a goalie .

    1. Duos is definitely the new version of lines back in the day. Now we just have to name them so we could have colourful duo nicknames like we used to have for lines. So I agree and I think the GM would agree that RW is not the top priority, goalie is definitely preferred. Frolik can play RW, so can Colborne. So can Mangiapane if you want to look further out -- despite all three of them shooting left. That all said, RH shots can really change the look of a PP and ultimately you need to have some of those to just give you a good overall team and some offensive options. So I'm sure they're interested in bringing in some true, natural RW possibilities this off-season... if they can find affordable, worthwhile options. Cheers.

  3. It seems every team has embraced the "build through the draft" philosophy in the past few years because, with the cap, it's hard to make old fashioned hockey trades, such as the uncommon Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen deal earlier this year. My sense is that the various scenarios you have described may actually happen but shouldn't. Many top prospects, such as Doug Wickenheiser, were considered sure fire, can't miss NHLers who never accomplished much. Given the current high value of draft picks, I'd rather see the Flames do what they did last year, trade their first round pick for an up an coming, semi-established NHL right winger. Either that or clear out some cap space by getting rid of bad contracts and then acquiring a free agent or a good player on another team who makes too much money for the team to afford. This kind of approach would be more of a Warren Buffet approach to the trade market: to wit, doing the opposite of everyone else.

    1. Ah yes, clearing out the bad contracts. That certainly is something Calgary and 29 other NHL teams would love to be able to do. Unfortunately, it's just a very difficult thing to do because 29 other NHL teams are not looking to acquire bad contracts. As for trading this year's first, I would disagree. Given they didn't pick in the top 50 last year, that's a dangerous path to do down to not be stocking your system. This is a year that they need to make that pick and make it a good one so they have that pipeline of players of different ages coming along. Thanks for the note.