Tuesday, May 23, 2017

2017 NHL Draft: Just One Pick in First Three Rounds Would be a Flames' Franchise First

We all experienced it as a teenager and it's disappointing.

Dropped off at the mall to meet up with friends, your parents only give you $20 to spend while everyone else got $50.

Welcome to Brad Treliving's world when it comes to the 2017 NHL Draft.

A month away from when the world's best 18-year-old hockey players will descend upon Chicago's United Center, the sad reality for Treliving in this GM version of a trip to South Centre is he won't be able to get as many things as everyone else.

As things stand today, he has his first round pick, but then won't pick again until round 4.

Never before since Atlanta entered the league in 1972 -- that's a total of 45 entry drafts -- have the Flames found themselves in the situation they're in this year of having only one pick in the first three rounds.

Two other recent drafts spring to mind in which Calgary was more spectator than participant, but in each case they still had two picks in those first three rounds.

In 2015, thanks to the trade for Dougie Hamilton, the Flames did not have a first round pick. However, they did end up selecting twice in the second round before also sitting out rounds 3 and 4.

In 2010, Calgary was without a first rounder (Olli Jokinen trade) or second rounder (Rene Bourque trade), but they did draft twice in the third round.

Big Void

Rasmus Andersson, Tyler Parsons, Brandon HickeyOliver Kylington, Jon Gillies, Dillon Dube, Adam Fox.

That's seven kids, who when conversation shifts to the club's future, will bring a smile to the face of any Flames fan, excited about what these talented prospects could turn into.

Going by my most recent Flames prospect rankings released in February, all of them were in the top 10, coming in 2nd, 3rd, 4th 5th, 6th, 7th and 10th respectively.

Tyler Parsons
The other thing they all have in common? Each of them were second or third round picks with all of them except Gillies (2012) drafted by Treliving.

While it's too early to call any of them sure things, if you squint your eyes and gaze optimistically into the future, you can envision that group producing at least a couple top-four D, a top-six forward and a No. 1 goaltender.

Add to that, two second round picks made up two-thirds of the package sent to Boston in June 2015 to bring in Hamilton.

Fast forward to this spring and the Flames currently have no picks during what's recently been a very lucrative second and third round.

Calgary will select 16th, the first of this past year's playoff teams to head to the podium. After that, they are not slated to pick again until the fourth round when they get the 109th holler.

In between, 92 players will come off the board in what's bound to be an agonizing wait for the organization's amateur scouts, who have invested so much time over the last couple winters tracking, evaluating and ranking kids that ultimately they may have no means to select.

Where The Second Rounder Went

To refresh your memory, Calgary's second round pick (47th overall) for 2017 was shipped to the Ottawa Senators on Mar. 1, 2017, in the trade that brought back forward Curtis Lazar, who in 2013 was the Senators first round pick (17th overall).

Curtis Lazar
Will Lazar ultimately end up providing first round value? Doubtful given how his career has gone so far, but that's not what they paid either. The marked-down price for him was a middle second round pick and at that point in a draft, calling it a coin flip as to whether or not you'd typically land a legitimate NHLer, would be too high of odds.

From 2002 to 2011, I analyzed picks 42-52. That's pick No. 47, which is in question, along with the five picks on either side of it for a total of 110 picks. With some projections added in for active players and adjustments made for goaltenders' reduced game count, here are the odds of what you would typically get if you keep and make that pick:
  • 13% - Impact NHLer (800 or more games)
  • 14% - Longtime NHLer (400-799 games)
  • 14% - Middling NHLer (100-399 games)
  • 12% - Cameo NHLer (20-99 games)
  • 47% - Non-NHLer (19 or fewer games)

In summary, the odds of drafting a player that will play at least 100 NHL games is just 41 percent. Odds of getting a legitimate contributing NHLer, who plays in at least 400 games, drops to just 27 percent or a little over 1-in-4.

The latter is what the Flames' modest expectations should be with Lazar, while holding out hope that he will still evolve into the impact NHLer the Senators hoped he would become when they drafted him.

Where the Third Round Pick Went

Calgary had a need. A glaring need. They also had a reason for optimism as to how dangerous the club could be, if they filled that need.

Michael Stone
So they did.

Badly in need of a second pairing guy to play alongside the struggling TJ Brodie, Treliving acquired Michael Stone from the Arizona Coyotes a couple weeks prior to the trade deadline. The cost of adding the 26-year-old pending UFA for the remainder of the season was a third round pick.

It was a calculated gamble by the GM. In hindsight, you could argue it never worked out because the Flames were swept by Anaheim in four games, but at a time of year when first or second round picks are frequently leveraged for rentals, it was a nominal price to pay for a guy, who came in and immediately delivered.

Stone's arrival, which bumped slow-footed Dennis Wideman to the press box, stabilized the second pairing, sparked a significant uptick in Brodie's play, and was one of the factors in the Flames terrific run to finish the season.

I'd also argue that losing to the Ducks in four games does not do justice to a series that was much closer to that and could have gone either way with better discipline and much better goaltending.

Tough Year to be Thin on Draft Picks

Not having a second or third round pick to be able to bring new players into the organization is not ideal but it's recoverable. Plus, one of them was used to bring in a player that should be with the organization for many years.

What makes the lack of early draft picks worse this year is the looming expansion draft in which those picks would have been useful currency for Treliving.

In this piece I wrote last week, I examined the different types of maneuvering that Vegas GM George McPhee can do to build out not only Vegas' NHL roster for 2017-18 but also build up some much-needed organizational depth.

That includes accumulating draft picks by doing other teams a favour in the expansion draft such as not picking a certain player or by taking a particular player.

It leaves one wondering if the lack of draft assets this year could hamstring Treliving's ability to make a deal to rid themselves of a hefty contract (e.g. Troy Brouwer) or to maintain a young asset that will end up being exposed (e.g. Brett Kulak).

The good news is the Flames do have their full allotment of 2018 draft picks, plus they have an extra third rounder from Florida (part of the Jiri Hudler trade) and those should be attractive to Vegas too.

How to Get More Picks

That brings us to the question: Is there a way for Treliving to acquire more early round picks for this year's draft?

While not a strong draft at the top end, many are describing it as a flatter draft in which there will still be plenty of good players selected, it's just a matter of finding them.

You know what they say about throwing a dart, which is what the draft essentially is, you have better odds of hitting the bullseye if you have more darts to throw.

Here are some of Treliving's options for extracting some additional picks:

1. Trade a Prospect for a Pick

Brandon Hickey
Are there worries about the signability of Brandon Hickey? The highly touted 2014 third rounder has committed to going back to Boston University for his senior season to serve as team captain. Given he could become a free agent if he doesn't sign with Calgary by Aug. 15, 2018, can they and should they shop his rights? But what would a team give up to get his rights?

Calgary has an excess of goaltenders in the system at the moment and could have a real log jam in the minors if Tyler Parsons turns pro this fall as expected. Do they move 2014 second rounder Mason McDonald, who in my eyes has slid behind Parsons, Gillies and Rittich on the depth chart? But what would you get in return? Third round pick? Seems unlikely.

The Flames have limited options in terms of what they can move that would bring back a draft pick in the first three rounds. Doubt Matt Stajan given his salary would bring that return. Same thing with Lance Bouma.

Hunter Shinkaruk, Morgan Klimchuk and Emile Poirier were all late first round picks from 2013 but where is their value at if Calgary chooses to move on from any of them? If Lazar, as a mid first rounder from that same draft class, was just flipped for a mid-second rounder -- and he has 180 NHL games on his resume -- you're likely looking a third round pick at best coming back for any of them.

2. Trade Down

One of the best and common ways historically to increase your quantity of picks is to drop down in the draft. Calgary has 16th pick. Might Arizona package their first rounder (23rd overall) and second rounder (35th overall) to move up seven spots in the first round? Making a deal with his former team is something we've seen Treliving do a few times.

St. Louis could be another fit. As it stands, the Blues will pick 20th in round 1. Would the Blues give up their second rounder (51st overall) in order to climb four spots in the first round? If a particular player they like is still available at 16, it's possible.

3. Swap Draft Picks Next Year for This Year

Given Calgary has four picks in the first three rounds next season, maybe those are leveraged to get more picks this year. For example, if the Flames are prepared to move on from Tyler Wotherspoon, could they deal him along with a third round pick next year in exchange for a team's early third round pick this year? There could be some potential there.

4. Part of a Bigger Transaction

If the team makes a big splash by bringing in an established No. 1 goaltender like Cory Schneider, part of that transaction could also involve a high draft pick coming back to Calgary.

But now we're talking about a real significant package going the other direction if the Flames are going to get both a goalie and a high pick in return -- think Sam Bennett. So this is certainly a long shot.

5. Move the Rights to a UFA

Even though Scott Darling's negotiating rights were worth a third round pick when Chicago shipped them to Carolina, Ben Bishop's rights when they were jettisoned to Dallas only netted a fourth round pick. That makes it highly doubtful that there would be any demand for Brian Elliott's rights. If the pending UFA doesn't re-sign with Calgary, interested teams will surely just wait until free agency arrives and try to sign him then. So again, it's a possibility, but the odds are remote.

Final Word

You can't hoard draft picks all the time, sometimes you have to go for it. As the Flames continue to improve as an organization, expect them to have less versus more draft picks in the years to come as there should be less selling off of UFAs at the trade deadline and if anything, there may be additions to help with a playoff push.

That's the cost of winning and I'm pretty sure most fans are OK with that.

It's just that this year, when the draft picks are slim but the quantity of playoff victories was even more thin, that tends to leave a bitter aftertaste.

If it turns out that Treliving does end up with just that $20 on draft weekend, he'll just have to find some bargains and sixth round picks turned 50-goal major junior scorers Andrew Mangiapane and Matthew Phillips are proof that the Flames GM has a penchant for doing that.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.


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  1. Another comprehensive, thoughtful and data-driven article. Outstanding work. I always look forward to your contributions.

    1. You certainly know how to make a guy's day. Thanks!

  2. Darren love your blog man! I am hoping BT selects Nick Suzuki with his 1st round pick. Will you be doing a post on what prospect we may select first?

    1. Suzuki? Burkie would say we could use a Harley instead!

    2. Thanks for the note and I appreciate you reading my drivel. To be honest, I have not spent much time looking at draft prospects yet. It will be something I'll focus on a bit more as we get closer to that June 23-24 weekend though. So I'll reserve judgement on Suzuki for now.

  3. From what I keep reading is that this year's draft is not a WOW! Tre might even trade his first rounder for a second and a third if some team sees a diamond in the rough in the Flames spot. It appears there is not much quality separation in all palyers after the top 5 or even less.

    1. Trading down is a possibility for sure, although if you're picking at 16 and trading down, you should be able to do far better than a second and a third. Like a late first and a second maybe. Somehow I think he comes up with a way to generate at least one more pick. Maybe two. I'm just not sure how. But he can get pretty creative. Thanks for the note.