Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Look Again At The Phil Kessel Trade

We've already posted quite a bit on the subject of the Phil Kessel trade, which backwards narrators everywhere have come out against. Now that the Leafs have ended up with the #2 overall pick, we hear even more flack.

The detractors' argument reads as follows:

Toronto was not a particularly good team coming into the season, and they could have assured themselves they wouldn't be any good with not very much effort. As a result, they passed on an opportunity to get in on the ground floor and get superstars - as we have seen from Chicago and Pittsburgh's recent success, top picks are an enormous advantage that Toronto is failing to capitalize on.

Let's try to understand what's at stake here. If we may borrow a page out of Brian Burke's book, we've decided to rank players based on a fairly easy system. There may be quibbles here and there about the 'system' we're employing, but it's quick and dirty and is much less labor intensive than anything else, which would be an amalgam of statistics that would merely confound the issue.

The system is as follows, from 1 to 6:

6 - HOF level player
5 - All-Star player (i.e. should make multiple All-Star teams)
4 - Above average player
3 - Average player
2 - Fringe NHL player
1 - NHL Bust

The top of the spreadsheet has the first five picks from the last 7 seasons. You might be thinking, 'But, supercilious 'we' who runs this podunk blog, how can you possibly project players from 2008?' You would be right - that's part of the point. That's, in effect, what drafting is. We keep the uncertainty in here to show how inexact a science drafting can be. Some of these '4's will look ridiculous in several years, in all probability. Right-click on the spreadsheet and view it in a new tab:

The average of the top 5 draft picks over the last 7 years is 4.6 - somewhere between an All-Star and an above average player. The average of picks 6-10 over the last 7 years, excluding 2009, is 3.5. So had Toronto finished within 6-10, the player they pick figures to be merely an above-average player most often. Furthermore, we've only rated one player drafted 6-10 an All-Star, and that is Dion Phaneuf, whose All-Stardom is dubious - he could easily be rated a 4 if he repeats his 2009-10 in Toronto. Meanwhile, we rated 15 players All-Star level who were picked 1-5.

On the right of the spreadsheet, we've examined each team who has picked 3 or more times in the top 10 (excluding 6-10 in 2009), and averaged together the 'rank' of player they've gotten. Obviously, Washington and Pittsburgh's players are exceptionally good, and teams like Columbus's players are not so good.

In our next post, we will look at the NHL lottery system, and year-to-year improvements of chronically terrible teams being aided by top draft picks.