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.


  1. "So had Toronto finished within 6-10, the player they pick figures to be merely an above-average player most often"

    With Kessel they ended up 29th while running cold.
    Without Kessel, they probably end up 29th while running standard.
    Without Kessel, they probably end up 30th while running cold.

  2. If we also follow your argument that these players might take multiple years before being injected into the lineup then we might be talking about TWO top-5 picks in back-to-back years and a second.

    And if there's a good year to have a second, this one might be it.

  3. things don't work that way, imo. the phil kessel deal changes everything about the season. for one, kessel's either still in boston or nashville or somewhere else. for two, in all the possible seasons (if we could simulate the season 10000 or 1,000,000 times), the leafs certainly make the playoffs in some of them, and do better than they did in a high percentage of them.

    also don't believe the hype - they love to hype the draft up. we'll know in 5 years whether or not this was actually a good draft. the year to have a 2nd was 2003.

  4. You think that the Leafs would do BETTER without Kessel a high percentage of the time?

    I don't understand your first point either. If anything, if Kessel stayed in Boston and they lost Lucic (which is the better move), that only makes life harder for Toronto...

    Unless you're talking about the butterfly effect... which would bring us on a completely different level.

    I'm aware of the draft hype and I admit I get caught up in it. That said, I'm 97% convinced that the reason for such an epic 2003 draft was because of the lockout. There are quite a bit of top-10 talent lying around in the second round because of other 'red-flags'.

  5. i don't like calling it the butterfly effect, but effectively, yes. i'm not saying the leafs would be better off without kessel, but i'm saying they might have done better without him. evaluating otherwise is like, to make a terrible a poker analogy, evaluating action on the flop based on the fact that there's an ace on the turn.

    while i'm sure the lockout helped somewhat by keeping guys developing in the minors, that is a sick, sick draft. 2002 would've helped similarly but still isn't even close to 2003.

  6. I'm actually quite surprised you would consider such a stat-less and unexplainable phenomenon. :heart: Human T(erminator)36.

    I understand where you're coming from but I'm not sold on it. I still feel as if Toronto was going to end with a top-5 pick without Kessel a big majority of the time. Eh, agree to disagree I guess.

    Completely hypothetical situation: IF you knew that Toronto would end up with the 2nd overall pick, would you still make the trade?

  7. ^completely result-oriented la de da I know.

    Just want to know where you think a Seguin+Kabonov+next year draft pick (??? ~10?)ranks compared to Kessel.

  8. Remember it's not just this year's first round pick, but also this year's second and next year's first. There is a reasonable likelihood that the Bruins will again end up drafting in the top five next year. The odds are pretty strong that at least one of those players turns out to be better than Kessel. If the other two become above-average players, the deal becomes an unmitigated disaster for the Leafs, even if it takes two to three years before the draft picks make it into the NHL.

    The Kessel trade will go down as the worst Leafs' move since trading for Tom Kurvers.

  9. i don't think it's very likely that the bruins end up drafting in the top 5 next year. the leafs have lots of money to spend, young players on the rise, and they've finally settled their goaltending situation - if they have gigeure playing at that level all year, instead of toskala, the leafs do not finish that low.

    the odds would not be strong that 1 player would be better than kessel had the leafs finished even only between 6th worst overall and 10th worst overall, which is precisely my point with this outlook.