Monday, April 7, 2008

What would it cost the Leafs to trade up to #1?

Steven Stamkos, future LeafAccording to the Toronto Sun, Cliff Fletcher recently raised the idea of trading up at the draft, including the possibility of moving all the way up to #1.

Great idea. But what would it cost?

Impossible to know for sure, of course. For one, there’s nothing to suggest the Lightning will even make the pick available. If a bidding war developed, who knows where the final price could wind up.

But just for fun, let's see if we come up with an educated guess. If the Leafs wanted to trade up to #1 overall, what kind of offer would it take to get in the door?

NFL fans will recognize this chart, which outlines the approximate values for draft picks in a given year. (If you already know what the NFL Trade Chart is and want to skip to the part about how the Leafs and Stamkos, click here.)

The values start at 3,000 for the top pick and declines for each subsequent picks. The drop from the first pick to the second is steep, the drop from second to third slightly less so, and so on until later rounds when the point values decline slowly.

This makes sense -- the difference between one or two picks is enormous at the top of a draft, gets less important as the draft moves on, and all but washes out by the end. Math fans will recognize the points distribution as resembling (although not directly based on) a power law graph.

The chart is an approximation -- it isn't specific to any particular year or draft. It goes without saying that the value of a pick, especially one at the top of the first round, will fluctuate year-to-year depending on who is available. The #1 overall pick in Sidney Crosby's draft year was worth a lot more than in Patrick Stefan's. But “The Chart” as its known in NFL draft circles, often ends up being surprisingly accurate. More than a few recent NFL draft day trades have been made that matched perfectly based on chart value.

And while The Chart was designed for the NFL, it can be applied to other sports as well, at least as a starting point. Keep in mind that both the NFL and NHL have seven round drafts and a similar number of teams (32 vs 30), so the values will fit relatively well.

So what does The Chart say it would cost the Leafs to move up? Let's take a look.

The #1 overall pick is assigned a value of 3,000 points. The Leafs hold the seventh pick, which is valued at 1,500. So we'll start our offer there, and we're already halfway home.

Now it gets tricky. The Leafs don't own their second round pick this year -- it went to Phoenix is the Yanic Perrault trade. I'll pause here so you can curse JFJ and punch yourself in the temple a few times.

They do own the Penguins second rounder, thanks to Fletcher's Hal Gill trade. That would be the #57 pick if the draft was held today, although it could shift depending on who wins the Cup. For sake of argument let's call it #57, which gives it a value of 330 points.

So far our offer includes our top two picks, and we're not even close to fair value -- just 1,830 total, well short of the 3,000 we need. The Leafs third round pick will only carry a value in the 230 range, so clearly we're not going to get far by adding more picks. In fact, the Leafs could package every pick they own and it still wouldn't get them to fair value according to The Chart.

What about trading a pick from future seasons? That's a possibility. But keep in mind that the rule-of-thumb for draft picks is that a pick loses one round of value for each year in the future you go. That means that a 2009 second rounder would only be worth the equivalent of a 2008 third rounder. We're getting into diminishing returns here.

The bottom line is that if we want to make this deal happen, we're going to need to go out and get more picks.

So let's try that. If the Leafs could acquire a mid- to late-round pick in the first, their chances start to look better. For sake of argument, let's target the #22 pick (currently held by the Rangers, but again subject to change).

Who could the Leafs deal for a pick in that range? Tough call. Bryan McCabe and Darcy Tucker sure aren't getting it done. Pavel Kubina might have at the trade deadline, but probably not now. On the other hand, Alex Steen might fetch a late first rounder, and Nik Antropov would be a good candidate as well assuming his knee is OK.

Let's pull the trigger for that #22 pick, which The Chart values at 780 points. That brings us to 2,610 points. We're just 390 points short of fair value now.

That's the equivalent of a mid-second rounder, which the Leafs don't have. So you're looking at moving another player off the roster. As a ballpark, players on the current roster who could fetch a second rounder would probably includes guys like Ponikoravsky, or maybe Ian White.

So based on The Chart and our imaginary wheeling and dealing, here's what that trade for the #1 overall pick would look like.

To Toronto: #1 overall pick
To Tampa Bay: #7 overall, #22 overall (at a cost of Alex Steen or Nik Antropov), the #51 pick (cost: Ian White or Alex Ponikoravsky), and Pittsburgh's #57 pick

Of course, there would be other ways to make a deal work. Tomas Kaberle has plenty of trade value, for example -- find a way to work him in and you're going to make your job easier. There's also the possibility of players coming back to Toronto in a deal, additional teams becoming involved, etc.

But at least we have a starting point. Two first rounders, and two seconds. That's two good young players off the roster, and no picks in between #1 and the early third round. And my gut tells me that this offer, while in the ballpark, wouldn't be enough to close a deal.

What do you think? Too much to give up? Not enough? Would you make the deal?


  1. I'm not sure there is anything the Leafs could offer Tampa Bay to pry away the first pick. Certainly not a mixed bag of lower picks. Tampa Bay need cheap secondary scoring because of all the money spent on their top players but Leafs don't have any themselves.

  2. while i think you've made a valiant effort here, i just don't see tampa trading that first pick/stamkos, either. they've got a great young, and most importantly cheap, player in stamkos - franchise type shit - and he can blend in behind lecavs and st. louis, so i think they like the fit.

    but the 7th overall pick for the Leafs? damn, we can screw that up nicely!

    2nd rounder for perreault. oh jfj.

  3. I don't think its worth it, there are just too many what ifs in place. If we could even trade up one or two spots in the draft i'd be significantly more confident that MLSE would not screw this up at a catastrohpic level, and that would be a lot cheaper.

  4. Great post, Sean. I think that after the 7 pick, the discussion starts with Kaberle. Kaberle plus Antropov and a 4th round, or Kabs, Poni, Steen, and a 3rd.