Last week, ESPN’s Craig Custance wrote an article that asked a fun hypothetical question: How much would it cost to trade up to the no. 1 pick in this year’s draft?
The short answer: a ton. In fact, probably so much that a deal would be all-but-impossible to pull off. After all, this isn’t just any draft — this is the Connor McDavid draft, the one in which the team that holds the first pick will end up drafting a sure-thing franchise player who’s been compared to Sidney Crosby.
But midway through the article came a fascinating reveal: Sabres GM Tim Murray has already spent some time thinking about the question. And he thinks he might be able to get it done.
And the more I think about it, the more I suspect he’s right. Let’s assume that the Sabres do finish last — sorry, Coyotes fans — but then lose the lottery. They’d still have the second overall pick. That’s Jack Eichel’s spot, and most scouts consider him almost-but-not-quite in McDavid’s ballpark. Could Murray use that second overall pick, plus a package of other picks and prospects — of which the Sabres have an impressive stockpile — to convince the lucky lottery winner to trade down one spot?
Remember, the Sabres have been pretty blatant about making their whole season about McDavid, even taking the unusual step of hosting his junior team for a game. They did all of that knowing the best odds they could get in the lottery were just 20 percent. Yet they seemed awfully confident. Could that be because Murray has had a plan B all along?
OK, probably not. But it sure is fun to think about. So let’s take a look back through the history books at the other times a team has traded the first pick in the NHL draft. It’s relatively rare; according to ProSportsTransactions.com, there are only a handful of cases when the first pick has been traded before the draft.1
Could Murray pull it off? Let’s see if there’s anything he can learn from the GMs who’ve pulled the trigger.
The trade: The California Golden Seals trade their 1971 first-rounder (no. 1) and Francois Lacombe to the Canadiens for their 1970 first-rounder (no. 10) and Ernie Hicke.
Player taken: Guy Lafleur
The background: This was in the early days of the NHL draft, before anyone had really figured out what to do and the whole thing made absolutely no sense. Montreal GM Sam Pollock took advantage of that confusion to continually fleece other teams out of first-rounders, which is what happened here; this trade actually went down more than a year before the 1971 draft. Pollock knew there was a potential franchise player in Lafleur available in 1971, while the Golden Seals … well, the Golden Seals didn’t know what they were doing.
The lesson for Murray: This deal only happened because it was made in the draft’s infancy, so it’s going to help if you can build a time machine. Can Murray build a time machine? (I honestly think there’s a roughly 20 percent chance that Murray could build a time machine.)
The trade: The Flyers trade Bill Clement, Don McLean and the no. 18 pick to the Capitals for the no. 1 selection.
Player taken: Mel Bridgman
The background: That package doesn’t sound like much to give up for the first overall pick, and that sort of offer this year would probably get you laughed out of the room. But the 1975 draft was awful, ranking among the weakest ever. It didn’t produce a single Hall of Famer, and only one player went on to score 1,000 career points — and that guy, Dave Taylor, was taken in the 15th round. Bridgman was a decent player, the best taken in the first round, but that’s about it.
The lesson for Murray: Drive the price down by convincing everyone this is a terrible draft. Look, Tim, we never said this was going to be easy.