Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Finding (and fixing) every team’s most painful draft regrets

If​ you’ve been on​ Twitter​ for​ a decade​ or​ so​ like I​ have, you’ve seen​ roughly five or​ maybe​ even six good​​ tweets. The all-time best hockey tweet, we can all agree, is this one. But not far behind is this beauty from the 2015 entry draft, which still resurfaces from time to time:

The Bruins held three straight picks in the first round that year, and they could indeed have used those picks to nab Mathew Barzal and Kyle Connor. (And, uh, Oliver Kylington, but let’s skip that part.) Instead, they picked Jakub Zboril, Jake Debrusk and Zachary Senyshyn. Let’s be charitable and say they went 1-for-3.

If you’re a Boston fan, you may be haunted by visions of Barzal and Connor slotted into today’s Bruins lineup, and thoughts of what might have been. But that’s hardly unusual. In fact, every team has had a draft like the 2015 Bruins, where you wish you could go back and will your team to make different picks.

So today, let’s do that. We’re all scouting geniuses with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, so let’s pretend we’re time traveling hockey fans from the year 2018 who can go back and visit the draft table of each NHL team for one year and convince the GM to change three picks. Which year would you go back to for your favorite team? Or put differently, how painful was your team’s worst missed opportunity?

Two important ground rules here, and I’m even going to break out the bolded text to make sure everyone sees them before they go yell at me in the comments. (They will not.)

– We can only convince teams to take guys who are going to be chosen relatively close to that team’s actual pick. Otherwise, there’s not much fun here – every team wishes they’d taken Dominik Hasek in 1983 or Pavel Datsyuk in 1998, but reading that 30 times wouldn’t be all that interesting. So let’s pretend that no GM is going to listen to a time traveler telling him to reach too far, which we’ll define as more than five picks in the top 10, or more than 10 picks anywhere else.

– In a further attempt to avoid going overboard on the Datsyuk-type picks, only one team can change their pick to any given player. In other worse, no player can be redrafted more than once. And to ratchet up the pain, we’ll give first dibs to whichever team was closest to where that guy was ultimately picked.

With those caveats in mind, let’s find the most painful draft possible for all 30 teams that have been around long enough to know they screwed up. (Sorry, Vegas, you’ll have to sit this one out. Check back in a few years.) For teams that have relocated, we’ll count the previous version too, since some of those players would have made the move to the new market.

This is going to get long, so we recommend CTRL+F’ing your favorite team, crying for a little bit, and then circling back to point and laugh at everyone else. Let’s do this.

Anaheim Ducks: 2007

They could have had: #22 Max Pacioretty, #43 P.K. Subban and #129 Jamie Benn

Instead they picked: #19 Logan MacMillan, #42 Eric Tangradi and #121 Mattias Modig

The Ducks are a nice place to start – thank you, alphabetical order! – because they do a good job of demonstrating the concept we’re going for here. Three all-stars, including an Art Ross and a Norris winner, there for the taking. Instead, the Ducks grabbed two forwards who combined for a total of five NHL goals and a goaltender who never made the NHL. Was the entire Ducks’ front office drunk in 2007? [Remembers how that year’s playoffs went.] Yeah, they were probably drunk.

Arizona Coyotes: 2015

They could have had: #4 Mitch Marner, #35 Sebastian Aho and #37 Brandon Carlo

Instead they picked: #3 Dylan Strome, #30 Nick Merkley and #32 Christian Fischer

It’s a little ironic that it only takes us two teams to get to the 2015 draft that inspired this post. And for extra fun, we’re even stealing one of Boston’s picks in the process.

It’s admittedly a little risky to go back just three years, since 2015 is recent enough that we can’t say for sure how the draft will turn out. Maybe Strome reaches his potential in Chicago, Merkley still makes it and Fischer goes from solid young depth to difference maker. But for right now, the Coyotes with Aho, Carlo and Marner – or Ivan Provorov or Zach Werenski for that matter – would look pretty scary.

Boston Bruins: 1981

They could have had: #15 Al MacInnis, #40 Chris Chelios and #107 Gerard Gallant

Instead they picked: #14 Normand Leveille, #35 Luc Dufour and #98 Joe Mantione

It’s tempting to stay true to the source material and just go with 2015 for the Bruins, maybe swapping in somebody like Thomas Chabot or Brock Boeser for Kylington. But while Barzal and friends are very good young players, they’ve got a long way to go to be first-ballot Hall of Famers like Chelios and MacInnis.

Gallant is the third wheel here, and you could go with somebody like Tom Kurvers or Greg Stefan instead if you wanted, but the key point is that the Bruins could have built their 1980s blueline around Chelios, MacInnis and Ray Bourque. (And if you want to argue that already having Bourque means they wouldn’t have bothered drafting defensemen, remember that they spent the first overall pick in 1982 on Gord Kluzak.)

Buffalo Sabres: 1977

They could have had: #15 Mike Bossy, #33 John Tonelli and #73 Jim Korn

Instead they picked: #14 Ric Seiling, #32 Ron Areshenkoff and #68 Bill Stewart

It’s the context that makes this one sting. Back in 1977, the Sabres and Islanders were both recent expansion teams that had already built contenders. The Sabres had put up three straight 100-point seasons, while the Islanders had just had their second. Both teams felt like they were on the verge of a breakthrough, as if they were just a player or two away from something special. Then the Sabres let Bossy and Tonelli slip through their fingers in favor of two guys who played the same positions, and the final pieces of an eventual Islanders dynasty fell into place.

Korn’s basically an afterthought here; the real question is whether flipping these picks means the Sabres and Islanders flip 1980s destinies too.

Calgary Flames: 1990

They could have had: #19 Keith Tkachuk, #34 Doug Weight and #85 Sergei Zubov

Instead they picked: #11 Trevor Kidd, #32 Vesa Viitakoski and #83 Paul Kruse

For reasons I can’t quite figure out, the Flames are one of the hardest team to find a really regrettable draft for. It’s not that they don’t make bad picks – everyone does – but they seem to spread them out, or at least let a team or two get in between them and their worst misses.

So we’ll cheat just a little by going with 1990 here. The three players they miss are all top-tier stars, and despite having a dozen picks the only real NHLers they found were Kruse and Kidd. But as Flames fans know, this draft lives in infamy because the Flames traded up with New Jersey from #20 to #11 to get Kidd, only to see the Devils use that #20 pick on the draft’s second highest-rated goaltender … Martin Brodeur. Whoops. Even on the draft floor, sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make.

Carolina Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers: 1989

They could have had: #53 Nicklas Lidstrom, #74 Sergei Fedorov and #221 Vladimir Konstantinov

Instead they picked: #52 Blair Atcheynum, #73 Jim McKenzie and #220 John Battice

This one almost feels unfair, as the Red Wings have quite possibly the greatest draft in the history of the NHL with the Whalers picking right in front of them the whole way along. Hartford even misses out on a 1,000-game man in #116 Dallas Drake in favor of #115 Jerome Bechard. But at least #136 Scott Daniels ended up being a marginally better pick than #137 Scott Zygulski. Eat that, Detroit!

Chicago Blackhawks: 2004

They could have had: #5 Blake Wheeler, #63 David Krejci and #258 Pekka Rinne

Instead they picked: #3 Cam Barker, #54 Jakub Sindel and #256 Matthew Ford

Chicago fans probably aren’t surprised to see the Cam Barker pick show up here in some form. Missing on Krejci and Rinne hurts too, as does passing up guys like Ryan Callahan and Andrej Sekera. The good news is that the Hawks did find some important depth pieces for their future dynasty in Dave Bolland and Bryan Bickell. But as for the franchise-defining draft finds, those would have to wait a couple of years.

Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques: 1988

They could have had: #8 Jeremy Roenick, #10 Teemu Selanne and either #67 Mark Recchi or #70 Rob Blake

Instead they picked: #3 Curtis Leschyshyn, #5 Daniel Dore and #66 Darren Kimble

The Nordiques whiffed so badly that I have to put Alexander Mogilny in the honorable mentions. He went with the 89th pick, two spots after the Nordiques took Stephane Venne.

The league felt so sorry for Quebec after this draft that they let them have the first overall pick in each of the next three years.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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