On Draft Pick Quantity vs. Quality

After trading Petr Mrazek to the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said something that triggered a gut reaction of concern in me.  I honestly don’t know if there are numbers to back up my worry, so I’m going to walk through it a bit.

“What’s driving me is I want us to be a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup. We’re competitive, but we’re not quite where we need to be in order to be where we want to be. I have to acquire draft picks and we need to hit on those draft picks.

“The more draft picks I can acquire, or young players through trades, is a better chance we’re going to wake up three or four or five years from now, or two years from now, and start to see young players coming on to the team and have an impact.”

That’s from the Detroit News but Winging it in Motown highlighted it this morning.  It also comes coupled with rumblings that the Red Wings may accept two second round picks for Mike Green rather than a first-rounder.

It’s well-known that the Red Wings haven’t had many high draft picks in the last several decades.  Trying to find a team that has consistently picked near the Wings in the draft even just going back to the big lockout in 2005 is impossible.  They’re in a relatively unique situation that has – to a large extent – led to their current downswing, as they haven’t been able to restock their talent pool with top prospects.

Knowing that – yet hearing Holland declare than the answer is to acquire more second, third, and fourth round draft picks – is triggering my spidey sense, so to speak.  If the team’s downfall is because they never pick at the top, how is the path to a rebuild through the second and third and fourth rounds?

Let me take a second to acknowledge that defining picks by round is somewhat lazy.  The 32nd overall pick and the 62nd overall pick this summer will both be second-rounders but they’re not really comparable.  As such, while I’m attempting to apply some logic to this, it’s entirely unscientific.

With that in mind, I’ve been looking back at Detroit’s recent drafts, trying to determine just how good the organization is at making use of picks outside of the first round.  I went back to the 2005 draft as the salary cap era is really when the Wings were no longer able to replenish their roster via free agency.

Detroit has had 95 draft picks in that time.  Thus far, 33 of them have played at least one NHL game.  Yes, that measure means there’s built-in bias against recent drafts, as those players haven’t had the chance to make their debuts.

Eliminate the first-rounders, since we’re talking about what the Wings can do if they don’t acquire extra picks in the opening round, and we’re down to 26 players.  We might as well drop the sixth- and seventh-rounders, too, since no one has claimed you rebuild with those.  That’s another four gone, so we’re at 22.

Of those, only 14 are still in the NHL, though that leaves out Dominic Turgeon, who got a call-up earlier this year and is now back with the Griffins, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and call it 15.

That means since 2005, the Red Wings have drafted 15 players who “made it” (by a generous definition of the term) in the NHL in the second through fifth rounds.  That list is as follows:

If you’re looking at a rebuild, are those the players you’re looking for?

The Red Wings’ draft record in the rounds where they’re targeting picks seems to show that they won’t be able to do what they’re trying to do.

Obviously not every draft is equal and, as I already mentioned, not every pick in the same round of the same draft is equal.  If the Wings grabbed another Tatar and Nyquist in the second round this summer – combined with a good pick in the first round – it’d be a successful draft.  But if adding all of these picks results in more Xavier Ouellets and Ryan Sprouls, it’ll just be a waste.

Frankly, I’d be a lot more comfortable if the asking price for Mike Green went back to being a first-rounder.


Update, 12:15 PM: Via Twitter, @RedWingRubbish pointed out that @ChartingHockey has statistically determined that, outside of the top 24 picks, quantity does indeed beat quality.

This made me take a second look at the first-rounders I dropped from my original list.

Player Year Overall
Jakub Kindl 2005 19
Dylan Larkin 2014 15
Anthony Mantha 2013 20
Tom McCollum 2008 30
Riley Sheahan 2010 21
Brendan Smith 2007 27
Evgeny Svechnikov 2015 19

If you should be able to reasonably expect a “hit” in the top-24, the Red Wings are still doing something wrong.

Kindl made it into 353 games but never really panned out.  Larkin and Mantha are the players the Red Wings are building around right now.  McCollum is a bust.  Sheahan seems to have maxed out as a third-line center.  Smith – somewhat like Kindl – has washed out of the NHL.  Svechnikov is still a question mark.

Seven first-round picks – five in the top 24 overall – and only two players that can reliably play in the top half of the lineup.  Will Svechnikov or Michael Rasmussen or Filip Hronek or Vili Saarijarvi join that list?  Perhaps.  So for the sake of discussion I’ll switch to the 2005 – 2014 date range.

That gives the Red Wings six first-round picks, four in the top 24, with a 50% “hit” rate.

Who are their hits through the other rounds?  Tatar.  Nyquist.  I think it’s safe to include Athanasiou.  Mrazek, too, despite his epic slump.

There are plenty of other useful players, guys like Abdelkader and Helm.  A team needs those guys.  But you can’t make a team of them, you need high-end talent to lead them.

Over a decade, the Red Wings managed to draft one starting goalie (assuming Mrazek has shaken that slump), no top-three defensemen, and five top-six forwards.  It’s worse if you don’t include Mrazek or Athanasiou.

So maybe it’s not about the Wings needing to get more first-round picks.  Maybe it’s that – contrary to the myth – the Red Wings just don’t draft very well.

I don’t want to dig in to compare them to other teams.  As I said originally, it’s near-impossible to find a team that picked near the Red Wings for that whole period to use as a comparison anyway.  Maybe San Jose?

If it’s that the Wings don’t draft well, and they’re putting everything they have into the draft, things could get ugly fast.

On Hope and Excitement, and Lack Thereof

I’m not excited for the start of the Red Wings season.

I’m not saying that I won’t watch the opener tomorrow or I won’t be at the Joe for the home opener on Monday.  I just wouldn’t feel an absence in my life if those games weren’t happening.

I’m also not saying that I don’t care what happens with the team.  Quite the opposite.

At the end of last season, even with the Wings bowing out so early in the playoffs, there was hope.  General Manager Ken Holland spoke about giving opportunity to the team’s prospects, about revamping the defense, about ways to make the team better.

In June Pavel Datsyuk left but Holland managed to unload his contract.  It came at a high cost but was necessary given what the team was trying to do.  There was still hope.  I still had hope

As free agency approached, the Red Wings had money to spend and roster spots to fill, as well as prospects like Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Bertuzzi and Tomas Nosek ready to challenge for a role.

Then the Wings brought back Drew Miller, the penalty-killing specialist who missed most of the season with a pair of injuries.

Then the Wings brought back bottom-six forward Darren Helm on a five year deal.

On July 1st, the Red Wings signed Frans Nielsen to replace Datsyuk and Thomas Vanek to replace the soon-to-retire Brad Richards and Steve Ott…  For some reason.

Suddenly those open roster spots were filled and the hole in the team’s defense hadn’t been addressed.  Holland reassured us that the glut of forwards gave him pieces to use in trade for a defender.

Training camp approached and there was no trade.  News broke that Jacob Trouba, Michigan-native and right-shooting defenseman, exactly what the Wings were coveting, was demanding a trade.  But those pieces that Holland had assembled wouldn’t be enough.  So there was no fix for the blueline and there was no battle for forward spots.  Athanasiou beat out Teemu Pulkkinen – waived off to Minnesota – but it was for the 13th forward spot, relegated to the press box.

This season’s roster is last season’s roster.  From opening night to the end of the season to today, Johan Franzen became Pavel Datsyuk who is now Frans Nielsen.  Brad Richards became Thomas Vanek.  Landon Ferraro was replaced by Darren Helm – re-signed due to a need for speed.  Drew Miller became Joakim Andersson who became Drew Miller again.  Teemu Pulkkinen became Andreas Athanasiou who became Steve Ott – despite that supposed need for speed.  Jakub Kindl and Kyle Quincey became Alexey Marchenko and Xavier Ouellet.

The team that backed into the playoffs and only made it there because they got help from the Ottawa Senators on the last day of the season is much the same as the team that begins this season.

I expect this team to miss the playoffs.  I expected that this would be a losing season last May.  But in May, I had hope that this losing season would feature learning experiences for the next generation of Red Wings.  Instead, they’re going to lose with the same guys that lost last year.

So I’ll watch and I’ll root for the Wings, but I’m not getting my hopes up.  I’m not getting excited.

Red Wings Bring in Horcoff, Bring Back Cleary

A month ago I suggested that, as long as they were already bringing back Daniel Cleary, the Red Wings might also bring in Cleary’s good friend Shawn Horcoff.

I didn’t expect they would do it like this.

On Friday Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal reported that Horcoff would retire as a player and join the Red Wings as their new Director of Player Development.  Matheson noted that Jiri Fischer, up until now the only person to serve in that role for the Detroit organization, would be “moving to another position in the organization.”

The Red Wings confirmed the move several hours later.  As reported by MLive’s Ansar Khan, Fischer will move into a player evaluation role.

“Jiri Fischer came to me this summer and said he loves the job but wanted the opportunity to grow as an executive and would like to get into the player evaluation side of the industry,” Holland said.

Holland also took the opportunity to reveal that Cleary will attend Detroit’s training camp on a pro-try out.

Earlier this week, Winging it in Motown published a piece about why bringing Cleary in on a PTO might not be a horrible idea.  While the NHL has since announced that veteran roster requirements will be relaxed in the aftermath of the World Cup of Hockey, I still think their argument is valid.

More importantly, I think a PTO for Cleary is a step towards sanity for Ken Holland.  Last year, Cleary was given a one-year NHL deal but still had to battle for a roster spot in training camp – a battle he lost before being waived and sent to the Grand Rapids Griffins.  That deal was similar to deals with Danny DeKeyser and Justin Abdelkader and Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl and Luke Glendening.  It was a contract based on hope for a player.  It was Holland saying, “Here’s your deal, now go out there and earn it.”

With a PTO, Cleary has to earn his spot before getting a contract.  It’s a smart move.

For the record, I expect Cleary to be signed to an AHL deal upon the conclusion of the preseason.

Red Wings Jersey Number Updates

The Red Wings revealed a set of new jersey numbers via Twitter earlier today.

Steve Ott had previously Tweeted he would take the #29 that had briefly been assigned to Dylan Sadowy and was worn by Landon Ferraro before he was waived and claimed by the Boston Bruins.

With it available, it comes as no surprise that Frans Nielsen takes the #51 he wore with the New York Islanders.

As Tomas Jurco has the #26 he usually wears, I’d expected Thomas Vanek to take the #27 made available by the departure of Kyle Quincey.  Instead he flips the number and takes #62.  He’ll be the first Red Wing to ever wear that number.

I’d thought that Alexey Marchenko might see a new number this year to represent his solidified roster spot.  While I thought he’d get the #4 formerly worn by Jakub Kindl, instead he went the opposite direction and took the #53 he’s been wearing internationally.

The #4 ended up going to Teemu Pulkkinen, switching from #56.  I’m on the record as disliking forwards wearing numbers that low.  He becomes the first forward to wear #4 for the Red Wings since Colin Campbell in 1985.

Red Wings Sign DeKeyser to Six-Year Deal

The Detroit Red Wings signed defenseman Danny DeKeyser to a six-year contract on Tuesday.  In agreeing to the deal, the sides avoided a potentially-contentious arbitration meeting scheduled for Thursday.

The contract breakdown is as follows:

With DeKeyser signed, the Red Wings’ top concern becomes goalie Petr Mrazek, who is scheduled for an arbitration meeting on Wednesday.

My concern with the DeKeyser deal is that, once again, Ken Holland is giving a player long-term money based on his potential, not what he’s proven.

$5 million per season is #2 defenseman money.  I think DeKeyser is the best defenseman on this team, which isn’t saying much.  I think he could be a top defenseman eventually.  I do not think he’ll be worth $5 million in the 2016-17 season.

Giving out contracts like this is a gamble.  Maybe by the second year, he’s taken a step forward and become a legitimate #1 defenseman and it’s a bargain for the rest of the deal.  If not, though…  This is how you get healthy scratches making $2 million (the now-departed Jakub Kindl).

Trade Deadline Thoughts

The National Hockey League’s 2016 trade deadline came and went on Monday with the Red Wings refraining from making a move. For the most part, I’m okay with that.

Saturday’s trade of Jakub Kindl to the Florida Panthers for a sixth-round draft pick was a great move. GM Ken Holland unloaded the salary of a player who would probably never play for the Red Wings again and actually got an asset in return.

Kindl became expendable with the emergence of Alexey Marchenko and Xavier Ouellet, both of whom had passed Kindl on the Red Wings’ depth chart and both of whom will have to clear waivers to be assigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins next season.

Assuming Kyle Quincey is not re-signed this summer, there will be room on the Detroit roster in 2016-17 for both Marchenko and Ouellet – but not Nick Jensen, who has yet to get a real look at the NHL level (he was a healthy scratch during his call-up earlier this season).

So the Kindl move makes sense on several levels. From there the Red Wings could decide to either load up for a playoff run, as they traditionally do, sell off any additional parts, which they rarely do, or stand pat.

Unless an exceptional deal to add a piece came along, I’d have liked to see them deal away Brendan Smith. His name came up as a player who would be available at the deadline, often compared to Kris Russell. With Russell fetching Jyrki Jokipakka, Brett Pollock, and a conditional second round pick, I’m really curious as to what Holland turned down for Smith, assuming anyone called. Smith has seemingly been demoted to being the Red Wings’ seventh defenseman and $2.25 million is too much to pay for someone who’s in the pressbox most nights.

I’m sure Holland thinks he can keep Smith for the run to the playoffs and then deal him at the draft but I’m not sure the market will be as favorable then.

I didn’t want to see the Red Wings load up without an exceptional deal because, frankly, this team is too many missing pieces from being a Stanley Cup contender. It’s possible they ride Petr Mrazek to an extended playoff run but without that, they’re not going to go far. It would have taken something like a trade for Eric Staal, combined with Staal returning to his early-career form, to be enough. Looking at the players traded on Monday, none of the, would have been enough on his own.

Red Wings Trade Kindl to Panthers

The Detroit Red Wings traded defenseman Jakub Kindl to the Florida Panthers on Saturday.

Detroit will retain 15 percent of Kindl’s salary and receive a sixth round draft pick in 2017.

Kindl, the Red Wings’ first-round draft pick (19th overall) in 2005, has bounced between Detroit and the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins this season.

In 273 career games with the Red Wings, Kindl had 16 goals and 52 assists for 68 points.

The move clears roughly $2 million from the Red Wings’ salary cap over the next two seasons.

Kindl Clears Waivers

Detroit Red Wings defenseman Jakub Kindl cleared waivers on Sunday, clearing the way for him to be assigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League.

Kindl, 28, was Detroit’s first-round draft pick (19th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. In 271 career NHL games for the Red Wings he’s scored 16 goals and 51 asists for 67 points.

In 23 games this season, Kindl has two goals and three assists.

Kindl has played 237 career games in the AHL, all with Grand Rapids. He most recently scored one goal during a two-game conditioning stint last season.

Kindl became expendible with the emergence of Detroit rookie defenseman Alexey Marchenko, who seemingly leapfrogged Kindl and Brendan Smith on the Red Wings’ depth chart.

With Kindl in Grand Rapids, $950,000 of his $2.4 million salary cap hit will come off the Red Wings’ books. Reportedly the team will need to make another move to clear space under an internal salary cap of $66 million.

Red Wings Waive Kindl

The Detroit Red Wings waived defenseman Jakub Kindl on Saturday.

With Kyle Quincey returning from injury for Detroit’s Sunday matchup with the Anaheim Ducks, the Red Wings’ roster would have had been at eight defenseman, a position general manager Ken Holland said the team would not accommodate.

Alternatively, the Red Wings could have returned Alexey Marchenko to the Griffins. Marchenko would not require waivers but has seemingly passed both Kindl and Brendan Smith on the team’s depth chart.

Kindl will have until noon on Sunday to be claimed by another team. Should he clear waivers, he will be assigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Kindl, 28, was Detroit’s first-round draft pick (19th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. In 23 games this season, he has 2 goals and three assists in a third-pairing role.

Pregame: Penguins @ Red Wings – 12/31

It’s Detroit’s traditional New Year’s Eve home game tonight as the Red Wings host the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Jonathan Ericsson returns to the Detroit lineup, with Jakub Kindl the odd-man out on the blue line. Joakim Andersson will sit in favor of Tomas Nosek on the fourth line.

Petr Mrazek gets the start in goal for the Wings.

Stupid stat of the day: The Red Wings are unbeaten all-time against Pittsburgh on New Year’s Eve in games where the Penguins wear black and gold. Detroit’s lone NYE loss to the Pens came in 1978 when they still wore blue and white.

Game time is 6:00 PM on FSD.