(WECK 1230) — Craig MacTavish waived the caution flag as the NHL’s 2011 trade deadline closed in on NHL general managers, advising that mortgaging the future wasn’t a bright idea for teams on the periphery of the postseason. After all, he said, how often do these moves get you the Cup?
It’s hard to fight that reasoning on a surface level. Only one team wins the Cup each year, and who can actually qualify that standing pat was the reason the Blackhawks won it all last year or that picking up Bill Guerin handed the Pens the silver in 2009?
It’s the reason that drafting has become the ultimate sign of a good general manager. To be fair, Sabres boss Darcy Regier is pretty good at it (though he’s still dodging the fax machine jokes from the Zigomanis fiasco). In fact, his overall skill at assembling a team and Lindy Ruff’s prowess at keeping them out of the absolute basement are in some ways a bigger detriment than an asset. They never bottom out, and as much as it would benefit the club, the fan in me never wants them to hit Tyler Durden status.
The Sabres have only chosen in the Top Ten on 11 occasions in their 40-year history, and just twice since 1996. Those picks are listed here:
That’s just twice since ’96, and the former isn’t the team’s fault: the draft was one of the weakest drafts in the history of hockey. What were athletic and talented Canadian couples doing in 1978? Your bad! Just 10 of the 241 draft picks made a single All-Star team.
Contrast that 11/40 figure to the 19/43 for Pittsburgh. The Pens have had two golden eras already and both came following spells of garbage hockey so foul the Pirates begged for crosstown mercy.
Many know the Pens had five-straight Top Five picks from 2002-2006: Ryan Whitney, Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal. That’s landed them two Finals so far. The only other spell of time that saw Pittsburgh creep into June was 1991 and 1992, which I’m sure you’ll recognize as significant to my tale. The Pens from 1984-1990 received seven Top Ten picks over seven drafts: Mario Lemieux, Doug Bodger, Craig Simpson, Zarley Zalapski, Chris Joseph, Darrin Shannon and Jaromir Jagr. By 1991, only Jagr and Lemieux featured in the run to the Cup, but the ancillary players all featured in different ways. Bodger and Shannon were shipped — of all places — to Buffalo for starting goaltender Barrasso. Zalapski was part of the deal to bring Ulf Samuelsson and Ron Francis to Pittsburgh at that year’s trade deadline. Joseph and Simpson helped fetch the Pens a puck mover named Paul Coffey.
So those seven picks lead directly to: Lemieux, Jagr, Coffey, Barrasso, Francis and Samuelsson. Oh, and two Cups.
Another dynasty? How about the Devils, who crapped their pants well enough to choose in the Top Ten seven times in their first eight seasons, landing Kirk Muller, Brendan Shanahan, John MacLean and Guerin (The ninth year found Martin Brodeur at No. 20 overall)?
Of course, there are other ways to do it. The Red Wings have chosen in the Top 20 just twice since 1991 and the Avalanche who trade first round picks for other team’s stars like their picks were slap bracelets or pet rocks. But both had their base in shovelfulls of horse crap hockey and landing one of the best players ever.
In Detroit’s case, landing Steve Yzerman at No. 4 overall in 1982 was huge… but it still took them years and winning the Sergei Fedorov Derby to become a Cup team. The Avalanche (then the Nordiques) had Mats Sundin, Joe Sakic and Owen Nolan in the fold before landing Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci and others because Eric Lindros’ dad was a baby.
Each of those teams had stud goalies and players who could be argued to be the best in the game (In Detroit’s case, they had several star goalies in Mike Vernon, Curtis Joseph and Dominik Hasek).
*You could even argue that Edmonton, even with Wayne Gretzky in the fold, needed to draft like never before to seal their fate as monsters of hockey. Paul Coffey and Grant Fuhr were the Nos. 6 & 8 overall picks in 1980-81. It’s difficult to imagine the Oil winning without their No. 1 puck mover.
Which means even with $13+ million in play come the offseason, Darcy Regier has a real headache on his hands. Great players get locked up. The only thing that seems to free them up are greed (overpaying) or No. 1 picks, which turns Regier’s hands into a variable and veritable Fort Knox.
In the coming days, I’ll delve into a few scenarios in which I think Regier could find creative success in finding a star come July 1, but the fact of the matter is it will likely be ancillary pieces or moving one of Buffalo’s own prized possessions in Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller or Tyler Myers. Truth be told, just as only one team wins the Cup, only one team will land Brad Richards. There aren’t too many unrestricted stand-outs available this year and the restricted market will be very interested. Plus, this is the summer to ink Myers long-term.
In a nutshell, the Sabres need Zack Kassian to be a Calder candidate this year, I mean, next year (Heeeey-o!) and the continued growth of Myers and Ennis under the leadership of Vanek. Luke Adam and Chris Butler need to “arrive.” Maybe Stafford can stay and convince his best buddy to come to town, but that’s all for tomorrow when I present the best case solutions.
In other words, adding only Brad Boyes at the deadline may have been deadly for this year… making those previous Non-Top-Ten draft picks something else. First-round draft picks are important, but as the NBA has shown the only word that matters is “lottery-protected.”
To be continued THURSDAY…