AROUND THE LEAGUE: WEEK ELEVEN

Do you remember the wickedly awesome video game for Intellivision, Slap Shot: Super Pro Hockey? If not, the pic above illustrates the kick-ass graphics, and the advanced thinking of why the NHL should go to a 3-on-3 format before the shootout.

It was a great game in the early 1980s, and while at first glance it might not stack up to NHL 11, depending on your skills as a gamer, it could wear on you.

NHL 11 is like a sexy top-end draft pick. You expect immediate satisfaction and results, whereas super pro hockey looks more like a mid to late round pick that will take some time before you appreciate it for its simplicity.

The Toronto Maple Leafs made their annual trek out west last week, and when they stopped in Calgary and Edmonton the eastern media compared the future of the Leafs to the Oilers and Flames. "Would you rather have a rebuild like the Oilers or the Leafs", and "Which team’s future looks better, the Leafs or Flames?"

 

Most seemed to be in agreement that on paper, and in the early stages on the ice,  the Oilers rebuild looked better, while fans were split on who’s future looked brighter in Calgary and Toronto.

The Flames and Oilers own their first round pick this coming summer, while the Bruins own the Leafs courtesy of the Phil Kessel trade. In Edmonton, many fans are hoping for one more top-five pick to complete the rebuild, while Flames fans are contemplating trading Jarome Iginla and Mikka Kiprusoff for picks, get a top-five pick and start the rebuild.

In Toronto, Brian Burke remains adamant that his team can compete without a top pick, while the Canucks aren’t even in the conversation because they are a Stanley Cup contender.

RIGHT WAY TO REBUILD?

Is there a blueprint for the perfect rebuild? I’d say there isn’t one.

You can look at Chicago’s rebuild that started in 2002 by drafting Duncan Keith and finished with Patrick Kane going first overall in 2007, or the Penguins five top-five picks from 2002-2006 and say that losing eventually allows you to win. It worked for them, but it hasn’t generated the same success for other teams.

Tthe Islanders had nine top-ten picks from 1994-2000 and never got any better. They are in the midst of another run of top-ten picks and have yet to see any success. Columbus has had a top-ten pick in ten of the last eleven years, but they’ve only made the playoffs once. They picked 4th, 8th, 1st, 4th, 8th, 6th, 6th, 7th, 6th, 21st and 4th.  The Thrashers had four top-two picks in their first four drafts, 1999-2002, and that led to a measly one playoff berth in 2007.

Getting top-five picks can increase your chances of turning your franchise around, but if you don’t draft the right players it won’t matter.

In Edmonton, Oiler fans want another top-five pick, Flames fans are pondering what it would feel like to have their first ever top-five pick, while Leaf fans feel if their team doesn’t improve, the Phil Kessel trade could do down as one of the most lopsided in NHL history with the Leafs surrendering two top-five picks.

DOES TOP FIVE EQUAL ELITE PLAYER?

 

Looking at the top scorers, goalies and defenders reveals that a team’s odds are higher they will get an elite scorer, but it is shows that many of the top players in the game can be found outside of the top five picks.

The current top 30 scorers have a wide range of draft picks.

Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin were 1st overall.

Daniel Sedin, Eric Staal and Dany Heatley were 2nd overall picks.

Henrik Sedin, Jonathon Toews and Matt Duchene went 3rd while Nicklas Backstrom and Andrew Ladd went 4th.

The other 19 scorers were taken in a variety of spots.

FIRST ROUNDERS

Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar 11th overall.
Jarome Iginla 12th.
Alex Semin 13th.
Ryan Getzlaf 19th.
Claude Giroux 22nd.
Mike Richards 22nd.
Corey Perry 28th.

OTHERS

Derek Roy, 2nd round, 32nd overall.
Loui Eriksson, 2nd round, 33rd overall.
Paul Stastny, 2nd round, 44th overall.
Brad Richards, 3rd round, 64th overall.
Milan Hejduk, 4th round, 87th overall.
Patrick Sharp, 3rd round, 95th overall. (Compensatory picks made 95th in 3rd round)
Pavel Datsyuk, 6th round, 171st overall.
Ryan Clowe, 6th round, 175th overall.
Henrik Zetterberg, 7th round, 210th overall.
Dustin Byfuglien, 8th round, 245th overall.
Martin St. Louis, not drafted.

D-MEN: STARS UNCOVERED LATE

In the past 20 years the only truly dominant D-men taken in the top-five were Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and possibly Drew Doughty. Ed Jovanovski is a solid D-man, but I don’t consider him a franchise D-man. Out of the current top 30 offensive D-men, only three were taken in the top-ten of the first round.

FIRST ROUNDERS

Jack Johnson, 3rd overall.
Joni Pitkanen, 4th overall.
Ryan Whitney, 5th overall.
Cam Fowler, 12th overall.
Sergei Gonchar, 14th overall.
Brent Seabrook, 14th overall.
Kevin Shattenkirk, 14th overall.
Erik Karlsson, 15th overall.
Brent Burns, 20th overall.
Niklas Kronwall, 29th overall.
 

THE REST

Jordan Leopold, 2nd round, 44th overall.
Nicklas Lidstrom, 3rd round, 53rd overall.
Duncan Keith, 2nd round, 54th overall.
Alex Goligoski, 2nd round, 61st overall.
Kris Letang, 3rd round, 62nd overall.
Alexander Edler, 3rd round, 91st overall.
Keith Yandle, 4th round, 105th overall.
Lubomir Visnovsky, 4th round, 118th overall.
James Wisniewski, 5th round, 156th overall.
Jean-Micheal Liles, 5th round, 159th overall.
Stephane Robidas, 7th round, 164th overall.
Marek Zidlicky, 6th round, 176th overall.
Tomas Kaberle, 8th round, 204th overall.
Tobias Enstrom, 8th round, 239th overall.
Dustin Byfuglien, 8th round, 245th.
Kimmo Timonen, 10th round, 250th overall.
Dan Girardi not drafted.
Mark Giordano not drafted.
Brian Rafalski not drafted.
Dan Boyle not drafted.

GOALIES: LATE BLOOMERS 
 

Even fewer elite goalies are drafted in the first round, and many of them are taken late in the draft. Out of the top twenty goalies only five were taken in the first round.

Marc-Andre Fleury, 1st overall.
Kari Lehtonen, 2nd overall.
Roberto Luongo, 4th overall.
Carey Price, 5th overall.
Cam Ward, 25th overall.

THE REST

Michal Neuvirth, 2nd round 34th overall.
Ondrej Pavelec, 2nd round, 41st overall.
Ilya Bryzgalov, 2nd round, 44th overall.
Corey Crawford, 2nd round, 52nd overall.
Jimmy Howard, 2nd round, 64th overall.
Jonathon Quick, 3rd round, 72nd overall.
Craig Anderson, 3rd round, 73rd overall.
Miikka Kiprusoff, 5th round, 116th overall.
Ryan Miller, 5th round, 138th overall.
Henrik Lundqvist, 7th round, 205th overall.
Tim Thomas, 9th round, 217th overall.
Tomas Vokoun, 9th round, 226th overall.
Jaroslav Halak, 9th round, 271st overall.
Nicklas Backstrom, not drafted.
Sergei Bobrovsky, not drafted.
Jonas Hiller, not drafted.
 

Note: JS Giguere was also a first rounder, 13th, in 1995 but he isn’t in top 20.

If you want an elite scorer getting a top-three pick definitely helps, but if you need depth on the blueline or in goal you can draft those players outside the first round and still develop them into becoming solid NHLers. The list of teams that have multiple top-five picks, but never win, is longer than those with top-five picks that do win.

Another top-five pick should help the Oilers in the long run, but there is no guarantee it will, and if the current crop of kids continues to play well, and they end up with a top-ten pick instead they still should be okay if their scouting staff chooses the right player.

TOP FIVE PICKS IN FRANCHISE HISTORY

The Flames have never had a top-five pick. They’ve had the #6 three times, and only found one decent player in that slot; Cory Stillman in 1992. Daniel Tkaczuk and Rico Fata in 1997 and 1998 respectively were both busts and a major reason why the Flames missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons until their miraculous run to the Cup in 2004.

The Oilers have only had two top-five picks, Taylor Hall in 2010 and Jason Bonsignore in 1994. Hall looks like a player while Bonsignore was a bust. The Oilers have had decent success in the #6 slot, with Paul Coffey in 1980, Ryan Smyth in 1994 and Sam Gagner in 2007, while Boyd Devereaux and Steve Kelly never really panned out.

The Canucks have had thirteen top-five picks in franchise history, and have had more misses than hits. Dale Tallon (2nd overall, 1970), Jocelyn Guevremont (3rd, 1971), Don Lever (3rd 1972), Dennis Ververgaert (3rd, 1973), Jere Gillis (4th, 1977), Bill Derlago (4th, 1978), Rick Vaive (5th, 1979),  Jim Sandlak (4th, 1985), Trevor Linden (2nd, 1988), Petr Nedved (2nd, 1990), Bryan Allen (4th, 1998) and the Sedins (2nd and 3rd in 1999). 

Linden is revered in Vancouver, and is one of the truly great people in the game, but he wasn’t a franchise player. Only the twins have turned into cornerstone pieces for the Canucks, and that’s a big reason why they have yet to win a Cup.

In the modern era (1970-present) the Leafs have had six top-ten picks. Lanny McDonald (4th,1973), Gary Nylund (3rd, 1982), Al Iafrate (4th, 1984), Wendel Clark (1st, 1985), Scott Thornton (3rd, 1989) and Luke Schenn (5th, 2008).  Not bad choices, but four top-four picks in seven years never translated to being a dominant team.

RANDOM THOUGHTS 

  • Alex Ovechkin has become more of a playmaker this year, but he only has 12 goals, and the most surprising stat for Ovie is he only has TWO powerplay goals. In his first five years he’s tallied 21, 16, 22, 19 and 13 on the PP. He is second in the league in PP assists with 12, but he needs to start shooting more on the man advantage. He is tied for 102nd in PP goals. Ouch.
     
  • What is Steve Yzerman waiting for? He needs a goalie bad in Tampa Bay. Dan Ellis and Mike Smith have cost his team probably six to eight points already. The Bolts have the third worst GAA in the league, but they’ve given up the second fewest shots per game. That is a clear indication that his goalies stink, and if he can’t land Evgeni Nabokov he needs to find a goalie soon. If he doesn’t the Bolts won’t be getting home ice advantage in any playoff round.
     
  • Logan Couture played 25 games last year, and because he didn’t play 26 he is considered a rookie. He did play 15 games in the playoffs, and some voters might hold that against him in the Calder voting. Couture currently leads NHL rookies in scoring with 24 points, one ahead of Jeff Skinner and two ahead of Jordan Eberle. He does have 17 goals though, which is seven more than second place Taylor Hall. If Couture is close with one of those three in April, his playoff experience from last year could hurt him in the voting.
     
  • The Philadelphia Flyers are the best team in the NHL. They have loads of offensive depth along with size and grit up front. They have the best set of D-men in the league and Bobrovsky is giving them something they haven’t had since Ron Hextall; a legitimate goalie. If they are healthy come playoff time, they’d be my favourite.
     
  • Who is the best tandem in the league? The Sedins? Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf? Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis or Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom? Stamkos and St. Louis have combined for 37 goals and 86 points. The Sedins have 22 goals and 75 points, the Ducks’ Duo has 29 goals and 73 points while Ovechkin and Backstrom have 23 goals and 72 points. The Bolts pair is the most productive now, but I wonder if Ovechkin finds his scoring touch if they can close the gap?
     
  • If Sidney Crosby had a decent winger, Chris Kunitz has 20 points, you know he would be in the conversation. In fact, even with Kunitz’s 20 points they would sit right behind the Sedins with 74 points. Just another stat to show how dominant Crosby has been, and he’s pretty much doing it by himself.
     
  • The Predators are the streakiest team in the league. They started the season 5-0-3, then lost five straight, then went 4-3-2 and now are on a 8-1-1 streak. They have two solid goalies. Pekka Rinne started 19 of their first 24, with a GAA of 2.38 and SV% of 0.918. He got hurt and now Anders Lindback has started eight straight going 6-1-1 and has a 2.27 GAA and .0925 SV% on the season. I wonder if Yzerman is calling David Poile?
     
  • Matt Duchene has eleven goals and 20 points in his last 15 games, and he has really stepped up since Chris Stewart broke his hand fighting Kyle Brodziak. In the ten games without Stewart, Duchene has seven goals and 13 points. The Avs were ecstatic when Duchene dropped to number three in 2009, and it looks like Duchene might turn out to be a better player than John Tavares.