With the Leafs now winding down the last month of their season, fans of the team are mainly looking at two things day-to-day from here on: Their loss column as they tank for a top four pick, and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ place in the standings.
As it stands, the Penguins hold down the first wildcard slot, just ahead of Detroit, and they’re three points in the clear of the Flyers who are on the outside trying to squeak in.
As we’re mostly all aware, the Leafs will hold Pittsburgh’s first round selection this summer if the Pens can hold on over the next few weeks, and if that happens, Toronto would fork over the second-round pick from the Winnik deal. This would essentially clue up the Kessel trade.
But there are a couple other ways this could play out, and while most Leafs fans would look upon the Penguins dropping out of the playoff picture this year as some kind of disaster, that isn’t really the case.
Draft pick value
There have been a lot of attempts at putting values on NHL draft picks over the last few years. From a simple round-by-round approach to more detailed looks at how each individual pick can be assigned some level of currency, there’s plenty to read and understand.
For the purpose of this article, I decided to go back and look at a paper Michael Schuckers completed at St. Lawrence University that includes a full Proposed Draft Pick Value Chart. [There have been many pieces along the same lines since, and there will be more in the future. But this would be the best place to start, in my opinion.]
In terms of applying this chart to what the Leafs could be looking at in the next two drafts with the Pittsburgh picks, there’s basically three ways things could play out.
For simplicity’s sake, I honed in on specific pick value based on where the Penguins are in the standings currently, as a playoff bubble team. In scenarios where they miss, I had them just missing, and where they get in, they nab the spot they’re in today.
[Note: To give you an idea of the spectrum, 1st overall is valued at 917, and last pick (210th overall) has a value of 51.]
The good (and likely) scenario
Toronto picks ~17th in the 2016 draft.
Pittsburgh makes the playoffs this season, gets bumped within the first two rounds, and the Leafs pick somewhere around 17th. [Keep in mind they’re currently ahead of the Wings and Wild overall among playoff teams]. Toronto sends the second-rounder from the Winnik trade back to the Penguins and off we go to the draft.
Potential pick value: 395
The not-as-good scenario
Toronto picks ~44th in the 2016 draft, and ~44th in the 2017 draft.
Pittsburgh just misses the playoffs this season and the next, and Toronto ends up with two Penguins picks, probably in the middle of the second round, about 44th overall.
Potential pick value: 196 + 196 = 392
The also not-as-good scenario
Toronto picks ~44th in the 2016 draft, and ~17th in the 2017 draft, loses their own ~35th overall pick
Pittsburgh just misses the playoffs this season, and squeaks in next season, which would allow the Leafs to keep second-rounder this season, and get the Penguins’ first round pick in 2017. But then they have to fork over their own second in the 2017 draft, which, if they’re slightly improved, could ring in around 35th-40th. We’ll say 35th here.
Potential pick value: 196 + 395 – 222 = 369
A few thoughts
As pretty much anyone who’s written about draft pick value in the past has noted, these numbers are approximations and obviously we can’t nail down exactly how much value each pick holds. And I’ve speculated on the draft positions so that makes them even more of a loose estimate.
But these numbers do give us a look at how picks in these slots have turned out over the years, and the chances of landing effective NHLers at each point. This has often led to debate about whether it’s best to trade down more often than not, but more importantly, it really hits home even further how significant of a drop-off there is in talent after the top of the first round.
When it comes to the Leafs, obviously I’d love to see them snag that first rounder this year and not have to worry about it going forward. But mainly I just wanted to illustrate that even if they don’t, there’s still plenty of value in what they’re going to receive overall, no matter what.
Perhaps the key takeaway from all of this, after looking at these numbers, is that it appears as though the Leafs did some very similar homework on these picks before pulling the trigger on the Kessel deal. Folks got upset over the idea of potentially not receiving a first-rounder in the trade, but as the numbers show, the backup plan isn’t so bad at all. I suppose that given how close these picks packages look by this measure, the big question is which of the latter two scenarios would you prefer to play out?