Looking out for number one

Back in 1970 when the Vancouver Canucks joined the NHL, it didn’t really matter that they were destined to stink like rank limburger for seasons on end because fans like me were thrilled just to have a team.

As fans, we accepted the simple fact we’d have to make due with cheering for cast-offs from other teams like Andre Boudrias, Wayne Maki, Rosaire Paiement and a big defenceman named Pat Quinn while opponents kicked the Canucks teeth in some nights and beat them for fun on others.

Back then — as is the case with NHL expansion teams of any era — it was understood it would take time for the Canucks to compete and that slowly, by building through the draft and stockpiling talent, things would get better. At least that was the plan.

Of course, Vancouver fans got reminded right out of the gate there are no guarantees in the draft and that, for example, there can and often is a huge difference between having the first pick and the second.

In 1970, the Buffalo Sabres, who entered the NHL the same season as the Canucks, got the first pick in what was called the Amateur Draft thanks to the spin of a wheel. They used it to select Gilbert Perreault. The Canucks picked second and took Dale Tallon.

Scarred for life by that unfortunate outcome before I was even a teenager, and more than a decade before I started writing about hockey for a living, it doesn’t take a lot of arm-twisting to convince me that picking first is better than picking second.

Thus, I don’t give a whiz if Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin and Cam Fowler are rated neck-and-neck going into the 2010 Entry Draft. If the Edmonton Oilers are going to stink badly enough to be a lottery team, and that’s a gimme, then it makes sense they finish 30th in the Dive For Five, giving themselves the best chance to pick first.

Tallon. F*ck me.

Wait a second

Now, I get it that teams have whiffed completely with the first pick in the Entry Draft. Likewise with the second and the third pick, the fourth and the fifth, etc. History also shows teams picking second or third or even fourth or fifth have ended up with better players than the team picking first.

That accepted, and still shuddering every time I think of Perreault shoving it up the backsides of Vancouver fans on the way to the Hall of Fame with 1,326 points in 1,191 games, if the Oilers are going to do this DFF thing right, then I want them on greased skids from now until April.

Just looking back 20 years to 1989, and without even taking into account the last four drafts, there’s plenty of examples of the contrast between picking first and second.

  • 2005: The Pittsburgh Penguins picked Sidney Crosby, who has played 335 games, has tallied 159-291-450 and has a Stanley Cup ring. The Anaheim Ducks picked second and selected Bobby Ryan, who has 56-47-103 in 133 games. Crosby will be a HOFer. Ryan is a good, young player.
  • 2002: The Columbus Blue Jackets picked Rick Nash first, while Atlanta took goaltender Kari Lehtonen. Nash is a franchise player with 213-183-396 in 488 games despite having next-to-nothing in terms of offensive support on mostly bad teams. Lehtonen, often injured, is not.
  • 1998: Tampa Bay selected Vincent Lecavalier first, while Nashville picked second and took David Legwand. Lecavalier has 312-397-709 in 831 games and a Stanley Cup ring. Legwand has been a journeyman.
  • 1996: Ottawa took Chris Phillips from the Prince Albert Raiders with the first pick, while San Jose took Andrei Zyuzin. Phillips has played more than 800 NHL games, all with the Senators, and has been a solid top-four guy. Zyuzin played 496 games in parts of 10 seasons. Who remembers him?
  • 1991: The Quebec Nordiques took Eric Lindros first overall, then flipped him to Philadelphia for Peter Forsberg, Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, Philadelphia’s 1st round choice (Jocelyn Thibault) in the 1993 Entry Draft, $15,000,000 and future considerations. San Jose took Pat Falloon, who never came close to living up to the pick in 575 NHL games, including a stint with the Oilers.
  • 1989: Quebec used the first pick to take Mats Sundin, who played 1,346 games and had 1,349 points. The New York Islanders took Dave Chyzowski with the second pick. Chyzowski finished 1,318 points back of Sundin with 31 points in 126 games.

Getting it right

The Sabres got it right with the first pick in 1970 and made it to the playoffs in their third season and the Stanley Cup final in their fifth campaign. Starting with the year they reached the Cup Final, the Sabres had at least 100 points if five of the next six seasons.

The Canucks got it wrong with the second pick and didn’t win more than 24 games in their first four seasons. They missed the playoffs in six of their first eight seasons and were knocked out in the first round the two years they did make the post-season.

I said it before and I’ll say it again, the DFF should be primarily about clearing cap space and freeing up options for GM Steve Tambellini. Landing a blue-chip prospect like Hall, Seguin or Fowler should be an aside.

That said, the importance of getting it right at the 2010 Entry Draft and adding that pick to strong drafts that have landed the Oilers Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson is significant.

In that context, even allowing that Hall, Seguin and Fowler could all be hits, misses or a combination, there’s something to be said for taking the first swing at the podium next June.

— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.

  • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

    On a happy note anyone notice how often that Phaneuf and Regehr are on the ice when the other team scores? It's no wonder they weren't selected for Canada….

    Also interesting stat shown in last nights Calgary game vs. Anaheim…Iginla's point per game average has dropped for 3 straight seasons and so far in this 4th season it is dropping once again….

    Hey there's always something to enjoy when your own team is having a terrible season…lol

  • HottScarrison

    Just as a matter of interest Windsor played in Plymouth this evening…

    Plymouth 7 Windsor 4

    Tyler Seguin with 2 goals and an assist, Taylor Hall with one assist.

    Doesn't mean anything just a game of interest. Windsor was the road team.

  • HottScarrison

    I get who you'd pick and about 99% of the sane world would likely do the same. The $64 trillion dollar question is…can this Oiler brain trust be trusted to do the same? This is an organization who likes to prove Central Scouting and everyone else wrong. These dudes in Oiler scouting seem to be off the reservation when it comes to picking talent. There may have been some improved picks in the year or so but I have yet to be convinced Tambo et al knows anything about building a hockey organization. Here's hoping.

      • Have to say that reading through this thread was just what i needed on this day, everyone's stoning the Oilers…. don't get me wrong guys i care what happens with our Oilers. It's like watching an old boat (car) chugging down the QE II, we all know it's just a matter of time till a wheels fall off.

        I find this more amusing than battling for the eighth and final playoff spot like the last 10 yrs.

        Call the Paramedics this could get interesting.

      • Oilchange64

        Possibly one good sign…two years ago when the Oilers took Eberle at 22 that's exactly where he was rated…then last year when MPS dropped to #10 the Oilers snapped him up so chances are good I believe you'll hear them call either Hall or Seguin with a top 2.

      • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

        havent the oilers been feeding their fans "chance and hope" for the last 20 years? Seems right up their alley….

        (well, that and the obvious feeding the fans the beef comments….damn mom reading over my shoulder)

  • HottScarrison

    1st is NOT always better. In 1993 Daigle was 1st and who was second Chris Effin Pronger. Ottawa #@$% the bed on that one. Just to be a pain.

    *wipes spit off screen after sayin that name, Pronger. petowie. Damn it! gotta do it again*

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    I agree that picking 1st is always better than picking 2nd or 3rd like Brownlee has pointed out. I just dislike the cherry-picking of certain draft years to prove this point.

    • HottScarrison

      It's not always better, just usually. As far as cherry-picking goes, I used drafts where there's a big difference to prove my point, which makes sense, no?
      In most seasons since 1989, the first pick is usually better, although not by as much of a margin as the years I used to illustrate the point.

  • The Mook

    Knowing our luck, we'll draft Taylor Hall and his agent will successfully negotiate the first ever "MTC" (must trade clause), forcing Tambellini to trade Hall for AHL depth and 5th rounder in 2064. Is Mike Keane available?

  • The Mook

    re: Hemsky

    I think if the team then can be fast and exciting and on the way up he might consider re-signing here. Hopefully by then most of the dead weight contracts will be gone, and Hemsky could be the veteran to build this new team around.

  • re: Hemsky

    Does he re-sign with Edmonton between July 1st 2011 and trade deadline in 2012? It's far away but if you are GM, and you are getting ready to clear you core vets and rebuild, what do you do with Hemsky?

  • The Mook

    Picking first is of course the best, and it looks like the Oil are well on their way. But if Tambo could somehow trade off some combo of players and get another 1st rounder in a deep draft it would make me forget his inactivity up to this point. But not Hemsky, two more years of a very good contract should be used with the kids coming in, not traded away.

  • I think scouting/drafting has improved a lot in recent years. So to compare 80s/90s busts to today's drafts is a bit unfair.

    I think Lehtonen is better than it appeared. You can't say because of injuries he was a bad pick. He actually started off pretty damn promising. The injuries definitely have been hampering his career, but that is something out of a scouts control really. Next draftee that year was Bouwmeester.. I doubt the Panthers were upset about that.

    So on top of that…

    In 200, we have DiPietro (who the Isles thought was a winner…), Dany Heatley (obviously a very good #2 pick) and Marion Gaborik (another very good #3 pick, despite injuries which again you can't pin on drafting).

    In 01, we have Kovalchuk followed up by Jason Spezza.. great set of players to pick 1 and 2. Although #3, 4, 5 didn't make out so well.

    In 03 we have MA Fleury and Eric Staal… think we can say that was a home run for both teams. Horton at 3rd isn't too bad either.

    In 04 we have Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin… I don't think I can think of a better 1-2 punch in the draft in recent years. Cam Barker followed that up at #3.. not too shabby.

    In 05 we have the Crosby sweepstakes. #2 was Bobby Ryan as you mentioned, which is a very nice pick. After that is Jack Johnson, which I'd say isn't too shabby although arguable.

    In 06, that one is looking pretty good with Erik Johnson, Jordan Staal (who you could say would probably be better if he wasn't on a stack team.. but even so, he's been good), Jonathan Toews. The top-5 picks are all pretty decent.

    In 07, we have Pat Kane, James Van Reimsdyk, Kyle Turris. That one is a tough call still. A bit too early to really tell where the 2nd/3rd guys will be going

    In 08, we have Steve Stamkos (very good player, future elite), Drew Doughty (Olympian, and looks to be on his way to being a franchise d-man), and Zack Bogosian. Another good top 3 year.

    Despite age, even 09 looks good with Tavares off to a good start, and Hedman 2nd pick, and Matt Duchene who got off to a pretty good start in Colorado.

    So to sum up, since at least 2000, drafting/scouting in the top 3 (at least) has been pretty consistently good. You're always going to have the odd dud in there now and again, but the odds are, if we pick top 3 we'll get someone special. I think we'll be happy if we get that first overall pick. If we get Hall, Seguin, or Fowler, I'm sure I'll be happy. If by some miracle we climb in the standings, well I hope the Oil pick Nino Niederreiter who's become a household name (or at least an attempted household name) since the WJHCs. And hey, if we pick high, maybe we can make off with Hall/Seguin or Fowler and a Campbell in round 2.

    • Racki, you do good work, man! You ever consider getting a job working for this site because I like your work – seriously!

      P.S. I was thinking exactly the same thing as you – if we could get Dan Campbell in round 2 that would be an absolute steal. I don't think we can but I think we should make a move to make sure we do get him this year, though. He looked phenomenal in the WJC, and we definitely need an answer for our future goaltending position.

      To R.B. – Loved your story, well, okay anything to do with the draft I am kind of a nut for, so of course I liked it.

      The funny thing is your story and Racki's follow-up were kind of in two different directions and I totally liked what both of you had to say. I think, in the end that obviously having that top choice would be awesome, but as long as we finish 1-3 for the draft choice I think we'll be very happy!

      Did I mention we need Dan Campbell on this team yet??

      I was actually going to ask, based on his play at the WJC, his size, reflexes, talent, etc., etc., etc. why ISN'T he projected in the top 5 in this draft? Or at least something near that… Is there something about him that hasn't been talked about that is dropping him way down because so far he looks phenomenal, with every quality you want a future goalie to have.

    • Ender

      I'd considered everything you've mentioned before I wrote this. None of it convinces me picking second or third is better than picking first, which is my my point.

      • Oh, apologies.. I just misunderstood, thinking you were saying that the 2nd/3rd picks had some issues, historically (which they do, just not recently). But at any rate, sounds like we're on the same page anyways…

        #1 pick obviously would be the best bet for us… but you'd have to figure that #2 or #3 won't be so bad either. I think we'll come out pretty happy this year if we finish anywhere in the top 3. 😀

  • Ender

    I love that clip; I own UHF on DVD and that segment still gets funnier every time. "You're so STUPID!" lol

    [edit: remainder of comment removed because I decided I didn't want to be 'that guy'.]

  • HottScarrison

    Trade Hemsky ??
    Have I slipped into Bizarro World and don't know it? A 70 point guy playing with not so talanted forwards for a 4+ Million cap hit should be traded. WTF? Trade to get someone that can play with Hemsky, don't get rid of him.

  • swany

    I can't see the Oil messing up this pick if we get first overall Hall should be ready to play in the NHL next year, One Question RB do you have any idea what Tambo is up to, this is a rebuilding team and if we have all the vets still here after the deadline I'm going to puke! I hope you have some romours that he is trying to do something, the quite is starting to bother me. What happens to this team if he can't move anybody where do they put the rookies that are comming up. This could cost Katz one hell of alot of money for buyouts. To me this team needs to move atleast 4 vets, one of Vish, Souray one of Gilbert, Grebs and Moreau, Steve one of Cogs, Gags one of Nilsson Pattyo.

  • Skidplate

    Yes, the absolute worst is none of these guys pan out.

    The entry draft is a crapshoot. Teams spend lots of time and effort trying to evaluate kids with the hope that the kids turn into professionals.

    Let's hope that this years crop is plentiful.

    • Ducey

      Seguin or Hall will be doing real well to become Hemsky. Why would you give up a proven NHL point per game guy for someone who MIGHT become an NHL PPG guy?

      Read the article above. The draft is a crapshoot. Neither of these guys is a once in a generation talent. Take the best pick, add him to what you have and go from there.

      Hemsky + Hall or Seguin > Hall + Seguin

      • Tha Legion

        Bum Stauffers favorite phrase…….expect the unexpected, nobody expected the 2009/2010 season to unfold this way, perhaps Tambellini is overdue to mend the optics of this season.

        • Bucknuck

          The Oil weren't last when he was in the lineup. I guess a point a game is no longer good enough for you people. If you are trading him, then at least do it when his value is high, not rock bottom.

          • Bucknuck

            I'm indifferent if we do or don't trade Hemsky. But how can a guy who's his age, with his contract, with years still left, proven NHL player, be worth any less just because he had a surgery?

            I don't think his value really changes in the eyes of the GM's, I just don't see anyone interested in him until the offseason.

  • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

    With the clearing of cap space, how many bad contracts would you anticipate the Oilers, if any, would have to take back in return?

    And what kind of return would you expect from a Staios/Moreau type of deal, or type of package?