Nathan Smith played just 4 career games with Vancouver after being drafted 23rd overall in 2000.
By now, you’ve all read my last article wherein Sham Sharron outdrafts the actual Vancouver Canucks in a neat little thought exercise meant to illustrate just how poor the Canucks’ amateur scouting has been since 2000. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can read it here. You can also read real-life Cam Charron’s follow-up that addresses why an exercise like this may yield the surprising results it does here.
The point of that article wasn’t to say “this is how Vancouver SHOULD have drafted”, which some apparently took it as. It was instead meant to point out that if such a(n admittedly) faulty method – which ignored half of the world’s hockey talent – can produce better results than what Vancouver was actually doing, there is a massive problem in the Canucks’ amateur scouting that must be addressed immediately.
What the last article didn’t do though was put into perspective how woeful Vancouver and their scouting department has been at finding any NHL talent through the draft relative to the rest of the NHL. That is what we’ll do here. Read past the jump to be filled with even more sadness and regret.
The following table includes each team’s performance on draft day each year through the Ron Delorme era (2000-2012). It includes the number of draft choices each team had that year, and how many career NHL games those picks combined to eventually play. Also included is a category called Average NHL Games Played per Draft Pick (GP/Pick), meant to act as a sort of “drafting efficiency” measure. Teams with a higher GP/Pick were better at turning their draft picks into NHL players. Here’s the table:
The dark green highlights are the teams that found the most NHL talent in terms of games played each year, while the orange highlight is the (extremely impressive) Jim Benning era in Buffalo.
Games played is a fairly good measure for determining how successful a given team is at drafting because it tends to capture a lot of things. Better players will tend to play more games than worse ones in the long run, and also play more games sooner in their respective career’s.
It’s also worth noting, however, that this measure probably tends to overstate how teams that drafted well did earlier in the decade than teams later in the decade. Certain teams (I’m looking at you, Edmonton) had a tendency to draft career minor-leaguers in the early 2000’s that stumbled their way into 100-200 NHL games before flaming out. Similar players drafted recently probably have yet to find the way to the NHL. Still, all 30 teams are operating under the same conditions so it’s probably reasonable to say that what’s laid out here paints a fairly accurate picture of which teams were the most successful drafters between 2000 and 2012.
With all of this said, the draft is hardly the only avenue through which players can be acquired. This is the bit of criticism to the Sham post that amused me the most; that drafting only forwards would mean that you have no defensemen or goalies. Well, trades and free agent signings are things that happen from time-to-time, and it’s pretty common for teams to get players through those aforementioned methods.
Just look at the 2011 Vancouver Canucks: of the 9 defensemen that played 10 or more games for them, seven of them (Hamhuis, Ehrhoff, Salo, Tanev, Ballard, Alberts, and Rome) were not draft picks of the team. Neither was Roberto Luongo, who rocked a .928 save percentage that year. For that matter, of the 16 goalies that have suited up for Vancouver in the past 10 seasons, just two (Cory Schneider, and Rob McVicar who appeared in just one game) were drafted by Vancouver.
The point of the entry draft isn’t so much to build the core of your team as it is to accrue enough assets to be able to build the core of a hockey team through acquiring players by all means available to you. Because this is the case, it doesn’t matter if you take all forwards or all defensemen or all goalies as much as it matters that you take guys who are going to be able to play a lot of NHL games in their careers. As you can see, Vancouver (highlighted in bright red) has been miserable at drafting any sort of future NHL talent:
Under the guidance of Ron Delorme, Vancouver has been the second worst team in the NHL at finding junior-age talent that would go on to play in the NHL, either in Vancouver or in any other market. However, Vancouver also had fewer draft selections than any other team over the Ron Delorme era, so we should also look at drafting efficiency. Unfortunately, Vancouver is also near the bottom of the league by this measure:
Vancouver is slightly closer to the pack here, but 29th out of 30 is still 29th out of 30.
The last thing we’ll look at is the number of blown drafts a team has had in the Delorme era. For this measure, I excluded the 2011 and 2012 entry drafts (despite what the chart title says – that’s a small error on my part) since many of the players taken then are still considered prospects so it’s hard to tell if a team blew either of those years yet. I classified a “blown draft” as a draft in which a team comes away with a group of players who fail to go on to play a certain number of NHL games. In this case: 50 GP, 100 GP, and 250 GP.
Since 2000, Vancouver has had:
- The most drafts in which their selections failed to combine for 50 career NHL games played.
- The most drafts in which their selections failed to combine for 100 career NHL games played.
- The most drafts in which their selections failed to combine for 250 career NHL games played.
The Canucks’ scouting staff has completely blown more drafts than any team in the NHL, and has more <50 GP drafts than 15 teams
. That is significantly less than ideal. It’s one thing to say that a team’s drafting is poor – Edmonton Oilers fans bemoan the Kevin Pendergast era all the time for a complete inability to find NHL talent – but it’s another thing to line up all the teams and truly see who the worst drafting teams are.
Here, it’s pretty clear that Tampa Bay and Vancouver are in a class of their own, not just because of the sheer lack of NHL-calibre players drafted, but by also the stunning consistent futility they have shown on draft day. In the Ron Delorme era, Vancouver came away with literally nothing every other draft, and had an above average haul in just two of thirteen years.
Tampa Bay already addressed their issues at the draft table by hiring Al Murray (previously of the L.A. Kings in the early 2000’s) in 2010, which is a move that looks to have paid off with an influx of young talent into the Bolts’ system. Vancouver looked like they were ready to make changes after 2012 too, but all these changes amounted to what looks like a re-shuffling of the deck, with Ron Delorme retaining his “Chief Amateur Scout” title while Eric Crawford was promoted to Director of Player Personnel.
There is a problem in Vancouver, and it will be a crippling one in the long run. I’m not on the inside, so I can’t say what it is. It could be that Vancouver systematically undervalues actual hockey talent while overemphasizing such nebulous things as “good defensive play,” “leadership abilities,” and other “intangibles.” It could be that they properly value skill but just have a group of scouts that suck at finding it. It could be a little of both, I can’t say.
The good news is that this is all fixable, by either re-considering and re-emphasizing what to look for in prospects (hint: LOTS OF SKILL), or by firing everyone if the old guard refuses to buy in. And if anyone is capable of fixing the Canucks, Trevor Linden appears to have hired the right guy to do it. Let’s look at Jim Benning’s time as the head of Buffalo’s amateur scouting during the Delorme era and compare how he did with the rest of the NHL:
Yep, that’s Benning on the far right. Maybe, just maybe, there are reasons for optimism going forward.
One last thing: a quick note on the Sham article that literally everyone and their dog read (it is the most read post in Canucks Army history. Thank you all so much for sharing it with your friends!). Daniel Wagner of Pass It To Bulis pointed out to me that there’s a bit of an issue with the “Sham method” in later rounds of the draft. Specifically, Sham would not have known to draft players that were unranked by NHL Central Scouting Services (such as Mathieu Perreault) over higher scoring players that would eventually go undrafted (in the Perreault case: Yannick Riendeau).
Fixing this doesn’t change the results much, if at all. Daniel ran the Canucks drafts just by using CSS rankings and came to the same conclusion as I did: a simple set of rules was able to out-draft how the Vancouver Canucks actually performed. I don’t think his characterization of the “Sham method” is entirely fair (“creat[ing] a pool of players with potential, then skimm[ing] the cream off the top” is the entire reason why scouts exist, so a specialized proprietary scouting staff should still be able to out-perform a simple set of rules), and the hiccups he’s pointed out don’t undermine the point or the conclusion of what I wrote.
Remember: the point isn’t “we could have had Claude Giroux!” The point is that whatever Vancouver has been doing since 2000 has been leading to sub-optimal and easily avoidable brutal outcomes at the entry draft. “We could have had Claude Giroux instead of Michael Grabner” is just one piece of evidence for this.
Still, I am aware of the oversights I inadvertently made, so you’ll all be happy to know that I’ve been talking to Josh Weissbock about re-Shamming the Canucks, taking the issues pointed out into consideration, as well as possibly Shamming the whole league. I don’t know how this is all going to fit in to our summer of prospect profiling, nor do I know when it will happen (hopefully soon) or how we’re going to share our findings. It is something that we have planned and are working on though, so stay tuned.