Monday, June 22, 2009

Draft Week

Montreal Canadiens' Woeful Draft Record A Complete Myth

Imagine you're sat at home on a cold winter's evening in Montreal chatting on the phone with your friend down in Barbados. You sit and listen patiently through all the grumblings about the weather (rain on Monday, too hot on Thursday) before signing off until next time.

That's what it must be like for fans in some NHL cities to read year after year about the Montreal Canadiens organization's horrible record when it comes to draft day.

Yes, it's all relative. And Montrealers live in a dream world where the draft should be a time for your GM to take his 4 first round picks (stockpiled from eager, yet unready, expansion GMs) and bring home a superstar by the year.

But really, we've all had time to adjust – 16 years if not more – and the idea that 3 NHLers is a good draft should start to sink in, I think. On the eve of this year's annual amateur amalgamation, I thought it was time to set things straight for fans of the bleu, blanc, rouge – to show just how good our managers have been over the last decades.

My system for this analysis was simple (possibly simplistic) – I looked at every player who played an NHL game or more this year and I looked at where that player came from. Here's what I found:

1) Montreal has drafted the highest number of 2008-09 NHLers

TeamDrafted playersGPAvg GPPtsAvg Pts
San Jose35144453.555320.5
New Jersey34186854.984824.9

Montreal had 41 players from all rounds to Buffalo's 39 for first in absolute numbers of players. What's more the Canadiens were second in GP with 2096 vs. Buffalo's 2158 and second in points scored by those players with 841, only trailing New Jersey's 848 by 7 points.

These numbers are even more impressive when you consider Detroit only had 27 players drafted by them playing an NHL contest this year and some teams like Carolina, Vancouver and Minnesota (though on only 9 drafts) were at 19, 19 and 18 respectively.

2) Montreal second rounders and beyond outclass rivals picks by a long way

The media (and fans) in Montreal like to lambaste the general manager and the team for being pitiful on draft day, and some media bring up the same old chestnuts to discuss every single year. The story of first round draft picks gone missing (a tale from almost every team, by the way) is used to imply that Montreal isn't performing optimally on draft day.

Maybe so. But beyond that first round, no one team has really performed better. Everyone is really propagating a myth.

Non-first round picks
TeamDrafted playersGPAvg GPPtsAvg Pts
New York Rangers26114344.045717.6

Montreal's management managed to select 32 players (more than an entire roster-worth) to play in the 2008-09 season. The next closest rivals were all in the twenties. Montreal also led in games played by non-first round picks and only trailed Detroit (courtesy Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Franzen and Lidstrom) in points scored by those players.

3) Montreal isn't that bad in the first round either

Considering the furor, you'd think Montreal were the absolute worst at picking an NHLer from the first round. never mind their success in other rounds.

In actual fact, the Habs sit tied at 15th with Toronto and Carolina with 9 first round picks skating in the league today.

The leaders (believe it or not) are Phoenix/Winnipeg with 14 NHLers (a lot of good that has done them) followed by New Jersey, the Isles and Washington at 13 apiece.

When you consider the Habs have only had the benefit of 4 top 10 picks in the past 20 years (and made all but Terry Ryan stick), then it's not such a bad record.
Take top 10 picks away and the Canadiens are 11th best (tied with Toronto, San Jose and LA with 6 picks playing).

Non-top 10 picks overall, and the Habs once again lead. 38 players vs. 37 for Buffalo, 34 for Colorado/Quebec and 31 for NJ (the rest under 30).

4) The Habs have been consistent over time

Of the 41 Canadiens draft picks who suited up this year, 21 were drafted before the millennium and 20 were drafted 2000 or later.

Though not first when looking from 2000 on, the Canadiens do still boast the third highest harvest of NHL able draftees since the last expansion. Their 20 puts them in a draw with Edmonton and Buffalo and just behind Columbus and Pittsburgh. Vancouver (Hi Burkie!) and Carolina continue to plumb the depths with 8 and 11, respectively.

5) The Habs have been most successful at the defensive end of the ice

As to be expected given their recent (and long-time) strategy of picking defenders, the Canadiens have been at their most excellent when not picking forwards in the draft.

When it comes to goalies the Canadiens are right near the apex. 5 of the goalies they selected over the past 15 years played this season. All five, including Price, Vokoun, Halak, Garon and Theodore were at times the starter of their respective teams. Only Colorado/Quebec, also with 5 (Thomas, Fernandez, Budaj, Johnson and Denis) can surpass them.

On D the Canadiens draft picks also stood out with a whopping 14 playing at least one NHL game this season. Most were regulars with only Matt Carkner, Ryan O'Byrne, Patrice Brisebois and Yannick Weber playing on the margins. The one team to outdo the Canadiens was the Buffalo Sabres who drafted 3 sets of NHL defense line-ups with 17 draftees in all. Standouts from the Sabres draft classes included Dennis Wideman, Brian Campbell and Keith Ballard. No Markov, though.

So, it seems Montreal is quite good at drafting after all.

If Montreal has not succeeded it is not for an abject failure in the scouting system, but perhaps a distaste for risk. After all, when you can go into rounds 2 to 9 of a draft and say - "we'll come out with 3 players who'll be suiting up in the next 5 years if we go with sound strategy" - who would go with less?

The problem is, as Jack Todd rightly pointed out this morning in the Charlottetown Guardian:

Sooner or later, you have to hit a few gems like Carter, Getzlaf and Parise if you want to go from also-ran to the top of the heap. The Detroit Red Wings, everyone’s model of the perfectly run franchise, drafted Henrik Zetterberg with the 210th pick of the 1999 draft, Pavel Datsyuk with the 171st pick in 1998 and Nik Lidstrom 53rd in 1989 — that’s how you build a great team.

So blame it on cautiousness, bad luck or getting outworked in free agency. Our woes don't come from a failure at the draft...

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