February 17, 2011
For teams that want to rebuild by trading legit NHL forwards - like Ottawa dumping Mike Fisher(notes) and Chris Kelly(notes) - it seems a little silly to do it only for picks and not prospects. Draft picks are nice to have, but you're basically admitting to your fans that you're about to embark on a 3-5 year stretch of misery before being competitive again.
Looking at prospects just makes a lot more sense.
In the summer on 2007, the New York Islanders held their mini-camp for rookies and unseasoned pros, giving them a chance to meet staff and teammates for the first time, do some fitness testing, practice and play. Many of the players at that camp are on the verge of cracking the Isles roster or becoming a bigger part of the Islanders' organization today: Rhett Rhakshani, Andrew MacDonald(notes), Jesse Joensuu(notes), Dustin Kohn(notes), Tomas Marcinko(notes), Kyle Okposo(notes), Robin Figren(notes), Jason Pitton(notes), Mark Katic(notes).
Again, that was 2007. The draft is an awfully slow and uncertain way to rebuild your team; developing talent in hockey is a process.
For most of those guys, Okposo and MacDonald as exceptions, it was a solid four-year turnover from draft day to making a legit push at getting to Long Island. From there, it can be a few more years until they're truly effective, if they ever get there.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. A handful of players - usually found in the first half of round one - go straight from being drafted to playing in the NHL, and a few others are effective a couple years after the fact. But in general, these trees don't bear fruit for quite some time.
Instead of planting an orange seed in the ground and tending to it for years before getting to eat an orange, grabbing prospects means you're buying the tree, roots and all, and digging it into your metaphorical land. It's already much farther along, so you're closer to getting that delicious goal-scoring fruit.
But more importantly, you have a better idea of what you're getting - both the draft and players are unpredictable (see: Kirill Kabanov(notes)). So when your scouts find a guy in the minors that would fit your organization better than the one he's currently in, it's a no-brainer. You can see how he's progressed since the draft, and if he's in the AHL, you can see that he's been able to meet the challenge of professional hockey. You've already eliminated the guys who don't even make it that far, and there's no shortage of those.
It's well worth any extra cost incurred.
And further, there's just no telling what can happen at the draft. Maybe you want a big young d-man and there's a massive run on defensemen before you get the chance to make your pick, and you get the guy who's 20th on your list. Well crap.
There's just too much uncertainty when it comes to junior and college age kids translating their current success to NHL success after the draft. You can acquire average NHLers a number of different ways, so when you draft you're hoping for a top end guy. But the odds of a drafted player actually living up to scouts' hopes are staggeringly low. In the case of many "rebuilding" trades, you're shipping out guaranteed NHL talent for lottery tickets (for example, trading Kris Versteeg(notes) for picks - here's a great breakdown of the risk the Maple Leafs took with that deal).
For the Islanders, their funds are starting to mature, but I can assure you, it's been a bumpy ride. And by "bumpy," I mean that the team has been considered a laughing stock for past handful of years and the bandwagon is getting light. Was it worth it? To get to a pretty decent low-payroll team that'll fight for a playoff spot in the coming years and probably not much more?
The "rebuild" has become a part of the hockey world to the point where every time a team doesn't do well, it's either suggested or attempted, like it's no big deal. Just tear it down and start over.
But if you ask me, when you're shivering in the cold, it makes a lot more sense to purchase a home with the foundation poured and the frame built than going out and buying a lot.
There's no denying Ottawa needs some help, but when a team that "needs some help" ships out their only valuable assets in hope of being good in ... what, four years, it's a slap in the face to the to their supporters.
A GM's job is too uncertain and fans are too impatient to sit through that many bad seasons. Getting picks for players is painful.