Thursday, March 29, 2012

ESPN Ranks The Central GMs

"Ranking The Central GMs" via ESPN's "insider" paywall:

"It's one thing to build a contender from the ground up, which was the challenge for Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson. It requires that you have success high in Round 1, while finding a few pieces in the later rounds. But once you build a contender, it's another thing to maintain it. After all, players age or leave via free agency, and the window of opportunity closes.

Some of these teams recede back into the lottery and are forced to re-build. But others like the Detroit Red Wings and (to an extent) the Nashville Predators, have found a way to stay competitive for long periods of time -- and a huge factor is the draft.

Both Preds GM David Poile and Wings GM Ken Holland have been able to find talent -- high-end talent -- outside of the first round, which is pretty crucial because good teams generally don't land in the lottery. In fact, good teams often don't have first-round picks because they swap them at the trade deadline for immediate help. So proficiency later in the draft becomes fairly important.

The last few weeks, we've been ranking the NHL GMs based on their drafting history. (So far we've hit the Southeast Division, Northeast Division and the Atlantic Division.)

And this week, we're heading to the Central, where we run into five GMs in fairly different situations. Before we begin, here's a recap of the ground rules:

1. We're not simply judging the GMs based on the quality of players they have drafted. Because a guy with four top-five picks will always be far better than someone who consistently drafts in the late first-round. So, instead, we're looking at how well they've drafted relative to their draft position.

2. We know some GMs let their scouts make the final calls on draft day, but they are still responsible for the picks.

3. We're looking at drafts from 1990 to 2008. Recent drafts are discounted because the jury is out on the large majority of those picks.

4. Metrics are based on Tom Awad's GVT, which is an advanced stat that encompasses all aspects of the game.

And we're off:

4. Scott Howson, Columbus

Value added per pick: minus-0.53 GVT/season
Drafts: Columbus Blue Jackets (2007-present)
Top picks: Matt Calvert (No. 127), Jakub Voracek (No. 7)

The sample size is quite small -- only 16 picks before 2008 and 36 picks overall -- but Howson has added almost no value via the draft, which is a huge reason he is fixed firmly on the hot seat. Ryan Johansen (No. 4, 2010) may be his best pick, but he doesn't count in these rankings since we're not counting anyone after the 2008 draft. So that leaves Voracek, who was somewhat of a disappointment before he was dealt to Philadelphia. The other top-10 pick was Nikita Filatov, and we all know how much of a headache he was before being dealt to Ottawa earlier this season.

Otherwise, the only other player who has contributed anything of note is Matt Calvert, who was a good find in the fifth round. It has been five disastrous drafts for Howson, so it might be tough for the Jackets' brass to let him have another shot, especially in such a crucial year when they could have the No. 1 overall pick and perhaps more if they trade Rick Nash.
3. Doug Armstrong, St. Louis Blues

Value added per pick: 0.02 GVT/season
Drafts: St. Louis (2011-present),Dallas Stars (2002-2007)
Top picks: Jamie Benn (No. 129), Loui Eriksson (No. 33), James Neal (No. 33), Trevor Daley (No. 43)

Armstrong has never been the GM when a team had a lottery pick. In fact, the highest pick he's ever had is No. 26 -- yet he's still managed to find a handful of All-Star players, which should be applauded. He's been at the helm for just one draft with the Blues, so there's no judgment to be made there. But he did good work with the Stars where he drafted Benn, Eriksson and Neal -- all outside of Round 1. In fact, Benn was drafted at No. 129 and could end up being one of the biggest steals of the decade, depending on how his career develops.

All that said, Armstrong has managed to get only 36 percent of his picks to the NHL, and 17 percent of his picks have played 82 NHL games. That's well below average -- but it's easily offset by the high-end talent he's found without anything close to a lottery pick.

2. David Poile, Nashville

Value added per pick: 0.07 GVT/season
Drafts: Nashville (1998-present), Washington Capitals (1982-1996)
Top picks: Pekka Rinne (No. 258), Peter Bonda (No. 156), Sergei Gonchar (No. 14), Shea Weber (No. 49)

Poile has been doing this a very long time, and he's gotten better with age. With the Capitals, he had some strong finds like Bondra, Gonchar, Andrew Brunette (No. 174) and Jason Allison (No. 17). But there were also major failures, like Alexandre Volchkov (No. 4) and Alexander Kharlamov (No. 15). While his time in Nashville has also had a good share of failures -- Brian Finley (No. 6) and David Legwand (No. 2) being the worst of them -- he's found a way to not be reliant on high draft picks, much like Ken Holand in Deroit.

He and his staff have become great at finding value in the late rounds, nabbing players like Cody Franson (No. 230), Patric Hornqvist (No. 230), Martin Erat (No. 191) and Anders Lindback (No. 207). In addition, Rinne and Weber are among the top value picks of the decade. With first-rounders, they've done a decent job as well, drafting the likes of Ryan Suter (No. 7), Dan Hamhuis (No. 12) and Scott Hartnell (No. 6). Financial issues have forced him to part with some of these guys, but the core of this current Predators team has been built via the draft by Poile and his scouts.

1. Ken Holland, Detroit

Value added per pick: 0.416 GVT/season
Drafts: Detroit (1998-present)
Top picks: Pavel Datsyuk (No. 171), Henrik Zetterberg (No. 210), Johan Franzen (No. 97), Niklas Kronwall(No. 29)

What Holland and his crew have done in Detroit is nothing short of incredible. He drafted the two biggest steals of the last 20 years -- Datsyuk and Zetterberg -- which prolonged the success of a franchise that should've receded when its All-Star core was aging. In addition, the Red Wings have added key players to their lineup -- almost entirely without first-round picks -- which is pretty much unheard of. Among them are Franzen, Kronwall, Jimmy Howard (No. 64), Valtteri Filppula (No. 95), Jiri Hudler (No. 58), Jonathan Ericsson (No. 291) -- the list goes on.

That said, they take risks and fail often. But there's only so much ice-time to go around, so a few home runs will take you a long way. In short, there's a reason the Wings' scouting is legendary.

To be ranked ...

Stan Bowman, Chicago

Value added per pick: N/A
Drafts: Chicago (2010-present)
Top picks: N/A

The jury is still out on this GM until he accumulates a larger sample.

He didn't draft before 2008, so he doesn't qualify for these rankings. But he and his staff have had two great finds at the 2011 draft -- Brandon Saad (No. 43) and Andrew Shaw (No. 139). Saad, whose stock dropped sharply before the draft, ended up making the Opening Day roster. While he's since been sent down, his future remains bright. Shaw, who was passed over in the 2009 and 2010 drafts, has been a fan favorite this year with his tough style of play. Finding these non-first-round contributors should be an encouraging sign for Blackhawks fans.

Bowman's predecessor, Dale Tallon, was the master of using his high-first rounders wisely. But as we noted last week, he couldn't find value in the late rounds. The timing could end up being perfect for the Hawks. Tallon came in to re-build the franchise -- which, as he's showing in Florida, he's pretty good at. And Bowman is here to maintain it, and as Holland and Poile have shown, sustainability of success is much easier if you can find late-round value."

For A New Start (F.A.N.S.)