Best Player Available vs Need, Far From Black and White


146826241_slideIt is a great debate that gets pretty heated this time of year amongst hockey die hards.  There is still a good message board I go on, but it is private to ensure that we don’t have lunatics or some 17 year old fan boy who just wants to beak off at anyone who doesn’t agree with him.  But I used to frequent HF boards, and it was lively as I’m certain it is today.  The one thing you can’t do when posting at HF boards when talking about the draft is mention the “N” word.  “Those people” don’t like to hear the “N” word…of course I’m talking about drafting for “Need” at the draft.  Yes, the “N” word…


But it isn’t anywhere near as simple as some of those lunatics want to make it out to be on draft day.


One thing they don’t seem to understand is that the list they swear by, isn’t the list NHL teams swear by.  This is why NHL teams have their own scouts, so they can make their own lists and decide who they believe is the best player available.


Take me for example.  I’m no scout, but I have types that I prefer in the draft.  I value centers and defensemen over wingers.  And if I was running an NHL team I would be extremely leery of taking a winger who was under 6’1 and 190 pounds at the draft unless the player had off the charts speed and skill like a Mitch Marner does this season.  Anyway the point I’m looking to make here is that everyone has their own likes and dislikes about certain players.  I don’t love Nick Merkley like most do this year.  But I do love Jeremy Roy who most wouldn’t have ahead of Merkley.  There are times I can point to where a Roy type of player is the way to go, and times you can point to where a Merkley type of player pans out better.


Another thing is that I’m certain that most teams would have nothing separating groups of players.  So then you have to look at all the factors to give certain players an edge over others.  There in lies need.  If teams have two players equal, they aren’t going to take one that fills a lesser hole over the other.  But if you say a team “has a bigger need at position X”, fan boys just go ape shit because they don’t want to hear need.  “Need is evil, teams lose when they pick for need, just go BPA.”  Well they are going BPA, they’re going BPA FOR THEM.


I converse with Kirk Luedeke from Redline Report often on twitter.  AWESOME guy and if you love the draft you need to follow him because he will always get back to any question you have.  But I asked Kirk one day about what the Bruins biggest need was as we head into the draft.  He didn’t answer at all, because I used the “N” word.

I fully understand that logic, but the Bruins pick 14th.  Unless a guy out of what I would deem the 4th tier (Zacha, Crouse, Meier, Connor) falls to them, they’re going to have to select from a group of guys.  Now, maybe they have a guy in what I believe is the 5th tier who they love above the others.  But it is likely they’ll have players they deem equal and will then look to need.  Like it or not, need always has to be a consideration.


I do get why some fans can’t stand to hear need though.  And again I’ll go back to the Oilers, as they drafted for need a lot under Kevin Pendergast.  Marc Pouliot and Alex Plante are 2 who come to mind.  They took Pouliot because they wanted a big center, so they traded back to take him instead of taking the BPA Zach Parise or Ryan Getzlaf.  Awful mistake.  In 07 they took Plante over the sliding and late Alexei Cherepanov.  While Cherepanov would pass away not even 16 months later, it was clear very early on that the Oilers had selected poorly once again.


So let’s look at someone else who has missed on the BPA, yet had success.  Tampa, who I kind of zero’d in on during my last mock draft as I came to the realization that under Steve Yzerman they actually don’t have a very good drafting record.  In case you missed that I’ll fill you in.


2010 they had Cam Fowler fall to them.  Not a lot, but Fowler wasn’t expected to get past 5.  He didn’t go until 12 in that draft, so the Lightning weren’t the only team making such a terrible mistake (Don Waddell, Glen Sather, Joe Nieuwendyk).  But Steve Yzerman put himself in that group by taking Brett Connolly who was well thought of prior to the 09-10 season, but had hip surgery thus missing most of the year, and was looked at as a one dimensional guy.


2012 they had Filip Forsberg fall to them.  I had Forsberg going 4th in that draft, and couldn’t fathom him falling anywhere near 10th.  But he did.  And the Lightning again took a kid who was highly touted prior to that season, but injuries derailed him in defenseman Slater Koekkoek.


Then in 2013 I yelled at my TV as Seth Jones, who I still say should have been the 1st overall pick (I felt as though he was tied with Nathan MacKinnon for the top prospect but that the Avs had a bigger need for D-men and he is a Denver kid), slid to 3 and the Lightning were VERY thin on the blueline (especially after Koekkoek had such a disappointing season).  Yet again they passed on the BPA and took Jonathan Drouin who was yet another small winger that they had an abundance of.  This one was the worst, and it’s not because Drouin hasn’t hit his stride yet.  I believe he’ll be a very good 60-70 point player in this league.  But Jones is an all world talent and being a RH shot would have fit PERFECTLY with Victor Hedman to form a dominant pairing on the Lightning blueline.


So did the Lightning go need over BPA?  Not at all, but I don’t believe they went with the BPA on their board.  What I believe happened or happens with Tampa is that they zero in on guys they really like instead of being so broad with their scouting.  Because they’ve drafted pretty well in rounds 2-7.


Radko Gudas, Nikita Kucherov, Nikita Nesterov, Ondrej Palat, Cedric Paquette, and they have Adam Erne and Kristers Gudlevskis getting close.  That’s pretty good and shows they must be doing something right, yet they keep messing up their top pick.  Knowing the kids they want to take in the later rounds better than most teams gives them an edge but in the 1st round hurts them when someone like Jones falls because perhaps they’re scared to take him if they haven’t done the homework on him.  I don’t know if that’s the case, but it’s the theory I’ve come up with.


Of course other theories could be made too.  I don’t know if it was the case for the Lightning, but there are years where you have to play the draft so to speak.  This year, Dylan Strome is likely going to go 3rd overall.  Now, I’m not that big on Strome, yet I would take him no later than 6th.  Why if I don’t like him?  Well if your team needs a center, you can’t get a poor man’s Dylan Strome in the 2nd or 3rd round.  You can get a solid puck moving D-man who has a similar skill set to say, Zach Werenski.  But you aren’t getting a center like Dylan Strome.  So sometimes that can come into play too.


But something else factors into all this.  It isn’t 2001 folks.  It’s 2015 and there is a salary cap to deal with, there are much longer term contracts in place, and a lot of GM’s who quite frankly don’t have the stomach to make big trades any longer.  If you simply sit back and take the BPA EVERY SINGLE TIME, you could easily end up having major holes.  Some teams will get lucky and have the right players fall into their lap at the right times.  But some teams won’t.  Some teams will continuously end up with the same type of player and fail to fill their holes.  Then you try to do it through free agency which A) rarely works and B) creates a mess of your teams salary cap.


Of course in talking about all this I should point out that this really only applies to the 1st round.  Some years, like this one, it could apply to the 2nd round as the draft is 60 impact players deep according to some.  But there comes a point in every draft where you do in fact just simply sit back and pick the highest player on your board.  Because once you get out of the 1st or 2nd round, it is an enormous crap shoot.


But as for early on, you can’t JUST pick the BPA, and you obviously can’t JUST pick for need.  Each year is different.  You have to know your situation inside and out and make the pick that is best for your team.  Some teams in this years draft can sit back and take the BPA.  The ones who have needs should look to ensure they’re in the right position to fill their needs by trading up or trading back.  But if that’s not possible, drafting for need might be the way to go because GM’s are worried about building the best team possible, not about having the most talented players.


Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

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