Picks or it didn’t happen: Darryl at the draft

The other night, I was watching the Penguins and Canadiens play, and I was talking with a friend about the number of players on those teams that they’ve drafted.

Crosby, Malkin, Goligoski, Talbot, Letang, Staal, Orpik, Kennedy and Fleury were all taken by the Pens via the draft. For the Habs, Plekanec, both Kostitsyns, Subban, Lapierre, Halak, Maxwell, O’Byrne, and Price were all wearing bleu et blanc et rouge on draft day.

And that got me to thinking about the Calgary Flames. Upon doing some research, I quickly wished I’d never undertaken that train of thought.

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Of those above listed Penguins and Canadiens, you’ll notice that a healthy portion of them were taken in the last seven drafts, which is convenient because that is also the exact number of drafts Darryl Sutter has run for the Flames, so I figured that number is as good a jumping-off point as we’ll ever find.

To say the results were grisly is to undersell it significantly.

First, let me say in advance that I understand this is more than a little unscientific. For the purposes of this exercise, I only considered the following categories:

  1. Number of picks by a team from 2003-09
  2. Number of picks in the first three rounds
  3. Number of drafted players that have played in the NHL
  4. Number of games played by drafted players
  5. Number of points scored by drafted players

What I did not take into consideration was whether the players played those games and scored those points, or even made the NHL in the first place, with the team that drafted them. I also didn’t weight it for the number of first-round picks that have made the NHL versus the number of seventh-round picks, or anything else like that. Those five categories above are what I explored.

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And no matter which way you slice it, Calgary is among worst-drafting teams in the NHL since 2003 by a wide margin.

Let’s get the two boring ones out of the way: Number of picks in the last seven drafts, and number of picks in the first three rounds.


As you can see, the league average for total picks over the last five drafts was 54.9, and Calgary was 1.9 picks below that, which is not an unreasonable number. And even in terms of picks in the first three rounds, the league average was 21.8, and Calgary wasn’t that far below the average with 19 picks in the first three rounds. (Note: The league averages were thrown off by the league awarding 68 compensation picks.)

So that’s 53 players for Calgary from 53 rounds (t-18th), and 19 of 21 picks in the first three rounds (21st). Not bad for a team that made the playoffs in each of those five seasons and therefore would have been more likely and/or enticed to move picks for immediate help at the NHL level.

What it says, I think, is that Darryl Sutter does place some amount of value on the draft and while he is willing to deal picks, even high ones, to get players that he thinks can help his team, he’s not John Ferguson, Jr., Cliff Fletcher or Brian Burke, which I think we can agree is a good thing in theory.

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But now comes the troubling part.

Of those 53 players Calgary has taken in the last seven drafts, only 12 have made appearances in the NHL. Twelve. Tied for second-worst in the league with Vancouver, but 50 percent better than Detroit (of all teams). Of those 12, only four have been first-round picks, and one of those was Dion Phaneuf. The other three were Mikael Backlund (24 games), Matt Pelech (5) and Kris Chucko (2). Brilliant.

But the news gets much worse when you begin to look at the quality of those five players’ contributions at the NHL level.

That’s right, Calgary is a full 657 games below league average for appearances by players taken in the last seven years. Not only is Calgary so far down that chart they’re nearing crush depth, but they’ve also traded away the only players significantly contributing to that number (Phaneuf at 404 and Dustin Boyd at 210). Of the players still with the organization, Adam Pardy is the runaway appearances leader with 117. Next closest is Backlund’s 24. How can a team draft and manage assets THIS poorly? It’s difficult to believe it would be physically possible.

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And there is still one abyss door into which we must gaze. 

Yup, those 906 games by 12 players (an average of just 75.5 each) have yielded a whopping 351 points. But to say that’s an average of 29.25 points per player isn’t quite fair, because 238 of those 351 points belong to Phaneuf alone. And 61 more are Boyd’s. Between the players still with Calgary, they have a whopping 34 points. (Although ya never know when Darryl will reacquire Prust!)

To summarize: Jesus Christ.

  • Great article. I always knew our drafting record was pathetic. But this is like getting hit with a 2×4 over the head. WOW. I wonder if the flames drafting group and GM have similar statistics. How do you ever justify your existence with this type of record? I mean, I could probably come up with better record just by following the TSN or Hockey News draft reports.

    Two things that really bothered me with Flames drafting. 1) is taking a goaltender high in the draft ( we’ve done that twice in the first round in the last 10 years). What a waste. You just never know what you get and they take forever to develop. and 2) why do the Flames never draft any Hitmen players. I’m not talking about the ones that go in the top end of the draft but even in the second and third rounds. (see point # 1 if you think I missed the one we did draft). When your in that second and third rounds, why are we drafting unknown college or BC Junior hockey players before you give a locally developed kid a chance. That’s just my opinion. I can’t imagine that we could get any worse results.

  • Graham

    Don’t worry, the Flames are conducting a top to bottom review of the entire organization – including scouting.

    The organization’s abject failure at the draft
    table is bound to be addressed…

    Wait a minute, Darryl is doing the review – isn’t he the one ultimately responsible for the picks….

    Why on earth would the Flames ownership let
    Darryl and Ken King evaluate themselves?

  • D C

    One thing that I think you might have forgotten is that the Flames are a very deep team. They have the luxury of easing their draft picks in. That being said, I still don’t think that they drafted well. Seems lately that they have been doing decently in the draft, for example Wahl, and Bouma who both had a goal and assist right now against the bulldogs in the playoffs.
    My theory is that once Daryl stepped down from the coaching position he had become a better drafter. After he stopped coaching he picked (from 2007 on, because he stepped down after the ’06 season and probably didn’t have enough time looking for players): Backlund (1st,2007), Negrin (2nd, 2007), Aulie (3rd, 2007), Nemisz (1st, 2008), Wahl (2nd, 2008), Bouma (3rd, 2008), Brodie (4th, 2008), Howse (3rd, 2009), and Patterson (7th).

    Not saying that any of these picks are going to be sure NHLers but they have done better than our previous picks prior to Sutters step down. I haven’t mentioned some other picks like Erixon because I haven’t really followed them closely. Most of the players that I said are a major or contributing factor to their teams this season.

    Wahl, Bouma, Brodie and Patterson have all been called up to the AHL to play in the Calder Cup playoffs and are playing well to what I hear on their radio station.

  • D C

    *edit* Wahl got another goal tonight, so he has 2 goals and an assist. Bouma, Wahl and Patterson are called the “kid line” according to the Abbotsford Heats Radiostation. They had all 3 goals for the heat tonight.

    game is still not finished.

  • What is Detroit doing below Calgary in most of those tables? All anyone ever has to say is how great Detroit is, but look at their standing in those tables.

    I have to agree with D C and say that I think that there is some upside that is starting to show down on the farm. I still think it is a few years away from developing and I think that the Flames are lacking a true blue-chipper but what do you expect from a team drafting 20th or up most seasons? I don’t want to defend Sutter, but I like the looks of Backlund, Wahl, Pelech, Negrin, Bouma and Howse. And I think giving up Aulie with Phaneuf was stupidity(as if Sutter didn’t give up enough with Phaneuf for the return from T.O.).

    • Those tables are recent drafting, though. All of Detroit’s franchise players were drafted 10+ years ago (unless you count Jimmy Howard as a franchise player). And while Calgary has been making the playoffs consistently, it’s all been first round exits – Detroit making the finals so regularly pushes them down the draft order by potentially a dozen spots below the Flames.

  • D C

    Pretty good analysis and I have to agree that Calgary has been pretty poor at drafting top tier or even 2nd tier players. However, I do think that Darryl has been drafting players that are very young in their development. Many of the teams that look like star drafters have had the advantages of drafting high and have focused on players ready to make the jump to the NHL immediately or within 1 season of AHL level hockey. Calgary’s focus has always been to draft looking further down the road and attempting to draft players that have high upside. I don’t think the drafting is the biggest problem. I think it is our development system. Up until recently, we haven’t had a permanent farm team where we control the development. That in itself can affect the level the players get to and how quickly. Case in point, Backlund. He stalled for 1 year in the Swedish Elite league due to a coaching decision to play him 3rd and 4th line minutes. While the competition was good, he didn’t get the development time on the ice. It took almost another year to get him to NHL level.

  • However, I do think that Darryl has been drafting players that are very young in their development. Many of the teams that look like star drafters have had the advantages of drafting high and have focused on players ready to make the jump to the NHL immediately or within 1 season of AHL level hockey.

    Uh…this analysis compares the Flames to the rest of the league. Every other team in the NHL hasn’t had some inherent advantage over the Calgary Flames in the last 6 years since the lockout.

    Calgary’s focus has always been to draft looking further down the road and attempting to draft players that have high upside.

    This is the stated purpose of all drafting. This is precisely what every team does. Only clubs picking inside the top 5 can maybe hope for immediate impact. Otherwise, it’s all projection.

    Up until recently, we haven’t had a permanent farm team where we control the development.

    They Flames have had a dedicated farm team since 2005.

    (Backlund) stalled for 1 year in the Swedish Elite league due to a coaching decision to play him 3rd and 4th line minutes. While the competition was good, he didn’t get the development time on the ice. It took almost another year to get him to NHL level.

    That had nothing to do with the Flames farm situation. Backlund was drafted in the WHL by Kelowna and he chose to stay in his native country. Besides, Backlund is one of the very, very few Flames picks that has actually made it to the show and looks to have NHL upside, so it’s not the best of examples for the case you’re trying to make.

    The Flames have had a problem in development – but that’s because the org has frequently shunned kids in favor of playing veterans, especially in key positions. Unless a youngster has looked like he can have a more immediate impact, the club has usually gone with a vet. Part of that is the “win now” mentality, part of that has been the Flames near total inability to identify quality talent in the draft.

  • @DC you have a point that the most recent batch (more to the point, the ’08 draft class) looks like a pretty decent crop. Part of me thinks there was a slight shift in scouting philosophy that year, but that’s just speculation.

    That said, many, many teams have similar batches of projectable youngsters. It’ll take several more drafts like that to move the Flames from their current position on these lists.

  • D C

    The top teams all have in coomon the fact that they were last place teams for a number of years and the3refore reaped the benefit of drafting top 5 players. Those at the bottom are perenielly consistent performers and therefore draft 20th and later. No secret that it doesn’t take a geius to draft the Crosby’s, Malkins, Ovechkins, Toews and Kane’s and watch them rack up games and perform. Its a bit more challenging to pick after 20 or so have scooped from the top and come up with a gem. I would be much more concerned as a Leaf or Oiler fan who have consistently had those top picks without results. The penalty for success is always low draft picks. Perhaps your analysis should include a weighted avg draft position.

        • oh you see luc it appears as if i used “sarcasm” to underscore my point that, despite finishing north of 100 points in all but one or two of the seasons over the last seven years, the sharks have churned out 20 nhl players with just 45 picks (29th in the league), and those players have gotten more points and appearances than all every team but washington and pittsburgh’s, so it seems as though draft position doesn’t matter to the sharks.

      • It’s patently obvious that TBL is at the bottom of the lists because they’ve traded away most of their draft picks, which has absolutely nothing to do with how well they drafted with the picks they’ve got.

        “But wait, SJS has a low number of picks and much higher number of NHL games played/points by their draft picks.” Yeah, they did a lot of their really good drafting in the earlier part of this 7-year span (Setoguchi, Michalek, Vlasic, Carle, Pavelski), with some admittedly great later draftees. TBL’s best draftees have been very recent (Stamkos, Hedman)and haven’t had the time to make the same type of dent that SJ’s have. If you were to pro-rate just Stamkos and Hedman to ’03 (Pavelski, Bernier, Michalek), you’d have potentially 1600-1700 games played between the two of them, and at the very LEAST (barring career-stalling injury), another 500 points put up between the two, putting Tampa Bay above the league average, and likely by a significant amount.

        Aside from the past two years, Tampa Bay haven’t had a single top-10 draft pick in the 7 eligible years that are being looked at here. San Jose, in contrast, has had 3 top-10 draft picks in the past 7 years, in 03, 05, and 07. I’m not saying that San Jose hasn’t drafted well, but to imply that draft position has no effect on how well a team drafts is complete idiocy.

  • D C

    Mikael Backlund: 8 points in 11 games. +8 rating. Looking pretty good. Brett Sutter has team leading 11 points.

    Sutter right now is doing very well. Drafted in the 6th round in 2005. Doesn’t add to my theory, but could be a replacement for Mayers?

    Pelech is pretty solid as well. Last night I heard this statement from the Abbotsford radiostation: “I don’t care how tough this guy thinks he is, Pelech is tougher”. I heard people saying that he can be in the NHL but because the Flames are so deep in the defense department he wasn’t needed.

  • Balthazar

    One of the key points in the lack of drafting success has been in team philosophy.

    Pretty clearly the organization has not made European scouting a priority, based on the limited number of Euros picked. Say what you will about the “intangibles”, but Europe has a deep pool of talent that has been for the most part ignored (ex. Backlund, Erixson and a couple 7th rndrs).

  • TLP, really enjoyed the stats you put together. Very, very interesting piece and point taken. That being said, however, I’m skeptical about the conclusions you have made in light of the obvious correlations you are drawing upon. I’d rather be in a Detroit, Anahiem, or New Jersey position than a Columbus, Long Island, or Florida position for all intents and purposes. It seems like your mind was already made up before you looked at the stats.