Portfolio Diversification and Calgary’s 2015 Draft

With the economy in a downturn in western Canada, there’s been a lot of discussion lately regarding portfolio management. While the best practices in investment management are obviously complex and multi-faceted, quite often you will get one piece of single advice.

Diversify.

And it’s this approach that’s bled into the Calgary Flames’ drafting and prospect management philosophy in recent seasons – particularly since Jay Feaster became general manager. A look at Calgary’s “portfolio” likely gives some insights into how the Flames will behave at the 2015 NHL Draft at the end of the month.

WHY DIVERSIFICATION WORKS

In investment, and in hockey, diversification works like this: you’re minimizing risk.

In the case of hockey, that means you spread out your prospect base in two key ways – by drafting many different kinds of players, from many different parts of the hockey world.

In the case of the Calgary Flames, look at their drafting since 2011. They’ve drafted big players. They’ve drafted small players. They’ve drafted Swiss kids, Swedish kids, Russian kids, American kids and Canadian kids. They’ve drafted kids from Quebec prep schools, from small European teams, from NCAA powerhouses and strong Canadian major-junior programs.

The main reasoning for this is likely to hedge against the tide turning in the game. Hockey has a way of changing and evolving over time. Look at Darryl Sutter’s drafting; he more or less continually drafted big, physical guys – usually from the WHL or OHL – and was entirely caught off-guard when the NHL dramatically changed rules regarding clutching and grabbing, making speed and skill the name of the game.

In short: it’s become incredibly advantageous for NHL general managers to hedge their bets in terms of the future direction of the game, and develop a bunch of different types of talented players.

THE 2014-15 PORTFOLIO

So, here’s what the Calgary Flames had outside of North American professional hockey in terms of prospects for the past season.

  • Rushan Rafikov, an agitating rookie defender in Russia’s secondary professional league
  • Adam Ollas Mattsson, a giant rookie defender in Sweden’s top professional league
  • Hunter Smith, a giant veteran winger for one of the OHL’s top teams
  • Mason McDonald, the starting goaltender for a decent QMJHL team
  • Morgan Klimchuk, a top-six winger on a decent WHL team, though traded to a contender mid-way through the season
  • Eric Roy, an offensive defender on a contending WHL team
  • Austin Carroll, an over-age veteran forward on a decent WHL team
  • Keegan Kanzig, a massive stay-at-home defender on a decent WHL team, though traded to a contender mid-way through the season
  • Tim Harrison, a checking depth forward on a good NCAA team
  • Jon Gillies, the starting goaltender on a good NCAA team
  • Mark Jankowski, a two-way center on a good NCAA team
  • John Gilmour, a two-way defender on a good NCAA team
  • Brandon Hickey, a smooth-skating defender on a good NCAA team
  • Matt Deblouw, a depth forward on an okay NCAA team

So that’s two goaltenders, six defensemen and six forwards. Two European professional leagues, all three Canadian major-junior leagues and three NCAA conferences are covered.

    A LOOK AHEAD

    So, the Flames are likely graduating five members of their system into the professional ranks (Smith, Klimchuk, Kanzig, Carroll and Gillies), and losing Eric Roy outright. That likely leaves the OHL and WHL completely without representation, and drops the position count to one goalie, four defenders and three forwards.

    The Flames own nine selections, as of this writing, at the 2015 NHL Draft. Based on how they’ve distributed their players in the past, I would expect the following in late June:

    • They will probably take one European player from a European league.
    • They will take a goalie, but likely not more than one.
    • They’ll probably select around three players from the Western Hockey League; in addition to ensuring portfolio balance, it’s pretty easy to check up on players.
    • I’d be shocked if they didn’t use at least two picks on players from the Ontario Hockey League.

    In other words, based on the success their diversification approach has taken thus far, I fully expect them to continue on with it, and use their drafting resources to flesh out their portfolio in terms of types of players, their positions, and their home leagues.

      • Parallex

        This is silly. I really don’t think they’re going to pick players on the basis of where they play. That’s no better then Daz’s proclivities towards drafting WHL boys. Selecting two guys from the OHL on the basis that they play in the OHL is silly. I expect them to draft the best talent regardless of where they play and get proper diversification naterally not by intent. Now… I could see some portfolio diversification going into positional picks… but not league.

        Also… You don’t seem to be making any differentiation between penny stocks and blue chip stocks.

        • RickT

          I mostly agree with you, however, I think it is important to diversify a bit. I think there are real opportunities for some steals out of European leagues that are not seen as being on the same level as the CHL.

          An example of this is Rafikov, who is showing pretty nicely from the reports that I have heard – especially in international competitions. Had he been in a North American league, he probably would not have been available in the 7th round.

          So, diversifying is pretty good in that sense, where you can maybe make some steals.

          And, at the same time, if you pull the Dutter method of WHL most of the time, you might miss out on some excellent goalies that aren’t showing as well in a league such as the Q, because of their system. I think each of the CHL leagues sort of have a different developmental impact on a lot of the players, because of the systems that are played.

          But, I do agree with you, in that you shouldn’t necessarily say I need x number of WHL players, y number from the OHL, and z from the Q. I do think it’s prudent to make sure you’re picking out of just the CHL, however (but don’t pull a Feaster and try to be *too* smart, I guess).

        • Reidja

          I don’t think silly is the word. There are some interesting thoughts here.

          Looking at the prospect base as a portfolio could be valuable. Positional and a further breakdown according to scouted attributes at each position might be interesting.

      • It could be that the Flames aren’t necessarily determined to pick players from a variety of leagues, but at least to scout and evaluate players from different leagues (which eventually leads to more variety in draft picks).

      • mattyc

        I don’t know about silly, but I do think this idea is too simplistic (to the point of being just plain wrong), for the reasons Parallax, RickT and Kent have mentioned.

        I’ll preface this by saying I only have a rudimentary understanding of investment strategies, but my understanding of hedging is that is only effective when you strategically pick two stocks that are anti-correlated (i.e. it is likely if one succeeds the other is failing and vice-versa). This way your losses are buffered. However, in this case, the success of one player doesn’t really have any meaningful relationship to the success (or lack thereof) of another (except for the fact that there are a finite number of roster spots). So ‘hedging’ your bets by picking players from diverse places probably doesn’t reduce your real ‘risk’; instead it probably actually lowers your odds of a high return because you are focusing on things other than indicators of future success.

        Beyond that, there is a definite argument against the philosophy of drafting for need, but those arguments that have been made too many times to re-hash here…

        • MattyFranchise

          I think what Ryan is getting is that there are so many developmental leagues and each league develops in a different way.

          For example, Mason MacDonald has horrendous numbers from an NHL perspective but given the context of the league that he is playing in maybe there is something there if he was playing for, say, Providence?

          I mean, diversifying is never a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying diversify for the sake of diversifying just that various leagues have various things to offer and that’s worth looking into.

          • mattyc

            But all you should really care about is the likelihood X player becomes an NHLer, and how good he will likely be. All the rest is irrelevant.

            I also don’t see what league-diversified-drafting would accomplish other than superficially having different leagues on your draft list. It’s not like the Q is only flashy forwards and the swiss league is butterfly goalies.

            • The GREAT Walter White

              Not so fast there Mattyc….

              What if we draft all our players from the KHL and Fetisov has his way with the ban on Young KHL players going to the NHL……we would be in a pickle then wouldn’t we.

              Use your thinker: league diversification is ALL important!!!!

              WW

      • mattyc

        To continue the investment analogy, past performance is not necessarily indicative of future returns.

        Strongly, strongly, doubt there will be a goalie picked this year.

      • The GREAT Walter White

        BT had indicated that getting the scouts together to arrange a draft order ,was entertaining as it brought out the passion that local scout’s had for there chosen player. All part of the process. It was my impression that management had been moving the scouts around a bit to get a better overall picture of eligible players. Conroy and Pascall have been also scouting a large number of players

        And they call this work?

        • mattyc

          How much does an amateur scout make? I can’t imagine its a whole lot. Lot of time on the road too. Probably get real familiar with all the Prince Albert motel rooms (to say nothing of the guys off in Siberia or wherever!).

          I’d love to be in those meetings, but no way I’m volunteering to hit the road all year. Tough job I’d imagine.

          • The GREAT Walter White

            Yea those meetings in Calgary leading up to the draft would be awesome to be part of.

            Speaking about being in crappy places on the road, look-up Stockton. That city went broke ,can’t afford proper police-ing ,and have a crime rate off the chart’s.

            • mattyc

              Yes so I’ve read. But the rink is one of the nicest outside the NHL. Hopefully the players don’t run into any problems there. It would be good incentive to advance!

              I hope to get down there next season for a few games to check it out… Think I’m looking forward to it.

      • The GREAT Walter White

        Best part about this source is that the Flames are serious about looking beyond the WHL for a diamond in the rough after years of doing little.

      • Franko J

        I agree with Ken. The more scouts with more eyes on players from all different leagues provides the team with the opportunity of enhancing the prospect pool.

        While it would never be revealed publicly it would be most interesting to know how the Flame’s scouting staff compiles their list of players. As well what is the criteria or agenda set forth between Button and Treliving when it comes to the type of player they are looking to draft. So many invariables.