Monday, August 01, 2005

The Drafting By The Detroit Red Wings

I'm not a Ken Holland fan. Let's get that out of the way right now. I haven't liked the guy since he took over the Wings, and I'm not really about to start. I will credit him with firing Dave Lewis and getting Babcock in there. I said at the time it was the first decent thing he has done that didn't involve just having more money than other teams.

That said, I want to take a look at the drafting of the Detroit Red Wings, since I've been reading all weekend about how well the Wings draft, and how great their European scouting is. Example: Random thread on RedWingsCentral about Christofer Lofberg, Detroit's 3rd round pick who was not even ranked by the CSB. Comments in that 12 post thread alone: A scouting report that said "Leave it to the Red Wings to find gems in Scandanavia. Detroit has a history of locating awesome Swedish talent...and the beat goes on for the Red Wings." and "Another European pick that the Wings are famous for."

It's a widely held notion that the Wings are a great drafting team. After all, they've found guys like Datsyuk and Zetterberg late in the draft to go with guys like Lidstrom, Fedorov, Yzerman, etc. that they picked up as well. That is true. Finding Datsyuk and Zetterberg as late as they did was certainly a coup. But does that mean that they're a great drafting team--or even one of the better ones in the league? I say no.

I was told in journalism class in high school to lead with the most important stuff first, so let me put my biggest gun right out there: In the last nine NHL Entry Drafts (Where players have had the opportunity to compete...meaning 1995-2003, I didn't count 2004 because even Alex Ovechkin isn't a "full time NHLer" yet because of the lockout), the Detroit Red Wings have managed to draft three full-time NHLers. Jiri Fischer and Pavel Datsyuk in 1998, and Henrik Zetterberg in 1999. Easy math says that that means that every three years, the Wings have found 1 player that has gone on to be an NHL regular. That. Is. Not. Good. Let alone great.

To take it one step further, since 1998, the only players that the Red Wings have drafted that have even played in the NHL are Fischer, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Kronwall, Hudler, and Bykov. The Red Wings draft of 1989 yielded 6 full-time NHLers alone.

Even before the Red Wings got into "Need a player? Trade a first round pick" mode, they didn't fare much better. From 1992-1997, the only legit NHLers that they drafted were Darren McCarty, Dan McGillis (who never played for us), Anders Eriksson, Mathieu Dandenault, and Tomas Holmstrom (with all of those coming before the 1995 draft).

Kutznetsov (133 games) Golubovsky (56), Maracle (66), Darryl Laplante (35), Jesse Wallin (49), Philippe Audet (4), Butsayev (94), Ryan Barnes (2) and BJ Young (1) also made it to the NHL in that time, but none of those players could be considered even decent NHLers.

I don't necessarily buy the argument that because the Wings have been so good, they haven't had to have younger players in the lineup. If these kids were players, they would make it to the NHL one way or another. I really don't feel like there's too many players behind held down by the Wings (maybe a couple in these later drafts) but if you're good enough, you'll get to the show one way or another.

The point is that I don't feel like the Wings have drafted well enough to get a free pass from criticism. When you've only found 3 legit NHL players since I was 12 years old, you could be doing better. Everyone praises the Wings' European scouts because they unearthed Datsyuk and Zetterberg, but for every one of those kids that gets drafted, there are 10-20 Alexander Seluyanovs. Granted you're going to find that with most teams as not even close to every draft pick makes it, but I would be willing to bet that no NHL team has drafted more poorly over the last 10 years than Detroit in terms of finding bonafide NHLers.

In addition, you can no longer stash players over in Europe for 3-4 years and let them develop at their own pace (like the Red Wings are doing with Liv and Grigorenko). 2 years, and you lose their rights. As someone put it on RedWingsCentral, the NCAA is the new Europe. Colorado did the smart thing, taking a bunch of college kids (including TJ Hensick), while the Wings were busy drafting the best available Swede.

And so where is that "Awesome Swedish talent" that the Wings are famous for finding? There's Lidstrom and Zetterberg. And apart from that there's....umm....Par Djoos? Anders Eriksson? Kronwall looks like a player, but apart from that there's not much. When the 5th most successful Swede you've drafted since I was born is Par Djoos, I don't really feel like that should build a reputation.

The Jack Johnson watch is now officially on. This post is long enough so I'm not going to talk about it. I will merely direct you to mgoblog for two posts about it including a great anecdote from the draft, where a draftee (who my guess is, Jack Skille) mentioned his fear of Jack Johnson. I will be super sad if this kid never puts on the Block M. Though I do think he's ready for the pros, and unless he's dead set on being a Wolverine, it actually probably doesn't make any sense for him to play college hockey. Unless he's reading this, in which case he should stay four years and make Justin Abdelkader his child.

Bryan Herta won the IRL race at Michigan Speedway this weekend. I had freebies lined up to go, but Danica-mania took over and so the IRL put the kabosh on comp tickets. There weren't enough of my friends that wanted to pay to go, and my dad the big race fan had to pick my mom up at the airport, so he couldn't make it. And so I missed my favorite driver win at a track 40 miles from me. I ran around the house whooping it up and scaring the dog, though.

Lastly, Fox Sports retelevised the Cold War this weekend. I taped it on my sweet new computer that has a tv-tuner. Two things about that game: Mike Cammalleri's goal that made it 2-1 Michigan was just gross. If that was an enclosed arena, he would've put the defenseman's jock on the clock. Instead it's probably in orbit, being run into by the space shuttle Discovery about now. The other thing was the interference no-call that led to Jim Slater's goal was worse than I had remembered it. I still can't believe how bad Jay Vancik was mugged on that one. Holy crap.

And State just got another 5 on 3.


JHR said...

Three years later, after stumbling on your idiocy, I feel obliged to point out how wrong time has proven you:

(From The Canadian Press)

The highest they've drafted in the last 15 years was 19th overall in 2005 (Jakub Kindl).

They've had to find gems in later rounds, as was the case with Zetterberg. Others include Tomas Holmstrom, 257th overall in 1994, Pavel Datsyuk, 171st overall in '98, Tomas Kopecky, 38th overall in 2000, Jiri Hudler, 58th overall in '02, Valtteri Filppula, 95th overall in '02, and Johan Franzen, 97th overall in '04.

I'm interjecting here to add Niklas Kronwall, late in the second round(a steal), Stefan Liv and Jimmy Howard, who were also taken later, though granted neither has done anything as an NHL goaltender yet; and Jakub Kindl, very highly ranked, Shawn Matthias, who sadly is Florida property now, and Logan Pyatt, who was fourth on Team Canada's WJC defense depth chart -- is that enough for you?


Packer487 said...

So exactly what did I say in that article that was untrue?

As support against my "idiocy" you've got:
Zetterberg, Holmstrom and Datsyuk: Great players, all of them, and all acknolwedged...even though Holmstrom was out of the scope of my article.

Hudler has worked out pretty well. I like him more than Babcock seems to. But I wouldn't necessarily support your argument by using a guy who didn't play in road playoff games last year because the coach was scared of what would happen.

I love Filppula. He's probably one of my five favorites on the team.

Franzen was nice value for where they got him. He was out of the scope of the article too, for the record.

Kopecky? 38th overall isn't really "late round" and he isn't what I'd call a "gem". We have NO clue if he can play. We know that he can not embarrass himself playing 6 minutes a night with Aaron Downey. That's about it.

Kronwall? First off, he was a first round pick, not a second rounder, and while he's played very well for the last 2 months this season, he's sucked/been hurt for the rest of his career. While I'm hoping he'll continue to play well, he certainly hasn't proven to be a "steal" at this point.

Stefan Liv bombed in the AHL, and now he's back in Sweden. Probably safe to take him off the radar.

I loved the pick of Howard. But again, we'll see on him.

I've never seen Kindl play, but I have a hard time believing they're happy with his development at this point. He's -19 on the Griffins right now, which is worst on the team by a long shot (next is -8). Time will tell on him, but it's a little early to chalk him up in the "Success" column, especially when they could've nabbed Cogliano.

As for Matthias, Pyatt, and whoever else you want to throw out there...let's let em play in the NHL first before we start claiming them as successes.

Obviously the article would be somewhat different if I wrote it today. The numbers of "Full-time NHLers" that we have drafted would change--and I even admitted it in the article "maybe a couple [of young players have been held down by the Wings being so good] in these later drafts".

But your support to prove my "idiocy", even with the benefit of 3 years of hindsight, amounts to pointing out that the Wings have drafted:

4 guys who still aren't in the NHL
1 who never will be
3 guys I acknowledged in the article
1 good player (Filppula)
3 pretty-good-to-average players, the last of whom was out of the scope of the article (Hudler, Kronwall, Franzen in that order)
1 who is nothing but a body at this point (Kopecky)

I still maintain that the NCAA is the new Europe and we'd be wise to starting picking more players over here. Cogliano over Kindl and Hensick over Lofberg (who we relinquished the rights to) would've been nice starts in the 2005 draft.

And at no time did you point out that anything I said in the article was untrue. So now they've found SIX full-time NHLers in the nine entry drafts I looked at. Actually I guess it'd be 7 since you didn't mention Tomas Fleischmann. And two are spare parts. Yippee do dah.

As I said, the 92-97 drafts DIDN'T produce much in the way of NHLers--Holmstrom is the only one that could at any point have been considered an above-average player--and our 95-97 drafts didn't produce a single mediocre NHL player. Neither did 01.

And thusfar, Franzen is the only NHL player to come out of the drafts I didn't examine.

Sorry, you've got a long way to go to convince me that the Wings have drafted unbelievably over the years. They've pulled out 3 amazing late round picks (Datsyuk, Z, Homer) and nailed one first rounder (Fischer). That pretty much covers the "Great" picks the Wings have made since 1992.

I don't doubt there are teams that we've drafted better than. But I don't think they've been so good that they deserve the reputation they've got. And I still don't.

JHR said...

I can't believe you came back to a three year old post to defend yourself. Cool.

Your argument isn't that far off -- of course you're not exactly staying true to your argument by now evaluating the relative talent levels of these guys. Your first post said "When you've only found 3 legit NHL players since I was 12 years old, you could be doing better."

Now you're not counting guys like Kopecky and Hudler on the basis that they're not gems. Hudler and Pecks have played all the games they wre healthy for this year -- to me that makes them full-time NHLers.

We agree on Flipulla, and I was wrong on where Kronwall was selected. I have seen Kindl play up here in TO against the Marlies, and while he definitely has the Kaberle-type passing and skating instincts, I did see him make at least two big gaffes in that game.

But my point -- and I shouldn't have called you an idiot while posting drunk -- is more like this: What you have to do when you consistently draft late is to gamble on guys with skill, who may not have the makeup, body, character, work ethic, etc. of guys that are consensus high first and second rounders.

So while the Wings draft picks may develop into solid NHLers with less frequency than some (not all, nowhere near all) teams, when they do hit, they tend to hit it big.

You did a good job breaking down how few of their picks have made it to the NHL. I'd love to see data from other teams, eliminating the first-rounders they've had that have been gimmes. (I guess the last gimme the wings had was Kronwall, and even he wasn't a sure thing).

The reason the Wings get a pass is because they have -- and with Dats, Hank, Homer (and going back further Lidstrom and Fedorov) it's tough to argue this -- found top-of-the-draft talent without having top-of-the-draft picks.

That's something that can't, logically, work every time, and it's going to result in a bunch of misses, but the hits are going to be worth it. Ask any team in the league whether they'd rather have their last eight 4th to 8th round picks or one Datsyuk or Zetterberg.

Ken Holland has said publicly that this is the strategy the Wings use. This is from that same article:

"Because of where we've picked, we haven't had first picks, we're not an overly big team," said Holland. "We haven't had the luxury to draft high enough to take guys that are big with skill. Those guys are picked over and gone. So then you can go two ways, either draft small with skill or draft big that's not quite as skilled."

ps -- do you really think we've seen the last of Liv? That's too bad, kid had some nice masks...

Packer487 said...

Well, every statement I made was accurate as of the time that the article was written. The numbers are going to change after three years, and I'd bet if you wait another 3 or 4 years it'll change some more.

But now they've found what? Eight legit NHL players from the time I was 12 (keeping in mind that we're talking about 3 additional years as well)? I still don't know that that warrants the applause they're typically given.

Kopecky might be a full-time NHLer, but guys like him--or at least the player he is at the moment--are a dime a dozen. We could pick a guy off waivers at any moment that brings what Kopecky brings.

He adds a number to the "count" but that's about it. I was just pointing out that the article--I think you were quoting at that point--calling him a "late round gem" wasn't necessarily accurate.

I too would love to see data from the other NHL teams, and I guess my argument is incomplete without doing that research because I don't really put it in any context. I might have to add it to the list of things that I would like to do the research and write about, but probably won't get around to doing because I'm lazy!

I don't deny that the Wings have had some limitations that the other teams haven't had. And clearly hitting on Zetterberg and Datsyuk is saving the team right now in the wake of Yzerman's retirement and Shanahan's departure.

My biggest problem with their strategy, however, is that I think they get too cute sometimes. It's like they think they're amazing at picking Swedes because they hit on a few (but again, it's more like 4 or 5 over almost 20 years that have panned out) and so they'll keep picking up guys over there hoping to hit on someone else so everyone will talk about how smart they are some more.

And by and large, they've completely ignored the NCAA route in the process.

Michigan and MSU are right in their back yard--are two of the biggest producers of NHL talent--and they rarely look that way. They took Abdelkader (yawn) but I can't remember the last guy they drafted out of Michigan. Was Knuble a Wings pick? Might've been him.

And they've had plenty of opportunities. Hensick was there in the 3rd round but they drafted a Swede that they never even signed. Cogliano was there in the first round--with the speed that is critical in the new NHL--and they went for Kindl (which still might end up working out). There have been a lot more. And that's just Michigan.

I'm a big fan of college hockey as a whole as a developing ground for talent...but it's an area I feel like the Wings have ignored over the years.

As I said in the article, the NCAA is the new Europe, and the Wings would be wise (IMO) to start looking here. The Avs have done it and I've really liked their drafts the last few years--as much as it annoys me to say. There's no way we would've picked a Stastny because his first name isn't Jiri and he's not from the SEL.

I also like looking here because there's never a battle to talk the kid into coming overseas. You don't have to fight with them to play in the NHL. You don't have to worry about them going back overseas if they don't want to be sent to the minors (Grigorenko). You don't have to worry about them using the Russian or Swedish leagues as leverage in contract negotiations.

I'm not xenophobic by any means--I own jerseys of guys like Lidstrom, Holmstrom, Hasek, Larionov, etc.--I just feel that the NCAA has produced a ton of very good NHL players, and the Wings don't ever look that way.

About one other thing you said--and this is actually a point in the Wings' favor--I wouldn't call Kronwall a gimmee pick. If he pans out, they deserve credit for it, because IIRC he was more of a projected second rounder, and was like 145 pounds when they drafted him. I'd say Fischer was the last "gimmee" they had, because he was supposed to go much higher than where he was picked. I always kind of thought of Howard as one as well...but who knows if he pans out (though I think he will).

BTW: This is completely outside the scope of my article--it's basically a different organization--but how awesome was that 89 draft? Sillinger, Boughner, Lidstrom, Fedorov, Drake, Konstantinov. Even if three of those guys spent most of their career elsewhere, that's pretty amazing.

And I do think Liv is gone. I'm not even sure if he's Detroit property anymore. I'd be shocked if we see him back across the pond. And his masks were amazing. I was hoping he'd make the show just so we could see that Spiderman mask with a Wings jersey. It would've looked amazing.