This path is “Free Agency.” Like chocolate in your diet, there is nothing wrong with it in doses. In fact, it can often be wonderful – especially if your team has some money to spend! But, it cannot be your entire diet. Ask any child and they would love to try the first all-chocolate diet. Ask any doctor and he would panic at the mere question.
Teams have tried to solve their problems by free agency over the last few years; Here in Dallas, the Sean Avery signing is still clear in our memories. The New York Rangers try ever year (Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Wade Redden) to spend their way to the Cup. The Chicago Blackhawks made one of the biggest free agency strikes we have ever seen in 2008 when they spent nearly $80 million on to 2 players – 1 who contributes for sure, Brian Campbell (But $56 million worth?) and the other who had a great seat for the Finals, Christobal Huet. Huet was supposed to be the solution in goal to the Nikolai Khabibulin problem, and was paid quite handsomely to provide that, but has since been unseated by a young Antti Niemi.
Is Free Agency always a bad idea? Of course, not. Chris Pronger alone is a great argument for the power of the pen and how the right guy can be perfect for the right team.
But, if I was asked what is more important to the success of an NHL franchise in both the long and short term – Free Agency or Drafting – there is absolutely no question that the best thing a franchise can do is understand and address the weekend BEFORE free agency hits.
If you look at the NHL Draft each summer, you will see the future of the league. If you see who drafts well, you will see the teams that rise from the ashes in incredibly short order. In 2007, Chicago drafts Patrick Kane. Within 3 seasons, he is scoring the goal that brings that city the Stanley Cup for the first time in 49 years. But it wasn’t just Kane, of course. Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Dustin Byfuglien were among the many brought in from various drafts in the last handful of years.
It wasn’t long ago that the Chicago Blackhawks had nothing to brag about. Now, they have a Stanley Cup – and many more years of excellence ahead – thanks to the ability to navigate well around the NHL Draft.
But, it wasn’t just the 2010 Cup Winners. Look at 2009. Pittsburgh. Another team built primarily through the draft. And not just the players at the very top like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fluery and Jordan Staal. But, what about Maxime Talbot at pick #234, Tyler Kennedy at Pick #99, and Kris Letang at Pick #62?
And who needs a refresher on our friends in Detroit and the insane ability of Ken Holland and his personnel assistants to snag not just good players, but great players from deep, deep in the NHL Draft weekend.
In 1994, Tomas Holmstrom was taken at pick #257. He is still making a difference as one of the finest in the sport at causing havoc in the crease.
In 1998, Pavel Datsyuk was pick #171. I think few would dispute he is one of the very best players in the sport to this day.
And in 1999, 209 players were picked before Henrik Zetterberg. Zetterberg, of course, won the Conn Smythe trophy in 2008 as the Red Wings won the Cup.
For good measure, let’s not forget at Pick #97, Johan Franzen was snapped up in 2004.
Admittedly, it seems pretty easy to take good players at the very top of the NHL Draft. Not every player at the very top is a superstar as a pro, but it sure seems that if you want a superstar, odds are pretty good that he was a Top 5 pick in his draft. Every team would love to draft Kane, Toews, Crosby, Malkin, or Alexander Ovechkin. Of course, unless you had one of the Top 2 picks in those drafts, that wasn’t going to happen.
But, what Datsyuk and Zetterberg demonstrated to us all is that a team low in the draft can still find the “next one” to add to their player supply. And if you get one of these picks right, you can change to power structure of the league for the next decade. And Detroit did.
So, where does that leave our Dallas Stars? Well, in 2007, after Chicago took Kane at #1, some 128 picks later, the Stars took a young winger from Victoria, BC, named Jamie Benn
. Benn, in his rookie season scored 22 goals, and looks like he may very well be a diamond deep in the draft that could change the direction of a franchise.
In 2005, the Stars were able to grab another big winger at pick #33, named James Neal. All Neal has done is score 24 and 27 goals in his first 2 seasons in the big leagues, and has many placing quite a bit of stock in his future.
There used to be a statistic that I recited time after time for the Dallas Stars organization. It was the following: Since Brenden Morrow
(’97 Draft), no Dallas Stars draft pick had scored 20 goals in a season. This was to demonstrate that as solid a job that the personnel department had done, they had been unable to find a goal-scoring difference maker.
Then, Loui Eriksson
blew that stat out of the water. He scored 36 in ’08-09, blowing through the 20-goal barrier. Then, Neal and Benn joined him. And the oldest of the 3 is Eriksson at 24 years old. This tells you that the draft has helped the Stars build a fine core up front that is both young and cheap (For now).
Then, you look at the hope for the blue-line, and you notice Nick Grossman, Mark Fistric
, and Matt Niskanen who are all draft products, too. None of those are going to make you forget Chris Pronger, yet, but Grossman is already solid as a rock, and Fistric encouraged us greatly in 2010.
The beauty of youth is this: Combine Eriksson, Benn, Neal, Grossman, Fistric, and Niskanen’s ’09-10 salaries, and they combine to make a million dollars less than Brian Campbell was paid in Chicago. In the age of the salary cap, a team has no option but to grown their own talent.
Down below, Philip Larsen
and Scott Glennie
represent two of the Stars real strong prospects on their way. And all of these names have been stocked by the NHL Draft weekend.
So, this weekend, the Stars own pick #11, #41, #71, and several more. Chances are, you will be unfamiliar with most and maybe all of their picks. But, understand what is at stake. It will not get near the ink of the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes that July will have, but in the long run, chances are it will have far more to do with the winners of future Stanley Cups.