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Revisiting Last Year’s Pre-Draft Trades

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The pressure on some teams to just do something in this period before the draft is high. How well did they do last year?

Montreal Canadiens v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Last year at this time, we were all about the expansion draft. The entry draft was almost a second thought, and there were a lot of teams making deals with Vegas to manipulate the draft. We know who won that contest now. But what about the more ordinary trades that were going on?

There had been an expectation that teams would deal with each other to fill their empty protection slots with good players by dealing their excess elsewhere before the expansion draft. What they did instead, generally, was make really bad deals with Vegas directly. The question for the social scientists and psychologists to answer is: Why did teams value control over which of their lesser players Vegas took to such an extreme they made these bad deals?

To look just at last year’s “normal” pre-draft trades means making a decision about how to categorize some deals, but I’m leaving out the future considerations deals; that is, the deals that were bribes to Vegas to pick a specific player in the expansion draft even if they included other players changing hands. Vegas made some more ordinary deals, however, and those will be considered.

From the end of the regular season to the day before the draft:

June 14: Just days after the Stanley Cup Final, Washington traded a fifth-round pick in the 2018 draft for Tyler Graovac. He’s a very good AHLer, and he played five NHL games this year, to no effect. The pick is #155, and that pick has an over 90% chance of not producing an above replacement level NHL player.

So Washington got a man they know is a good AHLer and might suffice as a call-up for a lottery ticket that likely won’t give them that. Good for them. Minnesota gets a pick to add to their selections, which were very few. Good for them.

June 15: Tampa Bay sorted out one of their expansion draft questions and a cap question by trading Jonathan Drouin to Montréal for Mikhail Sergachev. There were two conditional picks in the deal, but they were never exchanged, making this a one for one player swap.

In the short term, Tampa Bay won this trade so hard, it’s difficult to overstate it. In the long term, Drouin is not the player he seemed this season as the Habs tried to turn him into Saku Koivu. Sergachev is also not as exciting (yet) in a tough situation as he was in his gentle regular-season usage he enjoyed, but even accounting for that, Steve Yzerman fleeced Marc Bergevin on this one.

This trade should be a lesson to anyone who thinks a team should fill their weakest position at all costs. You dig a hole one place to fill another, and you might end up worse off, as the Habs did.

June 16: Arizona swapped NCAA prospects with Philadelphia and also traded their fifth-round pick in this year’s draft for Nick Cousins.

That pick is #127 but is virtually indistinguishable from the pick traded to the Wild above in average value. In Cousins, Arizona got a player who came to the Flyers with a history of a sexual assault charge and who also could not crack their lineup with meaningful production in multiple tryouts.

The charges were dropped by the Crown when they determined they could not get a conviction. That outcome should not be taken as an opinion by the Crown one way or the other about the truth of the accusations, the innocence or guilt of the accused, the actions of the police who arrested him or anything else. Sometimes you just go on not knowing things and no one explains who done it in the last five minutes of the show.

Strictly on hockey grounds, this trade seems to be a tepid win for Arizona, and an underpay of a very mild amount. Cousins made the much worse Arizona roster and was mildly successful, but it’s hard to fault the Flyers for going for the pick given his on-ice performance there.

June 17: Buffalo acquired pending RFA Nate Beaulieu from Montréal for a 2017 third-round pick.

That pick became Scott Walford, taken at #68, and a superficial look at him says he’s a big defender who doesn’t get a lot of points in the WHL. Hard to judge that.

Beaulieu was signed to an overpay of $2.4 million for two years and played 59 games his first season with the Sabres, producing nine points. On any other team, he’d have spent the year in the AHL.

It’s hard to know why the Sabres though Beaulieu would suddenly be worth playing on their team, when he’d seemed surplus to the Canadiens’ terrible defence for two years. This trade was laughably bad at the time and then got worse. Beaulieu has a year to redeem himself, but Bergevin won this deal.

June 17: Arizona got pending UFA Chad Johnson, an NCAA prospect, and a conditional pick from Calgary for Mick Smith with 25% of his salary retained. Johnson was only there to fulfill expansion draft requirements, and the Coyotes never signed him, so the deal is really the traditional pick and a prospect for Smith.

Did Mike Smith work out for the Flames? No, of course not, and they are now stuck paying over four million for another year of average goaltending at best.

The Coyotes get the lesser pick because the Flames flamed out. It is #74, which has an average historic pick value of a 27% chance of producing a 100-game NHLer.

That sets the cap hit value of a pick at that level at two years of $1.4 million. That seems high, but if you aren’t ever using that cap space, who cares? Cap space is worth different amounts to different teams. That’s a lot of cash salary for whoever ultimately clears the Coyotes debts, however.

June 17: San Jose sent Mirco Mueller and a 2017 fifth-round pick to New Jersey for a 2017 second-round and fourth-round picks. As our first pick swap on this list, I’m going to leave Scott Cullen’s probability ratings and use his average numerical rating for the picks to compare this.

The picks were #49 and #123 for #143 or: 2.76 + 1.84 for 1.68. The fifth for fourth swap was barely a downgrade for the Devils, and the loss to them was really the second-round pick.

That second became Mario Ferraro, a small defender who carried his high school scoring rate into the NCAA with not too much of a drop. Hard to guess who he’ll turn into. The Sharks dealt the other pick in a move up deal on draft day.

The Devils pick became Marian Studenic, an OHL winger they’ve already signed to an ELC, helping to fill their bare cupboard.

So, was Mueller worth a second? He missed most of the season with an injury, and didn’t shine until the World Championships, so that’s hard to say. He had never quite made the grade with the Sharks.

This deal feels very murky one year on, and seemed to be an overpay by the Devils at the time for a player they would put on their roster just because their depth was poor, and who speaks the same variety of German as Nico Hischier. His performance at Worlds makes it seem like the Devils may have something more than we all realize, however.

June 21: Vegas got Reilly Smith for a this year’s fourth-round pick from Florida.

While it’s technically true the Panthers were under pressure to make their roster work for the expansion draft, this deal was about cutting Smith’s cap hit and salary off their books. Vegas skated away laughing all the way to the finals. Florida gets pick #123, which has a 15% chance of getting you an above replacement-level NHLer.

George McPhee turns the AC up and sleeps under a fleece every night.

June 21: Vegas got Alex Tuch from Minnesota for a conditional pick. This is a very expansion draft related trade, that likely wouldn’t have happened otherwise, but it wasn’t technically a trade to get Vegas to agree to take Erik Haula, even if that was the result.

Alex Tuch had 37 points in 78 games for Vegas and raised the question of why the Wild couldn’t find a use for him. They’d given him one six-game trial only and kept choosing to sign depth veterans. The Wild gets this year’s pick #92, which has nearly a 24% chance of being a player approaching Tuch’s value. Although, for a team so devoid of draft picks, just having more has value.

Vegas had the leverage, and they used it. George McPhee has several fleeces on his bed.

June 22: Edmonton traded Jordan Eberle to the Islanders for Ryan Strome. That’s it. No picks, so nothing.

Like a lot of trades by the Oilers, I do understand the concept here, and it’s not irrational. They really did need to cut some cap hit long term, and they took back a much cheaper and younger player in Strome, but shouldn’t that have been the clue that this trade was missing something? LIKE ANOTHER GUY!! Or a pick, or two.

Even given the age difference, Strome is just not as good, so where’s the rest of the deal Oilers?

Point to the Islanders on this one. Call Edmonton early and often. They recognize what they need to do in broad strokes, they just execute it really, really badly.

June 22: Carolina got Trevor van Riemsdyk and a seventh-round pick in this year’s draft for a 2017 second-round pick.

Van Riemsdyk had good results for the Hurricanes, whose defence corps is so young, he’s an old man there. They also can now consider trading one of their excess of more valuable young defenders to improve overall. They first ordered in a pile of sand before they started digging holes. So good for Carolina and the unemployed Ron Francis here. The seventh-round, very low chance pick is just some gravy.

Vegas got the pick that Carolina got from Pittsburgh for Ron Hainsey, so it wasn’t a great second, it was #62, and they took Jake Leschyshyn, who they’ve signed, and who has good results on a good WHL team. So good for them, really. They turned their expansion draft surplus into a good prospect.

June 22: Montréal got David Schlemko for at 2019 fifth-round pick. Schlemko was an upgrade on Beaulieu, even with his injury plagued season. This was a very good trade for Bergevin. He seems to excel at pick for player trades, and fail miserably at player for player trades. Vegas likely sold a little low here, but for a veteran, it was not terrible.

June 23, 2017 was draft day, and the trades made on those two days deserve their own post to see if we can learn anything about pick swaps.