I don’t like the playoff format where everyone and the Habs get to be in it. I don’t like the draft lottery format that created this weird month and a half, not of playoff anticipation, but of imagining how cool it would be to lose for over half the NHL fanbases. But I don’t like a lot of things about 2020, so this one kind of pales in comparison.

Since we’re here, though, in a world where the NHL made the choices that brought us to this possibility that the Leafs lose their opening playoff round and we all end up on tenterhooks, I need to know something: Are people really serious when they complain that Alexis Lafreniere would be of no use to the Toronto Maple Leafs because he’s not a defenceman? Is that just the ultimate in emotional hedging (I don’t want him anyway, so you can’t make me care when we don’t get him) or are they serious?

They can’t be serious.

You tell me what you think about this. First question goes like this: Imagine the Leafs win the second lottery. The top-ranked defenceman is Jamie Drysdale, and aside from sounding like a character on a 50s soap opera, he’s also short, shoots right, is from Toronto, and has a lot of OHL points. That’s basically the dream of every Leafs fan, and Kyle Dubas himself, right? He’s perfect for the team.

Would you take him instead?

If the Leafs had the first overall pick, would you want them to take Jamie Drysdale instead?

You can’t be serious.740
Yes, I am that brave.45

There is another option of course. The Leafs, in possession of this pick, could trade it for the third or fourth overall and get some extras on top of the fabled Drysdale, who I’m already sure will be the greatest defender ever. The ink wasn’t even dry on the first lottery results and people were speculating about Ottawa trading their two picks, the third and the fifth, for the first.  So, first, is that even plausible, no matter who is the owner of the Senators? (Imagine if you could pay cash though.)

Normally when discussing pick value trades, the answers are surprising and involve accepting how nearly equivalent picks are. And for picks with a very high probability of returning a player who makes no impact on the organization, median value is not necessarily even the best way to look at the problem. Luckily for us, the value for top five picks is a lot more solid.

I’m going to use this old analysis from some fellow named Eric T. at Broad Street Hockey, because it’s convenient and good enough for this mental exercise. (Flashback to the time I posted an ageing curve in comments here, and the angry fellow I replied to demanded to know who the hell this Eric was and why he should care about his graphs.)

In Mr. T.’s exercise, which is focused on valuing pick trades, he sets the first overall at 100, and then it goes like this:

Second: 69.9

Third: 59.4

Fourth: 53.4

Fifth: 49.2

So, that’s a numerical representation of what we all believe. The first is uniquely valuable in almost every draft year, and the question of who to take with it is usually not a question at all. After that, the top five are similar and yet very valuable. This valuation says that, on average, the third and the fifth is worth 108.6 or slightly more than the first overall. So it’s not an absurd idea to make that trade, and since we aren’t talking about on average, we’re talking about this particular draft, the question is: Would you trade Lafreniere for a chance at two others in the top five? Or obviously, one other, and whatever you can get with the extra pick.

Would you trade the first overall pick for Ottawa’s third and fifth?

They’d need to add something.164
I’d throw in another pick to make it work.24

Now, what if you’ve been sitting here unconvinced by Jamie Drysdale, a player you might only have just looked up on Elite Prospects a minute ago. What if you want a defenceman, and you think the first overall pick can get you a grown up one with bona fides and a contract you will fit under the cap by magic. Would you trade the first overall pick for one of those guys?

Would you trade the first overall pick for any of these defencemen?

Colton Parayko78
Erik Karlsson15
Charlie McAvoy66
Victor Hedman211
No, none of those, never, no one.230
I’d trade for someone, just none of those.107

Obviously in the fantasy world where the Leafs suddenly have a left wing of prodigious talent challenging their top two centres in value almost immediately, there is another way to solve this perennial defence problem. What if the Leafs put Lafreniere on the top line and traded the great big contract that is blocking all the fantasizing about adding any great player of worth. Would you effectively swap out Mitch Marner for Alexis Lafreniere plus whatever defenceman he could bring in?

Would you trade Mitch Marner for a defenceman in this context?

I would in any context.35
Eventually, but not while Lafreniere is on his ELC.214

You can repeat the above exercise with William Nylander and his smaller cap hit if you like, or just wait for the TSN article. But I’m still left with wonderment that anyone, no matter how fixated they are on defence, would ever think having the first overall land in your lap is a problem, not a solution.

What would be your favourite way to sort the Leafs roster out with this horrible dilemma of an elite winger on an ELC?