Running through a mock draft without cheating and giving your team a good pick is very instructive. One thing it has revealed is that once you get to the 15th pick, the chances a player who is really cool with a lot of buzz will be there to be taken is fairly small.
This naturally leads to a little disappointment from Leafs fans. We had a terrible playoffs. The season was frustrating, and the next season will start... someday. We want fun at the draft, and I think that’s a valid way to feel — for us, that is, not Kyle Dubas. Faced with the collection of middle-tiered players, people either wanted to trade down to get more prospects in the draft, or trade up to get a better one.
Trading down is usually the smarter move, and GMs usually make it knowing exactly who the teams they’re going to skip over in the move down are going to pick. When Dubas swapped the 25th overall for the 29th, he wasn’t just looking for an extra third-rounder, he knew he’d be able to get Rasmus Sandin at the lower pick, or he wouldn’t have done it. It’s possible he had several players he was interested in that made that deal a solid certainty for him, as well.
The lower third of the first round is where pick trades usually happen. The top half of the first round is not a common place for moves that don’t involve trading a very good player, but there have been a few straight pick swaps in recent years. Some of them very bad ideas in hindsight.
Vegas got two top-15 first-round picks for “Expansion Draft Considerations” so, discounting those, the most recent pick swaps in that range are:
On June 21, 2019, the Arizona Coyotes traded up to 11th overall to take Victor Soderstrom. They swapped the 14th overall and the 45th to the Flyers.
On June 24, 2016, the Ottawa Senators traded up from 12th overall to 11th to take Logan Brown. They gave the New Jersey Devils a third-round pick, the 80th overall.
On June 22, 2012, Buffalo traded up to the 14th overall to take Zemgus Girgensons. They swapped the 21st overall and the 42nd overall for that pick.
On June 25, 2010, Los Angeles traded up to the 15th overall to take Derek Forbort. They swapped the 19th overall and a second rounder that was the 59th overall to the Panthers. The Panthers took Nick Bjugstad and Jason Zucker, making this one a bit of an oops in hindsight.
On June 26, 2009, the New York Islanders traded a package of picks — 26, 37, 62 and 92 to Columbus for their 16th overall and their third rounder which was 77th. Then they traded up to the 12th overall to take Calvin De Haan. They swapped the 16th overall, and a third and a seventh (77th and 182nd) to Minnesota.
From the picks in that trade, other teams took Nick Leddy, Anders Nilsson, and Casey Cizikas, all of whom played for the Islanders eventually.
On June 20, 2008, the Nashville Predators traded up to get the seventh overall (Toronto’s pick) to take Colin Wilson. They swapped the ninth overall and the 40th to the Islanders. Why did the Islanders have that Leafs pick? Well, funny you should ask that...
Also on June 20, 2008, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded up to get Luke Schenn fifth overall. They swapped their seventh and two other picks, a second at 37th overall and a third at 68th overall to the New York Islanders.
Another June 20, 2008 trade saw the Ottawa Senators trade up to the 15th overall by swapping the 18th overall and a third rounder that was 70th to Nashville. Nashville took the famous goalie bust, and one of many cautionary tales about first-round goalies, Chet Pickard. Ottawa took Erik Karlsson.
Also on that day, the Los Angeles Kings traded up to the 12th overall. They swapped the 17th and the 28th, so two first-rounders, to Anaheim, who had the sense to pick Jake Gardiner with the 17th overall. Los Angeles had just got the 17th overall in a trade with the Flames, and the 12th overall was offer sheet compensation, and that’s a secondary theme of pick trades in the top half of the first round — teams are very often trading a pick that isn’t their own.
Buffalo then traded up from 13th to 12th to take Tyler Myers, and the Kings got the 28th overall as payment. They Kings took Colten Teubert with the 13th overall.
On June 22, 2007, San Jose traded up to ninth overall to take Logan Couture. They swapped the 13th (a Toronto pick, not their own) and a second and a third (44th and 87th) to St. Louis. The 13th went to the Sharks in the Vesa Toskala trade, and the Blues used it to draft Lars Eller.
You have to go back to 2005 to find San Jose at it again, trading up to get Devin Setoguchi, but that’s enough to understand the market for these picks, and what the price is to trade up.
Teams often trade up with picks that aren’t theirs and with picks they haven’t had for more than a minute. An expansion team in the mix stirring up the marketplace seems to cause higher trading overall. But the vast majority of trades for legitimately good first-round draft picks involve players, usually blockbuster deals at the trade deadline.
The other thing to note, of course, is that most of those trades don’t look so hot in hindsight for the team that traded up, but there’s enough tantalizing hits to make you think it’s a good gamble. After all, that’s how gambling works. There seems to be a lot of defencemen as targets, but that’s too short a list to be drawing too many conclusions from.
What about the price, though? If you move up one, two or three places, the price ranges from the cheap Buffalo deal to get to 14th where it cost them the 80th overall, to the expensive Toronto deal where they traded a very good second and a third. That deal was moving to the fifth overall, however, so it’s reasonable the price was higher.
Moving four places has a range of prices, but often includes a second rounder. The two trades that move more than four places cost the 28th and the 42nd overall to accomplish.
Absent a player in the deal, and it would need to be a very good player, the Leafs can’t likely turn their 15th overall into much above the 13th (their original pick location, now held by Carolina) without throwing in next year’s first or second. Without a third rounder this year, even moving up two or three places gets tricky. All of these trades listed above involved picks in the same year as well.
Turn around and face the other direction, and you can more easily imagine trading down from 15th or so. Aside from the Forbort and Karlsson trades above — and the first trade of the Leddy pick — here’s the pick swaps that fit in the 15 - 20 range in recent years:
On June 24, 2016, the Arizona Coyotes traded up to the 16th overall to take Jakob Chychrun. There were two dead contracts swapped: Joe Vitale and Pavel Datsyuk, but the picks Detroit got were the 20th and the 53rd.
That same day, the Jets wanted Logan Stanley at 18th overall, so thet traded their 22nd and 36th to the Flyers, but also got back the 79th.
On June 27, 2014, Chicago wanted Nick Schmaltz at 20th overall, and they swapped their 27th and 62nd to the Sharks, but also got back the 179th.
On June 20, 2013, the Sharks wanted Mirco Mueller at 18th, so they gave Detroit their 20th and 58th.
On June 24, 2011, Toronto did a thing to get the 22nd overall pick, but that’s outside the range, so we need not speak of it.
On June 26, 2009, The Devils wanted Jacob Josefson at 20th overall, and swapped their 23rd and 84th to Calgary for it.
On June 22, 2007, the Wild wanted the 16th to draft Colton Gillies, and they swapped the 19th and 42nd to Anaheim to get it.
That same day, the Blues traded their 24th and 70th to Calgary get the 18th to take Ian Cole.
On June 24, 2006, the Sharks swapped their 20th and 53rd to Montréal to move to 16th overall.
There are a lot of second-round picks that were gained by the teams trading down in the 15-20 range. The number of places the team trading up is jumping is usually larger than on the first list of early round trades, so that drives the price up. There’s a whiff of desperation here from the teams moving up, however. They’re after someone specific to make a splash, and to get into at least the middle of the draft. If you’re starting out with a pick lower down the draft order than 20, you had a good year, usually, and getting a decent draft pick requires a trade. So this area looks like the seller’s market.
I think, given Dubas’s track record, he is more likely to trade down than up. He’s more likely to use the pick to take someone unexpected, and he’ll make those decisions in the heat of the moment. However, a cursory look at options shows few teams with the picks to make a good trade with.
What we can’t predict is how this year’s draft, where discussions aren’t in person, will work out for trading. No one will see GMs talking to each other, and you know... just how many phones will Dubas have?