Trade the damn fifth pick.
Really. Trade it.
Take that fifth pick, the Tim Connolly, Blake Wheeler, Raffi Torres fifth pick. The one that has over the last five years yielded Karl Alzner, Luke Schenn, brother Brayden, Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Strome.
If you can get a solid offer move it on down the road.
Most number fives play with some distinction in the NHL. Some, Phil Kessel comes to mind, are tremendously talented.
But when the Bruins selected Kessel in 2008, they were still too late to land Jordan Staal (Pittsburgh), Jonathan Toews (Chicago) and Nicklas Backstrom (Washington). Friends, that’s a draft class.
Put 2006 Phil Kessel in a time machine and he would be dueling Nail Yakupov for number one status in this year’s draft. And that hair!
The Leafs won’t be trading up for Yakupov. Name the last time someone traded up for the number one on draft day. See what I mean?
The quality of the fifth pick is directly related to the quality of the players picked before. Does anyone, anyone think that Ryan Murray, Mikhail Grigorenko, Filip Forsberg, Alex Galchenyuk, Jacob Trouba or Morgan Rielly are going to be as good as Backstrom, Toews or Staal?
How about comparing this year’s projected top five with Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal and Nathan Horton, all chosen ahead of number five Tomas Vanek in 2003?
When the Pittsburgh Penguins landed the greatest fifth overall, Jaromir Jagr in 1990, Owen Nolan, Petr Nedved, Keith Primeau and Mike Ricci, four premier players, were already off the board.
As they prepare for Friday’s first round, the Maple Leafs are in a tremendously interesting situation. They have, you may have heard, two principal needs.
One is a goalie. It will be an elaborate dance but the only team willing to take on the 10 years left on Roberto Luongo’s contract figures to be the Maple Leafs. Call me when the music stops.
That leaves a big-time forward. It would be lovely to add Rick Nash via trade. Likewise for the oft-discussed Bobby Ryan.
Two other names stand out: Jordan Staal and Ryan Getzlaf. Both figure to be unrestricted free agents in a year.
Let’s focus on those two.
I don’t think Staal will stay in Pitt. As long as Penguins GM Ray Shero plans on extending Sidney Crosby this year and Evgeny Malkin at this time next year, he can’t keep Staal. You can’t pay $8 million a year for a third-line centre.
Getzlaf, meanwhile scored just 12 goals in Anaheim and looks like a player who might be ready for a change of scenery.
He has been out of the rumor mill. Staal is becoming a mainstay.
The most fertile use of the Leafs draft choice would be as a garnish to a significant trade. A fifth overall is a very compelling lever because you need to fail to get one. If you trade for a high pick, you trade a player of substantial, if undefinable upside, while avoiding the often career-limiting necessity of losing.
That’s what is really being traded: the right to harvest a player who looks, looks, potentially significant without having to stink right out loud. It’s a very enticing proposition. There is a certain time in every manager’s career when he thinks more rope might get his heels to the ground should things go seriously awry.
Time for a theory. Lets’ call it the inverse value Zach Parise theory.
It goes like this: as long as unrestricted free agency beckons, the value of Staal and Getzlaf to their teams falls perversely: the better they play, and they are excellent, the more interest they fetch and the more their value to others increases.
A year ago, Zach Parise was limited to just 13 games because of a knee injury. His value to the Devils actually decreased when he delivered a standout performance this year because his worth to the rest of the league skyrocketed.
If Parise tanked the Devils would have had a better chance of keeping him and capitalizing on a potential long-term return. Instead, Parise shone and now the Devils’ odds of retaining him are much sketchier, especially since the club is having what we in the Ulmer family refer to as significant liquidity problems.
Let me restate: Parise is worth less to New Jersey because there is a much slighter of chance of retaining him. It’s kind of sick when you think of it. He was worth more to the team a year ago, when he scored just three goals, than now.
Go back to this year’s draft and theory number two, the draft currency theory. Indulge me.
The strength of the draft determines the value of the currency. In 1990, 2003 and 2008 a fifth-overall was like having 90 cents on the dollar in value.
This year it’s like Canadian Tire money. You’ll be continually looking over your shoulder at the KHL with Yakupov. Mikhail Grigorenko might be a slacker. Murray is nice but not ridiculously great. Forsberg will be a good player but won’t be ready for three years.
Talent evaluators are faced with concussions, the K, mono, knee injuries. The projections read like the Old Testament.
But a fifth pick looks good.
The price for a top three forward is never another top three forward. It’s more or less, a top-six forward or top four defenceman, an excellent prospect and a high draft choice.
A fifth overall is a high draft choice. So far so good. Should the Leafs move an excellent prospect, say for argument’s sake a Matt Frattin and a top four defenceman (pick one), you are in the ball park. There is no guarantee, of course, but what the draft pick could do is keep the Leafs most important young player, Jake Gardiner, out of the equation.
If that happens all those losses at the end of the season were not in vain.