Playing Blackjack with Your Draft Picks

Evan MorseContributor IFebruary 26, 2009

So much in the modern NHL relies on good drafting. Every team contending for the top of their conference relies heavily on young entry level contract players, because let's face it, without these players you could not afford to put together a solid top six forwards, top four defense and a solid starting goaltender. But where to draft and who to draft is a better question.

Take for example simple economics. If the marginal advantage of one action is more than the marginal advantage of the second action, one would most logically take the first action. Why are these economics not used in hockey?

What is the marginal difference between a top pair defensemen and a bottom pair defensemen. Maybe 25 points and -5 giving it the benefit of the doubt. Now break down the marginal difference between a top line forward and a fourth line forward. Most likely between 50-80 points.

So why in the modern NHL do teams use top five choices on defensemen? How many defensemen finish the year with more than 50 points? Of these five, how many were top 10 or 20 picks. The marginal difference of defensemen at the Junior level is way to slim to predict how these players will perform at the professional level.

Drafting a defensemen top five is no "safer" of a choice either. Yes, a forward is a riskier pick, but this is simply due to the number of forwards to defensemen selected.

Very much like a game of blackjack, you don't always win, but play long enough and you will hit. There are way to many intangibles that factor into a defensemen's performance. The coaching system, your goaltender, and even the team's you face more often throughout the season.

These factors do not play as key of a role in the performance of a forward. The bottom line is you either have finish and a nose for the net, or you don't. The chances of a top five selection becoming a superstar you can build your team around are much higher if you select a forward.

So the question is, why are team's betting against the odds. Sure Erik Johnson and Luke Schenn are going to be great defensemen, but will they have as much of an outcome on a game as a skilled forward.

They can be as solid as anyone on the point throughout a game, but for 35 minutes of the game they will be on the bench and a team with skilled forwards can easily capitalize.

As well, what is the marginal difference between a Luke Schenn and say a player who will become the next Willie Mitchell. Schenn will be considered a lot better because of his status as a top five pick, but when you really break it down to the blind eye, there isn't going to be that much difference.

What if now you were to say what the difference will be between Nikita Filatov and lets say a Colby Armstrong type player? A lot more then that of a Schenn vs. Mitchell comparison.

Another way to look at it is to break down the amount of hockey that is offensive and defensive into a percentage. Your team can be as solid as you want defensively, the bottom line is you must put the puck in the net to win.

The same goes with your opponent.

You can be extremely talented defensively, however if they are equally or more talented offensively, the majority of the time you will be defeated. What counts in hockey?

Goals, and just goals. A 1-0 loss is still a loss, which means, yes your team was great defensively and only allowed 1 goal, but come the end of the year this is still a loss.

Coaches as well can coach into a defensive system, which will make the marginal difference between your defensemen even less noticeable. For these reasons it would be tough to argue that offense is at least 60 percent of the game.

So why would you bet on trying to make your 40 percent better than the other teams 60 percent. This just doesn't seem logical.

Consider recent drafts. How many top forwards have been drafted after the 10th overall pick? Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Corey Perry, Anze Kopitar, David Krejci to name a few. Now consider defensemen drafted before them.

Sure some of these defensemen have turned into solid defensemen, but I bet any GM who drafted these defensemen before these players would like another kick at the can.

Another much smaller factor is the movement factor. If you have the assets on offense, why not let other teams take the risk of one of these defensive assets turning into a solid player and once he has proven he will be, acquire him through trade or free agency?

Team's in the NHL are willing to give up defensive depth to fill the void of top 6 forwards that 80 percent of the NHL have. This stat alone proves that offensive stars are much more valuable.

Take for example the Jay Bouwmeester situation going on right now. Bouwmeester is a great defensemen and teams are salivating that the thought of acquiring him. But how much more of an impact would he have on a team then the likes of Rick Nash if he were available?

The bottom line is that the difference between Rick Nash and Bouwmeester offensively is nearly 30 goals and probably close to 40 points. Is Jay Bouwmeester going to single handily stop 30 goals against more then your fifth or sixth defensemen.

Highly unlikely. Is Rick Nash going to score 30 goals more than your ninth or 10th forward. You can pretty much guarantee it. So at the end of the year, Rick Nash is going to have a much better outcome on your teams goal differential come the end of the season and isn't that ultimately what hockey boils down to?

Scoring as many goals as you can, while allowing your opponent to score the least.

The bottom line is that sports are a game of playing the odds. Unfortunately for some reason, teams choose to play against the odds in their chance of striking it rich when it comes to the draft.

Sure, in a game of Blackjack you do not always win, but with the odds approximately two percent in the players favor, if you stick with it, eventually you will win.