Part 1: The Dangers of Playing the Game of Trades
When we started to plan out the coverage of the upcoming NHL Draft, an interesting question came up regarding the overall success of the Dallas Stars drafts the past decade or so -- especially comparing Joe Nieuwendyk's drafts with Doug Armstrong's. The general feeling has been that Armstrong failed to draft successfully, with the Dallas Stars currently paying the price for years of draft day failures.
Huw came to the conclusion that overall, the Stars' drafts under Armstrong should not be considering "failures," because the Stars were able to find some gems that are very important to the current team. It was a very interesting exercise and while I thought that Huw presented a very good argument, I still maintain that the drafting while Armstrong was GM was decidedly poor.
This opinion is based upon the overall draft history of the Stars since 2002, not just regarding the players that were actually drafted. Huw was focused solely on the players that were actually drafted and after the conversation that stemmed from that post, I thought it would be prudent to take a look not just at the players drafted but the overall approach by the Stars during the draft over that time.
I believe that it's important to look at history to help make decisions about the future. While I don't think that history shows us exactly what is going to happen with any amount of certainty, it allows us to at least address the mistakes and successes that led the present we are currently enjoying. I think this is important in all areas of life and it's especially important in sports.
In Part 1, we're going to kick off this historical breakdown to look at the strategy of the Dallas Stars regarding draft picks as assets in trades and how this has negatively affected the franchise since 2002...
Doug Armstrong took over as the General Manager for the Dallas in January of 2002 and held that position until the fall of 2007, when he was fired by Tom Hicks in favor of the tandem of Brett Hull and Les Jackson. During this time the Stars went 210-109-35-23, missed the postseason in 2002 and competed for the Western Conference championship in 2008, mainly with the team he constructed -- with the addition of Brad Richards, of course.
Since 2008, the Stars have missed the postseason four years in a row. The financial difficulties of the Dallas Stars impeded the team from making the sort of free agency additions that the Stars had grown accustomed to over the years and after the Brad Richards trade, it was rare that the Stars had the flexibility to make the sort of big trades needed to help improve the team.
It's interesting to look back at the draft history of the Stars over the past ten years and see just how the current roster has been shaped. The draft history during this time, especially under Doug Armstrong, is directly linked to the free agency and trade strategy employed by the Dallas Stars and how they were attempting to build the team.
After 2002, when the Stars missed the postseason and Ken Hitchcock was fired, the Stars fought to maintain a competitive roster by spending with the top teams in the NHL and maintaining a relatively high payroll. The Stars also traded for veteran players in the hopes of adding more star power and experience, while players like Sergei Zubov, Jere Lehtinen, Mike Modano and Marty Turco were all playing at high levels.
It was an attempt to keep the Stars on top of the division and in the playoffs using what is obviously a short-term strategy. The Stars were at the height of their popularity in Dallas following the 1999 and 2000 Stanley Cup teams and it was a fight to not only maintain that level of prominence, but to also avoid the disappointment and letdowns experienced during the lost postseason of 2002.
The problem with this approach came in 2006, when the league emerged from the lockout with completely new and different restrictions on how teams could be built. A salary cap was now in place and the teams that drafted the best and were able to hang onto their young talent were the teams able to consistently win. Doug Armstrong attempted to keep the Stars on top with several more trades but it was apparent that the strategy that worked for the Stars in the late 90s and early 2000s was no longer going to work quite as well.
This all ties back to the draft strategy of the Stars. This is a team that, for the better part of the past 20 years, has utilized deft trades and smart free agent signings to build successful teams -- it's only natural that Armstrong would attempt to maintain this strategy once he took over. The Stars certainly took the draft seriously, but it was also apparent that Armstrong considered draft picks valuable assets with which he would use to bolster the current team -- a strategy that did not play out nearly as well as he planned.
Let's take a look at all of the trades involving draft picks for the Stars involving first through third round picks from 2002 to 2009, when Joe Nieuwendyk was hired as the General Manager of the Stars.
|2002||1-13||2002 first round pick (#13-Alexander Semin)||2002 first round pick (#26-Martin Vagner), 2002 second round pick (#42-Marius Holtet), 2003 sixth round pick (#185-Francis Wathier)|
|2002||1-20||2002 first round pick (#20-Daniel Paille)*||Ron Tugnutt, 2002 second round pick (#32-Janos Vas)|
|2003||1-28||2003 first round pick (#28-Corey Perry)||Two 2003 second round picks (#36-Vojtech Polak) (#54-B.J. Crombeen)|
|2003||--||Grant Marshall||2003 second round pick (#33-Loui Eriksson)|
|2003||--||Michael Ryan, 2003 second round pick (#65-Branislav Fabry)||Stu Barnes|
|2004||1-20||2004 first round pick (#20-Travis Zajac)||2004 first round pick (#22-Lukas Kaspar), 2004 third round pick (#88-Clayton Barthel)|
|2004||1-22||2004 first round pick (#22-Lukas Kaspar), 2004 fifth round pick (#153-Steven Zalewski)||(#28-Mark Fistric), 2004 second round pick (#52-Raymond Sawada), 2004 third round pick (#91-Alexander Edler)|
|Enver Lisin)||Valeri Bure|
|2004||2-24||Jon Klemm, 2004 second round pick (#54-Jakub Sindel)||Stephane Robidas, 2004 fourth round pick (#104-Fredrik Naslund)|
|2004||--||2004 third round pick (#91-Alexander Edler)||2005 third round pick (#71-Richard Clune)|
|2005||--||2004 third round pick (#88-Clayton Barthel)||2005 third round pick (#75-Perttu Lindgren)|
|2005||3-28||2004 eighth round pick (#232-Martin Houle), 2005 third round pick (#89-Chris Lawrence)||Chris Therien|
|2006||2-30||John Erskine, 2006 second round pick (#60-Jesse Joensuu)||Janne Niinimaa, 2007 fifth round pick (#136-Ondrej Roman)|
|2007||--||Martin Skoula, Shawn Belle||Willie Mitchell, 2007 second round pick (#50-Nico Sacchetti)|
|2007||2-22||Jaroslav Modry, Johan Fransson, 2007 second round pick (#52-Oscar Moller), 2007 third round pick (#82-Bryan Cameron), 2008 first round pick (#28-Viktor Tikhonov)||Mattias Norstrom, Konstantin Pushkarev, 2007 third round pick (#64-Sergei Korostin), 2007 fourth round pick (#94-Maxim Mayorov)|
|2008||1-28||See Above.||See Above.|
*The 2002 first round pick, at #20, came from the trade of Joe Nieuwendyk, Jamie Langenbrunner to Devils for Jason Arnott and Randy McKay.
Ok, so a bit of an explanation for the table above. When I haven't listed the "original pick" from that year's trade, that means that the Stars didn't necessarily trade away a particular draft pick, instead trading players or acquired picks during that transaction. Every player is parentheses that is listed is the player that was ultimately selected with that draft pick.
When we look back at all of these trades, a few things begin to become extraordinarily clear. For one, Armstrong put a very high value on his first round and second round picks -- not for the future of the team but as valuable assets that could be used to improve the Stars right there and then. Armstrong was also in favor of trading down, giving up first and second round picks if it meant more picks later in the draft.
The Stars, during this time, were relatively successful on the ice and generally entered the draft with a first round selection that came late in the round. The NHL Draft generally becomes a crap shoot when you move outside the top 15 selections or so, and it is easy to understand the strategy that Armstrong had regarding these picks -- why not trade what will be a risky selection anyway, for a player that is already proven?
Of course, this strategy is only as prudent as your evaluation of the draft overall. The 2002 draft possessed good depth and the Stars traded down twice in favor of Ron Tugnutt -- a backup goaltender -- and four players that ultimately never made it to the NHL. The 2003 draft is regarded as one of the deepest ever and the Stars traded out of the first round yet again, in favor of two second round selections that never panned out. The 2002 draft was so deep, in fact, that Loui Eriksson fell to the second round.
It's also impossible to say who the Stars would have selected had they stuck with their original picks, but seeing names like Alexander Semin, Corey Perry, Travis Zajac and Daniel Paille in the slots originally owned by the Stars is certainly frustrating. Perhaps the Stars were hoping to find better value in the second round, through sheer numbers alone.
The whole point of the draft is to improve and secure the future success of the franchise. By trading away multiple top picks in favor of later selections that would never do much for the Stars, Armstrong was effectively putting a pair of handcuffs on the Stars for the future. It's impossible to see such ramifications in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005, when the Stars were one of the best the NHL had to offer, but the team-building strategy of the Stars would eventually have to rely upon the depth the organization had to offer and when 2008 and 2009 rolled around -- the depth in the Stars organization was drastically missing.
"Elite" talent can come from anywhere in a draft. Jamie Benn is a great example of this and there are certainly others that have been drafted in the later rounds that ultimately became top players in the NHL. Yet most elite talent in the NHL is found in the first round, specifically in the top of the first round, and the Stars stayed well away from this area during these years -- sometimes by design, sometimes by circumstance. When the Stars had the chance to go for elite talent, or at least a better chance at elite talent, it was traded away.
This lack of elite talent is what has hurt the Stars so dearly the past four years.
The Stars are where they are right now because of a myriad of reasons, including bad trades, bad free agent signings and financial issues -- but this is also a franchise that has had to spend the past three drafts repairing a farm system that appeared to be completely pushed to the side by prior management.
The other part of this issue, the actual players that were drafted by the Stars during this time and this lack of "elite talent", is what we'll dive into in Part 2.