Matt Larkin posed this somewhat controversial question for Stars fans: Dallas just jumped to 3rd overall thanks to the NHL's scooby doo drafting system*. With the team ready to be competitive now, why not trade the 3rd overall pick to upgrade the current roster with proven commodities?
With all due respect to Matt Larkin — and I mean that sincerely, and not just because he referenced me in his John Klingberg article back in February — but this is madness. For three important reasons besides 'just no'.
The Goalie Market
This is the weakest of the arguments against. After all, Larkin is talking about Cory Schneider. Even though he's 31, he's a quality goaltender whose 2016-2017 numbers shouldn't be discussed without the context of New Jersey's blueline of roller blade x-gamers and beer leaguers chewing bubble gum intravenously.
This Devils club existed somewhere between Colorado's accidental bottom barrel and Buffalo's deliberate suicide squad in 2015. Schneider was the 6'2” strip of duct tape keeping the team from falling into a black hole.
However, the goalie UFA class is a decent, if mixed bag: Ben Bishop, Steve Mason, Jonathan Bernier, Brian Elliot. These guys are expensive. And Jim Nill, whether he's willing to admit it or not, has taken too many hits in the op-eds (and glorified yahoo comments section articles) to be all-in-again with another high cap conundrum in net.
Expansion is the other factor driving the goalie market. Philipp Grubauer, Joonas Korpisalo, and Antti Raanta are promising young goalies from respective teams who may be interested in getting assets rather than (except for Raanta) "lose them for nothing".
This option would cost assets, but not franchise changing assets. It's tough because Nill has to get rid of one or both goalies. Sure, a buyout is an option, but I doubt Nill wants to deal with the optics of buying both out (which is costly enough) while experiencing the variance of two new netminders. (No matter how hard they'd have to actively try to be worse than Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi.)
Nill can fetch a good goalie through raw cap or modest assets. That’s a better option than losing the third overall pick.
Can you remember the last time third overall went bust? By my count the last third overalls have been Dubois, Strome, Draisaitl, Drouin, Galchenyuk, Huberdeau, Gudbranson...okay we’ll stop there but you get the point.
Third overall is a good place to be. I know what you’ve got in your pocket. It’s the old “weak draft” banana-mot. This is a weak draft in comparison to franchise saving premiere players. Comparing this draft to Connor McAres, and Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine competing for 40 goal rookie seasons sets a bar too high for anyone to match.
But as Hannah Stuart so eloquently put it: “there’s a difference between weak and worthless”.
Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier are premiere talents. Yet despite that, GM’s are taking their cues from scouts asking a simple question: do you want a number two center, or a number one defensemen?
This draft has several very elite blueliners. This quote, about Cale Makar, reads like an exclamation from a former Vine star, but it’s a Western Conference scout:
“As I’ve said a hundred times I don’t know if he can defend, but f*** is he good the other way. I didn’t know if Erik Karlsson was going to be able to defend either.
Grant McCagg, formerly with McKeens, has Miro Heiskanen going first overall in his mock draft, drawing timid comparisons to Nicklas Lidstrom. McCagg also has a running pseudo Q & A on the hfboards about his choices that is well worth your time if you’re interesting in knowing more.
The point here is that third overall is a shockingly explosive spot. New Jersey, needing defensive assets more than anything, could open this draft wide open. There’s no way Philadelphia doesn’t take one of the many talented centers, but the idea that it’s a foregone conclusion seems potentially overstated. Which probably explains why Steve Kournianos over at The Draft Analyst has Casey Mittelstadt going number one (!).
Jeremy Davis at CanucksArmy has a fun take on the consensus numbers versus the deviations. But the point remains. In a draft this wide open, Dallas would look pretty silly to race to the phones to trade their third overall only to watch Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick fall to number three. Which brings me to my last point.
Windows are about more than ‘Winning Now’
A year ago Stars fans were discussing Ben Bishop and what it would cost to get him. Usually it was Julius Honka. Which still (almost) gets my blood pressure up. How anyone can watch the defensive depth of teams like Nashville and Anaheim and think Dallas, who currently competes with their blueline strength like a pre-serum Steve Rogers in the octagon versus a mansized Demetrious Johnson...can afford to cull their meager herd is beyond me.
That theoretical trade would look like a disaster right about now. Only somewhere between Forsberg for Erat and Greedo shooting first.
The “win now” window often gets dramatically overblown. As if there’s a virtue to selling out for short term success. You only get to “win now” status by being able to win consistently. Dallas is gonna (most likely) start next season the same way they began this past season: without Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky, Valeri Nichushkin, and a question mark in Mattias Janmark. The third overall pick is not the time to gamble on success just by simply picking up a good goaltender.
The win now window only comes when teams have bartered with an abundance of assets. Not a scarcity of them.
Think of Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones. Or more controversially, Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson. Dallas is not in that position. Dallas’ pick will be NHL ready while most of Dallas’ core is still in their 20’s. The fact that Jamie Benn will be 30 is not exactly a death knell either.
Dallas has a window to win now, but it starts one step a time and that first step always starts with foresight and prudence at the draft table. Nill would be wise to take advantage of his moment in the spotlight.
*Obviously I wasn’t complaining at the time of the draft, but I still agree with Sean McIndoe. The NHL seems deadset on making silly rules, whether the offsides replays, crease rules, or original draft standards, that have a 100 percent chance of blowing up in their face on a long enough timeline.