The Sabres’ goals are clearly outlined. Buffalo wants to move up in the NHL entry draft, stockpile early picks and top players, and make the fans’ suffering end as soon as possible.
One is uncommon but wise, another may not be worth it and the other doesn’t necessarily have to happen in the first place.
The Sabres have determined that building through the draft is the ideal way to bring a Stanley Cup to Buffalo. The draft will be held eight weeks from today, giving Darcy Regier time to convince fellow general managers to part with picks or package his for prospects.
The Sabres are set to draft eighth overall, and Regier wants to get closer to No. 1. That’s a prudent move, research shows.
The Buffalo News analyzed the top 30 draft picks taken during a 20-year span, ranging from the 1992 entry draft to 2011. To measure the general value of players taken from No. 1 overall to No. 30, we found the median number of games played and career points produced for every draft spot.
The research shows that teams selecting as late as 27th overall can expect to find a player who will have a lengthy career. However, only the first five teams in the draft can be confident they’ll find a prospect who will play awhile and be a point-producer.
Players selected first and second are usually game-changers. The median players in the study appeared in at least 536 games and recorded up to 387 points.
The normal third overall selection puts up 250 points in 599 games. The fourth pick dips to 417 games and 139 points, but that’s primarily because teams missed on taking the fifth pick, who recorded 232 points in 504 games.
From there, it’s a substantial drop-off. The median sixth pick played 309 games and had 137 points. The player picked eighth, who would go to the Sabres, has a median total of 77 points in 225 games.
There are still serviceable players to be had during the round, but they typically don’t fit into the impact category. The 21st overall pick, for example, was good enough to appear in 359 games, but he put up just 58 points. The 27th pick recorded 63 points in 242 games. The median 30th selection had a mere 34 games and six points.
It’s wise, therefore, to get as close to the top as possible. It’s also why teams are wise enough to keep their picks.
In the 25 drafts since 1988, a top-seven pick has been dealt in 10 of them. There have been a total of 15 transactions as the 1999 draft turned into a swap meet and a pair of deals went down in both 2002 and 2008.
The teams holding the eighth pick have moved up only twice in 25 years. In both trades, the club had to give up a second-round pick to jump just a few spots.
It was definitely worth it:
• In 1992, the New York Islanders dealt the No. 8 pick and a second-round selection to Toronto for the No. 5 pick. The Isles selected Darius Kasparaitis after moving up. The Maple Leafs took Brandon Convery at No. 8 and wound up trading the second-round pick as part of a deal for the 23rd overall selection, Grant Marshall.
Kasparaitis had a 14-year career. Convery appeared in just 72 games.
• In 2004, Carolina sent the No. 8 pick and a second-round selection to Columbus for the No. 4 pick. The Hurricanes picked Andrew Ladd after moving up. Columbus took Alexandre Picard at No. 8 and used the second-round pick on Kyle Wharton.
Ladd is the captain in Winnipeg after winning Cups in Carolina and Chicago. Picard is in Switzerland after skating in 67 NHL games, while Wharton never appeared in the big leagues.
The Sabres feel they are in prime position to rebuild because of a burgeoning number of picks in the first and second rounds. Including the 2012 draft, they are set to have 14 selections in the top 60 in a four-year span, including six first-rounders.
Just as there are differing levels of results for players taken in the opening round, there are differing results for teams that bank on first-round players.
The Sabres had nine first-round selections on their roster this season. They missed the playoffs. Boston had four first-round selections on the team in 2011 and won the Cup. Los Angeles won last season with eight players picked in the first round. Columbus also had eight and finished last.
In fact, the number of first-round players on champions and last-place finishers is similar nearly every season dating to 1999. It ultimately comes down to picking the right players.
Selecting at the top helps. During that 13-year stretch, which starts with the Sabres’ loss to Dallas in the finals, the importance of impact players is evident. Ten of the 13 winners boasted a player selected first or second overall. Two other champions had a No. 3 pick. The only exception was Colorado, which didn’t have anyone drafted higher than sixth when it won in 2001.
The only ways to get a top-two pick are to trade for it or be a bad team. The Sabres have hinted at both, specifically the latter. They’ve prepared their fan base for suffering.
Not every Cup champion has suffered before winning, however. The 1999 Stars made the playoffs in eight of their previous 10 seasons before beating Buffalo. New Jersey won three Cups while making the playoffs in 13 of 14 years. Detroit has made the postseason 22 straight times. Boston had a stretch of three in, two out and four in before winning in 2011.
There also are, of course, long droughts before champagne flows.
The Kings missed the playoffs six times before assembling a squad that won the Cup in its third straight postseason. Chicago was left out for nine of 10 years, then won after the making the playoffs two years in a row. Tampa Bay missed the playoffs a half-dozen times before earning the Cup in its second straight postseason in 2004.
Pittsburgh suffered, but with an asterisk. The Penguins made the playoffs for 12 of 13 years and won two Cups. They then missed for four straight. With seven postseasons in a row, they’ve clearly rebounded.
The Sabres have a plan for rebounding. The outline is clear. The result it will produce is not.