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Tank to win? A preliminary study.

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Old
02-14-2010, 04:30 PM
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Sports Archaeologist
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Tank to win? A preliminary study.

Over the past few months there has been some debate in Ranger Fandom concerning the Rangers’ proper approach to the end of the 2009-2010 season. Some fans argue that, given the Rangers’ small chances of contending for the Stanley Cup, “tanking,” losing games in order to improve draft position, is the best move for the Rangers’ future. Other fans disagree, claiming that no team should make losing its goal regardless of any perceived future benefits.

Underlying these arguments is the unquestioned assumption that tanking produces Stanley Cups. This claim can be written, “A team wins a Stanley Cup if and only if it obtains multiple top-5/top-10 draft picks over a number of years.” Given “if an only if,” this claim assumes a team must obtain top-5/10 picks to win a Stanley Cup, and that teams who win Stanley Cups are the ones who’ve obtained top-5/10 picks.

Is this true? What is the relationship between draft position and championship success? In this post I offer my fellow Blueshirts Faithful an early attempt at answering this question.

Method
I looked at the Stanley Cup winning teams over the past 30 years (1979/80 – 2008/09). For each team, I recorded their first-round draft positions for the 10 years before their Cup victory. I then figured out the number of Top 5 and Top 10 picks that team had in those 10 years. Here are the data:

Key
Y-1, Y-2, etc.: Draft Year before winning cup. For the Penguins, who won the Cup in 2009, Y-1 = 2008 NHL Draft; Y-2 = 2007 NHL Draft, etc.

The number in the box is that team’s pick in the first round.

N/A means the team had no first round pick.

NL means the team wasn’t in the league yet. (One mistake, for the Oilers I put n/a for this, same thing though.)

The blue highlight is where I saw some sustained periods of high picks.

The next table shows the number of top-5/10 round picks in the 10 years previous to the team’s Cup:



What do the data show?
For some teams, tanking is definitely successful. The most successful team using this strategy has been the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their three Cups were built on multiple years of top-5 picks, as highlighted in the tables. Another team following the Penguins Model is the 1995-1996 Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques. Other teams who have found success through top-5/10 picks include the 1994-1995 New Jersey Devils, 2003-2004 Tampa Bay Lightning, and the 2006-2007 Anaheim Ducks.

On the other hand, other teams have found success without tanking. The most successful team using this strategy has been the Detroit Red Wings. Their Cup in 2007-2008 was preceded by 0 top-5/10 picks. Their back-to-back Cups in 1996/7-1997/8 only required one top 5 pick over the previous ten years. Other teams following the Red Wings Model very closely include the 2002-2003 New Jersey Devils, 1992-1993 Montreal Canadiens, and the 1988-1989 Calgary Flames.

There are also other teams somewhere in the middle, those with 3-5 top-10 picks over the prior 10 years. These teams, however, have had no sustained periods of top-10 picks, nor many top-5 picks.

What can we conclude?
I think the data show rather convincingly that tanking, while certainly having a few successful examples, is not required for team success. Far more teams have won the Stanley Cup following the Red Wings Model or a close approximation of it rather than anything like the Penguins Model, which really was only followed closely by the Penguins, Avalanche, and the 1994-5 Devils.
In addition, one could seek counterexamples to the tanking = success thesis to support the point. Take, as two examples, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Atlanta Thrashers:



The Blue Jackets have had multiple years of Top-5/10 picks with little success to show for it. In the past ten years, the Blue Jackets have had nine (!) top-10 picks and look to be on their way to another one this year. The Thrashers have seen similar futility: they have had five top-5 picks over the past decade, with seven top-10 during that period.

Thus, while a few teams have tanked to ultimate success, other teams have won without needing to tank. In addition, some teams who have tanked have not only failed to win Cups, but still remain mired in mediocrity.

Caveats
Obviously this is a very rough analysis. I only looked at “Cup Wins” as a measure of success, and only looked at first round draft picks as a measure of ‘tankage.’ I also only consider numbers, and thus don’t consider who was drafted in those positions. Nonetheless, I think some solid conclusions can be drawn regardless of the quick and dirty approach I’ve taken here.

Questions for Discussion
If tanking is not required, what makes a winning team? Is it just top drafted players, or is a team more than the sum of its parts? What do winning teams share, regardless of draft picks, that make them winners? Perhaps the link between teams like the Penguins and Red Wings is the creation of a winning culture. A team like Detroit/New Jersey will never tank, because they’ve built up a winning culture over the years that helps young players grow into winners – and not tankers. If a winning culture matters, does tanking necessarily damage it? How can a team build a winning culture?

LET’S GO RANGERS!

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02-14-2010, 04:56 PM
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Fitzy
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Good stuff. I'd rather we follow in the footsteps of the Devils than the Penguins.

I think its funny that Pitt tanked twice.

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02-14-2010, 04:58 PM
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nice post. i agree. tanking or selling does not guarantee success. Getting into the playoffs is better to let the younger guys get their feet wet.

imo success in the new salary capped nhl is far more dependent on what you get for your money beyond your top 1-2 players. the best teams have players putting up far more points/$ amongst players in the 1-3$ million bracket than the dross teams

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02-14-2010, 05:17 PM
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Great method of analysis. You did point out your own flaws (measures of tankage and cup win and nothing in between) which is what I was going to reply with but overall a good job for an "at a glance" reference to the effectiveness of picks in a teams success.

Another thing I do wish to point out, though, is that a teams scouting and development farm also has a large influence on how draft picks turn out. Detroit is a perfect example of a farm system that develops players very very well and relies less on top 10 picks for raw talent and instead brings out talent in what they have. You pointed out St. Louis for the opposite situation -- they have had multiple top10/5 picks and have gotten nowhere. I will venture an educated guess here that their scouts and development farm teams are pretty sub-par relative to the rest of the league, probably due to the amount of revenue that franchise generates. This brings me to my next point:

Should teams with super-high revenue like Detroit, NYR, Montreal, Toronto etc. follow Detroit's model of investing heavily into developing prospects to their system and scouting? It seems like if you can afford the best hockey minds and coaches in the league, which those franchises can, why not use your money where it counts? It's not like you can just buy the best players anymore with the salary cap.

I think Detroit is doing things correctly, and Toronto, Montreal and New York have been guilty of using their fat wallets in the wrong way (free agency) -- especially pre-lockout/cap era.

Smaller market teams that may not necessarily generate as much revenue as those 4 juggernauts are probably better served by tanking for picks with raw talent as they probably cannot afford to develop a late 1st rounder into a top player like Detroit can. I think this was Pitt's approach.

Besides, I've seen it talked about on NHL Live many times (you'd be surprised how many Ranger fans call that show crying for the team to tank, it's almost a daily thing) and they always reply that a team like New York could never do that because of the expensive ST prices and that it would be catastrophic to do that. Tanking only works when you have no fans to piss off who pay big bucks for good seats. They also said Toronto and Montreal could NEVER get away with this either.

----
On a side note, I too think it's hilarious how Pitt tanked twice -- if they ever open their mouth about us "buying the cup" in '94, I'll just point them to this thread showing their tank history. Vis a vis with the NJD in their '95 win.


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02-14-2010, 05:20 PM
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Tanking = Seguin or Hall = good for the future. Either of those two will make an immediate impact, and will be on entry level cap hits (just thinking logically) for 3 years.

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02-14-2010, 05:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Fitzy View Post
Good stuff. I'd rather we follow in the footsteps of the Devils than the Penguins.

I think its funny that Pitt tanked twice.

It's also scary how Pitt was one pick away from having Ovechkin and Crosby on the same team.

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02-14-2010, 05:22 PM
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NYR Sting
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I appreciate the effort you put into this, but this doesn't prove anything. You said it yourself. There are numerous significant elements that aren't represented here. I don't think I even need to go through them, they've all been discussed in every single thread where tanking comes up.

People continue to ignore the fact that only two teams have done what the Red Wings and Devils have done. There's a reason for that. It's very difficult to do. It's no coincidence that Ken Holland and Lou Lamariello have the reputations that they do.

You need the best of the best to operate that way. We don't even have competence steering our ship.

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02-14-2010, 05:25 PM
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oh man i love this kind of threads. my math sucks, but i can read nerd-crafting threads all day long, especially when it comes to sports

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02-14-2010, 05:28 PM
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Originally Posted by SlingshotVv View Post
oh man i love this kind of threads. my math sucks, but i can read nerd-crafting threads all day long, especially when it comes to sports
Why are you a nerd or a nerd-crafter if you decide to set aside some time to use your brain in a productive manner analyzing past trends and organizing it into a spread sheet?

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02-14-2010, 05:29 PM
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Interesting stuff, but as you pointed out, not an exact science.

Just because a team picked late in the round, doesn't mean they didn't benefit from the pick. The real key to a successful franchise isn't necessarily the position in which you're drafting, but the skill and dedication of your scouting department. We've managed to draft some quality players in the late 1st and 2nd round over the last couple years, but we would really benefit from a "blue chip" prospect added to our stable.

Yes, the Devils are having success now despite not having a top-10 pick for several years, but where would they be if we had taken Parise and they had taken Jessiman? Could we end up with a situation like that? Absolutely, but increasing the odds by picking in the top-5 never hurt anyone.

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02-14-2010, 05:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Sting36e View Post
I appreciate the effort you put into this, but this doesn't prove anything. You said it yourself. There are numerous significant elements that aren't represented here. I don't think I even need to go through them, they've all been discussed in every single thread where tanking comes up.

People continue to ignore the fact that only two teams have done what the Red Wings and Devils have done. There's a reason for that. It's very difficult to do. It's no coincidence that Ken Holland and Lou Lamariello have the reputations that they do.

You need the best of the best to operate that way. We don't even have competence steering our ship.
Very true, though I'd say while it doesn't "prove" anything, I think it does show that multiple 'significant elements' need to come together for a team to be successful. It does help reject the notion that tanking for a Hall or a Seguin solves the team's problems when it's clear that tanking guarantees nothing, that there are other factors involved.

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02-14-2010, 05:32 PM
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Originally Posted by NYRfan89 View Post
Why are you a nerd or a nerd-crafter if you decide to set aside some time to use your brain in a productive manner analyzing past trends and organizing it into a spread sheet?
i used the term lovingly. i have friends that get deep into algorithm theorycrafting on sports, mmorpg's, sales, work productivity, etc. they are the ones that always refer to it as nerd-crafting.

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02-14-2010, 05:36 PM
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Imagine if we had a Stamkos. He has about 70 points in 61 games, and will be a threat for years.

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02-14-2010, 05:43 PM
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This is an interesting start. I'd love to gather some statistics on post-lockout teams and run some regressions, which would control for many confounding variables. Maybe I'll get started tomorrow.

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02-14-2010, 05:45 PM
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An alternative conclusion I have drawn after looking at the data is that only 10 of 30 teams won the Cup without having at least 1 Top 5 pick preceding the win. I think that is rather compelling evidence against your main conclusion. There definitely needs to be a line drawn between pre- and post-lockout as well, as the salary cap has made the draft even more important than it already was.

That said, I appreciate the time you took to do this and enjoyed reading it. Looking forward to the additional discussion.

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02-14-2010, 05:50 PM
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NYR Sting
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Originally Posted by Sports Archaeologist View Post
Very true, though I'd say while it doesn't "prove" anything, I think it does show that multiple 'significant elements' need to come together for a team to be successful. It does help reject the notion that tanking for a Hall or a Seguin solves the team's problems when it's clear that tanking guarantees nothing, that there are other factors involved.
It really isn't all that complicated. Here's the big secret: you need great players to win. And since the lockout, you don't just need to have the best players. You need to have some of them playing at a very low price. Like an entry-level contract.

More often than not, the best players are drafted first. 14 of the top 20 in points as of this moment were lottery picks, and of those 14, most were top 5 picks. That's not a coincidence, or a fluke. Are there exceptions? Without a doubt. Finding enough of those exceptions to field a superior team is extremely difficult, as it should be. It's only going to become more difficult, now. The Red Wings were one of the first to really understand the value of scouting in Europe, especially Sweden. But that secret is out of the bag. Thanks to the Red Wings' example, more teams know this now.

It's nice how people want to follow the example of the Red Wings and the Devils. Yay. But while you pine for that, the rest of the league is following the example of Chicago, Pittsburgh and Washington, and rightfully so. The likelihood of finding success on that path is a lot more realistic.

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02-14-2010, 05:52 PM
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Without reading the OP post and/or replies in this thread, I have been praying the Rangers lose for the last few games.

I am a DIE hard Rangers fan but the mediocricy we have dealt with for the last decade + is killing me. I am tired of 15-22 round draft picks because the team I love made a killer run with the last 15 games left to propel us out of a draft lottery and either JUSt missed the playoffs, or JUST squeaked into the playoffs and get swept or lose in 5-6 games. That ONLY generates money for the league and the Owners. Does NOTHING for the fans but guarantee's that we will have mediocricy for the next few years after that season. If we can start to stockpile picks like Ovechkin, Stamkos, Hedman, Crosby, we will be a force to reckon with. Now? We are just a middle of the pack team that has no real foundation.

Lets get us a Hall, Fowler type player. I dont care if you say I am not a real fan or blah blah blah. I am a 33 year old man who has been watching them since I was 13 years old growing up deep in Long Island and took a lot of crap from Islanders fans since there was NO rangers fans near me. So, say what you want. I wont even check this thread again to argue with you. Thats how I feel about the subject and there is no point in arguing my opinion. Its my own thoughts and the OP asked a tanking question. Bet you wished we have crosby and/or ovechkin on our team now, eh?

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02-14-2010, 06:05 PM
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I don't think tanking is necessary so much as keeping a long-term perspective. That means not buying at the deadline unless the move will benefit your team long term or if it will push your already cup-contending team over the top. It's a policy of not making dumb band-aid moves like giving up a second round pick to rent Antropov.

It also means selling at the trade deadline if selling makes sense. For example, if someone offered a first round pick or multiple seconds for guys like Jokinen and Prospal we would be stupid not to take the deals (knowing that if we want them back we can always sign them in the offseason).

All the moves that this team makes should be geared towards making this team a real contender by maximizing assets and opportunities.

That said, all teams that get a really high pick aren't necessarily tanking. Some teams just are really that bad. If the Rangers do prove to be that bad, then I will happily take the franchise player in the draft that comes with it. If not, then I will put my trust in Gordie Clark to try and find us that type of a player later in the first round.

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02-14-2010, 06:07 PM
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Originally Posted by gotmonte View Post
Without reading the OP post and/or replies in this thread, I have been praying the Rangers lose for the last few games.

I am a DIE hard Rangers fan but the mediocricy we have dealt with for the last decade + is killing me. I am tired of 15-22 round draft picks because the team I love made a killer run with the last 15 games left to propel us out of a draft lottery and either JUSt missed the playoffs, or JUST squeaked into the playoffs and get swept or lose in 5-6 games. That ONLY generates money for the league and the Owners. Does NOTHING for the fans but guarantee's that we will have mediocricy for the next few years after that season. If we can start to stockpile picks like Ovechkin, Stamkos, Hedman, Crosby, we will be a force to reckon with. Now? We are just a middle of the pack team that has no real foundation.

Lets get us a Hall, Fowler type player. I dont care if you say I am not a real fan or blah blah blah. I am a 33 year old man who has been watching them since I was 13 years old growing up deep in Long Island and took a lot of crap from Islanders fans since there was NO rangers fans near me. So, say what you want. I wont even check this thread again to argue with you. Thats how I feel about the subject and there is no point in arguing my opinion. Its my own thoughts and the OP asked a tanking question. Bet you wished we have crosby and/or ovechkin on our team now, eh?
lulz

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02-14-2010, 06:10 PM
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Besides, I've seen it talked about on NHL Live many times (you'd be surprised how many Ranger fans call that show crying for the team to tank, it's almost a daily thing) and they always reply that a team like New York could never do that because of the expensive ST prices and that it would be catastrophic to do that. Tanking only works when you have no fans to piss off who pay big bucks for good seats. They also said Toronto and Montreal could NEVER get away with this either.

.
But then, the Knicks are doing exactly that. Basically tossing away a couple years for the hope of signing a certain free agent.

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02-14-2010, 06:17 PM
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Originally Posted by Sting36e View Post
It really isn't all that complicated. Here's the big secret: you need great players to win. And since the lockout, you don't just need to have the best players. You need to have some of them playing at a very low price. Like an entry-level contract.

More often than not, the best players are drafted first. 14 of the top 20 in points as of this moment were lottery picks, and of those 14, most were top 5 picks. That's not a coincidence, or a fluke. Are there exceptions? Without a doubt. Finding enough of those exceptions to field a superior team is extremely difficult, as it should be. It's only going to become more difficult, now. The Red Wings were one of the first to really understand the value of scouting in Europe, especially Sweden. But that secret is out of the bag. Thanks to the Red Wings' example, more teams know this now.

It's nice how people want to follow the example of the Red Wings and the Devils. Yay. But while you pine for that, the rest of the league is following the example of Chicago, Pittsburgh and Washington, and rightfully so. The likelihood of finding success on that path is a lot more realistic.
True to all this. A couple of comments:
1) Obviously you need good players, but what is less obvious is the infrastructure you need around those players - a structure that is built by winning, not losing.

2) There is a middle ground between the Pittsburgh and Detroit models. Only a few teams (Pittsburgh, Avs) have followed one, and only Detroit/Devils have followed the other. The other winning cup teams over the past three decades have fallen somewhere in the middle. It's not all or nothing.

I'd disagree though that the rest of the league is following the Chicago, Pitts, Washington model - the other teams in the league haven't had the density of picks that those teams have had, especially post-lockout. It will be interesting to see how it turns out the next few years though - if Chi and Was win cups, it definitely gives more credence to that approach.

I like your comments though, you nicely show how the picture is obviously much more complicated than I've shown above.

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02-14-2010, 06:33 PM
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All this really proves is that there are a lot of different models for winning.

And IMO, what really made the Avalanche's success possible were the moves they made. Patrick Roy specifically.

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02-14-2010, 06:33 PM
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You're missing something.

1) Slash out Edmonton, it doesnt belong here.

2) NJD and Detroit - Both have had terrific GMs, plus Detroit took the risk and signed and drafted players from Europe.

3)Colorado in 01 and Rangers 94 - a lot of traded and UFA players in a way that would be impossible today.


And now:

Anaheim 07 - 2, 9, 7, 5, 9 - quite a lot of top 10 draft picks....


Tampa in 04 - they drafted in these positions: 3,8,1,7,5,8. Dunno what they did with the rest but they surely got sth in return > they sucked and tanked


Devils - 3, 5, 2, 3 ,2 > even Devils needed picks...

Habs - even they had 1st overall and another top 5

Islanders - you should color those picks in all four years



In conclusion, if you slash out Edmonton, Avalnache, Detroit and Rangers, you'll see that almost all teams got VERY HIGH picks, mostly 1st or 2nd.

In fact, now I'm even more certain that getting high picks is necessary. I thought that great GM is enough but obviously not, as you can see from Devils' picks.

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02-14-2010, 06:37 PM
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It's also scary how Pitt was one pick away from having Ovechkin and Crosby on the same team.
I dont even want to think about it. that would kill me. immediately.

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02-14-2010, 06:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Cermi View Post
You're missing something.

1) Slash out Edmonton, it doesnt belong here.

2) NJD and Detroit - Both have had terrific GMs, plus Detroit took the risk and signed and drafted players from Europe.

3)Colorado in 01 and Rangers 94 - a lot of traded and UFA players in a way that would be impossible today.


And now:

Anaheim 07 - 2, 9, 7, 5, 9 - quite a lot of top 10 draft picks....


Tampa in 04 - they drafted in these positions: 3,8,1,7,5,8. Dunno what they did with the rest but they surely got sth in return > they sucked and tanked


Devils - 3, 5, 2, 3 ,2 > even Devils needed picks...

Habs - even they had 1st overall and another top 5

Islanders - you should color those picks in all four years



In conclusion, if you slash out Edmonton, Avalnache, Detroit and Rangers, you'll see that almost all teams got VERY HIGH picks, mostly 1st or 2nd.

In fact, now I'm even more certain that getting high picks is necessary. I thought that great GM is enough but obviously not, as you can see from Devils' picks.
Good points - those definitely need changing. (I won't do it though because this was just a rough draft and I don't want to repost stuff - if I do more on this I'll make those changes.)

I think you show one of the big flaws of this, as I mentioned in the OP - I'm working with raw numbers here, and we really need to see the players drafted at particular positions (or, how those players were used in trades) to see how teams built themselves through the draft.

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