Wednesday, May 28, 2008
The BPA draft strategy
(NOTE: above is the first of my post headers. I intend to put these in to mark what a given post (or section of a post) is going to be about. Here I'm talking about the NHL in general, not specifically the Sharks, so it gets the general NHL tag)
Whenever you talk to people about sports entry drafts, the prevailing wisdom seems to be the so-called BPA (Best Player Available) approach.
On the surface, it makes sense. All things considered, the draft is supposed to be about strengthening your team's prospect pipeline. So if you want to do that, why not take the absolute best prospect you can? After all, if it's something you don't necessarily need you can always trade that prospect to fill a hole, right?
However, I wonder if that's always the best possible approach.
Let's say you're the GM of a team. You draft 13th overall. So your pick comes up and it just so happens that there's a defenceman on the board who was rated at 11th overall. However, your system is filled with d-men. Your real need is a scoring forward, and it just so happens that the guy commonly rated at 15th overall would be a good fit. Still, BPA demands you not pass up the defenceman.
Here's where I think the theory starts to fall apart.
Trades are very rarely done in a one-for-one fashion. That means if you need to address a need in your system later on, that defenceman you drafted is unlikely to be easily flipped for the scoring forward you really need. That means adding extra pieces to the trade becomes necessary. So instead of taking what you really needed in the system, you are forced to trade more than the worth of that 1st round pick to address it.
Furthermore, what if the team that has the guy you need isn't in the market for defencemen? Now what? The asset you stockpiled under the BPA mentality isn't going to be able to even help you get what you need. So then you've got something you can't necessarily use sitting in your system and stagnating.
In the end, it just seems to make more sense to take whatever will fit best into your prospect pipeline, rather than taking what you don't need and hoping you can plug the hole some other way between now and when that hole becomes a liability for your team.
With all that said, I'm not saying that you should make big reaches. Don't take a guy rated to go far beyond your pick. Crazy stuff like the Oilers taking Jesse Niinimaki is not recommended. However, if your choice is a higher rated player who would be redundant in your system or one who's a few spots back but a far better fit, that need should outweigh value. As you progress through the draft, the applicable range widens. If you're drafting 5th, maybe you don't look down the board farther than 7th or 8th. But when you get into the 30s, it doesn't hurt to take someone ranked in the mid to late 40s or even the early 50s.
And if someone has had a tremendous fall, then go ahead and pounce. A player ranked 10th overall who makes it down to 18 should be snapped up regardless of what you need, unless there's serious concerns about him. In those cases you probably are going to get enough value out of that player to be able to address something later on.
It's also worth noting that I do not advocate drafting by current needs of the team. A team currently short on good goalies at the NHL or AHL level shouldn't take a goalie just because they need one. The "needs" I talk about are within the prospect system. If you're not developing a potential starting goalie in your system, that's when you worry about picking one up in the draft. For example, a couple of years ago in my mock draft, I made a case for the Isles to take Kyle Okposo (who they did take) because their farm system had some speedy skilled forwards, some jammers, and they had a good young goalie in DiPietro. At that point I didn't see them taking a d-man, so I felt that Okposo, as a big banging powerful scoring winger, would be the best pick for them.
But Nem, you say, teams don't know what the team will need in 4 or 5 years. Yeah, that's true. But most teams plan to try and build their core through the draft. When's the last time you heard a GM say that he's drafting someone as a bargaining chip? The era of the cap means that you can't plug holes via free agency as easily as you could in the past. So does it make sense for a team with 3 good center prospects to draft yet another center? Sure they could shift one or more of them to the wing, but that's not always the best move.
So in the end I'm not so much against BPA as I am in favor of tempering the definition of "best" to include the ability to address needs of the team, rather than simply judging by talent level.
That's my take on things.