The Dive for Top Five and Ruffled Feathers

One thing is for certain, luck in the draft is a necessary piece to building a franchise. Just ask these two.

There are two options in professional sports. Win or go home. There are, according to Vince Lombardi, no moral victories. Feeling good about your performance is not good enough. It's not how you played the game, it's whether you win or lose. It's harsh, it's cruel, it is bitter, but it is also 100% fact. That said, pro sports also offer a wonderfully bittersweet point in time when a team is eliminated from the post season, but there are still games to play.

The question right now, in Wild circles, is what to do with those games. Do they lose and earn themselves a top pick, or do they win out and show free agents that they still have it in them. It has created battle lines on either side, and has even divided the Hockey Wilderness community and staff. Yes, sometimes our staff goes against what the editorial staff believes. It's crazy how we don't all agree all the time and yet still get along, isn't it?

What is the right thing to do here? Win? Lose? Lose with grace? Let's discuss.

Win Baby, Win

The camp of those wanting the Wild to win are well represented. The team, the staff, the players, the coaches, and some pretty die hard fans are all in this camp. Here are the arguments I have seen thus far:

  • The fans are paying good money to see this team win, they say. Which is all well and good. I don't have to pay to go the games. I get it, though. You pay $300 for a total hockey game experience, you don't want them to lose.
  • The coaches and players are trained to fight and win, not roll over. This is 100% true. There is no argument against this one. No one is asking the coaches or players to pull up or take it easy in anyway. We all love watching Kyle Brodziak and Mikko Koivu score goals. It's in the blood of every Wild fan. No one wants these guys to quit. Go out there, and play your best. No one, not one person that I have seen has said the team should not try to play well.
  • Drafting in the top five does not ensure a franchise player, and carries just as much risk of a flop as a top ten or mid round pick. We'll look at this more in depth in a bit, but the basic idea stands. If you have a top five pick, you still need a great scouting team to pick a good player. Brent Flahr has shown he can pull elite prospects from lower picks, such as Granlund at nine, so there is no need to worry.
  • The draft is deep, and the difference between a number two pick and a number seven is not that big. The draft is pumped full of defensive prospects, and many of them at the top of the draft. If that is the case, the real work needs to be put in determining which guy is the right one for the organization, not trying to secure a better pick to draft one of ten guys with the same talent level.
  • Free agents want to see a team that has some fight in them. No rolling over, not giving up. If a free agent sees the team was close, and feels that maybe they could have put them over the top, they just might sign here. A team going out in a tail spin is just one more reason not to get involved.

Lose Baby, Lose

  • Winning is fun to watch, but it is a short term high. Hockey is a game of delayed gratification, which is likely why it struggles in the US. Fans want to watch a winner. That makes sense, and no one is going to tell them otherwise. However, if they are fans, they should support the team no matter what. Otherwise, they're just a guy (or gal) who bought a ticket and expected something that wasn't a reality. It is unlikely that a couple extra wins down the stretch is going to help sell any extra tickets, this year or next. Fans need to understand that losing, while painful, can be good for the health of the organization.
  • Coaches and players want to win? Maybe they should have thought of that for the past three months. Right now, the pressure is off, and they don't need to win. They can relax and play their game with no repercussions. If they lose, no one bats an eye. If they win, everyone praises them for going down fighting. Losing sucks, but winning when it doesn't matter is wholly unimpressive.
  • Drafting in the top five does not guarantee success, no. But it does increase the odds. The number of busts in the top five is smaller than it is mid round. Unless HWSRN is drafting for you, a top five pick should be a good one. Also, only the bottom five get a shot at the first overall pick. Sure, the odds are slim, but if you are outside the bottom five, your chances are zero.
  • The draft is deep. But how deep? 10 players? 15? 30? How far down are you willing to slip before you say "OK, that's far enough." Remember, this isn't just a top five pick in the first round, but each subsequent round as well. While the second round pick was traded away, a high third round pick equates to an extra late second round pick. Jason Zucker and Marco Scandella were late second round picks, Matt Hackett, Cal Clutterbuck, Clayton Stoner were third round picks.
  • Free agents? Free agents? The Wild have shown fight in their finish for the past four years, and missed the playoffs each year. They even used to make the playoffs. How many top tier free agents have signed here? We'll wait while you contemplate the answer to dividing by zero.

Does a Lower Finish Result in a Better Pick?

Here are the top ten picks from 2000-2009. We didn't include 2010 or 2011, because who knows who is any good at this point?

2000

Rick DiPietro

Dany Heatley

Marian Gaborik

Rotislav Klesla

Raffi Torres

Scott Hartnell

Lars Jonsson

Nikita Alexeev

Brent Krahn

Mikhail Yakubov

2001

Ilya Kovalchuk

Jason Spezza

Alexandr Svitov

Stephan Weiss

Stanislav Chistov

Mikko Koivu

Mike Komisarek

Pascal Leclaire

Tuomo Ruutu

Dan Blackburn

2002

Rick Nash

Kari Lehtonen

Jay Bouwmeester

Joni Pitkanen

Ryan Whitney

Scottie Upshall

Joffrey Lupul

Pierre-Marc Bouchard

Petr Taticek

Eric Nystrom

2003

Marc-Andre Fleury

Eric Staal

Nathan Horton

Nikolai Zherdev

Thomas Vanek

Milan Michalek

Ryan Suter

Brydon Coburn

Dion Phaneuf

Andrei Kostitsyn

2004

Alexander Ovechkin

Evgeni Malkin

Cam Barker

Andrew Ladd

Blake Wheeler

Al Montoya

Rostislav Olesz

Alexandre Picard

Ladislav Smid

Boris Valabik

2005

Sidney Crosby

Bobby Ryan

Jack Johnson

Benoit Pouliot

Carey Price

Gilbert Brule

Jack Skille

Devin Setoguchi

Brian Lee

Luc Bourdon

2006

Erik Johnson

Jordan Staal

Jonathan Toews

Nicklas Backstrom

Phill Kessel

Derick Brassard

Kyle Okposo

Peter Mueller

James Sheppard

Michael Frolik

2007

Patrick Kane

James van Riemsdyk

Kyle Turris

Thomas Hickey

Karl Alzner

Sam Gagner

Jakub Vorachek

Zach Hamill

Logan Couture

Keaton Ellerby

2008

Steven Stamkos

Drew Doughty

Zach Bogosian

Alex Pietrangelo

Luke Schenn

Nikita Filatov

Colin Wilson

Mikkel Boedker

Josh Bailey

Cody Hodgson

2009

John Tavares

Victor Hedman

Matt Duchene

Evander Kane

Brayden Schenn

Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Nazem Kadri

Scott Glennie

Jared Cowen

Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson

Who is better than whom on these lists can be left open to debate. Some years, the top five pick seems like a sure bet. Other years, HWSRN walks in and draft Pouliot. Is Koivu is better than the players taken above him? At least one, to be sure.

Each side will claim victories off of this list, but look at it not as a hit or miss situation. Think of it as "how do I best increase my odds?" Everything in life is hit or miss. The best you can do is hope the odds are on your side and you make the right choice. A higher pick has more options attached to it. It ensures the guy you want is the guy you get. After all, the draft is full of d-men, but the top forwards will go in the top five.

If they want a forward, they need a top five pick. Otherwise, it comes down to the crap shoot on which d-man is going to develop best. Certainly, they all look good now, so which one do you take? A top five pick gives you the pick of the litter.

A top five pick is valuable. Think of the trade possibilities. Trade down and add extra picks. Trade for a player with real impact. Use it as part of a package for a franchise player already in the league. A top ten pick also has value, but not as much as a top five. Top five is platinum level, top ten is gold. Both are good, one is better.

The End Result

The end all, be all of this is that no matter which side you are on, you are arguing for the same thing. The health of the franchise. No one is right, no one is wrong. Two paths to (hopefully) the same result. You just have to ask yourself which is more important, a couple extra wins in a season that is over, or slightly better odds at a franchise draft pick.

The choice is yours, and no one is going to tell you that choice is wrong.*

*offer not available anywhere there are trolls

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