Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Thrasher Drafting Again

In case you missed it Craig Custance put up a blog post doing his own study of Thrasher draft picks. He went about it a slightly different way that I might have, but he ended up with results quite similar to my own studies. The Thrashers are not terrible at drafting, in fact they compare reasonably well to the other four expansion siblings.

The broader point is that you can study draft picks in several different ways, but any reasonable approach produces the same finding. In the social sciences we call that a "robust" outcome--the results are consistent even when you use a variety of measuring sticks.

Kudos to Craig for taking the time to sort through the data. I criticized his earlier article on the Wolves development by saying that the reader had no way of judging whether the Wolves were above- or below-average because there was no context that allowed the reader to compare AHL clubs. His draft study does provide that context which makes it quite useful.

I've written a fair amount about drafting on this blog and various message boards. I'd like to end by answering the "so what" question--so what does this all mean?

The data shows that the Thrashers are average in terms of drafting and player development. Keep in mind that there are only 30 teams and every single team is striving to beat all the other teams. In this hyper-competitive environment you have to work pretty hard just to finish in the middle of the pack.

One thing people often forget is just how difficult the NHL environment is. Imagine for a moment that you are the 25th best person in your profession in all of North America--that's sounds pretty impressive right? Now imagine that your profession is managing a pro hockey team. What does ranking 25th get you in a 30 team league? It gets you fired. That's now intense the competition is for NHL GMs. Some fans go so far as to say that only the Cup champion has a successful season.

Should we be content that the Thrashers are merely average at drafting and development? If you're merely average on draft day that means that you don't "suck" but it also means you're not a contender. If you're only middle of the pack in player development that means you MUST be outstanding in free agency and trading to create a championship caliber team.

Are the Thrashers reaching their own internal goals with respect to drafting and development? In the early years Don Waddell repeatedly said that this franchise would be built through the draft and by growing their own players. Right now the Thrashers are on track to build a mediocre team that sits right on the boundary between making and missing the playoffs each year. If Thrashers' goal is just to "be competitive for the playoffs" then they are on track. On the other hand if their organization's goal is "to win a championship" they are not on track because player development is not providing them with an advantage over playoff caliber NHL franchises.

The Thrashers players development record is not terrible but it is also not good enough to create an elite hockey team.

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