Draft Pick Value and the Leafs’ Stake in the Rest of the Playoffs

Updated: January 10, 2018 at 4:55 pm by Shawn Reis

There’s at least one former Leaf on each of the four remaining teams in the NHL playoffs.  But the Leafs have a little more stake in what happens the rest of the way than just that.

You all know the Leafs own Pittsburgh’s 1st-round pick in this year’s draft courtesy of the Phil Kessel trade.  By now you’ve probably heard that if San Jose can reach the Stanley Cup Finals, the Leafs  get the Sharks’ 3rd-round pick in 2018 instead of a 4th-round pick as part of the James Reimer deal.  The Leafs also own the 6th-round pick of the Blues in this year’s draft thanks to last year’s Olli Jokinen trade, which you might’ve forgotten about.

But just how much value do the Leafs get out of a different playoff result for each of these teams?  How much-added value do the Leafs get in Pittsburgh losing in the Eastern Conference Final versus them winning the Cup?  What happens to the value of St. Louis’ pick if they were to lose out now or in June?

There’s no perfect science to determining this, but we can come pretty close.  Earlier this month I compiled a bunch of different research that’s been done on the value of NHL draft picks to determine whether or not it made sense for the Leafs to look to trade up in the 1st round with Pittsburgh’s pick.  Today I’m going to rely once again on one of those resources: the Shuckers Draft Pick Value Chart.

Basically, St. Lawrence University statistics professor Michael Schuckers looked at every draft pick between 1988 and 1997 and used NHL games played as a measure to assign an objective value to each pick.  The draft picks years observed likely makes the study a little outdated and the lack of measures used means it’s not going to give us a perfect answer here, but it’s better than nothing.

So, how much value is there to be lost as it relates to the final placing of St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and San Jose in the standings?

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 12.13.04 PM

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 12.13.04 PM

ST. LOUIS BLUES

Given the fact that St. Louis finished with more points in the regular season than either of the Eastern Conference Finalists, the Blues’ pick is guaranteed to be the 28th, 29th, or 30th pick in round 6.  Looking at the chart, the values assigned to those respective picks is 68, 68, and 67.  So, if the Blues won the Stanley Cup rather than either lose in the Stanley Cup Finals or Western Conference Finals, the Leafs would only lose out on 1 draft pick point.

In other words, it really makes little to no difference to the Leafs what happens to the Blues in the final two rounds of the playoffs.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Depending on how things shake out in both conferences, the Leafs’ second 1st-round pick courtesy of Pittsburgh could land anywhere between 27th and 30th overall.

Here are the values assigned to each of those placements:

  • 27th overall pick: 291 points
  • 28th overall pick: 283 points
  • 29th overall pick: 275 points
  • 30th overall pick: 265 points

In other words, the gap isn’t massive, but there is a gap that exists.  For example, looking at the various values on our chart, the difference between the Leafs picking 27th overall and 30th overall is the same gap that exists between picking 22nd overall and 20th overall.  Or, if we want to look further down the draft board, it’s roughly the gap between picking atop the 4th round and picking in the middle of the 4th round.

In other words, there’s some reason to care about Pittsburgh’s fate as it relates to the Leafs’ draft pick, but you shouldn’t lose too much sleep over it.  If anything, the difference between picking 27th and 30th matters more subjectively for the Leafs as a front office – a player that they like that’s available 27th overall might be off the board by the time the 30th pick rolls around.  Such a situation might matter on an individual basis (i.e. from draft to draft), but as we can see, that doesn’t matter too much when you’re looking at the big picture.

In any event, it’s certainly fair to care a little bit about this outcome.

SAN JOSE SHARKS

As was mentioned in the previous section, the gap between picking 27th and 30th is the same gap that exists between picking at the top of the 4th round and in the middle of the 4th round.  It might not surprise you, then, that the biggest gap in draft pick value for the Leafs lies not with the Penguins and the state of their 1st-round pick, but with the San Jose Sharks and whether or not the Leafs will be picking in the 3rd round or the 4th round come 2018.

For example, the gap between picking 61st overall and 91st overall is 47 points – a gap that’s a full 21 points bigger than the difference between picking 27th and 30th.

More examples: the difference between picking 70th overall and 100th overall is 66 points.  As we can see, the value of a 4th round draft pick quickly plummets the deeper into the round you go.

The difference between picking 80th overall and 110th overall is 62 points.  The gap between picking 90th overall and 120th overall is 43 points.  You get the idea.

I think the biggest thing I can say to this is that, if the Leafs moved up multiple spots in the first round, you’d get worked up over that.  Well, the gap in value between 3rd- and 4th-round picks, as this chart shows, is equal to doing just that.  So this is certainly something to care about.

It should also be noted that the Leafs still have to give up 3rd-round picks for both Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello.  The Babcock pick has to be given up either this year or next, and the Lamoriello pick has to ve given up this year, next year, or yes, in 2018.  The Leafs own two 3rd-round picks in this year’s draft (their own and the Devils), as well as their own in 2017 and 2018.  If the Sharks were to make the Finals, the Leafs would have added flexibility as far as when and which picks to give up.  That’s no small thing – most notably, if the Leafs were to wait until 2018 to give up their 3rd-round pick for Lamoriello, they’d have the choice of giving up the lower pick between theirs and the Sharks.

CONCLUSION

Here’s the tl;dr version: there’s no real reason to care what happens to St. Louis the rest of the way, you should care a little about what happens to Pittsburgh but not that much, and you should certainly care a little bit more about what happens with San Jose, as it has multiple implications for the Leafs moving forward.