Should Florida Trade Their 1st Round Pick?

It’s been a frequent point of Twitter debate lately: Should the Florida Panthers trade their 1st round pick in the 2017 Draft (obviously in a package) for a Top 6 winger or keep the pick and draft a future Top 6?

A good question. We’ve documented Florida’s need for multiple scoring additions to the roster for going on two seasons. We’ve also been pretty open about the dire straits of the Panthers’ prospect pool for almost as long. The current landscape of both were discussed in the six parts of Moving Forward not too long ago.

Is it not realistic to ask a GM to pull off both? In all honesty, if Florida wants to be a team that contends annually they need to make a big step. Netting scoring help immediately for the Top 6 in a trade and down the line in the Draft is approaching “mandatory.” Dale Tallon has the chops to do it, given the freedom. If it is not Tallon, they better have a guy who can deliver that type of haul.

But things don’t always fall in place. Sometimes the pieces are disjointed and you are left with one or the other. If forced to choose: where does the value lie? What will the Front Office prioritize?

The first filter Florida will run their ideas through concerns their window. If they are still committed to the Stanley Cup Window™ that will place more of a premium on production 2017-2019. If they adjust that window to the lost progress of this season, they may prioritize their window 2019-2021.

It may be smarter to adjust the plan to peak at a later date, to be more realistic and not over sell and under deliver. But would they back off a public claim (again)?

Whether this is a weak draft year or just an average draft year, any drafted prospect likely won’t impact 2017-2018.  There are always exceptions due to fit, growth spurts, bad consensus… but let’s, for sake of argument, ignore those outliers.

Sketching out the future, a Matt Duchene or Jordan Eberle acquisition (again, for argument’s sake) is all about the short term. Their contract, share of ice time, and needs don’t make them a sure bet to stay long (not that it matters if they produce). At best, to keep them requires concessions elsewhere.

 

Nico Hischier

 

Another layer to this is the value of the 1st round pick. It doesn’t matter whether this truly is a weak or strong draft. It won’t be decided until five years out or more, anyway. What does matter is what the 31 NHL front offices *think*. If the hype on draft floor is the draft is weaker than expected, the value of the pick goes down in any trade negotiation. Teams are more likely to trade 1st round picks in a weak trade year, too, further lowering the value of the pick in a trade. Supply and demand.

But what is the value of the pick in Florida’s hands? Part one of that value is the general value of the pick in the slot the Panthers get. What is the average value of, say, a 7th overall pick in an average draft class? For a winger? For someone of that age range? Both in a trade and when the pick is taken.

The second part is much harder to pin down. Team need and system/style fit move the needle of the pick’s value. Regardless of what the industry would say the Panthers’ pick is worth, if the Panthers believe they found the perfect winger to play alongside Jonathan Huberdeau and Sasha Barkov the value increases exponentially to them, no matter if the player requires development. We know the Panthers have been keen to act on these feelings. Barkov, Henrik Borgström, and Aaron Ekblad are three cases where the draft table decided that need and fit of a certain player surpassed the value of the pick in a trade, or of another player.

There are players who could fit this mold. The availability of Nico Hischier, Gabe Vilardi, Martin Necas, and Eeli Tolvanen might prove to be enticing enough to work out a trade for a Top 6 winger that doesn’t involve this year’s pick. One of those four will be available from 5th overall on down, as Nolan Patrick will most likely go first or (less likely) second. If defensemen (and other forwards) enter the equation, it is realistic the Panthers could score one anywhere from 8th overall down.

 

Eeli Tolvanen

 

Part three is the X-factor, PCS.

The new regime’s biggest positive change is the Prospect Cohort Success system. In a year of bad press and bad decision making, Florida’s 2016 Draft and 2017 Draft are the main source of optimism, bookending the season. Would Florida give up a chance to prove their model’s repeatability, or progress, and forgo an easy PR win?

The Florida Panthers owners want to quickly build back faith. Leaving Tom Rowe in the organization (as rumored) doesn’t help and they need to start proving value. While making a big splash in the trade market would bring immediate headlines, is that the best option if its at the cost of their best draft pick (possibly for the next few years)?

Making a big trade with the draft pick also brings with it big risk. If the trade doesn’t work out and costs them a potent prospect the other team selects, they know the backlash would be nonstop. Another mistake in a row of them. The draft pick is much less likely to blow up in their face.

 

Gabe Vilardi

 

If the Panthers’ pick busts they can sweep it under the weak draft rug. Missing on this year’s top 10 pick would probably draw less criticism than if the Panthers miss on Borgström, who was considered pretty off board on draft day. Keeping the pick is much more low risk than trading it in this sense.

It’s also cheaper. Gaining a potential Top 6 winger cost controlled for seven professional seasons (the first three at a deep discount) saves the owners’ money and gives them cap flexibility–both overemphasized by the team.

All the other angles and data points may be for naught though. PCS’s selling point, as it has been communicated, is that it finds the value where there isn’t any. Whether it is mid or late round picks from Europe or top picks in a rough draft year, PCS is supposed to increase the odds of success. Isn’t this situation exactly why they brought it in, and put money and resources behind it?

This is a free shot to prove their concept and their value to their fan base (in October, most would think Florida would have to trade up to be where they are now). Can this ownership deny their egos the chance for a “we know what we are doing” story to print? The chance is there if they build off a solid draft last season that aged a little better than predicted.

Because, for all of the bluster, PCS has not really been tested in the NHL enough to confidently call it a success. It’s been one year and early audit is good but not that good.

Martin Necas

 

Much to consider and any combination of inputs could yield very different results. When are they targeting to make their biggest push for the Cup? How do they see this draft? How confident are they in their PCS model? What role does PR play in this (it’s held a heavy hand this year)?

It’s hard to speculate, maybe fruitless.

Given the keys, I do everything in my power to hang onto the pick. The time to trade it was at the deadline but now it makes less sense. Trades can continue past the June draft and there are enough scorers to target that a false urgency or deadline at draft may hurt decision making. The prospect pool is in need. If this pick takes a year or two, the player is still on the team and contributing in a more realistic Cup window, or is providing the necessary replacement to players lost with the cap crunches. The trade assets for Florida outside the first round pick are there. There isn’t a reason to think a good General Manager can’t work around a team’s ask of a 2017 first.

So how fruitless my speculation is, we shall see. But I find it hard to fathom the Panthers taking away their draft consultants and computer’s best pick, the only reward of all the losing. And the odds are keeping the pick would be a smart move.

 

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