Jim Nill seems to be ready to make some noise. The Dallas Stars general manager recently took the airwaves on Sirius/XM to say that he’s had discussions about trading the third overall pick for a roster player. Mark Stepneski transcribed a bit of what was said for the Stars website, including this:
“I have talked to other teams already about possibly moving that pick, getting an established player back. “It gives us a lot of options. I think this will heat up more as we go.”
If this pick is in play, it would put the Stars in control of the draft to a large extent. The top two picks are expected to be Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier. After that, it appears to be wide open. Any team that falls in love with a player could be tempted to give up a significant amount to acquire that pick.
At the very least, the Stars are in a good position to trade back and acquire picks should they want to go that route. We’ve now met our contractual obligation to mention that the Stars could keep the pick and potentially add a lot of good young talent. The window for competing with this group is now, though, and Nill specifically mentioned the possibility of trading the pick for roster help. So, how does that look?
The short of it is the template for trading a pick this high at the draft in the salary cap era for immediate roster help doesn’t exist. It simply hasn’t happened. Toronto traded two picks for Phil Kessel, who eventually became Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton, but they certainly wouldn’t have devalued those picks to the levels they did had they known how high the picks would end up being.
The Calgary Flames traded a mid-round pick and two second-round picks for the aforementioned Dougie Hamilton in 2015.
In 2013, the New Jersey Devils traded the 9th overall pick for 26-year-old goalie Cory Schneider, who, at the time, had appeared in 98 career games with a .927 save percentage.
In 2012, pick No. 8 was traded as part of the Jordan Staal trade. Pick 11 was dealt with a second-rounder for Semyon Varlamov.
In 2011, the Columbus Blue Jackets sent pick No. 8 and Jakub Voracek to Philadelphia for Jeff Carter. That’s a solid price to pay for Carter, but I would bet both sides make that trade again. Columbus did get a good player out of it, even if they pissed Carter away by trading him to the Kings less than a year later.
Another fun example is from before the salary cap became a thing. In 2001, the Ottawa Senators acquired the second overall pick and Zdeno Chara for Alexei Yashin. They used the pick to select Jason Spezza. In retrospect, that trade looks absurd. The emergence of Chara as a force for a decade made Islanders general manager Mike Milbury look incredibly foolish, though if Big Hockey ever puts together a university there will be many a dissertation written about all the ways his management made him look foolish.
That second overall pick is the highest pick traded for a roster player in at least 20 years. Chara was a relatively minor piece of the deal at the time, so it’s the closest we have to a true, top-three-pick-for-a-player deal.
There are lessons to take from the move. Yashin had been an off-ice distraction for several years despite being a world class talent, but talent-wise he is exactly the type of player Nill should target. Yashin had been about a point-per-game player and higher for five seasons (including one in Russia). Memories of Yashin aren’t great for a number of reasons, though the biggest is the absurd 10-year, $87.5 million contract he was given in 2001 plus his constant desire to renegotiate his contract. The talent was real though.
There were clearly some hits and misses in those deals, but there have been very few trades of a high pick for a roster player to really consider. Those trades are too likely to blow up in a team’s face for the risk tolerance general managers usually have, but good value can be found if teams are willing to take a chance. New Jersey and Vancouver both made out well in their deal for Schneider. Calgary easily won the Dougie Hamilton trade. Both players were younger when they were dealt. Neither had the “Yashin factor” either.
If we’ve established the modern baseline of at least a young legitimate No. 1 goalie or a young potential first-pairing defenseman as the minimum of what the Stars can expect to get in return for the pick, then we can start to piece together where they could be looking at finding a match.