He's been accused of playing his cards close to his chest, but Darryl Sutter, through words or through deeds, has said plenty about his preferences for Saturday's NHL draft.
In the months after the hiring of Sutter as head coach of the Calgary Flames, the team went out of its way to look at or acquire puck-moving defencemen of various qualifications. Whether it was a brief look-see of AHL talents Micki Dupont and Mike Mottau, the emphasis on bringing along Jordan Leopold and acquiree Andrew Ference or the playing to exhaustion of Toni Lydman, Sutter seemed bent on putting some rush into Calgary's moribund puck movement from the backline.
At the same time, it certainly didn't hurt that trend-setters New Jersey under Lou Lamourillo have been leading the way in recent years on reshaping themselves from a rather large hard hitting team to one that is more geared to speed and puck movement, particularly from its blueliners, garnering a Stanley Cup this spring when many would have denied they had much of a chance
We also know that since being named GM earlier in the Spring, Sutter has gushed with praise over the last two Tod Button led drafts, even labeling the 2002 selections as "exceptional." That in turn implies that Button, whom many figured could be unemployed in a few weeks, might actually have a lot of say in how the 2003 draft proceeds.
In that vein, we've heard at previous drafts from the recently deceased Craig Button, speaking no doubt for his brother as well, that skating, character, skill and size, in that order, were the general priorities.
Another clue as to the direction the Flames might be going this draft weekend comes from Sutter, who has essentially confessed, in not so many words, the Flames will be leaning towards a defenceman.
Whether Sutter wants to admit it or not, the strategy of looking at college kids or Europeans and parking them for years longer than might be possible with a junior also has a certain asset management attraction.
Lastly, the first name out Sutter's mouth when he got around to commenting on potential prospects just happened to be the guy who fits not only Tod Button's criteria of speed, character, skill and size, in that order, but also Sutter's recent interest in puck moving defencemen.
Ryan Suter, collegian.
Now all of the above could have had a delightful fairy-tale ending except that Suter, we suppose, will not be around when the Flames finally pick in ninth spot on Saturday given he seems to be motoring up the prospect ladder, not coincidentally since New Jersey capped Anaheim in the last week and a half.
More's the pity.
With my two year winning streak of correctly predicting the Flames first round pick (Kobasew and Nystrom) now firmly on the line, I'll assume that both Suter and fellow uber-defence prospect Braydon Coburn are both done by the time the Flames pick and go out on a fairly short limb and suggest that defenceman Dion Phaneuf, leaning more toward's Sutter's command for size but also fitting the criteria for mobility, character and skill, will end up in a Calgary uniform by noon on Saturday.
With all due respect to my Calgarypuck colleague Marc Ciampa who predicted the same thing yesterday, I shouldn't stray to far from the obvious in this particular instance.
I don't think Phaneuf is the first guy they would like to select among those likely to be within their grasp, but he's not chump change either.
Who will the Flames select in the first three rounds?
: Jeremy Colliton
Which top prospect will go later than expected?
Patrick O'Sullivan. He flunked the personality test.
Which top prospect will go earlier than expected?
Andrei Kastsitsyn. I'll take a flyer that he didn't flunk his physical.
Who will be the best player to come out of the 2003 draft 10 years from now?
Marc Andre Fleury. Not many goaltenders get taken in the top five and of those that have, none have been the best player in their draft class. He'll be a first. Just don't think it's a trend for goaltenders. Or for me.
Crackpot draft prediction?
The Flyers, Rangers, and Capitals complete a three way trade involving Eric Lindros, John LeClair and Jaromir Jagr, realizing only later that they're all still in the same contractual pickle they were in when the sun came over the yardarm earlier in the day.
IN ANSWER TO A READER REQUEST regarding my goaltending column a few days ago, here are some numbers comparing forwards, defencemen and netminders. The gist of my position earlier is that it is far more difficult to identify the top goaltender in any draft year than it is a defenceman or forward.
Note that an explanation regarding certain exclusions, which I felt necessary to keep the numbers meaningful, is lower in the column. Feel free to add them back in if you wish. I've also included fractions for the truly anal or bored.
Between 1970 and 1999, the best top of class goaltender has typically been the 5.22 netminder taken. That netminder has, on average, been drafted in the 60th spot overall, essentially the end of the second round in a 30-team league. On four occasions in 30 drafts the top of class netminder was taken with a top ten pick and of that group, only three times was he a top five pick.
In the same time frame, 1970-1999, the best of class forward in the 30-year period under study has typically been the 5.33 taken in his draft year. The average position for taking the best forward in that draft year has been the 7.6 spot. The top forward pick, in 30 drafts measured, was taken with a top ten pick 18 times and of that number, 15, more than half, were a top five pick.
The best top of class defenceman has typically been the 7.2 guy picked in his draft class and taken in the 16.6 spot overall. In the 30 drafts measured for defencemen, the best of class was taken with a top ten pick 17 times out of 29 drafts and of that number, 11 of 29 were in the top five.
The percentage likelihood of the top forward emerging in a particular draft year from a top ten pick was 60% while the odds of a top five pick deriving the same result was 50%.
The percentage chance of the top defenceman emerging from a top ten pick was 57% while a top five pick would have produced the best defenceman in his draft year 37% of the time.
In 21 of 30 drafts, a top ten pick was never expended on a netminder. Of the nine times where a top ten pick was used to select a goaltender, there are four instances where the best of class was secured and, of those, three were in the top five selections that draft year. Essentially, in only 13.3% of drafts has the best goaltender been taken with a top ten pick and only 10% of the time was the top five pick able to secure the top of class.
While the forward and goaltending results were fairly uniform in each decade, the numbers for defencemen varied wildly with a dramatic dip in the 1980's when scouts, for some reason, suddenly turned very lousy in their prognostications, skewing the results proportionately.
In the 1980-89 period, only once was the best defenceman in a class taken with a top five pick (Scott Stevens) with Paul Coffey and Brian Leetch the only other top ten picks emerging as the leader of their draft year. Gary Galley at 100th, Eric Desjardins at 38th, Rob Blake at 70th and Nik Lidstrom at 53rd dramatically skewed the results to the negative.
That contrasts with the 1990's where the top of class defenceman was, on average, the 2.4 defenceman drafted and seven of the ten best defencemen of the decade were picked in the top ten, of which six of those were also in the top five, signalling a dramatic improvement in scouting.
As noted on the Calgarypuck messageboard by myself, the simple statistical results above aren't likely to re-state the obvious - that GM's and scouts tend to shy away from risking higher picks on the chancier business of selecting a goaltender.
In the 30 years surveyed, there was never a year where a top ten pick was not expended at least once on a forward and only one instance (1983) when a defenceman was not taken in the top ten. But there are 21 instances where no netminder was taken with a top ten pick.
The most important numbers above might be that a top five pick was likely to secure the best forward in a draft 50% of the time, a top five pick would get you the best defenceman 37% of the time but a top five pick, which is rarely used on a goaltender anyway, has secured the best goaltender just 10% of the time.
If scouts were as confident about goaltenders in general as they were about Marc Andre Fleury this year, they would use their highest picks on them more often.
Exclusions, designed to prevent the numbers being skewed by dramatically out of context results, included Dave Taylor, a 15th round selection, 210th overall and the (roughly) 110th forward drafted in his 1975 class, Doug Gilmour, 134th overall and the 80th forward taken in 1982 and Milan Hejduk, 87th overall and 51st forward in 1994. The only defenceman excluded was Gary Suter at 180th in 1984 and the 55th defenceman taken. I also considered excluding Nik Khabibulin, taken 204th overall in 1992, except his 16th place among all the goaltenders taken that year was actually in context with best of class in other years, in fact a better placing than two other best of class goaltenders. Therefore he had to be included. If anyone is interested, his inclusion moved the average best of class goaltending draft position from 55th to 60th.
In one other instance, I was faced with the choice of picking between Denis Savard, second overall in 1980, and Jari Kurri, 69th overall the same year. In my mind, Kurri is the guy to go with except his draft position is fairly unrealistic. In context with the times, with Europeans still a novelty in the NHL, at 69th, he was the first European selected in that draft. In another era, with less prejudice, he obviously would have placed much higher. As an offset, I had excluded Dominik Hasek, 199th selection overall in 1983 and obviously best in class but realistically simply taken as a flyer given the Iron Curtain in place at the time. Tom Barrasso at number five overall, the first goaltender taken that year, was used instead, obviously hurting my argument just as siding with Denis Savard helped it.
There were a few years where making a judgement as to which player was best of class was difficult. I asked D'Arcy McGrath to select from a series of choices, without comment from myself. Some of his selections favoured my argument, some hurt it.
The reader had asked that "busts" and "successes" be broken into various rounds but in moving through the stats it became readily apparent that "rounds" meant little. In 1970, the first round consisted of 12 selections. Today the first round is 30 selections. Better to look at overall draft position without the inclusion of "rounds." Rating "busts" and "successes" for 30 years and 90 players per year (three rounds) would involve one person (myself) rating 2,700 players in a very, very subjective way. The results would be essentially meaningless without greater participation.
The last best way to finally nail this down is, alas, unavailable, the precise count of the number of defencemen, forwards and netminders taken in the last 30 years, information that would have allowed us to dig deeper into relative percentage chances of success. The source of the information above, the Internet Hockey Database, while the finest statistical mine available, is rather skimpy on many names from pre-1990 when guys were drafted, were never given any position in the database and never played anywhere beyond their draft year and therefore have no statistics to help us make even an educated guess.
Make of the above what you will.