The cost of trading up

Could Jared Cowen be a chip used to trade for his Team Canada teammate Sean Couturier? (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray has indicated he will investigate trading up in this year's entry draft. This was exciting news for fans whose dreams of drafting a highly-ranked forward such as Gabriel Landeskog or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were shattered when the New Jersey Devils won the lottery drawing, dropping the Senators to the sixth spot. However, Murray's statement should also raise some eyebrows among Senators fans, as his trading record is not without its blemishes.

With that eyebrow raised, I asked myself: What might Murray have to give up to move into the top five selections, and is it worth it for him to do so?

In doing research, it seemed to me like the current market price was set in 1999, by Brian Burke -- then the general manager of the Vancouver Canucks.. That price was solidified after the lockout, when the salary cap made young talent more valuable, which likely explains the decreasing frequency of trading up into the top five after that point. Still, because the trades in 1998 were so interesting, we're going to start there:

Pick Original Owner First Trade Second Trade Player Selected
1 Florida Panthers San Jose Sharks traded Viktor Kozlov, 1998 conditional fifth round pick (#117-Jaroslav Spacek) to Panthers for Dave Lowry, 1998 first round pick (#1-Vincent Lecavalier) on 11-13-1997 Tampa Bay Lightning traded Bryan Marchment, David Shaw, Lightning conditional right to swap 1998 first round picks (#2-David Legwand) to Sharks for Andrei Nazarov, Lightning conditional right to swap 1998 first round picks (#1-Vincent Lecavalier) on 3-24-1998 Vincent Lecavalier
2 Tampa Bay Lightning San Jose Sharks traded Andrei Nazarov, Lightning conditional right to swap 1998 first round picks (#1-Vincent Lecavalier) to Lightning for Bryan Marchment, David Shaw, Lightning conditional right to swap 1998 first round picks (#2-David Legwand) on 03-24-1998 Nashville Predators traded 1998 first round pick (#3-Brad Stuart), 1998 second round pick (#29-Jonathan Cheechoo) to Sharks for 1998 first round pick (#2-David Legwand), 1998 third round pick (#85-Geoff Koch) on 1998-06-27 David Legwand
3 Nashville Predators San Jose Sharks traded 1998 first round pick (#2-David Legwand), 1998 third round pick (#85-Geoff Koch) to Predators for 1998 first round pick (#3-Brad Stuart), 1998 second round pick (#29-Jonathan Cheechoo) on 1998-06-27 None Brad Stuart

 

 

First, a quick history lesson. In 1997, the Lightning finished dead last with 44 points. Florida was second with 63, and Vancouver was third with 64, and Nashville was joining as an expansion team. Florida "won" the lottery and moved up to first, making the order Florida-Tampa Bay-Nashville-Vancouver. However, Florida's pick had been traded to San Jose, and San Jose had made a deal to let Tampa Bay conditionally swap first round picks with them. Given the chance to move from second to first for free, Tampa Bay did so. Essentially, Tampa Bay had a built-in out to move up should Florida somehow beat the odds, which was exactly what happened. Pretty shrewd. This made the official order Tampa Bay-San Jose-Nashville-Vancouver. Got all that?

The cost of the first overall pick for San Jose can't really be measured here, since the deal was done for Florida's first prior to knowing where it would land. Florida was not a good team, but was not a sure bet to finish last (and, indeed, Tampa Bay finished with almost 20 fewer points than they did) but we can assume San Jose expected they were getting a top five pick. For that pick, the Sharks gave up Kozlov, whom they had drafted 6th overall in 1993, plus a conditional fifth round pick. Whatever those conditions were, they were met, and Florida wound up selecting Spacek with that pick. Kozlov was expected to be the top line center needed to help Pavel Bure excel. That didn't exactly happen, but one can assume Kozlov was considered expendable due to the selection of Patrick Marleau the previous year.

Meanwhile, the Sharks were comfortable trading down, and Nashville gave up a 1st and 2nd in exchange for a 1st and 3rd to move up and draft what they thought was their franchise center.

Cost to trade into the top five: Number one center plus fifth round pick or lower top five pick plus high second round pick.

(read on for much more data -- seriously, get a drink or something...)

This brings us to 1999, when Burke essentially reset the draft order himself in order to draft the Sedin twins:

Pick Original Owner First Trade Second Trade Third Trade Player Selected
1 Tampa Bay Lightning Vancouver Canucks traded 1999 first round pick (#4-Pavel Brendl), two 1999 third round picks (#75-Brett Scheffelmaier) (#88-Jimmie Olvestad) to Lightning for 1999 first round pick (#1-Patrik Stefan) on 6-26-1999 Atlanta Thrashers traded 1999 first round pick (#2-Daniel Sedin), 2000 conditional third round pick (#67-Max Birbraer) to Canucks for 1999 first round pick (#1-Patrik Stefan) on 6-26-1999 None Patrik Stefan
2 Atlanta Thrashers Vancouver Canucks traded 1999 first round pick (#1-Patrik Stefan) to Thrashers for 1999 first round pick (#2-Daniel Sedin), 2000 conditional third round pick (#67-Max Birbraer) on 6-26-1999 None None Daniel Sedin
3 Vancouver Canucks None None None Henrik Sedin
4 Chicago Blackhawks Vancouver Canucks traded Bryan McCabe, 2000 or 2001 first round pick (2000 #11-Pavel Vorobiev) to Blackhawks for 1999 first round pick (#4-Pavel Brendl) on 6-25-1999. Tampa Bay Lightning traded 1999 first round pick (#1-Patrik Stefan) to Canucks for 1999 first round pick (#4-Pavel Brendl), two 1999 third round picks (#75-Brett Scheffelmaier) (#88-Jimmie Olvestad) on 6-26-1999. New York Rangers traded Dan Cloutier, Niklas Sundstrom, 2000 first round pick (#8-Nikita Alexeev), 2000 third round pick (#74-Igor Radulov) to Lightning for 1999 first round pick (#4-Pavel Brendl) on 6-26-1999. Pavel Brendl

Wow. Essentially what we see here is Brian Burke trading for three of the first five picks. To get where he wanted to be, Burke went from 4th to 1st to 2nd, all while keeping his own top-five pick. The action starts the day before the draft, where the 4th overall pick is acquired for a pretty high price. That piece is then flipped for the first overall pick, which is then traded to the Thrashers in a deal that included an agreement not to take one of the Sedins first overall. Atlanta probably thought they were making out like bandits in that deal. Whoops.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay picks up two former first round picks (Cloutier and Sundstrom) and two draft picks from the Rangers, a really nice profit for them.

Cost to trade into the top five: Roster player plus first round pick or top five first round pick and two third round picks or top five first round pick(adjacent) and third round pick or roster player, prospect player, first round pick and third round pick.

 

The year 2000 only saw one move, a far cry from the carnage of the previous draft. This time, already armed with the Rangers' pick (which wound up as 8th overall), Tampa Bay was willing to move out of the top five completely:

Pick Original Owner First Trade Player Selected
5 Tampa Bay New York Islanders traded Kevin Weekes, Kristian Kudroc, 2001 second round pick (#31-Matthew Spiller) to Lightning for 2000 first round pick (#5-Raffi Torres), 2000 fourth round pick (#105-Vladimir Gorbunov), 2000 seventh round pick (#202-Ryan Caldwell) on 6-24-2000. Raffi Torres

In the span of three years, the Lightning insured themselves against a lottery loss and drafted Lecavalier, and turned two top five picks into a ridiculous four players (three of whom were first round picks themselves) and three picks, none lower than a third round. It's frightening to think what kind of dynasty Rick Dudley might have built if his players and choices had all panned out like Lecavlier. 

Cost to trade into the top five: Roster player plus top prospect plus future second round pick, less lower round choices received in exchange.

 

2001, of course, should be intimately familiar to Senators fans, so we won't be spending much time on it here:

Pick Original Owner First Trade Player Selected
2 New York Islanders Ottawa Senators traded Alexi Yashin to Islanders for Bill Muckalt, Zdeno Chara and 2001 first round pick (#2-Jason Spezza) on 6-23-2001. Jason Spezza

Ilya Kovalchuk was chosen first overall, for those with poor memories.

Cost to trade into the top five: Top line center plus roster player, less roster player (Chara had not yet developed into the player he would become, having only recorded 9 points in 82 games for the Islanders the previous season) received in exchange -- outright thievery.

 

2002 saw some more action, and involved an interesting condition in lieu of the typical price we had seen up to this point:

Pick Original Owner First Trade Player Selected
1 Florida Panthers Columbus Blue Jackets traded 2002 first round pick (#3-Jay Bouwmeester), Panthers option to swap 2003 first round picks (not exercised) to Panthers for 2002 first round pick (#1-Rick Nash), Panthers option to swap 2003 first round picks (not exercised) on 6-22-2002. Rick Nash
3 Columbus Blue Jackets Florida Panthers traded 2002 first round pick (#1-Rick Nash), Panthers option to swap 2003 first round picks (not exercised) to Blue Jackets for 2002 first round pick (#3-Jay Bouwmeester), Panthers option to swap 2003 first round picks (not exercised) on 6-22-2002. Jay Bouwmeester
4 Tampa Bay Lightning Philadelphia Flyers traded Ruslan Fedotenko, two 2002 second round picks (#34-Tobias Stephan) (#52-Dan Spang) to Lightning for 2002 first round pick (#4-Joni Pitkanen) on 6-21-2002. Joni Pitkanen

Florida forsook any later round picks to trade down to third overall ( Kari Lehtonen was chosen by Atlanta in the interim) to gamble that they'd be able to trade up the following year at no cost. As we'll soon see, that did not happen. Still, when Jay Bouwmeester is your consolation prize, you're doing all right.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay traded down again, picking up a quality roster player and two more high picks for their choice. It's interesting to note this trade occurred the day before the draft -- presumably, Pitkanen was not the original target of the Flyers. Also worth noting: Though the players Tampa Bay got with this pick (Stephan, and eventually Adam Henrich and Gerard Dicaire) did not pan out, Fedotenko scored the Cup-winning goal for them in 2004.

Cost to trade into the top five: Lower top five pick plus waiving of right to control own first round pick next year or roster player plus two second round picks, one of which was a top position.

 

That brings us to 2003:

Pick Original Owner First Trade Player Selected
1 Florida Panthers Pittsburgh Penguins traded 2003 first round pick (#3-Nathan Horton), 2003 second round pick (#55-Stefan Meyer) to Panthers for 2003 first round pick (#1-Marc-Andre Fleury), 2003 third round pick (#73-Daniel Carcillo) on 6-21-2003. Marc-Andre Fleury
3 Pittsburgh Penguins Florida Panthers traded 2003 first round pick (#1-Marc-Andre Fleury), 2003 third round pick (#73-Daniel Carcillo) to Penguins for Mikael Samuelsson, 2003 first round pick (#3-Nathan Horton), 2003 second round pick (#55-Stefan Meyer) on 6-21-2003 Nathan Horton

Whoops. Florida's back door plan backfired when they won the lottery drawing, moving up from 4th to 1st, thus making the option to swap with Columbus meaningless. They salvaged the loss of getting an extra pick the previous year by getting one in this draft -- and though Horton was a good player for them, one wonders if they wouldn't choose to do this trade differently if given a second chance.

Cost to trade into the top five: Lower top five pick plus second round pick, less third round pick received in exchange.

 

2004 only saw one trade, and marked the beginning of a four-year hiatus of teams trading into the top five:

Pick Original Owner First Trade Player Selected
4 Columbus Blue Jackets Carolina Hurricanes traded 2004 first round pick (#8-Alexandre Picard), 2004 second round pick (#59-Kyle Wharton) to Blue Jackets for 2004 first round pick (#4-Andrew Ladd) on 6-26-2004. Andrew Ladd

This trade is probably most analogous to Ottawa's situation, as the Hurricanes move from 8th to 4th via trade.

Cost to trade into the top five: First round pick plus second round pick.

 

Then there was a lockout and a salary cap was implemented. Bettman sucks. Fast forward four years -- teams have become comfortable with the cap, and we begin to see high-end movement again.

Pick Original Owner First Trade Player Selected
5 New York Islanders Toronto Maple Leafs traded 2008 first round pick (#7-Colin Wilson), Islanders choice of either 2008 second round pick (not exercied) and 2009 third round pick (not exercised), or 2008 third round pick (#68-Shawn Lalonde) and 2009 second round pick (#37-Matt Clark) to Islanders for 2008 first round pick (#5-Luke Schenn) on 6-20-2008. Luke Schenn

No real need for analysis here, but it's interesting to note Brian Burke paid more to get to the 5th spot than was traded to get to 4th a year earlier.

Cost to trade into the top five: First round pick plus second round pick plus third round pick.

Of course, last year saw the Bruins receive the 2nd overall pick from Toronto for Phil Kessel, but since that pick was not assured of being top 5, we're not going to count it. That brings us up to the current draft.

 

Conclusions

So, what exactly was the price Burke set in 1999? Essentially, it's a first round pick plus something else. In absence of a first round choice, a roster player and bevy of lesser picks are included. Ottawa's 2001 acquisition of the 2nd overall pick in 2001 is a fringe situation -- it's doubtful we'll see a top line center moved this year.

There are no recent examples of a prospect being enough additional payment for a team to move into the top five. If Murray is willing to move Jared Cowen or David Rundblad to get a top forward prospect in the draft, it's going to take his higher first round pick and another draft pick and/or roster player.

Having cleaned house at the this year's deadline, Murray doesn't have many options if he chooses to go the first round plus roster player route. Filip Kuba and Sergei Gonchar simply don't meet the criteria of young defensive prospects. It's possible there might be interest in Nick Foligno or Peter Regin, though trading one of the few remaining experienced forwards for an inexperienced forward might not be the best strategy. It is, however, conceivable that Murray might be able to package Nashville's first round pick and Foligno or Regin to a team with less immediate draft needs -- such as Boston, who currently hold the 9th overall pick thanks to the Kessel trade.

The most likely scenario is packaging Ottawa's first pick (6th overall) and a second round pick to move up. Outside of Jason Spezza, Bryan Murray just doesn't have the ammunition to trade into the top five and keep his own high first rounder. Given the team's surplus of picks, the price of trading up isn't unreasonable. If there's a player available Murray feels is capable of making an immediate impact, and he can find a trading partner, don't be surprised if a move is made.

(The website Pro Sports Transactions was indispensable for researching this article. Their transaction information was used for this piece.)

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