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Senators Should Explore Trading Down in the Draft

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With a lack of draft picks in recent years, the Ottawa Senators should look to move down from either one of their first round picks in order to get better quantity

NHL: NHL Draft David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The 4th spot in the 2018 NHL Draft is the highest that the Ottawa Senators have selected a player since they took Jason Spezza 2nd overall in 2001.

Although they missed out on the top-3, it still represents a great opportunity for the Senators to get back on track. And while I have argued for years that they need to get a true top-end player in the top-5 of the draft, I believe that the smart move for this year would be to look at moving down.

The Senators usually only ever move up, but I think it would be wise to try the opposite this year.

Let me preface all of this by saying that if there isn’t a good enough deal on the table, then of course I have no problem with Pierre Dorion selecting whomever he thinks is the best player available at 4. Furthermore, if Filip Zadina or Andrei Svechnikov are somehow not selected by the Carolina Hurricanes and the Montreal Canadiens, then all of this goes out the window. There is a true top-3 in this draft, and getting one of those two forwards would be a huge steal, but it’s just unlikely for that to happen.

The likeliest scenario is that after Dahlin, Svechnikov, and Zadina go in the top-3, Ottawa will be picking first amongst a group of prospects that could realistically be ranked anywhere from 4-10. That group includes Brady Tkachuk, Oliver Wahlstrom, Adam Boqvist, Quinton Hughes, Evan Bouchard, Ty Smith, and Noah Dobson. Some have been typically ranked higher than others, but it seems like this group of seven is the next tier who aren’t that easy to distinguish from one another.

If we consider 1-3 as a cohort and 4-10 as a cohort, then we shouldn’t view dropping from 4th to later in the top-10 as the same as dropping from say, 1st to 5th. In essence, if Ottawa is going to be getting a similarly skilled player at 4th, 8th, 9th, or 10th, why wouldn’t you explore a trade if a team wants to trade up?

The main reason I’d like to see this happen though is because the Senators are without a 2nd and 3rd round pick, and next year they will be without their 1st rounder. They at least have the Penguins 1st rounder and the Rangers 7th rounder this year, but Ottawa’s been giving away too many picks over the past few years for a team that isn’t really in the right place to be doing so.

2011 was an amazing draft that included Mika Zibanejad, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ryan Dzingel, Fredrik Claesson, and a few others, but since then, here is the amount of picks the team has had each season (in 7 rounds): 7, 7, 5, 8, 5, 4. So 2015 had a good amount of picks, but other than that, they’ve given away six more picks than an average team would have. The point being, they could afford to add a few more picks, and moving down in the draft could accomplish that by acquiring an extra pick or two.

Furthermore, this visual from Sean Tierney shows that Ottawa is near the bottom of the league in terms of draft pick value outside of the 1st round this year:

Obviously the two picks in the 1st round cannot be ignored, but the point is that having a quantity of picks can be hugely beneficial, especially considering there isn’t much difference between talent in the later rounds.

It’s also important to note what the actual value of a draft pick is. Back in 2015, Stephen Burtch found that there is a big gap in value between 3rd and 4th overall (hooray...), but players between 4th-15th can still be quite useful. However, late first rounders aren’t worth that much more than second rounders.

What does this mean then?

What I’d take from this data is that dropping from 4th to 10th would result in a loss of ~0.17 in relative value, but an additional late first rounder would result in a gain of ~0.22-0.26 (and a net gain of ~0.5-0.9). That’s assuming that Ottawa would only be getting two first rounders in return, but there’s a chance that they might be receiving another pick later on. Additionally, for this draft in particular, I’m not as worried about the drop within the top-10.

I would not want to move out of the top-3, but since they do not have a pick there, I’d be pretty content with any one of the seven prospects I listed earlier. Plus this also shows me that if Dorion doesn’t want to move from the 4th spot, moving the 22nd pick for perhaps two later picks would be a smart move, because they wouldn’t be sacrificing much in terms of a player’s ceiling. This whole article is supposed to be about their first selection, but really it can apply to the 22nd overall pick too.

Having said all of this, let’s look at who the Senators could actually partner up with. The Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, and New York Rangers all have top-9 picks and a later first rounder as well.

  1. Detroit has picks 6, 29 (projected), 33, and 36. The drop from 4 to 6 is not very big, so honestly if the Red Wings offered any of their other picks in the first two rounds, I’d be pretty happy with that package. The Red Wings would have to really want someone at 4 for that to happen though.
  2. Chicago has picks 8, 27, and 69, so if they are unwilling to give up a late first rounder, this may not be as likely to happen, just because the 69th overall pick might be a bit low for Ottawa’s liking.
  3. Then there’s the New York Rangers, who have a total of 10 picks this draft. They own picks 9, 26, 30 (projected), 39, and 48. With five picks in the first two rounds, the Rangers seem like the most obvious trade partner, especially considering they seem like a team that does not want to go through a lengthy rebuild. Moving down to the 9th spot would be quite a drop, but if New York is hell-bent on picking 4th and they offered the 9th and 30th (plus maybe even one more?), I think Ottawa would have to accept.

Now, it’s hard to say what teams are going to offer for this pick, if anything at all. Looking back at recent trades just involving picks though, here are some comparables:

This doesn’t set much of a precedent for moving down from 4, but it does help us with Ottawa’s other first rounder. Looking at previous trades, Ottawa could easily get a late first rounder and a third at minimum if a team really likes somebody at number 22.

At the end of the day, the perfect scenario would be getting Filip Zadina to fall to Ottawa, and then have Dorion acquire an extra pick by moving down from 22. However, I’d also be fine with taking any one of the glut of defensemen in the top-10 because their skill levels all seem quite close.

There are a lot of variables involved here, including where players get drafted, what teams are willing to give up, and if teams are even wanting to move up. But no matter what, Dorion should at least be exploring the possibility of moving down from 4 or 22, because they can still easily get similar, if not better, value in the draft.