Are NHL teams overvaluing first-round draft picks?

As the Eastern Conference contenders load up for the playoffs, Julian and the Zone Time crew ask what a first-round pick is really worth. In the hard salary-cap era, not all trades are made equal and a player might be worth a lot more to a team with Stanley Cup ambitions than one looking to collect picks as part of a roster rebuild.

Video Transcript

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Timo Meier going to New Jersey. Are we taking them a little bit more seriously than we were before? Let's start there. Like how do you feel about New Jersey making that deal work? For me, like I-- they look good. I have them in that same kind of tier with like Toronto. Like they should be taken seriously, but not like Boston-Tampa seriously, but like still pretty good. And they made out pretty well getting that deal and not having to part with like Simon Nemec or-- I'm trying think of another primary-- Dawson Mercer. Like, New Jersey did all right.

- That's what I want to--

SAM CHANG: They gave up, like, nothing.

- Yeah, that's what I want to focus on.

SAM CHANG: They got Timo Meier for basically nothing.


- Yeah. Like Mercer, Hughes, like, sorry, the other Hughes, Luke, like they didn't lose-- and again, I'm not privy to like the Devils organization. But like all of the prospects like Devils fans were hoping they wouldn't lose in a trade are fine.


- Like, on-- so, like, that makes the deal even better. Again, when you think about the fact that Meier is an RFA not a UFA. So like he can be part of the system for a while. All of these other prospects they have can be part of the system for a while. Like the Devils are going to be a dangerous team, man. Like I know I focus. Again, any time I look on the standings, obviously, I focus on like who the Leafs are going to face. But like I don't know if it is right now. But like the Devils can face the Rangers in the first round.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Yeah, a lot of people are trying to pencil that in, too.

- That's a whole--

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Yeah, exactly.

- That's an insane-- that's an insane series--

JULIAN MCKENZIE: It might be the must-watch--

- --where both teams--

JULIAN MCKENZIE: --series of the first round if we get Devils-Rangers.


- And both teams-- both teams have sold the-- well, tried to sell pieces of the future to make themselves better.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Sam, what were you saying?

SAM CHANG: I just want to know like what else was on the table for Timo Meier. Like, you know, when-- when the Bo Horvat trade broke a couple weeks ago, I think we said Lula-- Lula Morello single-handedly tanked the value for Timo Meier. But I did not expect it to be this bad. Like surely-- like I don't know. I don't want to like give Mike Grier a hard time. But like I don't-- I don't understand it.

ARUN SRINIVASAN: Let's give Mike Grier a hard time. He botched this. Like--

JULIAN MCKENZIE: I don't know if he botched it completely. I mean, he still got a conditional first out of it among other pieces.

ARUN SRINIVASAN: A conditional first doesn't matter, man. Fabian Zetterlund was the best part of that return. And he's a good player for the Devils. But sure, like first-round-- if there's one resounding theme of this deadline, first-round picks don't matter to good teams. This is not the NFL where you're going to get a player at number 10. And they're going to have an immediate impact on your team.

There's no Micah Parsons to be found in the 20s or the 30s of an NHL draft. I think people have gotten so idea-- so accustomed to the idea from the NFL and the NBA that their first-round picks are going to make an immediate impact. They're not going to make an impact. So every time I see people say, oh, my precious picks. It's like, great, that could matriculate in four or five years.

I think-- I mean, [INAUDIBLE]. I mean, the Devils giving up next to nothing for Meier is really the real takeaway. You know, does it make them more of a threat, to answer your question? Like it does. I think it's a good move. And they were the biggest pitcher. Like, I think the Devils' real question is like, will their goaltending hold up? You know, will Vitek Vanecek and Mackenzie Blackwood hold up?

But, yeah, like the most fun team in the NHL just got a lot more fun and fast and with like a power forward. Also, too, I don't think we've touched on it. Like, well, maybe we did on the RFA status. The whole, like, oh, no, Timo Meier has a $10 million qualifying offer-- he's 26 years old, man. Like, if your best player is 21 years old and 24 years old respectively, in Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, he fits their timeline.

- Yeah.

ARUN SRINIVASAN: So like I don't understand why. Oh, no, it's going to be this big burden for us to sign a 26-year-old in the prime of his career that aligns with our top players. It's not a burden. Like, cool--

JULIAN MCKENZIE: I think the point is that like, you know, not every team could afford to put in a guy with a $10 million qualifying offer even if he is 26. I think the burden is more on how many teams could actually afford that compared to being like, oh, yeah, he's in his prime. Literally, if-- if we had more space for teams in the salary-cap area that we're in right now, we would see way more teams throw the bag a Timo Meier and the San Jose Sharks. They wouldn't give a damn about a $10 million qualifying offer.

ARUN SRINIVASAN: The problem with the trade deadline is everyone looks at it with a static evaluation, as if all first-round picks are created equal, or all teams should be making the same decisions. Like that's not true. Like it shouldn't-- teams don't statically evaluate, you know, players and prospects. Like the Leafs trading a first-round pick should be an obvious move. The Devils trading their first-round pick should be obvious, you know?

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Tampa Bay Lightning shooting off all of of their first-round picks forever.

ARUN SRINIVASAN: And historically, it's worked for them. They have two cups, a finals appearance, and maybe another one coming. I mean, I do think the Leafs will beat the Lightning. That's another story for another day. But like they're the class of the East for a reason. And that's because they [INAUDIBLE].

JULIAN MCKENZIE: You're getting into predictions now, huh?


- Yeah, I think when it comes to the pick thing, like in hockey, whether you're a fan, media member, I guarantee you even if you work in an organization, we love to play the game of, we could have got X. You know, we love to look at the draft like, oh, who went where in like 2012? And you look like the pick above and below. Or like the year where you didn't have a pick, it's like, oh, that pick could have been Anaheim's or whatever.

So I think there's so much hyperfocus on that, especially in hockey. Like in basketball, NFL, like it doesn't matter. The pick's the pick. The number's the number. But I think in hockey, we really fixate on like, oh, we could have got like that player and that player. But I also think-- you know, Julian, to your point, I also think that speaks to like the hard-salary-cap system that we're in and that making deals and making trades is so difficult.

So like sometimes a lot of teams need to focus on the draft. And like the first round is the easiest way to go about it. And not every team can have those hits in the second and third round, even like the fourth and the fifth. Like we praise-- we praise teams for finding star players in the seventh round. And it's like, yeah, like you knew. Yeah, like you knew. You know what I mean?

So I think-- I think the overfixation on like the draft in the hard-cap system that we have in the NHL is the reason why like fans, for example, maybe are apprehensive about giving first. But like, Arun, you said it perfectly. Like if you're a team that's trying to go for it, like your first-round pick shouldn't matter. Like you should go into-- even if things go south, you should go into it thinking, OK, a lot to pick in the 20s anyway, whatever, fine.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: That's a shot at another Kendrick that we're probably going to mention at some point in this episode.

- Ooh, hoo, boy.


- Man.

SAM CHANG: Seems like--

- Man.

SAM CHANG: [INAUDIBLE] a lot more picks.


SAM CHANG: I'm watching all of these picks flying around. I'm like, yeah, what have the Canucks picked up? Great, they picked up like a conditional first.


- You can get Kerfoot, Sam, and then flip him to someone else.

SAM CHANG: I don't want Kerfoot. I want picks.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: You could get a second for Luke Schenn if someone wants it.

- Ooh, ouch. That's [INAUDIBLE].

JULIAN MCKENZIE: I still think like flipping a second for Luke Schenn is a lot, though. Like come on.

ARUN SRINIVASAN: It's a lot for 28 teams. It's not a lot for four or five teams who might need him.


SAM CHANG: He's actually been very, very good.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: He has been very good. But like on some of those teams, it wouldn't matter that much. He'd be like number five, number six.

- I think he could probably-- to be honest, like if it becomes like a bidding war like down the wire, which-- shout-out to the panelists who have to be on TV for eight hours to break a Luke Schenn trade. Like they should stop it. But, yeah, like it becomes a bidding war, where I can see a team, like, saying, OK, yeah, sure, we'll give you a second-- like a second and someone for Schenn. Just because-- I don't know-- he's found a way to look good on the Vancouver Canucks.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Yeah, that's true.

- You know, like there has to be like some-- like him as a player is one thing. He's won cups. Yeah, he wasn't like a key contributing factor.

SAM CHANG: He's a two-time Stanley Cup champion.

- Yeah, it wasn't like--


- --or whatever. But like he was there. He was part of the team.

SAM CHANG: Giving up five picks for Jeannot, and you're not going to give up a second-round pick for Luke Schenn, like one second-round pick? Are you kidding me?


SAM CHANG: It's the NHL.

- I think a team would do that.

SAM CHANG: [INAUDIBLE] should be like, hey, I got a two-time cup champion defenseman, big, tough, guy. You want him? Like who's not giving him a pick for that? I don't understand.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Are we really like-- we really just do not care about picks anymore? Like how do these teams build?

SAM CHANG: Well, I care about picks. I want them. Give them to me.