There’s a lot to be said about yesterday’s 40-minute long press conference held by Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini. One of the things that stood out to me was how careful Tambellini was to emphasize that the first overall pick would be a boon to the organization – whether he kept it or sent it away.
From Tambellini, emphasis mine:
It presents options. It presents a lot of options to us. You get to be in control of the top part of the draft. You’re able to listen to other teams ideas of moving up or moving down… it just presents I think a wonderful opportunity with this time in the Oilers history when we’re accumulating some elite talented players that we know we’re going to add another significant piece or package when we leave the draft.
The phase, I think, that we’re just coming into, presents us with more comfort, I think, that we can listen to legitimate options. We’ve accumulated a good amount of high-end skill throughout our organization. A lot of it, most of it is not here yet, but it allows us to think about if you move down a pick, if you move down three picks, of adding a solid player and maybe a current player. I don’t know. I just feel more comfortable knowing that our stable is more accomplished than what it was a few years ago.
I’m really open right now. I’m leaving tomorrow night to meet Stu MacGregor at the under-18 world championships and I know that we’re going to go through our top end of our list here. I think we’re in a spot here where if the talent is equitable – you’re not taking an A player for a B player – but if you believe that the potential is similar and the talent and the characters are similar that we’re in a spot where we can discuss by position at this point.
Well when you’re speaking of attaining a player at that point in the draft you know that quality is there. So adding that level of player to your organization, regardless if he plays next year or the year after or the year after that, you know that you’re adding a significant piece. Whether it’s through just the single player or the package that you entertain to possibly also complete. So you know that this is another significant piece to the organization in getting better and everything’s pointing to our organization that things are getting better. That’s a good sign.
Now, those hints are a long way from saying “yeah, I’m going to deal the first overall pick, so you’d best get used to the idea.” However, I can’t recall Tambellini going out of his way to drop these sorts of comments when he was talking about Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Certainly, he didn’t repeat the point as frequently then as he did yesterday.
As an interesting counterpoint, Bob Stauffer wrote a piece for the Oilers website advising the team to keep the number one pick. I tend to think he’s right, particularly after looking at various studies on the value of draft picks. There’s tremendous value in top-five picks, than a steep decline that gets gradually less steep as one gets further into the draft. Put another way, moving from 1st overall to 6th overall is probably a bigger drop in terms of likely return in an average draft than moving from 15th to 30th would be. If that trade’s going to be made, the return had better be spectacular and history shows us that it typically isn’t.
It’s probably also worth remembering the last time this happened. Florida owned the first overall pick in 2002, and wanted to draft Jay Bouwmeester. Columbus owned the third overall pick and were scared Rick Nash wouldn’t last that long. So the teams made a trade – Columbus moved up to first overall in exchange for granting Florida the option to swap first round picks next year (an option they never exercised. Florida then sent a third and fourth round pick to Atlanta to make sure the Thrashers didn’t take Bouwmeester second overall.
Ultimately, at this point we don’t know what Tambellini is going to do with that first overall pick. If and when he trades it to move down in the draft order, we won’t know if the deal panned out until years down the road. One just hopes that if he does trade down he makes sure that he’s getting more than a second round pick for his troubles.
One Last Thing
It’s been suggested to me that I was something of a rube for believing that Steve Tambellini was sincere back in January when he said he wanted his team to avoid the draft lottery. Tambellini is sticking by his story – asked about drafting first overall, he quipped, “Well we weren’t supposed to this year.”
Now, possibly, he’s keeping up the story to make it clear that his plans for the team fell through. It seems simpler to believe, however, that he keeps saying this because he’s telling the truth.