The most difficult decisions

Today is draft day, when the newest young talent enters the league wide-eyed, expecting fame and fortune. For most of them, they won’t be able to reach their potential and may never see ice time in the NHL. The decision to draft somebody with a specific pick could haunt a general manager for the rest of his career, as it’s who they missed rather than who they got that determines their skills. Today is the day that careers can be made or broken, and teams find out just how bright their future truly is.

The new-look Colorado Avalanche hold the first pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. From left to right: Coach Patrick Roy, team president Joshua Kroenke, and general manager Joe Sakic. (Brennan Linsley/AP)

Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche has already stated he would select Halifax Moosehead center Nathan MacKinnon with the first overall pick. Initially, everybody believed it would be Seth Jones going back to where he got his start. Sakic and new head coach Patrick Roy had other plans, adding more to their center depth and making the decrease in talent on the wing and in net even more evident. Now that they’ve made moves to acquire Alex Tanguay and Cory Sarich, though, it’s possible the plans have changed.

While Sakic and Roy are in a position to make one of the most difficult choices in recent years between Jones, MacKinnon, and Jonathan Drouin, the later teams are the ones faced with more insecurities. The top pick is likely to be one of the best in the league within the next few seasons. The picks beyond the top five (or top ten) are likely to be more of a gray area in terms of their talent. Many could turn into superstars, and this could be a repeat of the legendary 2003 draft. Or, the majority could fizzle out like a bottle of pop ,finding themselves sitting in the AHL as the ones who never reached their ceiling.

Teams tend to find themselves asking the same questions of all of their scouts: how likely is it that this player succeeds? If the scouts believe the selection is going to become another star player, it’ll usually be made. Obviously, there are going to be scouts who are wrong. Just ask every team in the 2004 draft about allowing Pekka Rinne, currently one of the top goaltenders in the league, to drop until the 258th pick, which doesn’t exist anymore.

One of the most interesting parts of draft time will be the trade rumors, and what truly happens. Currently the Colorado Avalanche and the Florida Panthers are talking about swapping the first and second overall picks. Kris Letang just re-signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins, making all the rumors involving him nullified. The Carolina Hurricanes are considering trading away the 5th overall pick, and have three to six offers available including Morgan Reilly from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Meanwhile, the Edmonton Oilers’ seventh overall pick has been in rumors for weeks and seems to be going to Vancouver for goaltender Cory Schneider.

Trades, though, could be yet another big part of making a general manager’s career. The decisions they make today in their war rooms, at their individual tables, change the entire outlook of their team. In 2003, the Edmonton Oilers traded away the 17th overall pick to the New Jersey Devils for the 22nd and 68th overall selections.

The Devils were able to select Zach Parise, at the time considered an undersized forward. Parise would go on to have 410 points in 502 games for the Devils before leaving for the Minnesota Wild as the biggest free agent available last summer. The 22nd pick was Marc-Antoine Pouliot, who had a career-high of 20 points in 63 games for one season in Edmonton and is currently out of the league.

Moves such as that could define a career for any member of management at the time of the deal. Jay Feaster is known for making knuckle-headed moves, including trading a second-round pick in 2008 for grinder Chris Gratton, who would be out of the league by the end of the year. Meanwhile with that pick, the Florida Panthers selected Jacob Markstrom, now looking to be their goaltender of the future.

Scott Howson was named the general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2007, and in 2008 selected Russian forward Nikita Filatov with the sixth overall pick. Filatov has only played 53 games in the NHL and scored 14 points, finding his confidence destroyed by the management of then-coach Ken Hitchcock and Howson. Demanding he play defense over his normal explosive offense, Filatov was isolated and ran to the Russian KHL in order to find a more welcoming atmosphere.

Howson was fired this past season, though he did receive two votes for executive of the year, and Filatov was considered one of his great failures. Hindsight is 20/20, and it’s easy to look back and say that the red flags were there but went unnoticed. The hard part is for the general managers who are making big decisions today. The game is to pick your poison and see how long it allows you to live, and for these teams this is the most difficult decision of all.

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