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Department of Obvious Statements: Bad Comparisons

Looking over today (it's a bad habit, I know, I'm trying to quit) I found this lovely little article by one Howard Berger.

Now, normally, I wouldn't deign to comment on the Toronto Maple Leafs, but I'm going to make an exception and ridicule some of Berger's moronic comparisons that not only completely miss the point, but show a gross misunderstanding of scouting in general.

Berger looks at the first draft pick of the Maple Leafs in every draft since 1969. Since I have neither the time nor the inclination to critique the whole article, I'm going to start in the more modern era (say, 1985) and if you like you can assume I'm glowering at the earlier years as well.

1986: Lock up your pistol. The Leafs chose Laval junior Vincent Damphousse sixth overall, taking a pass on American high-schooler Brian Leetch, who the Rangers grabbed ninth.

This is such an asinine statement that I'm almost unsure where to begin. Damphousse led all
1986 draftees in goals, points, and games played. The only player selected who might, arguably, be superior to Damphousse, in the entire draft, is Brian Leetch. And fans are supposed to be angry at the scouting department?

1987: I'm almost ready to barf. Good old Luke Richardson became a Leaf in the No. 7 slot. Luke was still playing the game this season in Ottawa. But, how about that other guy still playing for Colorado? Yeah... Joe Sakic. He went 15th to the Quebec Nordiques.

The smallest number of GP by any of the Leafs first 6 picks is 309, the number played by the 112th selection, Damian Rhodes. Was Luke Richardson a better player than Sakic? No, but none of the seven players selected between Sakic and Richardson were any better than Richardson. All Richardson did was play 1400 games at hockey's highest level. He was a good pick, even if there was a better one. and the Leafs were hardly the only team to miss on Sakic; directly before Richardson was selected, Dave Archibald, Wayne McBean and Jimmy Waite were taken.

1988: Pass the rat-poison, Charlie. The entire Leaf scouting staff should have been fired, and then sued, after this draft. Toronto selected Kingston winger Scott Pearson seventh overall. He went on to average 5.6 goals a season over 10 years in the NHL. Still available to the Leafs -- and chosen in the eighth, ninth and 10th spots -- were Jeremy Roenick, Rod Brind'Amour and Teemu Selanne. Leafs made it all up, of course, by grabbing Tie Domi 27th. Huh? When they chose the Tie-man, they could have had any of Mark Recchi, Tony Amonte or Alexander Mogilny. What were the Toronto scouts looking at during the 1987-88 season? Better yet, what medication were they on?

Pearson was a miss, but he did play 292 NHL games. Daniel Dore, taken one spot above played in only 17. As for Domi, he played a lot more games than any other second round selection. Recchi and Amonte went in the 4th round, Mogilny in the 5th. By Berger's reasoning, the scouting staffs of all of the NHL teams should have been fired for passing on these guys for 3 entire rounds. Buffalo, the team that selected Mogilny, took Joel Savage with their first round pick. What were they thinking? What medication were they on? Who did they fire and replace between rounds one and 5?

1989: The infamous Belleville draft. The Leafs took three Bulls juniors, including the celebrated Scott Thornton third overall. Toronto's lack of European scouting in the Harold Ballard ownership era really shone through this year. Still available after drafting Thornton, Rob Pearson and Steve Bancroft (!) were these little nuggets: Nick Lidstrom went to Detroit 53rd overall; Sergei Fedorov to the Red Wings 74th, and Pavel Bure to Vancouver 113th. My oh my oh my.

This was an awful draft, no doubt about it. On the other hand, the comparisons that Berger uses are moronic. Detroit took Mike Sillinger in the first round- he's a good player, but why risk losing stars like Lidstrom and Fedorov to take a career journeyman? Vancouver took Jason Herter (he of 1 NHL game) in the first round- why did they risk another team selecting Bure?

The two players selected after Thornton were Stu Barnes and Bill Guerin; either would have been a better selection. I could go on, but here the Leafs did draft poorly. That doesn't make Berger's argument any better, though.

1990: Thank-you Drake Berehowsky. We're not sure for what. But, you were chosen by the Leafs, 10th overall. Might Toronto hockey fans rather have had goalie Martin Brodeur, selected 20th by New Jersey? Or, maybe Winnipeg's selection, 19th overall, Keith Tkachuk? Sergei Zubov, Doug Weight and Petr Bondra were also still up for grabs. At least Ballard had the courtesy to die a few months before this dog's breakfast.

Only 1 of the Leafs first 6 picks in the 1990 Draft failed to play in the NHL. That's an outstanding success rate. The picks after Berehowsky were Trevor Kidd, Turner Stevenson, Michael Stewart, Brad May, Mark Greig, Karl Dykhuis, Scott Allison and Shawn Antoski. Surely those teams are at least as bad at scouting as the Leafs? Or perhaps Brodeur and Tkachuk simply turned out better than NHL scouts as a whole figured. Point being, if you want to hang the Leafs, you also need to hang the 8 teams who made the same mistake.

And, incidentally, I know Leafs fans hate Harold Ballard, but (and especially for a "mainstream" journalist) doesn't that last comment about him having the courtesy to die seem to go a bit too far?

1991: Famous not for who the Leafs took, but who they could have had. GM Floyd Smith traded what turned out to be the third overall pick in a deal for journeyman defenceman Tom Kurvers. With that No. 3 selection, New Jersey took Kamloops rearguard Scott Niedermayer. But, the Leafs would have passed on him anyway, right?

What does this have to do with scouting? That's right, nothing. Yanic Perreault, taken with the 47th pick, played in 859 NHL games.

1992: Remember Brandon Convery? Yes, I know you wanted to forget the Leafs' first pick, eighth overall. You might also want to erase from your mind that Sergei Gonchar, Martin Straka and Michael Peca were still available.

Convery was a poor selection. Do you want a poorer selection? Philadelphia took Ryan Sittler (0 NHL games) one pick earlier. After Convery, the immortal names of Petrovicky, Nazarov, Cooper, Krivokrasov, and Hulbig were taken before Washington scooped up Sergei Gonchar. Clearly, the Leafs staff were sharing their medication with other teams, yet again.

1993: I'll never forget the swealtering heat in the Quebec City Colisee during this draft -- a Minnesota scout passed out and had to be revived. The Leafs took Swedish defenceman Kenny Jonsson 12th overall. But, that wasn't as bad as Ottawa taking Alexandre Daigle with the No. 1 pick ahead of Chris Pronger and Paul Kariya. Toronto could have done better, as well. And, as usual. Saku Koivu, Todd Bertuzzi and Pavol Demitra were all still up for grabs.

How was this a bad pick? Jonsson was a solid player for a long time, and if he wanted an NHL job right now, he'd have one. Look at his play at the World Championships, if you don't believe me, and look who the Swedish coach trusted him more than.

Anyways, the Jonsson pick was a better one than any of those made by the next eight teams, and, if you're interested, Detroit, (IMO the best scouting team in hockey) took Anders Ericksson one pick before Bertuzzi. Ouch!

Pavol Demitra, if you're wondering, went in the 9th round and finished third among 1993 draftees in points. So 224 of the 226 picks before him were clearly bad, right? I mean, that makes sense, doesn't it?

1994: Leafs figured they had solved their goaltending issues for at least a decade by choosing Chicoutimi junior Eric Fichaud 16th overall. It's possible, of course, they could have been better off with any of Patrik Elias, Chris Drury, Marty Turco, Daniel Alfredsson, or Evgeni Nabokov. But, why nit-pick?

It was a weak draft, overall, and Fichaud wasn't a strong pick, but it's a mistake a lot of teams would have made, as he was very highly regarded. Before him, LA took Jamie Storr and after Boston took Evgeni Ryabchikov. To close out the first round, the Rangers took Dan Cloutier. IK could list how many times Evgeni Nabokov was passed on before the Sharks took a late round flyer on him, but why bother, at this point?

1995: Another waste. Assistant GM Bill Watters convinced the Leafs to take family friend Jeff Ware, 15th overall. Leaf fans are still asking: "Ware for art thou, Jeff?" Toronto could have had Petr Sykora (in the Cup final with Pittsburgh), Marc Savard (Boston's leading scorer), or Calgary goalie Mikka Kiprusoff.

It was a bad pick, but why compare him to Savard (taken 91st) or Kipper (116th)? Compare him to other first rounders, like Sykora, Marty Biron, or Alexei Morozov.

1996: No early picks, but the Leafs found a late gem in Tomas Kaberle, 204th overall.

Kaberle was arguably the best player in the draft, better even than the first overall pick (Chris Phillips). Arguably than, this year weren't the Leafs scouts far and away the best in the NHL?

1997: Early picks again traded away. Leafs took Jeff Farkas, 57th overall. Still available were forward Maxim Afinogenov and defenceman Brian Campbell.

The Leafs went for the homerun, landing one of the fastest players in the draft. Given that nine other teams selected a player in the 3rd round who never played an NHL game, my criticism of this third round pick would be muted, at best.

1998: Leafs surprised everyone by drafting little-known centre Nik Antropov from Kazakstan 10th overall. It took Nik a decade to have a decent season in Toronto. Still up for grabs that day in Buffalo were Alex Tanguay, Robyn Regehr, Simon Gagne, Scott Gomez, Jonathan Cheechoo, Mike Fisher, Brad Richards, Erik Cole and... Pavel Datsyuk. Would you trade big Nik stright-up for any of these?

Antropov was a reach, but only 6/17 players taken after him in the 1st round have played in more NHL games, and I'd argue he's a superior player to a few of them. He was an OK pick, not great, not bad. As for Datsyuk (currently 5th among 1998 draftees in points), he was passed on 170 times. So were 165 picks bad picks, or did Datsyuk outperform most teams (including Detroit's) expectations? I'd bet on the latter.

1999: The infamous Luca Cereda went 24th overall to Toronto. A heart condition ended his NHL career before it started. If it was going to start. Among those Leafs could have taken were Ryan Malone and Henrik Zetterberg. The pain of it all.

This was a brutally weak draft (Patrik Stefan, 1st overall) to begin with, and are the scouts supposed to be blamed for Cereda's heart condition? Zetterberg went 210th overall, meaning he was passed on 209 times, despite (IMO) being the best player out of the 1999 Draft. What do we make of this? Detroit made a good pick, and got a little lucky. It's either that or decide that all scouts don't have any idea what they're doing. I'm going to go with the first option, personally. Malone went 115th, and many of the same arguments could be applied to him. The Leafs were hardly alone in thinking that he wasn't the player he turned out to be.

2000: Leafs made a good pick here, but traded him away. Brad Boyes, a 40-goal shooter in St. Louis this season, went to Toronto, 24th overall.

Yes, it was a good pick.

2001: Defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo went 17th overall to the Leafs, and who knows how good this kid might have been if a black cloud hadn't followed him to the NHL? Turns out, Leafs passed up better options. Again. Like Derek Roy and Mike Cammalleri.

Coliacovo was an OK pick. His injuries derailed a very promising prospect. Better options were out there, but there is no reason to hammer the Leafs on this pick.

2002: The jury is still out on Alex Steen, taken 24th overall. One pick ahead of goalie Cam Ward.

Cam Ward, picked directly ahead of the immortal Martin Vagner and Mike Morris. Cam Ward, with a career GAA of 2.97 and save percentage of .897. For comparisons sake, Andrew Raycroft has a career GAA of 2.87 and save percentage of .900.

2003: The forgettable John Doherty (who??) was taken 57th overall. Good forwards Maxim Lapierre (Montreal) and Lee Stempniak (St. Louis) were still available.

Doherty, one of 11 picks in the '03 second round who has yet to play a game in the NHL. Sometimes you miss with a mid-second round pick. 2003 was clearly not a good draft for Toronto on balance though.

I'm going to skip 2004 and on, given that most of the players selected are still prospects, but here's an obvious statement for you: Berger's comparisons are ludicrous.