A closer look at the draft day trades

"But it was a haul!" - Bruce Bennett

The Oilers traded the 37th pick for #57 + #88 + #96 yesterday, and then traded #57 for #83 + #94 + #113. I've noted that those both look like poor values compared to historical trades; I'd like to fill that in with a bit more detail.

First, the numbers from my trade chart:

Oilers give Value Oilers get Value
#37 10.3 #57 4.3
#88 1.2
#96 0.88
Total 10.3 6.4
------------------------------------------ --------------------- ----------------------- ----------------------
#57 4.3 #83 1.5
#94 0.9
#113 0.49
Total 4.3 2.9

Obviously, different teams have different opinions, and different drafts have different players. So trades won't always line up exactly according to what the chart says.

But over this period, 25 trades involved a pick from the first two rounds, and for 23 of those, the two sides of the trade were equal to within 20% of the value from my chart. So it seems noteworthy that the Oilers have just single-handedly doubled the number of teams that went off the chart.

In fact, we have some pretty strong comparisons to these trades. Here are the three times that a pick in the 35-40 range has been traded:

  • #35 for #38 + #69 (2007)
  • #37 for #57 + #88 + #96
  • #38 for #46 + #76 (2008)

Compare the 2008 package to what the Oilers got, and the difference is basically that the Oilers started with a higher pick and ended up picking 11 spots later in the second round and 12 spots later in the third round, but got an extra fourth round pick for their troubles.

So would teams give up a fourth rounder to move up 11 spots in the second and 12 spots in the third? Well, yeah -- look at those deals again -- they're giving up third-round picks to move up 3-8 spots in the second. This isn't even close.

In fact, teams would give up a fourth round pick just to move up 12 spots in the third:

  • #66 for #79 + #109 (2006)
  • #68 for #72 + #102 (2008)
  • #71 for #77 + #109 (2010)
  • #74 for #87 + #107 (2009)
  • #74 for #81 + #101 (2008)

So the Oilers basically gave away 11 spots in the second round for free. To make the trade match historic market rates, they would've had to get another pick in the deal somewhere around #59.

I won't go through the other trade in quite that level of detail, but the same is true there.

  • #56 for #62 + #92 (2009)
  • #57 for #83 + #94 + #113
  • #59 for #69 + #99 (2010)
  • #68 for #72 + #102 (2008)

Again, the Oilers dropped down something like 15 spots farther in the third round, and their compensation for that was an extra fifth round pick, which we know isn't nearly what the market normally pays. For this trade to be equitable, they needed to get another pick somewhere around #84.

So then the question is whether there were extenuating circumstances. Was there some reason that in this year's draft it was hard to get the historical value for their picks?

It's not because the market at this year's draft was particularly anomalous. There were three other trades in the first 60 picks, and all three lined up with the chart to within 10% error.

Nor was it an unusually difficult draft to trade down -- in two of those three deals, the team trading down (Red Wings and Devils) got the better value according to my chart (and the third nearly lined up, as noted above).

Nor did the depth of the draft lead teams to hold their fourth- and fifth-round picks particularly tightly -- both the Blues and Sharks were able to add picks in those rounds for little more than a pick in the same round of next year's draft.

Pretty much the only thing the Oilers have to point to in their defense is that after their second deal, the Jets made a similarly bad three-for-one trade. Which I guess means something, but I have to think that if their goal was to acquire mid-round picks, they could've done a lot better in two-for-one trades like the ones the Red Wings, Devils, and Blue Jackets made.

Heck, they could've done better than they did even if they had no options except to take worse value on trades that other teams actually made:

The Coyotes traded picks #42 and 73 for pick #39. Let's imagine the Oilers accept that package for pick #37.

The Penguins traded picks #50 and 89 for pick #44. So let's imagine the Oilers accept that package for the pick #42 we got for them above. Now they have picks #50, 73, and 89 in our hypothetical cascade.

The Blues traded picks #83, 94, and 113 to the Oilers for pick #57. Presumably they'd have been willing to do that for pick #50 instead.

So now here's how things compare between reality and our hypothetical world where the only way they are allowed to make a trade is by outbidding a team on a trade actually consummated:

Hypothetical holding Actual holding
73 83
83 88
89 94
94 96
113 113

Anyone who looks at that table and concludes the Oilers did a good job on their trades is really reaching to see what they want to see.

It's possible that the trades improved the team, that everyone in the league undervalues late-round picks and that even taking well-below-market rates on their trades still improved the team. But there's no question that they could've done a lot better.

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