Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Credit where credit is due

I was reading TSN's preview on the Canadiens and they had an interesting note on Bob Gainey's track record at the draft table since taking over as GM in June of 2003:

"Depending on this year's performance and what the salary cap looks like next July, next year's team could look quite different with one or two key players out of the equation. But that doesn't mean Gainey isn't prepared. In five years as general manager, the former Habs great has done something that hasn't been seen in Montreal since the days of Sam Pollock and Frank Selke - assemble a legitimate Cup contender while developing a rich pool of young players waiting in the wings. Fourteen of the team's 23 projected regulars were drafted by the Canadiens, with ten of them selected since Gainey took over in 2003."

(Note: There are actually only seven of the projected 23 regulars who were drafted under Gainey's watch, eight if you count Kyle Chipchura, but that's still pretty impressive.)

While it's true that Gainey gets the final word on who the Canadiens draft in any given year, he is obviously not the one who digs these diamonds out of the rough. That responsibility falls on the shoulders of Trevor Timmins, who was hired as director of player personnel 11 months before Gainey, in July of 2002. There's a reason why Gainey has Timmins go to the podium every year to announce the Canadiens first round pick, because he is the one that deserves the lion's share of the credit if that player blossoms, and he's also the one that deserves much of the blame if he busts.

Over the course of Timmins' tenure, there's been a lot more blossoming than busting, and I thought it might be useful to go over his record after six years of leading Montreal's effort at the draft table.

The first pick Timmins ever made was Andrei Kostitsyn, selected 10th overall in the 2003 draft, and it was a tough one to make. Everyone agreed Kostitsyn had top-five talent, but his history with epilepsy scared off most teams. Canadiens team doctor David Mulder examined Kostitsyn and assured Timmins and Gainey - who had only been on the job a few weeks at that point - that medication would keep his condition under control.

Nonetheless, it was a gutsy move considering who remained on the board at the time: Jeff Carter (11th overall), Dustin Brown (13th), Brent Seabrook (14th), Steve Bernier (16th), Zach Parise (17th), Ryan Getzlaf (19th), Brent Burns (20th), Mike Richards (24th) and Corey Perry (28th), just to name a few. It has to rank among the greatest draft classes ever, as only one player chosen in the first round hasn't played a single NHL game (Hugh Jessiman, New York Rangers, 12th overall), and 23 of the 30 first-rounders have already played at least 100. By comparison, the first round in 2002 had four players who still haven't played an NHL game, and only 20 have played in at least 100.

Though people could always argue that Ryan Getzlaf or Jeff Carter would be the big centre the Canadiens have always lacked, we have only seen a sliver of the talent Kostitsyn has, so that comparison should wait a couple more years. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised to see Kostitsyn out-score both of them this season.

In that same 2003 draft, Timmins managed to find three more players who will start this season in Montreal, Maxim Lapierre (61st overall), Ryan O'Byrne (79th), and Jaroslav Halak (271st).

As far as debut performances go, that one has to rank right up there.

Over the subsequent years, Timmins has managed to unearth some gems in the later rounds like Mark Streit (262nd overall, 2004), Alexei Yemelin (84th, 2004), Sergei Kostitsyn (200th, 2005), Matt D'Agostini (190th, 2005) and Pavel Valentenko (139th, 2006).

But what we've witnessed at this last training camp is the tremendous job Timmins and his staff did in 2007, and this is where Gainey comes in. By trading Craig Rivet for the Sharks first rounder and Josh Gorges, he gave Timmins a chance to go grab Max Pacioretty 22nd overall. We still haven't seen how 12th overall pick Ryan McDonagh will pan out, but he had a solid freshman year at Wisconsin last season and we should have a better idea of how he projects when he plays at this year's world junior championships in Ottawa.

It's entirely conceivable that the Canadiens' first five picks from 2007 - McDonagh, Pacioretty, P.K. Subban (43rd overall), Olivier Fortier (65th) and Yannick Weber (73rd) - will all be playing in Montreal within two or three years. That is an extremely rare batting average for a single draft year, if indeed it works out like that.

Of course, Timmins has had some less impressive selections - David Fischer at 20th overall in 2006 with Claude Giroux and Patrik Berglund still on the board has to top that list - but you could pick apart any team's draft history and find glaring oversights every year. What makes Timmins special is that he benefits from other teams' mistakes more often than committing one himself.

It is this stable of talent in the system that makes the Armageddon scenario for next season's "Free Agent Frenzy: Canadiens edition" a little less daunting for Habs management, and knowing all these kids are waiting for their shot should be great motivation for the impending free agents on this year's team to try and earn a contract for next season.


pierre said...

Andre Savard as pioneered the ascension of our Canadiens in ways that are disproportionate with the short time of his duties in Montreal.

He got in as a GM but double-up as head of scouting in his two years with the CH in 2001-02 and gaved us Komisarek and 3 superb ideally suited NewNHL prospects 3 years before the fact... in Plekanec, Higgins and Perezhogin.

His hiring of Timmins to joined his effort in the scouting process for the 2003 draft led to the selection of Andre Kostsityn , Obyrne , Halak and Lapierre all of which went unchalenged by the freshly appointed class act Gainey.

Andre Savard to me was pivotal in our progress and a crucial factor behind the style and the identity of our game as we see it flowering today and for years to come.

I like to see Savard as the visonary one and Gainey-Carbo as the good captains that they are for our journey in the futur.

Yves said...

Great post!

Over the last few years, I can't count how many times I've heard criticism of Gainey and Timmin's draft choices... from when they drafted Price to when they passed on Angelo Esposito. Then all the criticism for the hiring of Carbo... who is doing a great job in my opinion.

Carbo understands his players, in that he's had to battle for a spot and was sent to the minors himself... and that he became a star on the team and played a long career.

Gainey has put some great people to work for him and together, they've made some great decisions.... in spite of what so many of their critics have said.

Arpon Basu said...

I agree that Savard was exceptional in identifying talent at the draft, but he really wasn't a good GM in terms of signing contracts and being able to cut ties with certain players. Just one example out of many: He gave Marcel Hossa a million dollar contract. It's a shame he and Timmins couldn't have worked in tandem heading up the scouting department.