On March 8 the Minnesota Wild traded goalie Dwayne Roloson to the Edmonton Oilers for Edmonton’s first round draft pick, and a conditional third round pick. Now Edmonton is playing in the Stanley Cup finals against the Carolina Hurricanes. So why might Wild GM Doug Risebrough be rooting for the Hurricanes?
In the NHL, teams that make the playoffs draft essentially in reverse order of finish, with a few exceptions. The biggest is that the team that wins the Stanley Cup drafts last in the first round. So if Edmonton wins the Cup, Minnesota’s draft pick from Edmonton will be #30 in the first round. If Edmonton loses against Carolina, Minnesota will pick #17.
How big of a difference are we talking about? Let's assume (I know, it is unusual for an economist to make an assumption) that a better player will play more games and play games sooner. Given this assumption, I looked at the number of games played by first round draft picks during the 1990s (not including this seasons) in the top, middle and bottom three tiers. What I find is that players taken in the middle tier play on average 476 more games over a ten year period than players who were drafted in the bottom tier of the first round. Thus for the Wild it looks like there is a pretty clear quality difference between what they will find at #17 and what they will be left with at #30. In fact, given such differences we should not be surprised to hear Risebrough yell, “Go ‘Canes!”.