After dropping just one game to Florida in the qualifying round, the New York Islanders put up a similarly impressive effort in Round 1
The New York Islanders disposed of the three seed Washington Capitals in just five games. Of course, as New York marches deeper into the playoffs, the risk of their first-round pick deteriorating in value increases.
That usually would be of no concern to Sens fans, but currently, Ottawa owns their first-round pick from the Jean-Gabriel Pageau trade at this year’s trade deadline. Back before the qualifying round came to an end, I made the case that Sens fans should root for the Islanders to win the first overall pick, even though it was protected because it increases the likelihood of an even better pick next season.
Now, Sens fans face another conundrum relating to the Islanders pick. Typically, in this scenario, the hope would be for the Islanders to bow out in Round 2 to the Flyers, leaving Ottawa with a pick in the low 20s, instead of 28th-31st if they were to move on. But it’s not as simple as that, because the Sens also received a conditional 3rd round pick in the trade that they only receive if the Islanders win it all this year.
So which scenario should Sens fans hope for? Picking in the early 20s, or 31st and 93rd? It goes without saying that pick position isn’t the only factor that should go into hopping on a bandwagon, many fans may feel inclined to cheer on Pageau or a former Sen on one of the other seven teams. And while I personally have watched almost every game of these playoffs, many Sens fans aren’t as interested in the teams left and are mostly just waiting for the draft and/or next season. But here we’re only looking at the possible draft value for the team, so personal preferences do not apply.
By my count, depending on how the second round shakes out, if New York loses to Philadelphia their pick will be either 21st or 22nd overall. If they lose in the next round, it’ll be 28th or 29th. If they lose in the finals it’ll 30th and if they win it all the pick would be 31st (and 93rd). To determine which scenario is the best, we’ll have to better understand the value of each pick.
Before we dive into pick value though, it goes without saying that picking 28th, 29th, or 30th would be the worst-case scenario. Obviously those picks are less valuable than 21st or 22nd, and even without knowing the exact value of each pick, even the drop off from 28th to 31st would definitely be made up for by the addition of the 93rd pick. The question is does the 93rd overall pick also offset the drop from 21st to 31st? We’ll assume the Islanders first-round pick would be 21st if they lose to the Flyers, if for no other reason than to narrow the scope of the investigation.
Evaluating Using Shuckers Method
One of the first people to look into the question of NHL draft pick value was Michael Shuckers in 2011. Given that it’s nearly a decade old, Shuckers’ work may be a little dated, but it seems to hold up well and is still cited today. As an added bonus, Shuckers provides a final value to each slot, making my work easier as I simply need to add the slot values together. If you want to read Shuckers’ methodology you can do so here, but the gist of it is mostly based on how many games players picked in each spot play on average, and the probability that they’ll establish themselves as a regular by playing 200 NHL games.
Shuckers assigns a value of 336 to the 21st overall pick and 255 to the 31st overall pick (for context, the value of the first overall pick is 917 and the 210th pick, the last at the time, has a value of 51). That’s a value difference of 81, almost identical to the 85 point difference between the Sens’ other two first-rounders at 3rd and 5th. The 93rd overall pick has a value of 122, meaning that by dropping to 31st from 21st the Sens would actually gain 41 value points according to Shuckers.
While that would be the ideal scenario, but the question wasn’t finding the ideal scenario, but whether or not Sens fans should hope the Islanders win the Cup, which we’ve determined they should, but if they should cheer for them in general.
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The worst-case scenario would, of course, be if the Islanders lose in the finals, leaving the Sens with just the 30th overall pick. Almost just as bad would be if they lose in the conference finals and pick 28th or 29th. So the question is now whether or not Sens fans should simply want New York out now to avoid those scenarios even if it means costing them the best-case scenario.
To do that, we need to find the expected value of the Islanders pick if they win in round two. Without accounting for the strength of each team, which even in a normal year isn’t usually a major factor in a short seven-game series late in the playoffs, the Isles would have a 25% chance of landing at any slot in the 28-31 range. Since each slot has an equal chance, we can simply average out the pick value of the four slots, which comes out to 269.5. Since the Islanders have a 25% chance at the 93rd pick if they make it to the third round, we can take 25% of the 122 value assigned to that pick, which comes out to 30.5. Add those two together, and we get the expected value of the Islanders pick if they advance to round three, an even 300. That’s 36 points lower than the value of the 21st pick and still 24 less than the 22nd pick’s value, so that would imply Sens fans should be happy to pick in that slot after all.
Even though the Islanders winning the Cup would be the ideal scenario for the Sens, the risk of them losing in round three or four seems to be just a bit too high. The bottom line is that Sens fans should probably hope the Islanders lose to the Flyers and end up giving Ottawa the 21st or 22nd pick. But if they do win against the Flyers, it will be high time to jump on the bandwagon and hope for the best result possible.