To Be A Great NHL Team, Try Being A Terrible One First

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↵In recent years, the burgeoning profile of the NFL draft has created a cottage industry of draft debunkers who point out that the erratic performances of top draft picks combine with the enormous outlay required to sign them to create a "loser's curse." Look, here's an academic paper about it (pdf). There's no better example of the phenomenon than the Oakland Raiders, who have sunk enormous amounts of money into the following players: ↵

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↵⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥⇥ ↵⇥⇥ ↵⇥ ↵
Year PlayerPick # Total Contract Years Guaranteed
2009Darrius Heyward-Bey7$38.25 Million5$23.5 Million
2008Darren McFadden4$60.1 Million6$26 Million
2007JaMarcus Russell1$68 Million6$31.5 Million
2006Michael Huff7$43 Million6$16 Million
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↵The Raiders' fifth consecutive top-10 pick, Rolando McClain, has yet to sign. That outlay hasn't helped much. Russell was just released and is now in the conversation when it comes to worst NFL draft picks ever. ↵

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↵You know who emphatically does not have this problem? NHL teams. NHL teams do not have this problem in spades. The easiest way to get good in the NHL is to get very bad.* ↵

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↵For one, the NHL CBA has an incredibly strict rookie cap that sees virtually all picks in the first two rounds sign a default entry-level contract with an 850k base salary. Hyped players can get millions in performance bonuses on top of that, but with the millions of dollars comes, you know, performance. Even better for NHL teams, most entry-level contracts are two-way deals that see the player make a tiny fraction of his NHL salary—and not count against the cap whatsoever—if the player is sent to the farm team. ↵

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↵For another, the top end of the NHL draft has produced a steady stream of superstars ever since the Thrasher took Patrik Stefan first overall in 1999. Since then, the top picks in the NHL draft have been Rick DiPietro, Ilya Kovalchuk, Rick Nash, Marc-Andre Fleury, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Erik Johnson, Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, and John Tavares. Every one of those players has been an NHL success and most are currently amongst the best players in the league. Six of this year's top 12 scorers were the very first pick in their draft year, and that's even more impressive than it sounds because the occasional defenseman or goalie goes off the board first. The closest thing to a slam dunk in the world of drafting is the No. 1 guy in the NHL draft. ↵

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↵And that guy's going to have a base salary of less than a million dollars for his first three years, then be under salary control until he’s at least 25. There's a reason the best teams in the NHL these days so often feature young superstars: they radically outperform their contracts more consistently than anyone else in sports. ↵

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↵So, good news, Edmonton! You may have finished last in the league by a soul-crippling 12 points but help is on the way, and it can't leave as a free agent. You may want to stash the kid in the AHL for a year, suck even more, and then take both your shiny top picks to the top of the league. It is the Way of the Penguin. ↵

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↵*(There are other ways but they require you to have an encyclopedic knowledge of everyone in Sweden.) ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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