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1981 Draft Evaluation

Of the first six drafts of the early 1980s, the 1981 NHL Draft was the 2nd weakest in terms of the overall value it produced for teams. Still the draft had some Hall of Fame level talent in a pair of defensemen named Al MacInnis and Chris Chelios and the always classy Ron Francis. The Canadians, Flames and Whalers finished in the top four of in total NHL value because they selected those three stars. All three of these franchise quality players would go to win the Stanley Cup but Ron Francis would do so as a Penguin and not as a Whaler/Hurricane player.

The Canadiens had the biggest haul on draft day as they picked three useful NHLers in Tom Kurvers, Gilbert Delorme and Mark Hunter in addition to Chelios. The Rangers muscled their way into the top by finding three quality players among whom John Vanbiesbrouck had the biggest impact. Early on Vanbiesbrouck had to compete against Bob Froese and a young Mike Richter but he ended up having a long NHL career. The Flames acquired the Mike Vernon as well as MacInnis both of whom were crucial players in the Flames Cup team. Vernon would later win the Playoff MVP with Detroit in 1997.

The teams that participated in the 1981 NHL Draft are ranked in the table below based upon the total career NHL value those drafted players amassed up through the end of the 2006-07 regular season (or the end of their career). The "value" column displays the total adjusted GVT regular season value of all players drafted by that team in that draft. Draftees who went on to play 400 or more games (fewer for goalies) are listed to the right so you can see for yourself the successes of each team. The division of those players into "impact" and "role" players is determined by looking at their value to games played ratio. Rather than just using my own opinion I decided to divide the adjusted GVT by game played and use that as a guideline.

Team Value Impact Player Role Player
MON 1565 C.Chelios T.Kurvers M.Hunter G.Delorme
NYR 1348 J.Vanbiesbrouck J.Patrick J.Erixon
CGY 1208 A.MacInnis M.Vernon
HAR 1098 R.Francis P.MacDermid
WAS 877 B.Carpenter G.Duchesne
DET 832 G.Gallant R.Zombo C.Loiselle
WIN 831 D.Hawerchuk S.Arniel
EDM 824 S.Smith G.Fuhr
COL 775 B.Driver Cirella
QUE 729 C.Malarchuk M.Eagles R.Moller
VAN 690 P.Skriko G.Butcher
PIT 525
D.Hannan R.Buskas
LAK 406
D.Kennedy D.Smith
CHI 295
NYI 258
TOR 235
STL 209
MIN 197

BUF 134

BOS 131

PHI 49

Of course, not every team has the same opportunities in a given draft year because of where they pick in the draft order. In order to take this into account I have calculated a draft opportunity cost average. Think of it as something like a batting average. If you took the best available player at your spot in the draft order your team receives a perfect score of 1.000 for that pick. If you drafted a total bust a score of zero. If you landed a NHL player--but not the best available player--your team score is determined by how close in value your guy was to the most valuable player left on the draft board (for more on this read this post).

The most efficient teams on draft day were the Wings, Rangers, Oilers, Flames, Canadians and Nordiques. The Wings finish on top largely because seven of their eight picks went on to play in the NHL which is a rather astonishing achievement. The failure rate of NHL draft picks is very high, for a team to receive at least a little bit of value from nearly every pick in a draft year is quite an achievement. None of Detroit picks were home runs but Gerard Gallant, Rick Zombo and Greg Stefan played key roles as the Wings rose from the "Dead Wings" era back to respectability in the late 1980s.

The Rangers finish in 2nd place for much the same reason as the Wings. While they didn't find a bunch of superstar players (although Vanbiesbrouck was very good) they did manage to find value up and down the draft in a weak year. The Oilers high ranking is the result of finding Grant Fuhr and Steve Smith who would become important parts of the Stanley Cup dynasty years, plus Marc Habsheid. The Nordiques make the top of the list for taking defensemen Randy Moller early and finding Malarchuk and Mike Eagles late.

Team Pick Average Average Rank
DET .258 1 Skinner
NYR .210 2 C.Patrick
CGY .201 3 Fletcher
EDM .200 4 Sather
MON .197 5 Grundman
QUE .195 6 Fillion
PIT .184 7 Bastien
VAN .180 8 Milford
WAS .178 9 McNab
HAR .170 10 Pleau
COL .160 11 MacMillian
WIN .091 12 Ferguson
LAK .061 13 G.Maguire
STL .055 14 E.Francis
NYI .041 15 Torrey
MIN .039 16 Nanne
CHI .035 17 Pulford
TOR .031 18 Imlach
BOS .027 19 Sinden
BUF .021 20 Bowman
PHI .013 21 K.Allen

Montreal and Detroit two of the top drafting teams of the 1980s perform well in this draft year. The Oilers take some of the final pieces of their championship caliber teams. The Scotty Bowman led Sabres have their worst year in what is otherwise a solid decade for them. While a bit of a weak draft year it featured several outstanding goalie in Grant Fuhr, Mike Vernon, John Vanbiesbrouck--all of whom would go on to win many big games in the next two decades. Overall it was a top heavy draft and if your team didn't land on the stars they probably came away with very little.