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Why Jeff Schultz is Both Wrong and Lazy

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Some of the folks on the message boards are hyping Jeff Schultz's recent blog post in which he said that Don Waddell should be fired instead of Hartley. The Waddell haters love to harp on what they perceive to be his draft day record.

Now I think Don Waddell has made some mistakes as the Thrashers GM. In my post on Wednesday I pointed out exactly what I consider to be Don Waddell's chief failures as GM 1) a propensity to acquire players in their declining years 2) an inability to construct a roster that fits together so that it has an overarching identity or strength.

Those people who continue to harp on the draft simply are barking up the wrong tree. Let's take a look at some of the player development "facts" Jeff Schultz trotted out in his article. A central theme of his post is that Don Waddell has been terrific failure when it comes to developing talent. For example Schultz says: "What’s wrong with this picture? Don Waddell, the general manager who has drafted 28 defensemen but has only two to show for it on the Thrashers’ roster, stays."

That sounds pretty damning doesn't it? Just two defensemen on the roster after all those drafts years!!! Any reader who sees that is going to think, "Wow! That Don Waddell must be a total idiot when it comes to evaluating talent" right? There's just one problem, while the facts are correct, the implication is very false.

Of course, if Jeff Schultz had actually spent more than about fifteen minutes writing this blog post and gotten his hands dirty by cracking open the NHL Guide and Record Book or gone to www.hockeydb.com or some other hockey website it would have only taken him a few minutes to discover this basic fact: there is absolutely nothing unusual about the Thrashers only having two draftees playing defense.

One thing that always annoyed me when Jeff Schultz was the beat writer assigned to cover the Thrashers is that every other week he would get some basic fact wrong in his coverage. I don't have a lot of respect for him as a professional journalist. I'm not a paid journalist, but I did crack open a few books and used a few websites in my time away from work. In fact I spent several hours of my free time going through every single NHL team's current roster and here's what I discovered.
  • Three NHL teams have zero defensemen drafted since 1999 (that's when the Thrashers had their first draft) on their current roster.
  • Seven NHL teams have just one defensemen drafted since 1999 on their roster.
  • Nine NHL teams have just two defensemen drafted since 1999 on their current roster.
What does this mean? The Thrashers are right at the league average in terms of defensemen drafted since 1999 on their roster. No more and no less--just average. In fact the Thrashers have more rostered defensemen drafted since 1999 than:
  • 2007 Stanley Cup Champs Anaheim
  • 2006 Stanley Cup Champs Carolina
  • 2006 Stanley Cup Finalist Edmonton (who is playing all their kids now)
  • 2004 Stanley Cup Finalist Calgary
  • The New Jersey Devils (frequently cited as the best drafting team in the NHL)
Do you see what I'm getting at here? In Schultz had bothered to do about 5 minutes of research before going off about the Thrashers ONLY HAVING TWO DRAFTED NHL DEFENSEMEN ON THEIR ROSTER!!!!! he would have found this out for himself.

Schultz goes on to say: "Player development has been dreadful. There is little to show for nine drafts and 82 players. Of the 28 defensemen drafted, the only two here are Garnet Exelby (eighth round, 1999; blind squirrel, meet acorn) and Tobias Enstrom (eighth round, 2003; just got here)."

If Schultz had actually looked at the output of the farm system instead of tossing out lazy accusations he might have been able to tell his readers that the Atlanta Thrashers developed four additional defensemen who are currently in the NHL. Three of those defensemen were traded in exchange for quality NHL veterans including one third of our current defense corps.
  • Brian Pothier (traded for Shawn McEachern)
  • Kurtis Foster (traded for Nic Havelid)
  • Braydon Coburn (traded for Alexei Zhitnik)
  • Mike Weaver.
So in reality the Thrashers farm system accounts for four of the six starting defensemen on the roster: Enstrom, Exelby, Havelid and Zhitnik. That puts thinks in a bit of different light doesn't it? Not exactly "little to show" is it?

OK, while we are at it let's take a look at how the Thrashers compare to all 30 NHL teams in terms of draftees (since 1999) who are on their current roster. This includes forwards, defensemen and goalies. Here's how it breaks down:
  • 12 Players: SJS
  • 10 Players: WAS, MIN, PIT, EDM
  • 9 Players: DBJ, DET, BUF, OTT
  • 8 Players: DAL, MON, NYR
  • 7 Players: ATL, NAS, VAN, CHI, COL, STL, FLA
  • 6 Players: PHX
  • 5 Players: TBL, NYI, LAK, TOR, ANA, CGY, PHI
  • 4 Players: BOS, CAR, NJD
Once again we see that the data clearly indicate that the Atlanta Thrashers are just average in terms of players drafted since 1999 on their current roster. I said this last spring when I did my analysis of the 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 drafts (clink on the links if you want to see a more hard core analysis of those drafts). The Thrashers have not been great, nor have they been terrible, they are simply average. Even when you adjust for picking high in the first round they still just average.

Conclusion

Don Waddell has made some mistakes as GM, but most people I read seem obsessed with the draft which is the wrong place to look. If you want to criticize Don Waddell at least know what you're talking about. He hasn't been a terrible GM in terms of drafting and developing talent. He's been rather middle of the pack. The NHL is not Lake Wobegon--not every GM is going to be above average. Now maybe you expect more than average--that's your perogative as a fan--but saying he is terrible at drafting is simply not correct.