And with that another OHL regular season is in the books. For 16 teams it is off to the playoffs as they fight for the J Ross Robertson Cup. For 4 teams and their fan bases there will be no playoffs, only the OHL priority selection to look forward to and the hopes of better times ahead. The question is though how much do fans have to look forward too?
Success at the OHL level can be quantified in a variety of ways. The ultimate measure of success is obviously an OHL championship but if you are pinning all your hopes on that you will be disappointed more often than not. Another way to quantify success would be to look at Conference championships and appearances, playoff wins and regular season finishes.
For the purpose of this article I used a 4 year window as generally that is how many years you are hoping for with a top 4 pick. In some cases you only get 2 or 3 while in others a player will stick around for 5 years in the OHL. It should be noted that 1 player doesn’t make or break a team but the purpose of the draft is to infuse talent into those teams who missed the playoffs and well run organizations will maximize the talent they get. I also tracked the draft classes from 1999-2009 as that info I was able to get from the OHL website and the 2009 draft class is the last one to have a full 4 years before I posted this.
Conference Championships and League Championships
I am going to start off by stating the obvious that a top 4 pick does not guarantee success. In fact in the 11 years draft years between 1999 and 2009 there have only been 6 league championships won among the 44 teams over what would amount to 176 seasons of OHL hockey. One teams draft year captured 2 championships the Windsor Spitfires 2007 draft that was highlighted by Taylor Hall. Also the Kitchener Rangers had 2 overlapping top 4 selections in 1999 and 2001 that helped build the 2003 OHL champion.
Aside from league championships The top 4 drafting teams from the drafts mentioned above picked up 12 conference championships and 30 conference finals appearances. In fact every top 4 from the 1999 draft to 2011 has had at least 1 team make it to the conference finals. The 2012 top for that includes Erie, S.S.M. and Kingston looks primed to add their year to that list.
Without a doubt a championship is what every fan, player, coach and general manager strives for but how do you judge 1 year in the finals compared to 4 strong playoff runs? Would you rather have 1 trip to the finals or 4 strong playoff runs where if the bounces go your way you could find yourself with a championship. The reason this sticks out to me is something that was said by Damion Cox during last years Memorial Cup. It was around the time the Bruins knocked off the Leafs in the NHL playoffs and one of the unsung heros was Guelph Storm 2000 1st round pick (6th overall) Daniel Paille. Damian went on to say that the teams ahead of Guelph made a big mistake in drafting him because of the NHL career he had. Taken 2nd overall that year by St. Mikes was Tim Brent. The Tim Brent led Majors would go on to play in 4 consecutive conference championships. While the Majors never broke through I am sure most fan bases would love a team that is good enough to make 4 straight conference championship rounds because chances are you will break through one year.
From 2010-2013 there were 315 playoff wins which when divided by the 20 teams in the OHL comes to a league average of 15.75 playoff wins over that period or just under 4 per year per team. From 1999-2013 the team picking 1st overall has averaged in the 4 ensuing years only 10 total playoff wins for an average of 2.5 per season. Well below the league average. Now obviously the team picking 1st overall is starting behind the 8-ball from a talent perspective so being below the league average shouldn’t come as a surprise. What did surprise me however is the fact that not a single team picking 1st overall won an OHL championship. They also only account for 4 OHL finals appearances and 3 of those are the same team when the Mississauga Ice Dogs eventually turned all their 1st overall picks into tangible on ice product. The other team to pick 1st overall and make it to the league finals within 4 years were the Belleville Bulls who picked 1st in 2004 and took the 2008 finals against Kitchener to 7 games.
I mentioned earlier about how every draft class has had a team reach the conference finals so it seems every year there will be at least 1 team who takes advantage of their situation drafting. It should also be noted that every draft from 1999-2010 (4 complete years) has had at least 1 team go without a playoff series victory within 4 seasons of making the pick. In fact a total of 16 teams over that 12 year period failed to achieve any sort of playoff success.
Who have the outliers been?
When you have an average and a baseline of success you will always have teams who deviate from the mean both positively and negatively. So which teams had the best regular seasons and playoffs?
4 Year Averages
1st Overall 61.9 points a year 10 playoff wins
2nd Overall 71.8 points a year 15.5 playoff wins
3rd Overall 74.7 points a year 14.8 playoff wins
4th Overall 68.1 points a year 11.4 playoff wins
In the seasons prior to the implementation of a point for an OT loss or the addition of the shootout the league average for points were 68 in a season as only 2 could be given out per game. Since teams now get a point for a loss in overtime or a shootout there are now 3 point games thus the average point total has increased and in the 13-14 season for example the average point total was just under 74 points.
What we can tell from this is that picking 1st overall most likely will not make you an above average team for the next 4 seasons. Sure having a star player can help but if you are that bad it means your team has plenty of holes and I can’t think of any player who is a Band-Aid that can cover every deficiency a team has.
Teams drafting 2nd and 3rd seem to come in around the league average as I didn’t separate point totals once the 3 point games were introduced. Surprisingly teams picking 4th seem to do significantly worse as there is a rather measurable drop off in both points and wins.
From a playoff wins perspective the lowest came from those picking 1st overall as they averaged a paltry 10 wins in 4 years although if you do that you are almost guaranteed at least a series victory unless you are considerably unlucky. That said they all fall under the 4 year average of playoff wins from the 20 OHL teams from the 2010-2013 playoffs.
The Best Regular Season Average
2007 Windsor Spitfires 2nd overall 99.75 points a year
2009 Kitchener Rangers 3rd overall 87.25 points a year
2007 St Michaels Majors 3rd overall 86.5 points a year
The Most Playoff Wins
2007 Windsor Spitfires 2nd overall 42 playoff wins
2000 St Michaels Majors 2nd overall 37 playoff wins
2007 St Michaels Majors 3rd overall 30 playoff wins
The Lowest Regular Season and playoff averages and totals
1999 Mississauga IceDogs 1st Overall 32 point average 1 playoff win
2006 Erie Otters 4th Overall 54.75 point average 1 playoff win
2007 Peterborough Petes 56 point average 1 playoff win
As nice as it is to see who exceeded the rest and who failed to meet the standard set by others but it means nothing unless we can learn something from it. Windsor to me is the most interesting case as they didn’t really have much success before exploding into their run. Conspiracy theorist will come out and say they bought their championships but they were the ones who took a chance on a tiny defenseman from Freelton, ON in that draft to pair with Taylor Hall. It also shows you what can happen when a new ownership group comes in with the right attitude and how it can change the direction of a franchise.
Kitchener went all out for the Mem Cup the year they hosted and came crashing down the next year which lead to the 3rd overall pick. Strong drafting allowed them to bounce back and make it to the conference finals the season after that pick. This isn’t a fluke as the 3 other times the Rangers have picked in the top 4 from 1999-2013 have led to quick turnarounds as they seem to be one of the few teams who can leverage a high pick into future success.
As for the IceDogs, Otters and Petes? Well those 4 year runs show you what can happen when you strike out on a top pick. It is hard enough to work your way up from the bottom but when you fail to capitalize on the opportunity to get elite talent it hurts even more. Any host of factors can limit the impact of a top pick from injury to poor scouting to a top player’s unwillingness to compete. The Icedogs have since turned the corner from their early days and it seems with their success this year the Otters may be heading in the same direction. One can only hope the Pete’s are headed there as well with the talent they have slowly accumulated.
This year’s top 4
So what has history taught us about the teams picking in the top 4 this year? Do some have it figured out while others seem to be lost? Let us start by looking at Sarnia.
This will be the 3rd time since 2006 that the Sarnia Sting have drafted 1st overall. First it was Steven Stamkos in 2006 and then Alex Galchenyuk in 2010. While they beat the average point totals in each year they failed to have any real playoff success as the 4 years after the Stamkos draft they won only 5 playoff games while only picking up 2 post season wins in the 4 years after taking Galchenyuk. Now it isn’t fair to put all the blame on the franchise here as they only had 2 years out of each player but they were never able to build on the success they had with these two even if it was fleeting at best.
As discussed above their draft class from 2009 went on to have one of the best 4 year runs in the regular season. They also picked 4th overall in 1999 and 2001 which ultimately lead to their OHL championship and Memorial Cup winning team in 2003. Also every year they have picked in the top 4 they have gone on to average more points than any other team that picked in the top 4 in the same year while also staying above the mean in terms of playoff wins. When looking at the talent that this Kitchener Rangers team has I would not be surprised if it were another quick turnaround.
Well it is hard to get historical information on Ottawa from my research as last season’s team was the only one to pick in the top 4 in the time frame that I used. Missing the playoffs after picking 1st overall is not out of the ordinary as from 1999-2012 the team picking 1st overall has averaged only 45 points while finishing 17th overall in the league which is outside the playoff picture. In the 15 seasons since the 1999 draft the team picking 1st overall has missed the playoffs 10 times. Year 2 is where you really want to start seeing progress from Ottawa. Have they made the right moves and are they going in the right direction? Will they be like the 2005 Generals who picked 1st, missed the playoffs before rounding into form for an 89 point regular season or like the 2003 Saginaw Spirit who picked 1st overall and then missed the playoffs the next 2 seasons or will it be somewhere in between.
The Belleville Bulls have been in this position before having picked 1st overall in 2004 and 2nd overall in 2010. The 2004 team is the only team to have picked 1st overall and average more than 70 points a year. In fact their 81.25 points over a 4 year period was the largest variation from the mean in the years that I looked at. While their 2010 draft year may not have had the sustained success they did make it to the conference finals which gives their fans a glimmer of hope as they head into this years draft with their eyes on the future.
What does a top 4 pick offer fans?
Well from what I have found is that all a top 4 pick has to offer is hope. You have just as much chance at a sustained playoff run as you do of not winning a single playoff series. In the end it takes more than 1 draft to build a team and while a top 4 pick can offer a great foundation there are far too many variables for it to guarantee success.
Teams have been able to use a top 4 pick too catapult them to future sustained success that lasts past the 4 years that you hope to get out of a player while others seem to have trouble breaking the cycle and continue to falter. So that begs the question which team picking in the top 4 this year will have the most success and which one will struggle to reach the heights that it’s fan base hopes for?
OHL Champion Draft Classes
’99 Kitchener Rangers 4th Overall*
’01 Kitchener Rangers 4th Overall*
’04 Peterborough Petes 3rd Overall
’07 Windsor Spitfires 2nd Overall X2
’08 Owen Sound Attack 3rd Overall*
’10 Owen Sound Attack 4th Overall*
Conference Champion Draft Classes
’00 Mississauga Steelheads 1st Overall*
’01 Mississauga Steelheads 1st Overall*
’02 Mississauga Steelheads 1st Overall*
’03 Sudbury Wolves 2nd Overall
’04 Belleville Bulls 1st Overall
’07 Toronto St. Michaels Majors 3rd Overall
Conference Champion Finalist Classes
’99 Toronto St Michaels Majors 3rd Overall X3*
’00 Toronto St Michaels Majors 2nd Overall X3* + 1
’00 London Knights 4th Overall
’01 Kitchener Rangers 4th Overall X1* + 1
’04 Belleville Bulls 1st Overall
’04 Peterborough Petes 3rd Overall X2
’04 Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 4th Overall
’05 Oshawa Generals 1st Overall*
’06 Oshawa Generals 2nd Overall*
’07 Windsor Spitfires 2nd Overall X3
’07 Toronto St Michaels Majors 3rd Overall X2
’09 Kitchener Rangers 3rd Overall X2
’10 Belleville Bulls 2nd Overall
Draft Classes who failed to win a playoff round
’99 Mississauga Ice Dogs 1st Overall
’00 Owen Sound Attack 3rd Overall
’01 Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 3rd Overall
’02 Kingston Frontnacs 3rd Overall
’03 Saginaw Spirit 1st Overall
’03 Kingston Frontnacs 3rd Overall
’04 Saginaw Spirit 2nd Overall
’05 Kingston Frontnacs 4th Overall
*Asterisk denotes more than one top 4 draft class apart of championship team