Heading into the Dispersal Draft, the owners of the Tampa Bay Lightning hired 15-year vet Tyler Hetherington as their inaugural General Manager.
Hetherington's style is usually based on top-notch scouting and building through drafts and smart trades. Always stockpiling for the future until it's time to strike with a true contender. His style has served him well with a handful of league titles on his resume.
But when he met with Tampa Bay ownership. He wanted to approach this fresh league start a little different.
It's taken baseball by storm, for the better or worse depending on who you ask. Football, basketball and yes hockey have been transformed by data. Piles and piles of data.
"We took the names almost completely out of the equation, same for what someone usually deems a player's overall skill abilities," stated Hetherington. "We pitted key stats and plugged them into our formula based on playing style. Added in a factor for age and contract and came out with a value per player number that we stuck with for the bulk of the draft."
"It was a new approach for me personally. But times are changing and we here in Tampa want to be ahead of the curve and believe we are."
Some recent league-wide power rankings seem to be supporting GM Hetherington's mathematical system. These analysts have Tampa Bay pegged with the #1 penalty kill, #5 power play, #5 in shootouts, #2 in checking, and more rankings on the way. Almost seems like it was planned.
"I'm going to see this plan through. For better or worse. Adapt or die," exclaimed Hetherington.
Those formulas put together a team that should be a contender in the Atlantic Division. But also is a team with some fantastic youth on the pro, farm and prospects list. Led of course but the team's face of the franchise, picked third overall; Auston Matthews.
"Some people were surprised we took him third. To be honest, we might've taken him in the #2 spot if we had that pick," continued Hetherington. "His future is so bright and his current is elite already. He will be our franchise player for a long long time. We were thrilled to get him at #3."
In the next round, a whopping 59 picks later, they selected Dougie Hamilton at pick number 62! The team's new anchor on the backend.
"Dougie is a Norris Candidate type player on the backend. He excels offensively and is more than capable to handle himself in his own zone. We had him ranked much higher than 62."
The next two picks for the Lightning is where the math gets a bit questionable. Tampa Bay selected their backup goaltender in the third round. Also potentially the team's fourth-line center or first-line center in the farm in the fourth round. What?
"As I said earlier, I'm seeing this plan through. Mackenzie Blackwood at #67 was fantastic value when you factor in age, future, current and positional importance. We also knew a lot of quality goaltenders would slip down the draft list. So we could pick our future goaltender early and bring in his mentor later on in the draft. Which we did in round 17 with Anton Khudobin, a goaltender we had rated in the top 5 of the entire league based on only skill."
As for our fourth-round pick Kirby Dach...
"I honestly don't feel like I need to defend that pick. He's one of the brightest young stars in the league and is only 19 years old. Matthews is the face of this franchise no doubt. But Dach in a short time will become the second face of the team making an insane 1-2 punch in the middle for years and years to come," defended Hetherington.
"We had him ranked in the top 40 players overall and we got him at 126 so..."
For the rest of the draft. The GM played the long and short game at different times. Getting multiple specialists and players he believes went undervalued for a multitude of reasons. The team's depth charts currently read as such:
LW - C - RW
Reilly Smith 76 - Auston Matthews 82 - Blake Wheeler 81
Pavel Buchnevich 73 - Andreas Athanasiou 72 - Mats Zuccarello 74
Lawson Crouse 72 - Adam Lowry 74 - Luke Glendening 73
Zach Aston-Reese 69 - Kevin Rooney 69 - Josh Archibald 69
Dougie Hamilton 80 - Kris Letang 80
Andy Greene 76 - Erik Gustafsson 74
Erik Cernak 74 - Nicolas Hague 72
Anton Khudobin 80 - Mackenzie Blackwood 77
More quotes from Hetherington:
"A player's overall skill means nothing to me. We don't want a team of good two-way players here in Tampa. If you are a goal scorer, go score some goals. Don't care if they are dirty or highlight material."
"If you check, go hit someone and make sure they think twice next time. If you play good defence, be that reliable guy we can count on. Do what you do best. I drafted John Quenneville as our coach to get the most out of players who do what they do well. Not to make them play a way they don't want to."
"I've told every player we drafted to be themselves. We drafted you, go be the best you, you can be."
Will a team that looks good on paper and an excel spreadsheet work in actual gameplay? Will a mix of specialists, skill-specific players and role players be able to come together and function as a true team?
We'll quickly find out. Preseason is almost here and things are looking electric here in Tampa Bay!