Owing to two separate but strange circumstances, Bill Guerin had been in his job as Wild GM for more than 13 months but had yet to oversee a draft until this week:
He took over in August 2019 after Paul Fenton was unexpectedly fired late in the offseason after overseeing the June draft; and this year’s draft was pushed back to October because of the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
One draft is a slim body of work, but the initial impression is this: Guerin is a GM cut from the same mold as Vikings GM Rick Spielman in that he likes to wheel-and-deal on draft day. But at least in his first draft, Guerin proved to be the anti-Spielman in his approach to pick trading.
Guerin made three trades, and all three involved moving up into higher draft positions: Dealing Luke Kunin and the No. 101 pick for Nick Bonino, the No. 37 and No. 70 picks; turning around and swapping the No. 70 pick and No. 132 for No. 65; and dealing a couple of late picks (163 and 194) for No. 146.
In running the Vikings’ drafts for the past dozen years — and in particular the last several since he was promoted to general manager in 2012 — Spielman has generally done the opposite. In the 2020 draft, he amassed a record 15 picks, often by trading down to stockpile them (including dealing the No. 25 overall pick for No. 31 and two other lower picks and swapping No. 105 overall for four lower picks.
Spielman has earned his reputation for making trades — often in that direction. Over The Cap analyzed drafts from 2011 to 2019 (starting with the implementation of the rookie wage scale) and found that Spielman made a whopping 33 trades in those nine drafts. Of those trades, 24 of them involved trades down while just nine were moves up.
Which approach is more successful? Guess it depends on who you ask — and who you draft.
The Vikings have hit on some late round gems and have been in the playoffs three of the last five years. In that Over The Cap analysis of NFL drafts, Bill Belichick was another decisionmaker who was found to trade down the overwhelming majority of the time (22 down, 9 up) during that span. The Patriots have done OK for themselves.
On the flip side, the Saints’ Mickey Loomis has made 10 trades in that time period — all of them up. Those premium picks have helped them to a 37-11 record over the past three seasons.
Spielman generally gets better overall value than he gives up, as illustrated by his performance in several value charts amassed by Daily Norseman from the 2020 draft.
If we look at one commonly used NHL draft pick value chart, Guerin lost value in his two true pick swaps (the trade involving Kunin and Bonino is harder to gauge).
So the answer to my own Twitter question, “Bill Guerin and Rick Spielman are each given a dollar’s worth of random coins. Who ends up with the most money after they are done trading it back and forth to each other?” is probably different than a lot of your humorous replies.
I think Spielman probably winds up with the most money, executing enough swaps where he gives up a quarter and gets three dimes in return.
But in real life — and in the draft — those dimes aren’t worth as much if you can’t spend them all in the same place. (Or maybe think of it this way: Would you rather have $100 to spend at one restaurant or $35 to spend at three different restaurants? You know, assuming it’s safe to eat at any of those places).
Spielman is betting on volume to unearth good classes. Guerin is betting on his ability (and that of Judd Brackett, head of amateur scouting) to identify players they really want and to execute trades guaranteed to land those players, even if it means fewer chances to make picks.
That’s how you have one GM wind up with 15 picks and another with just five, even though both drafts are seven rounds.
Which one was most successful? Let’s meet back here in 2023 to sort out the answer.