Originally Posted by Filadelphia
Nordiques with their string of 1st overall picks in 89, 90, and 91 went from 52 points in 91-92 to 104 points in 92-93. From 20 wins to 47 due to drafting Sundin, Noaln, and Lindros first overall. Penguins with Malkin, Crosby, and Fleury turned their franchise around. Oilers with Yakupov, RNH, and Hall are VERY LIKELY to turn their franchise around. Basement teams can turn around with first overall picks, while at the same time, missing out on picks can leave a team in the basement [NYI, CLB, TOR].
Absolutely teams can turn themselves around with a string of first overall picks but they can also do so without any top picks at all. Look at Nashville. They've had one top five pick in the history of their franchise, which was David Legwand second overall in 1998, their first year in existence. They sucked for a long time since then picking in that 6-10 range for quite some time but they built themselves a formidable franchise with good scouting, smart drafting, great coaching and excellent development.
The Minnesota Wild pulled a similar trick until recently.
The Philadelphia Flyers hit rock bottom in 2006-07, lost the lottery and missed out on Patrick Kane first overall taking JVR instead and having to wait for him but still turned their team around in one off-season because they had previously drafted well and then made some intelligent free agent signings. They haven't looked back since.
Take any recent Stanley Cup winner and you'll probably find a high draft pick or two but you'll also find quite a few unsung heroes who were either free agent pickups, trade acquisitions or late round draft choices. The reality is that there is more than one model to rebuild a franchise. A lot of people seem to think that rebooting things by stripping the team of all the valuable players and getting high picks is the way to go but all high picks ensure you is a better chance at getting good players.
All the high picks in the world can't overcome incompetence though. What happens if the years you decide to tank are lean years where there are no franchise changing talents to be had? What happens if the so called can't miss prospect at the top of the draft falters? What if your franchise somehow screws him up? High picks will never replace the need for good scouting and development. If you scout well at all levels (meaning the NHL too) you will find undervalued or underappreciated players that can become important pieces of your team and you can add them without needing to draft first overall.
I think that the current system for distributing draft choices is a crutch. Teams look at the Pittsburgh "model", the Colorado "model" and they forget that teams can be built in other ways. That you don't need to draft first to rebuild. It's a total cop-out for people who may simply not be all that good at their jobs. I'd rather we didn't offer that crutch or that we forced them to earn it because there is nothing worse than watching your franchise intentionally throw in the towel because "there's always next year". It's as much a smack in the face to the fans as this whole lockout.