Top five teams who like to trade in first-round picks

With the holiday trade freeze upon us, playoff-bound teams can use the break to think long and hard about whether they want to deal their first-rounder to improve the roster. These five teams have dealt the most in first-round picks.

With the holiday trade freeze upon us and the sprint to the trade deadline around the corner, some teams may be thinking about dealing a first-round pick to improve their chances in the new year.

First-round picks are precious currency of the salary-capped NHL. They often produce cheap, controllable young talent to complement high-priced veterans, and they’re also the most consistently valuable trading chip every team has available.

Since the 2004-05 lockout, many teams have built their rosters by wheeling and dealing in first-round picks. Sometimes a first-rounder helps seal the deal on a big-time player trade. Other times it’s compensation for a team selling off its vets at the trade deadline. And when the draft arrives in June, certain general managers love moving up or down in the first round with the help of an additional pick to sweeten the change in order.

Yet there are other teams who guard their draft picks like precious gold. The Chicago Blackhawks have only made two swaps involving first-rounders (one in, one out), while the Carolina Hurricanes have only traded away two top picks in the last 10 years.

So is there one strategy that works better? Do teams succeed more by moving draft picks, or is it better to sit tight and use those picks to build your talent pool?

Judge for yourself.

The following five teams have swapped draft picks the most often since the summer of 2005.

1. Anaheim Ducks (Traded 8, acquired 8)

No one has traded picks more than the Anaheim Ducks since the 2004-05 lockout, and considering the Ducks’ mix of young talent and skilled veterans, it’s tough to argue with the results. The Ducks have made the playoffs in seven of the last nine NHL seasons and won it all in 2006-07 thanks in no small part to their willingness to trade first-rounders for what they needed.

Chris Pronger was a component in two trades involving first-round picks, first in the deal to acquire him from Edmonton, then in the swap that sent him to Philadelphia. Anaheim traded two first-rounders to Edmonton as part of the Pronger deal, and one of those picks became Jordan Eberle. Then, they got two late first-rounders from Philadelphia when they dealt Pronger to the Flyers.

The Ducks have also repeatedly swapped first-rounders at the draft to move up or down in the order.

2. San Jose Sharks (Traded 7, acquired 6)

The Sharks haven’t touched their first-rounders much in the last few years, but they made a lot of moves after the first lockout.

The 2007 draft was a particularly busy time for the Sharks franchise. First, they acquired three picks – including the 13th overall pick – from Toronto for Mark Bell and Vesa Toskala. Then they dealt a pair of second-rounders to Washington for the 28th overall pick. And finally, they shipped the Leafs’ 13th overall pick to St. Louis, along with a second- and third-round pick, for the ninth overall pick that would become Logan Couture.

Earlier in 2007, the Sharks dealt Josh Gorges and a first-rounder that would become Max Pacioretty to Montreal for Craig Rivet and a fifth-round pick.

The Sharks made a few first-for-first trades in 2005 and 2006, and also traded first-round picks away in 2008, 2009 and 2011.

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3. St. Louis Blues (Traded 7, acquired 6)

Unlike the consistently decent Ducks and Sharks, the Blues haven’t always been as strong as they are now. They went through a rebuilding period after the lockout, and that meant a lot of draft pick trading.

Like the Sharks, the Blues did a lot of their pick trading in 2007, when they acquired four first-rounders and dealt away two. Four picks changed hands at the draft (two in, two out) while two others were trade deadline swaps that same year.

Of the six draft picks the Blues have acquired in the last 10 years, many of them have become established NHLers. St. Louis used acquired picks to draft the likes of Patrik Berglund (25th in 2006), David Perron (26th in 2007), Lars Eller (13th in 2007) and Vladimir Tarasenko (16th in 2010).

They’ve traded away more picks than they’ve acquired in recent years as they’ve shifted gears to being a contender pushing for a Stanley Cup.

4. Los Angeles Kings (Traded 6, acquired 6)

The two-time champs must be on to something by swapping their picks, right?

Yes and no. The Kings have gotten great value by selling off their picks for established assets (and Stanley Cup contributors) like Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner, but they haven’t had a lot of success with the picks they’ve acquired and used.  Those picks have turned up names like Trevor Lewis, Derek Forbort and Colten Teubert, while picks they’ve traded away have become Tyler Myers, Jake Gardiner, Nick Bjugstad and Oscar Klefbom.

But Los Angeles has two Stanley Cups, and the teams they dealt with don’t.

5. New York Islanders (Traded 6, acquired 6)

Let it be noted first off that Mike Milbury wasn’t trading first-round picks after the lockout, so there’ll be no retrospective on his tenure here.

No, Garth Snow has been the man at the helm since 2006, and he’s been responsible for all the first-rounders moved off the Island ever since.

Snow has shipped out first-rounders in big player trades for Ryan Smyth (2007) and Thomas Vanek (2013), but most of his other transactions have involved swapping first-rounders to move around at the draft.

In 2008, Snow dealt the fifth overall pick to Toronto (Luke Schenn) to drop back to seventh spot, then traded that pick (Colin Wilson) to Nashville to move back to ninth and draft Josh Bailey.

A year later, with the top pick (John Tavares) already in his back pocket, Snow aggressively sold off most of his later picks to nab Calvin de Haan at 12th overall. After the dust had settled, Snow had acquired and dealt the 16th pick (ironically, the one used on Nick Leddy). He’d also traded away the 26th pick in the first round, along with a second-rounder, two third-rounders, a fourth-round pick and a seventh-round pick.

But as wild as Snow’s 2009 draft was, one can only imagine what might’ve happened in 2012, when Columbus reportedly rejected Snow’s offer of all his draft picks to select second overall.

That’s a new level of draft pick-trading craziness.