And to a lesser extent, Joey MacDonald.
The 2009-10 Toronto Maple Leafs were a bad team. But, on the whole, they weren't #2 overall pick bad. Indeed, after the Olympic break, they went 11-6-3 and have the makings of a respectable team. A top 4 defense group of Dion Phaneuf, Tomas Kaberle, Luke Schenn and Carl Gunnarson is better than many playoff teams. (OK, Kaberle's getting traded, but still...) Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski, and Nikolai Kulemin are quality forwards, and they have Luca Caputi and Nazem Kadri on the way. There's a reason that neither Brian Burke nor Peter Chiarelli expected their 2010 draft pick to be top 2.
Fortunately for us, the Leafs continued to run with Vesa Toskala in net well past the point that anyone but Ron Wilson thought he was useful. In a near-criminal display of "playing the Proven Veteran", Toskala was permitted to start 22 games for the Leafs, registering a 7-12-3 record and an absolutely putrid 3.66 GAA and .874 save percentage. If there were an anti-Hart trophy (I don't know, the "Rectum"? The "Bettman"?), Toskala would have been a nominee. According to Puck Prospectus' GVT rating, he was, at one point, a -13, the worst in the league at the time by a country mile.
Joey MacDonald chipped in for 5 starts with a 1-4 record and an almost-as-bad 3.20 GAA and .892 save percentage. To be fair, I believe most of MacDonald's starts were of the emergency variety, necessitated by Jonas Gustavsson's heart problem and Toskala's shocking ineptitude. But still, there's no escaping the conclusion that atrocious goaltending cost Toronto plenty of points. The Leafs got 27 games (1/3 of a season) of absolutely dreadful goaltending from Toskala and MacDonald. Had they gone with Gustavsson sooner, or more likely, made the J.S. Gigure deal sooner, not only do the B's not get the #2 pick, but we're probably looking at a pick somewhere between 9 and 14. 11 more points gives Boston the 9th pick in the draft. An 11 point improvement with a Gigure/Gustavsson combo between the pipes for those 27 games is, in my estimation, pretty conservative.
It's not crazy to think they could have had Gigure sooner; he was on the block all season, and rumors about a Gigure to Toronto trade began pretty much the moment Brian Burke took over the job. Frankly, I'm surprised it took as long as it did. The Leafs got him for Toskala and Jason Blake; in other words, nothing. Actually, "nothing" would have been significantly better than the NHL's worst goaltender and a contract so bad that even Andrew Ference's agent would have been ashamed of himself. So it's not like the Ducks were holding out for a big return on investment. Understand, Gigure's not a great goaltender anymore; I'd be surprised if he's even league-average next season. But all the Leafs needed to make a big jump in the standings was "not atrocious". Gigure certainly managed that: 6-7-2, 2.49 GAA and .916 save percentage.
If that pick is between 9 and 14, suddenly, the Kessel trade looks a whole lot worse. Yeah, the guy's a prick, and yeah, he plays in the proverbial "round rink", I get all that. I also get that guys who score 36 goals at age 21 don't exactly come along every day. This year, he scored 30 despite missing 12 games and playing with a combination of centers that were, well, let's just be polite and say they weren't exactly up to Marc Savard's level. The dropoff in success rate of first round picks is pretty dramatic. At #2, you're pretty safe. Since 1990, of the 20 players who went 2nd overall (according to my less-than-scientific ratings), 2 are sure-fire Hall of Famers, 10 were legitimate star players (some who may yet move into that HOF category), 4 were serviceable, and only 2 were abject busts, with the jury still out on Victor Hedman and James Van Riemsdyk, though both look headed for good careers.
The success rate goes down pretty dramatically after that, though. One study examined top 10 picks from 1993-2003 and found that less than 2/3 of players will play 500 NHL games. We're not even talking about star players anymore, we're talking about players who hang around long enough to play 6+ full seasons of NHL hockey. If you take the top 2 picks out of that analysis, the numbers go down significantly. Thus, the chances of finding a "star" in the top 2 are, again, according to my back-of-the-envelope analysis, greater than the odds of finding a guy who will manage 6+ NHL seasons in the top 10 overall.
To get more of an apples to apples comparison, let's look at the 9th pick of the draft over the same 20 year timeframe that I looked at the #2 pick. For three guys, the jury's still out: Jared Cowen, Josh Bailey, Logan Couture. If you want to give James Sheppard the benefit of the doubt (I don't), that's 4. Only one guy became a "star" player: Phaneuf, and yes, I'm aware that even that designation is debatable. 10 were serviceable (old friends Nick Boynton and Kyle McLaren were the best of the lot), and 6 were busts. If you want to call Jamie Lundmark and Mike Rupp "busts", that makes 8. Barring something dramatic, these guys will all go to the Hall of Fame the same way you or I do: buying a ticket.
Again, I reiterate that this mostly back-of-the-envelope analysis, but even if you want to quibble with a designation here or there, the main point remains: the #2 pick is light years better than picking #9. And it was well within Toronto's power to make that happen. Had Brian Burke and Ron Wilson acted sooner, the future wouldn't look nearly as bright in Boston.
So, when Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin is putting up big numbers in a Bruins uniform, remember to thank Vesa Toskala; he's the guy who made it happen.