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The hockey world will descend on the Philadelphia area this week in advance of the 2014 NHL draft on Friday and Saturday.
It's a heady, tumultuous time that looks to be marked by big-name trades and significant movement within the top end of the draft board as well.
Here's a look at some possible draft highlights:
• The first round will take place Friday night and has in recent years become a made-for-TV monstrosity often stretching beyond three hours in length while the first 30 selections are made. Who watches that? Insomniacs? The NHL would do well to build in some restrictions to what has become an embarrassment of excess with, for the most part, unknown 18-year-olds as the stars. Enough.
• OK, glad we got that out of our system. If you want to talk streamlined, then look at Saturday's draft finale, when the final six rounds of the draft are conducted in roughly the speed of light and the final two or three rounds have the feeling of an institutional race with team officials looking to bolt town as soon as the final pick is made. We must admit from pure schmoozing purposes we loved the old format that saw the draft split between Saturday and Sunday. It allowed for a more congenial pace, but that's progress for you.
• Remember last year when there was so much debate about the top four picks in the draft: Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Drouin and Seth Jones? The Avs insisted early on they would take MacKinnon, which they did, but the buzz around four potential franchise players was unlike anything we'd seen in recent years. All but Drouin, who went back to junior after being selected third overall by Tampa, made varying degrees of impact in the NHL as teenage NHLers, and safe to say those three teams (Colorado, Florida and Nashville) are more than satisfied with how things unfolded (still too early to tell on Drouin of course). This year? A beast of a different hue to be sure. The Florida Panthers have the No. 1 pick, but GM Dale Tallon has made it clear he's willing to move off it and would likely move back as far as eighth or ninth if there was a deal that gave him some immediate help. That shows just how little consensus there is among the top six or seven players available. It looks as though defenseman Aaron Ekblad will likely be the No. 1 pick, but he's nowhere near as polished as Jones was at this stage a year ago. Beyond Ekblad there is a trio of centers in Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart and German-born Leon Draisaitl. That means there could be a lot of jockeying for position as teams at the top of the draft try to nail down a specific player who fits their needs as opposed to clearly identifiable future NHLers.
|Will the Flyers make a big splash at the draft by trading Vincent Lecavalier?|
• The team hosting the draft generally likes to make a splash to reward the home faithful. Pittsburgh dealt Jordan Staal at the draft in Pittsburgh two years ago. The Devils acquired netminder Cory Schneider at the draft in Newark, New Jersey, last June. So, what do the Flyers have up their sleeve? They already dealt fan and team favorite Scott Hartnell to Columbus for former Flyer R.J. Umberger (hands up, who would love to see Hartnell jump up on stage Friday to announce the Blue Jackets' first pick?) in a bit of a head-scratcher of a move from the Flyers' perspective. And there's no doubt new Philadelphia GM Ron Hextall still has his work cut out for him. What will happen to Vincent Lecavalier, whom Hextall inherited and who would like out after seeing his role diminished (along with his play) under Craig Berube? Braydon Coburn's name has regularly come up in potential trade talk. Could there possibly be a deal in the works to move up and nab the No. 1 pick and tab Ekblad as the man to finally fill the void left by Chris Pronger's untimely departure due to injury? Stay tuned.
• Speaking of Lecavalier, the former Lightning captain who signed a big five-year deal with the Flyers with an annual cap hit of $4.5 million last offseason scored 20 goals in 69 games last season and that's pretty much all the productivity you can expect from the 34-year-old. Lecavalier hasn't played a full season since 2009-10 and, if he's going to be moved, it'll be buyer beware in terms of his lack of durability. That said, there is still something attractive about Lecavalier, whose actual dollar amount declines after this season from $6 million (yikes, that's a big number) to $4.5 million and then $3 million in the final two years of the deal. If the Flyers were willing to eat some of that salary, Lecavalier (who has a no-move clause) might actually be a nice depth piece for a team looking to add some depth down the middle.
• The draft marks the official name change of the Phoenix Coyotes to the Arizona Coyotes, which only makes sense since the team resides in Glendale, Arizona, not Phoenix.
• According to our good friends at the NHL, five teams (including the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings) have nine picks heading into draft weekend, which means that GM of the year nominee Dean Lombardi doesn't get much of a breather from his Stanley Cup celebrations. Bottom-feeding teams might do well to take note of this fact. Other teams with nine picks are Washington, St. Louis, Dallas and the New York Islanders. Tampa and Anaheim are the only teams with two first-round picks and it will be interesting to see if Anaheim, desperate for a No. 2 center, uses these assets as part of a deal to land a player like Jason Spezza or Ryan Kesler.
• The New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators have the fewest picks heading into the draft with four, although with Spezza in play you can bet that the Senators will be looking to increase that number.
• Speaking of trades, here's a list of players whom we'll be keeping an eye on as potentially headed to new destinations by the end of the draft (and this doesn't include potential unrestricted free agents whose rights could be moved ahead of the July 1 free-agency period): Kesler, Spezza, Joe Thornton, James Neal, Dion Phaneuf, Keith Yandle, Brandon Sutter (if the Penguins go after Kesler), Patrik Berglund and Sam Gagner. The Thornton situation is interesting as it appears there is a pretty significant disconnect between the big center and the Sharks vis a vis his future with the team. GM Doug Wilson would like to get younger, but Thornton isn't particularly interested in leaving the Sharks and controls his own fate via a no-trade clause. Can you say awkward? Almost as awkward as the Sharks opening next season in Los Angeles for the Kings' banner-raising ceremony on Oct. 8. Talk about an early, painful reminder of that epic collapse in the first round that precipitated all the talk about a semi-rebuild in San Jose. We've often been critical of the NHL schedule-makers for their lack of inventiveness but love this start to the 2014-15 season.
• Remember when new Edmonton GM Craig MacTavish promised he wasn't afraid to make significant changes to get the floundering Oilers over the hump? Come on, think hard. Yes, it does seem like a long time ago and persistent losing does have an impact on memory, but he did say it. At some point you've got to figure it'll happen and maybe it'll start at this draft. The Oilers are set to draft third overall, but they remain far removed from the rest of the pack in the Pacific Division. Logic suggests the Oilers need to move one of their top-end young forwards for some defensive help and/or help down the middle, and the gathering in Philadelphia might be the place for that to happen.