Sunday, June 27, 2004
Updated: July 7, 4:51 PM ET
Chicago shows flashes of hope
By Tom Wheatley
Special to ESPN.com
RALEIGH, N.C. -- In a draft where little happened, some teams went home happier than others.
Here's our take on the winners and losers from a weekend in Raleigh:
Chicago Blackhawks: Those long-suffering 'Hawks fans finally got some good news. Perpetual GM Bob Pulford and his heir apparent, rookie assistant GM Dale Tallon, made good use of the load of draft picks that came from strip-mining the roster last season. They spent the third overall pick on premier defenseman Cam Barker, a 21-goal scorer with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League.
Kyle Woodlief, the chief scout and publisher of Red Line Report, an independent scouting review, called Barker "as close to a sure things as there is.''
With four second-rounders, the Hawks stuck mostly to a script that Tallon called "skill and character ... and more character.'' The Hawks took a pair of Ontario Hockey League forwards in Dave Bolland, at No. 32, and Ryan Garlock, at No. 45. Woodlief called each a big character player. The plethora of picks let the Hawks take a flyer on Jakub Sindel, a decidedly non-character player, who scored just five goals and a single assist in 34 games in the Czech Republic.
"The only reason he slipped down to the second round is, he's a pretty lazy kid,'' Woodlief said. "But he's as good a finisher as there is in the draft."
If owner Bill Wirtz finds a buck or two to sign these kids, the Hawks could be an actual contender somewhere down the road.
Washington Capitals: The Caps are another club that started to rebuild on the ruins of last season's salary dump. GM George McPhee didn't outsmart himself with the first overall pick, going the no-brainer route with Russian phenom Alexander Ovechkin. With basically one veteran defender left standing in Brendan Witt, McPhee got a gem at No. 27 in Jeff Schultz of the WHL's Calgary Hitmen. Some eyebrows shot up when the Caps took Ray Bourque's pint-sized son, Chris, three picks into the second round. But the Caps had enough picks to take a risk. And a 5-foot-7 dynamo can come in handy, as Tampa Bay Lightning winger Martin St. Louis just proved winning the Hart Trophy and the Stanley Cup.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues came to Raleigh with a big hole in net. They repaired it three different ways this weekend. On Friday, they acquired minor-leaguer Jason Bacashihua, a 2001 first-rounder, from the Dallas Stars for defenseman Shawn Belle, the Blues' top pick last year. Bacashihua figures to fight fellow minor-leaguers Reihhard Divis and Curtis Sanford for the backup job at Savvis Center.
On Saturday, the Blues pounced when Marek Schwarz, considered by many as the draft's top goalie, fell into their crease at No. 17 overall. Central Scouting ranked Schwarz first among European goalies. Red Line Report pegged him first -- ahead of Al Montoya, Central Scouting's top North American goalie who went to the Rangers at No. 7, and Devan Dubnyk, who went to Edmonton at No. 14.
Finally on Sunday, GM Larry Pleau secured a new starting goalie -- the fifth of his seven-year watch -- by sending a conditional 2005 fourth-rounder to Ottawa for the beleaguered Patrick Lalime. So much for the Chris Osgood Era in St. Louis, which ended with consecutive first-round playoff exits. Pleau said he phoned Osgood in advance to tell him that the team will not pick up his $3 million option for next year. Pleau plans to qualify Lalime, a restricted free agent who made $2.575 million last year. That means the budget-conscious team will save only $425,000 off Osgood's salary. They are hoping the payoff will come in the spring, if the new scenery helps Lalime get his playoff act together.
New York Rangers: GM Glen Sather, who previously never met a young player or pick he didn't want to deal, came up big with his own stockpile of draft day goodies. He spent his first pick on Montoya, a talent and personality made for the New York spotlight. Then he traded an extra pick to swap places with Calgary later on in the first round, moving up five spots to pluck Finnish forward Lauri Korpikoski at No. 19.
Sather likes to talk about all the young prospects in the Rangers system, who apparently are visible only to him. Now he has a group of young kids entering the pipeline who actually can play.
Ottawa Senators: The Senators were prepared to walk away from both Lalime, who lost the confidence of the fans -- if not his teammates -- and center Radek Bonk, who earned $3 million to score 12 goals. The Senators are expected to replace Lalime with pending free agent Dominik Hasek on July 1. At center, Ottawa is said to be ready to bid against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings for the gritty Kris Draper, whose contract is up with the Wings. The Senators got a 2004 third-rounder from Los Angeles for Bonk and a 2005 fourth-rounder from St. Louis for Lalime, if the goalie signs with the Blues. That may not be much, but it sure beats nothing times two, which is what Ottawa would have reaped if both players had left as free agents.
Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers rolled the dice a couple of times on the first round. First, smitten by Dubnyk's 6-foot-5 frame and WHL roots at No. 14, they passed on Schwarz, the only 18-year-old goalie in the Czech Elite League. Dubnyk gives new meaning to the terms "large upside'' and "big goalie.'' But name a netminder of All-Star stature who matched that physical stature.
After that stretch, so to speak, the Oilers spent the No. 27 overall pick on OHL center Robbie Schremp, whose character has been called into question. Last season, he forced a trade from the Mississauga Ice Dogs to the London Knights. His combined stats were 30 goals and 45 assists in 63 games. Yet coach Dale Hunter, the former NHL scrapper, benched Schremp late in a playoff Game 7 against Guelph. Schremp's interview with the Oilers was colorful, to say the least, with repeated variations of the same word that got Vice President Dick Cheney in hot water.
"I told him, 'We don't use that [bleeping] word around here,' '' cracked Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish.
Frisky mustangs like Brett Hull have galloped on to individual and Stanley Cup success. It remains to be seen if the Oilers can saddlebreak this youngster.
Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs: It's not what these three Original Six teams did at the draft. It's what they did months before in a future-is-now burst.
All three teams dealt draft picks for veterans to help with their playoff pushes. As a result, Detroit, at No. 97, and Toronto, at No. 90, didn't pick until well into the third round. Boston's only top 100 picks were a late second-rounder, at No. 64, followed by a late third-rounder, at No. 90.
"That's not to say they blew any of their picks,'' said Woodlief, "but they traded them for immediate help.''
Help? Hardly. Detroit and Toronto were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. And Boston, which broke from form for a kick at the Cup, got booted out in the first.
Montreal Canadiens: When the musical chairs ended on Saturday, the Canadiens wound up with Bonk, a gifted under-achiever. Senators GM John Muckler was said to be miffed when Los Angeles GM Dave Taylor got Bonk and quickly flipped him to Montreal, Ottawa's geographic and division rival. "No, no,'' said Muckler with a smile. "We knew what we were getting into.''
Bryan Murray, Ottawa's new head coach, was also fine with the U-turn of events.
"John knew that would happen,'' said Murray. "Dave told him. I'd have been ticked if Dave hadn't told him first, but he did. So it doesn't bother me.''
After all, if the Ottawa braintrust thought Bonk was that dangerous, he wouldn't be an ex-Senator in the first place.
E.J. Hradek of ESPN The Magazine contributed to this story.
Tom Wheatley is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He is the co-author of "Bob Plager's Tales from the Blues Bench" and "The Memoirs of Bing Devine," both from Sports Publishing LLC.