Friday, April 21, 2006

Blue Thursday

As a big fan of the entry draft in every sport, I would be remiss in not commenting on the NHL Draft Lottery that took place yesterday. There was not much drama, as the last place St. Louis Blues won, meaning that the lottery order will not change at all. The Blues will be followed at the top of the order by the Pittsburgh Penguins - who pick in the Top 5 for the fifth straight year, the Chicago Black Hawks, the Washington Capitals, and the Boston Bruins.

The first overall pick is a boon for the St. Louis club that saw it's fan support drop precipitously this season as underwent a rebuilding period on the ice, and a transition period in the front office. If they're smart, they'll use this opportunity to draft Erik Johnson out of the US National Team Development Program, who projects to be just the type of franchise defenseman that they need to replace the one that they traded away in the most recent off-season.

While Johnson is emerging more and more as the favorite to go first, there are still proponents of American wunderkind Phil Kessel, and Gritty Canadian Jonathan Toews. Kessel was seen as being a lock for the top pick a year ago, but his struggles at the World Juniors coupled with the strong performances of Johnson and Toews have shifted the race considerably. I won't get into the next tier of players, though a couple of them could leapfrog ahead of Toews or Kessel depending on a given team's preference, but it is worth noting that, like in every other recent draft, there is a Staal who figures to go near the top.

Normally, I advocate taking the Best Player Available in the NHL draft, but here's a quick primer on what I think each of the teams at the top should do:

St. Louis
Don't even entertain trade offers, just pick Erik Johnson. Franchise defenseman are harder to find than forwards who can score, so trading back makes no sense.

Trade the pick, for the following reasons:

• The best players in this draft are all (playmaking) Centers, which they already have two of (Crosby and Malkin) to build around. This is a case where the Pens need to shop around and see if they can fill a need for a scoring winger or a defenseman who can play on their top pairing.

• They're running out of time to make things work in Pittsburgh. Bringing in someone who can contribute right away on the top line will get them a lot closer to respectability, and will help their efforts for a new arena - wherever it will be built.

Add the top player left on their board. They have a great group of defensive prospects, but lack an impact scorer in their system. They'll have a chance to add one this year.

Whichever Center is left on the board who will best compliment Alexander Ovechkin. It's that simple.

Best player available, which will be a forward. They're looking good in goal with Hannu Toivunen, and have good defenseman as well. A Center to play second fiddle to Patrice Bergeron would be a great addition to the club.

It happens to work out that most of the teams drafting at the top will fill a need in this Center-rich draft. While this is not seen as a deep draft at all, fans of the teams picking at the top should have something to look forward to come June. Given that most of these teams have been bottom-feeders for some time, it's long overdue.

Two draft-related thoughts which I should post before I forget them:

• Does anyone else worry that the new rule of Europeans going back into the draft after 2 years (as with Jr. A players) will lead to the best Euros basically picking and choosing which team they want to go to. It seems to be accepted that Euros will slide down the board, and less will be selected overall because of this rule, but I could see them acting the way that Scott Boras clients do in baseball, holding out to go to the right team and thus getting drafted much later than they should. Not that I would begrudge them, I would do the same thing in their shoes.

• Given that Ottawa needs to free up cap space to resign Chara and Redden long term, and to likely add a premium goalie to replace Hasek as well, does anyone else think that a trade of Martin Havlat to Pitt for the #2 pick make perfect sense for both teams? Havlat will price himself off the Senators when he hits the unrestricted market soon, so shipping him out now in return for either Phil Kessel or Jonathan Toews helps the Sens reload. Meanwhile, Havlat would be the perfect compliment to either Crosby or Malkin. Whoever the new Pens GM is can have that tidbit for free.


At 8:30 AM, Blogger NHL DraftNET said...

Dear Sports Matters:

We are employees at AOL working on a web blog previewing the NHL Entry Draft. While there are many hockey-related blogs on the internet, currently, there is not a blog that offers comprehensive coverage of the NHL draft.

We are currently blogging on topics ranging from draft history and predictions to prospect profiles and team buzz. On Thursday, June 22, we will be traveling to Vancouver, attending all draft-related activities, and blogging live from both the 2006 NHL Awards Ceremony (June 22) and the draft floor on Saturday and Sunday (June 24 and 25). We will also be offering post-draft analysis and wrap-up following the ceremonies.

As hockey fans and avid bloggers, we have been reading your blog and are very impressed by the content and relevance of your posts. We will be linking to your site in both our own posts and in our links bar, and we would appreciate it if you would link back to us in a similar fashion. During the week of the draft, and will be directing online traffic to our blog portal with links from their websites, consequently increasing the popularity of our blog and yours. Blogging is, as you know, all about networking and connectivity, so by linking to one another as frequently as possible, we can improve both the overall blogging community and the quality of our own blogs.

In an effort to showcase the talent and knowledge of bloggers across the web, we would be extremely grateful to have the chance to interview you in the upcoming weeks and highlight your blog on our homepage.

Please visit our site at and share your opinion by adding a comment or by sending us an email. To schedule an interview, please send an email to

Thank you for your support and keep blogging.

The NHL DraftNET Staff



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