Monday, June 26, 2006

Reviewing The NHL Draft Weekend

With draft weekend in the books, there’s a lot to report on from both the draft end, and the trade end. Several teams took steps forward towards being contenders, while others took steps back. With that in mind, let’s look at how some of the more active teams did.

Best and Worst Draft Picks From The First Round
The Best
1 - Erik Johnson, St. Louis
He was the best player on the board, and gives the Blues a building block they desperately need. They deserve kudos for doing the obvious, when I’m not sure that every team would have done so.

2 – Phil Kessel, Boston
I love this kid, and think he will be a steal at number five. He’s had the unfortunate problem of being over-scrutinized for the past couple of years, which dropped him down the board a few spots.

3 – Bobby Sanguinetti, NY Rangers
I couldn’t see any reason why he fell all the way to 21, but the Rangers snapped him up, and probably got a guy who will play on one of their top two defensive pairings for the next decade.

The Worst
1 – Jiri Tlutsky, Toronto
They have to sign this Czech kid within two years, or they lose his rightS. The problem is, he seems very content over in Europe, and pretty much said so in his post-draft interview with TSN. So…either they’re going to lose him in 2008, or they’re going to have to pay him a max contract (whether he deserves it or not) to bring him over. Just not a good situation all around.

2 – Michal Frolik, Florida
He was seen as a top 2-3 pick a year ago, but struggled this year, and seemed to lose his confidence. Somehow, I don’t think that sending him to a franchise run by Mike Keenan is the way to restore it.

3 – Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh
I’ve never seen him play, but I can’t help but think that bloodline pushed him up the draft board ahead of more talented players like Kessel, Nicklas Backstrom, and Jonathan Toews.

How Soon Is Too Soon To Buy My Phil Kessel Jersey?
I’d give them an A-plus for the weekend. They got lucky with Phil Kessel falling to them. Still, they made the right call, and have a stud offensive prospect to pair with Patrice Bergeron. Despite a disappointing WJC (12 points, but only 1 goal), he put up 52 points in 39 games at Minnesota., which is great for a freshman, even on a loaded Gopher team. He’s a high-risk pick, since he doesn’t have a well-rounded game right now, but I think he’ll be more Pat LaFontaine than Brian Lawton. If this happens, he'll become the gamebreaker the offense needs.

Also, they get full marks for giving up Andrew Raycroft and adding a top goaltending prospect in return. Just a great day for the Bs. I fully expect to have something to cheer about in Beantown over the next few years. I feel good about the Bruins for the first time since the Thornton trade happened. They have Hannu Toivunen in net, with Rask on the way. Brad and Mark Stuart will be two pillars on the blueline, while Bergeron, Brad Boyes, and Kessel form a good offensive nucleus. They may not contend this year, but in the near future, they’re going to be lethal if they keep this core group together.

Northwest Revival
Jordan Leopold was expendable, given their depth on defense. Alex Tanguay is a game-breaker, and gives the Flames a much-needed second option on offense. From a straight-up talent perspective, this is a one-sided deal in Calgary’s favor. As for Colorado, while Leopold’s a good player, I don’t see much that he does that John-Michael Liles doesn’t already do on a smaller salary. I would have preferred to see them shop Hejduk if they were clearing salary. Tanguay is just entering his peak years.

From a straight up talent perspective, I love the Luongo deal. However, I can’t grade the Canucks any higher until they lock up Luongo past this season. Otherwise, they gave up a promising young goalie (Alex Auld) without getting any long-term returns.

The Demitra trade makes them a threat in the west this year, but he does not come without risks. For one, he is on the wrong side of 30, and due to begin declining any season now. Secondly, he’s struggled with injuries recently, so the Wild may be paying for 55-60 games of service, and nothing more. Nonetheless, the trade will be worth it if it helps convince Marian Gaborik to resign for the long-term. With Manny Fernandez in net, and Demitra and Gaborik supported up front by young players like Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, there’s no reason why the Wild can’t contend for the Western Conference title this season.

Business As Usual
The ‘Canes took steps to keep their championship team intact, resigning coach Peter Laviolette to a five-year deal. Also signing a five-year extension is Joe Camel, who will be earning an average salary of $3.5 mil a year in Raleigh until the age of 40. I know he’s in phenomenal shape, and like my other most hated player, Chris Chelios, will probably play until he’s about 56 years old. Still, this seems excessive for a guy whose numbers will likely drop off dramatically over the duration of this contract. Since I don’t like Carolina, I’m happy to see them tying up salary on guys like this.

The Gambler
I don’t have much more to say on the Luongo deal. I’m mostly interested to see now if Keenan targets a goalie via free agency or a trade, or if he goes with Alex Auld as his number one guy. My guess is that he signs Manny Legace to a short-term, low guarantee contract, and lets them battle it out.

The Rebuilding Project
Los Angeles
Kudos to Dean Lombardi for getting the ball rolling on rebuilding the Kings. They have some talent in place, and with a healthy season from everyone, could have contended. However, they were likely going to be stuck in the mediocre, bubble-playoff team stage for the next little while. Rather than accepting this, I commend him for picking a direction, and going forward with it. Patrick O’Sullivan is a good prospect, and will probably contribute in LA this season. With some of the guys he’ll get to play with, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him win the Calder Trophy this season, especially if none of the top picks from this year’s draft make the leap.

Should Be On The Hot Seat, But Isn’t
How is Doug McLean’s job security not up in the air? In five season, the Jackets have never made the playoffs, and never really come close. The lowest draft position they have ever had is 8th, which was where they picked following their inaugural campaign. Unlike the Atlanta Thrashers, the other team from the last round of expansion never to see the playoffs, they’re not even coming close. Despite a series of veteran acquisitions (Fedorov, Foote, Berard), and getting to feast on St. Louis and Chicago 16 times this past season,, the Jackets were still one of the worst teams in the league. Having Rick Nash hurt for a chunk of the season didn’t help, but they’re still running out of excuses as far as I’m concerned. This isn’t particularly relevant as far as draft weekend goes, but it’s worth noting, in my opinion.

Everything Falls Apart
Through no fault of their own, they make it on to the list. However, any time your franchise player requests a trade, it’s a bad weekend for you. Assuming that Kevin Lowe goes ahead and moves him, you have to think that the Oilers won’t get full value in return, unless they can get a couple of young players who blossom. Most of the time when a franchise player is moved, it’s for one established player, one prospect, and one role player, or for a package of younger players. It’s rare that all of them emerge as key contributors. For example, last year’s trade that acquired Pronger saw the Oilers give up Eric Brewer, a talented, but inconsistent defender who should be entering his prime, along with two young, NHL-ready defenseman in Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch. The latter two have yet to stick with the big club, despite extensive AHL seasoning coming off of the lockout, and the former player struggled on a weak St. Louis club. The Joe Thornton trade (to San Jose for Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm, and Wayne Primeau) will likely end up netting the Bruins a 2nd/3rd defenseman who can play the power play, a second-line winger, and a 3rd/4th liner who likely won’t sign another contract in Boston. The Patrick Roy trade (where the Habs also gave up Mike Keane) brought to Montreal Jocelyn Thibault, who had brief flashes of brilliance, but within 5 years had been dealt straight up for Jeff Hackett. The other players that Montreal acquired, Andrei Kovalenko and Martin Rucinsky, never figured prominently in the club’s success.

The lone exceptions that I can think of are the Bure to Florida for Ed Jovanovski deal, and the Alexei Yashin trade, which was a steal for Ottawa. They acquired Zdeno Chara, the 2nd overall pick in 2001 (Jason Spezza), and Bill Muckalt, a checking line forward. This trade was a steal for the Sens, though it’s happened largely because not only has Spezza lived up to expectations, but Chara has exceeded them. Rumor has it that Lowe asked for Jay Bouwmeester, Nathan Horton, and the 10th overall pick from Florida in return for Pronger. If he could get the former two players out of Miami in exchange for Pronger, Lowe will have pulled off a hell of a deal (personally, I’d do a Pronger and Laracque for Horton, Bouwmeester, and future considerations/second-tier prospect deal). I also like Matt’s idea for a trade with the Blackhawks, even though it involves absorbing Aucoin’s bloated salary for the next three years.

Depending on what they can fetch for Chris and Lauren Pronger, this could be a good move for the Oil over the long-term, but right now, the odds are that it won’t turn out that way.

Related question that Oiler fans probably don’t want to think about: will Pronger’s desired exit affect the decisions of players like Dwayne Roloson as to whether or not they should re-sign in Edmonton?

The Worst Performance of All
I would say they had the worst weekend of anyone. Leaving aside the first round pick I mentioned earlier, what a horrible, horrible trade the Raycroft for Rask swap is. Even though Raycroft likely won’t be as bad in the future as he was this past year, Leafs GM John Ferguson has demonstrated that he has no concept on buying low on the trade market. To illustrate, here are two questions:

1) If Andrew Raycroft had been traded for a draft pick (or picks), where would those picks be slotted?
2) If Tuukka Rask was in this year’s draft, where would he be picked.

My guess for the first question is a second or third rounder, at best.

As for the second, given that the Kings took a goalie at #11, and the Bolts took one at #15, I can’t see him slipping past this. He probably would have been top 10 coming off a spectacular performance at the WJC. So basically, they traded what would have been a top 15 pick for Andrew Raycroft? Would any sensible person do that? Between this, and the rumors that John Ferguson Jr. refused to part with Alexander Steen as part of a package for Pronger, I am convinced that he has no concept of how to build a team. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge, it’s the same problem with the Leafs. They keep giving up good prospects (Kenny Jonsson, Brad Boyes, the draft picks that became Scott Niedermayer and Roberto Luongo, to name four examples) for mediocre veterans (or second-year players in this case) who do nothing to bring the club closer to contention. I hoped Ferguson would be difference, but it’s going to be the same old same old. He’s thrown away a significant part of the team’s future in order to try and finish 8th in the conference, and hope it’s enough to salvage his job. Oh, and Bob MacKenzie likes the Raycroft trade from Toronto’s perspective. If that’s not the kiss of death, I don’t know what is.

For me, this is the straw that broke the camel’s back. I need a break from the Leafs; I just can’t take this ineptitude anymore. Until I’m convinced that they have management or owners that care about building a winning club, I’m focusing my energy on other teams. I may even become serious about the Oilers or the Bruins (who I’ve been seeing on and off for years).


At 3:51 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

I can’t grade the Canucks any higher until they lock up Luongo past this season. Otherwise, they gave up a promising young goalie (Alex Auld) without getting any long-term returns.

Apparently you can 'lock up' someone for five years and still not get a long-term return. So I wouldn't criticize the Canucks too much. Luongo can make them a contender this coming season, and that's all that counts.

At 4:03 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

I may even become serious about the Oilers or the Bruins (who I’ve been seeing on and off for years).

Well said, Kimmis. Then again, I can't be too harsh. I understand your frustration. If we end up with Kaberle and Steen for Pronger, I'm leaping off the High Level.

Favorite phrase of the post: "even on a loaded Gopher team. " You don't hear that said very often.

At 3:34 PM, Blogger Alex said...

If I was pulling a Kimmis, I'd wait until the Habs make a Cup run, then jump ship under the guise that 'my father cheers for them.'

The fact that Tomas Kaberle could be the centerpiece of trade for Chris Pronger blows my mind. If Lowe pulls the trigger on that deal, he should be drawn and quartered in Churchill Square.


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