2013 draft: Highs, lows, what-have-yous
NEWARK, N.J. -- Talk about a blur of humanity.
Shortly after 3 p.m. ET Sunday, the Colorado Avalanche made good on their word to pick Halifax star Nathan MacKinnon with the first pick of the NHL draft, and some seven hours later the Chicago Blackhawks closed the draft circle by selecting Robin Press of Sweden with the 211th and final pick, bringing to an end the league's annual feast of hockey's "what-if and what might be."
Not long after the lockout ended with the league and its players agreeing to a 48-game schedule, it was decided that the draft -- normally a two-day event with the first round held on Friday night and the remaining six rounds the following day -- would be jammed into one frenzied day at the Prudential Center.
As always, it was a day that began with wild rumors and speculation about mega-deals and ended with something less exciting unfolding. That said, it was an important day on a number of fronts for a number of teams.
Here's a look at those teams that stepped forward and those that stepped in something else, or maybe stepped in a different direction altogether:
After adding a No. 1 (or is that 1A?) goalie in Jonathan Bernier before the end of the Stanley Cup finals, the Maple Leafs added some championship pedigree in the form of Blackhawks center Dave Bolland. Bolland scored the Cup-winning goal for the Blackhawks in the final minute of Game 6 against the Boston Bruins, 17 seconds after Bryan Bickell had tied the game. It was his second championship with Chicago. Injuries and a shifting lineup combined to reduce Bolland's role from 2010, when he had eight goals and 16 points in 22 games during the Hawks' championship run. The center is entering the final year of his contract, with a cap hit of $3.375 million, but Toronto GM Dave Nonis is expecting more from Bolland. And it's hard to imagine that Bolland won't click with hard-nosed Leafs coach Randy Carlyle.
The Bolland deal -- along with a deal that sent Michael Frolik to the Winnipeg Jets -- netted three draft picks and opened up enough room for GM Stan Bowman to take care of his primary offseason priority. The Blackhawks announced Sunday evening that they signed playoff dynamo Bryan Bickell to a four-year deal worth $16 million. While Chicago loses a certain amount of grit in Bolland and Frolik was an extremely effective penalty killer, this shedding of bodies in no way resembles the gutting of the lineup that followed the 2010 Cup win -- especially when weighed against the ability to keep Bickell in the fold long-term. Playing mostly on a line with playoff MVP Patrick Kane and captain Jonathan Toews at the end of the finals, Bickell had nine goals and eight assists in 23 postseason games, including the tying goal late in Game 6.
GM David Poile has established a well-defined template for building his squads, and it all starts on the back end, from the goal out. Although the goaltending has been solid with Pekka Rinne, the Preds' defensive depth has taken a hit in recent years with the departures of Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Suter. The Preds never recovered from Suter's departure via free agency and missed the playoffs. But after locking up emerging young defenseman Roman Josi to a long-term deal, Poile was shocked -- pleasantly so -- to find Seth Jones available at the fourth spot. Poile made no bones about the fact the Predators had Jones at the top of their draft list, and Jones fills a significant need. In one fell swoop, Nashville re-established its bread and butter -- assuming Jones is anywhere near as good as people imagine he'll be. "Well, I think I can be a solid defenseman, produce a little bit offensively as well," Jones told reporters. "I know people say it takes time for defensemen to really grow in the league, a couple years at least, so hopefully I can prove that theory wrong."
The Devils have been tempting fate the last two or three years as they have entrusted their goaltending to aging future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur, the winningest goalie of all time, and Johan Hedberg. It worked out fine in 2012 when the Devils advanced to the Stanley Cup finals, but not so well this past season after Brodeur suffered an injury and Hedberg wasn't able to answer the bell, contributing to a finish out of the playoffs for the Devils. On Sunday, GM Lou Lamoriello answered the oft-asked question about the heir apparent to the Brodeur throne by acquiring Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks for the ninth overall pick. The Canucks turned down offers that might have been more lucrative from teams in the West, preferring to send Schneider to the East. The deal makes for a crowded crease in New Jersey, where both Hedberg and Brodeur have another year on their contracts. Each has a no-trade clause, although Hedberg does not have a no-move clause. We ran into Hedberg, one of the game's classiest performers, and he said he was standing with Brodeur when the trade was announced and both were a little shocked. Still, if there's a goaltender that has the personality to allow for a seamless transition, it's Schneider. He has handled the ups and downs of the goaltending controversy in Vancouver with good humor. Not sure what becomes of Hedberg, though one would hope the Devils move to buy him out of his final year so he could try to find employment elsewhere.
One final note on the Devils: Loved the humanity of the moment when, late in the seventh and final round, the Devils -- who did not have a seventh-round pick -- traded for the Los Angeles Kings' last pick. With the 208th pick, the Devils selected Anthony Brodeur, son of Martin and also a netminder. It was Brodeur who had the honor of calling his son's name. Doesn't get much better than that.
Lots of discussion about whether the Hurricanes might end up trading the fifth overall pick, but they didn't and GM Jim Rutherford seemed quite content to have added another highly skilled two-way center to his roster in Elias Lindholm. Lindholm has been playing in the Swedish Elite League and had 30 points in 48 games last season. Rutherford wouldn't say Lindholm, who can also play the wing, is a lock to make the Canes out of training camp, but he did say Lindholm will be given every opportunity to show he belongs in the NHL. He will join an impressive group of centers in Carolina that includes Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Jiri Tlusty and Tuomo Ruutu. As for Eric Staal, Rutherford said the Canes' captain is on schedule, if not a little bit ahead, in his rehab from a serious knee injury suffered at the World Championships. He is expected to be ready for the start of training camp and could be cleared to take part in the Canadian Olympic team orientation camp in late August in Calgary, assuming he is among the invitees.
When you trade a fifth overall pick who is not yet 21 years old for a mucker who's never scored 20 goals, it might meet some needs, but it also speaks to a grand failure to either identify young talent properly prior to a draft or develop it properly so that it becomes a useful asset post-draft. By sending Nino Niederreiter to the Minnesota Wild for Cal Clutterbuck, the Islanders threw in the towel on the fifth overall pick in 2010 after he played just 64 NHL games. Maybe it was necessary, maybe Niederreiter is a lost cause, and maybe the gritty Clutterbuck helps take the emerging Isles another step forward. But either way, it's an admission of failure. Isles GM Garth Snow would not say whether there'd been a breakdown of the relationship between the player and the team, but he did say if there was it was not on the team's side, which is more than a bit convenient. What will be interesting to see is whether the Wild, already stockpiling young talent with the likes of Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin and Jason Zucker, can resuscitate Niederreiter's career. If so, the Wild look to come out far ahead on this transaction.
So, after all that, after a year of trying in vain to move netminder Roberto Luongo, after anointing Cory Schneider the team's goaltender of the future, the Canucks took a knee on Sunday and dealt Schneider to New Jersey for the ninth overall pick, which the Canucks used on Bo Horvat, a sturdy center from London. Now maybe you can turn the clock back two years and Luongo will slide back into the starter's role and forget -- a la Bobby Ewing -- the past year, when he had been supplanted by Schneider and prepared himself to move on to another team. Luongo is a big boy and he's going to be well-paid, but there will need to be some fence-mending from both GM Mike Gillis and new coach John Tortorella. With the first slump Luongo endures next season, all of this will be revisited, and questions asked of Luongo's head space. That's no way for a team looking to rebound after two embarrassing first-round exits to do business. Gillis said Sunday he hadn't spoken to Luongo but that he expected to and that he didn't anticipate there being any issues. If there were issues, they would address them. Gillis confirmed that owner Francesco Aquilini was en route to Florida to talk to Luongo personally. Meanwhile, the Canucks helped restock their shelves with two first-round picks, Horvat and another skilled forward in Hunter Shinkarunk at the 24th spot. Gillis said he was still taking calls on defenseman Alexander Edler, although the cap relief from the Schneider trade might negate the need to trade Edler. Nonetheless, simply clearing out a goaltending backlog is merely step one in a process that may require many more steps for a team that two years ago was one win from a Stanley Cup championship. Had he a crystal ball he might have done things differently, Gillis told reporters. "I don't have one. If you have one, let me know."
To debate the merits of taking Nathan MacKinnon over defenseman Seth Jones a few hours after the draft is a pointless endeavor. That said, this is going to be one of the more fascinating draft decisions to watch unfold, moving far beyond the Taylor Hall/Tyler Seguin debate of a couple years ago. But credit new Avs coach Patrick Roy and new hockey head man Joe Sakic, who came out early and declared their intention to take the Halifax star with the first overall pick. Roy said later that there was never any real thought given to trading the pick. It's pretty much been universal praise for MacKinnon, who has yet to turn 18. The key now will be nurturing MacKinnon amid sky-high expectations from a fan base starved for an Avs return to prominence. Still, with Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and MacKinnon, the Avalanche have stockpiled an impressive cadre of offensive talent. Time will tell whether they should have tossed a franchise defenseman like Jones into the mix when they had the opportunity.
Although center Tyler Seguin was in play, the Bruins did not make a move during draft weekend with the former second overall pick. But GM Peter Chiarelli was brutally honest about the state of Seguin's focus and where it needs to be, and that's on hockey. That's it. "He needs to be a better pro," Chiarelli told reporters Sunday. We talked to a number of scouts before the draft who were incredulous the Bruins might have considered trading Seguin to move into the top 10. The question now is whether Seguin can show Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien that he gets it and whether, in turn, Julien entrusts Seguin with more responsibility.
As is the case every year, there were lots of familial connections among the 211 players drafted. But we couldn't have been more pleased for Phoenix Coyotes goaltending coach Sean Burke, whose son, Brendan, was selected by the Coyotes with the 163rd pick. We ran into Burke on the way into the draft and he was pretty excited for his son's big day. The elder Burke recently agreed to help out with Canada's junior program of excellence, a way of giving back to a junior program in which he was part of once upon a time. His son, by the way, was born in Scottsdale, Ariz., and has played the last two years with Portland of the Western Hockey League, where he was an impressive 24-5-1 last season.