The NHL entry draft always has a ton of drama surrounding it. Most of it centers on the first selection and teams that may or may not be dealing from the bottom of the deck to improve their lottery odds. In some cases it is a team that trades away its known talent around the deadline for high picks, or a bushel of middle picks they hope to use to move up at the draft. Often the chase for high picks in the draft begins two or three seasons out with projections of a draft class that might or might not be stronger than the ones on either side of it.
This year despite a lackluster twenty five points in his seven games is Nail Yakupov is the consensus number one pick. Comparisons by scouts already have him as the same level of player as Sidney Crosby, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Ovechkin.
Of the bottom seven teams from last year, only three of those teams are in the same zone now. The Senators, the Jets, the Blue Jackets are all performing poorly thus far. While it is only a few games into the season history tells ups the NHL’s standings at any point in October are less important than any other month. Most would say these three teams are performing at about the projected level.
Of the team that were in the playoffs or that no mans land between the top eight in each conference and the draft lottery some have had significant talent leave without a compensating inflow of talent. Highest on that list is the lost of Ilya Bryzgalov by the Phoenix Coyotes. The Dallas Stars also hold a prominent place on the list as well with the loss of Brad Richards. With the post-Iginla era cresting the horizon the Flames who missed the playoffs last year might not have to do much hit the lottery.
Already playing the western conferences toughest division, they lost a goalie who has been nominated for the Vezina in 2010 and played 202 of their previous 246 regular season games. The Coyotes have also had a very long running set of negotiations with Kyle Turris over his contract. The combination of the loss of a center on a team without much depth their to a labor dispute, and a world class goalie has the potential to be huge.
The Dallas Stars, one of the NHL teams going through ownership drama, did bring in two time 30 goal man Michael Ryder the talent shipped out is not balanced. With James Neal sent to the Penguins at the deadline, and Richards lost to free agency there is still a big gap between what the team was and where it is now. Michael Ryder turned in a playoff performance that made it possible for him to get an NHL contract this year, and has looked solid thus far how long will it last? Ryder has a well documented history of highly irregular production. If he’s producing regularly at the end of January might he get traded to a team needing to get better for a playoff push? Picking up a second round pick (or potentially more) for the second year of his contract would have to be tempting.
Jarome Iginla is 34 years old. Jarome Iginla is playing on the team with the second highest average age in the NHL. Jarome Iginla is playing on a team that hands out no movement clauses like Halloween candy. Jarome Iginla is awesome, no really. Awesome. He’s never had a center who could stay within shouting distance of him and has still put up huge numbers. Unfortunately for the man with the longest name in NHL history, he’s also on a team with minimal hope of winning the Stanley Cup before his current contract expires after next season. For him a move to a strong team he could put over the top might become appealing, especially if he leaves on good enough terms to return in two years (see Keith Tkachuk) to the city he’s spent his career in. For the team, getting back prospects or picks and moving closer to this seasons holy grail might be irresistible. Done right it can be as well received as Ray Bourque’s departure from Boston.
While the Edmonton Oilers have a rather Penguins like string of high draft picks already and are off to a start that has them tied for sixth in points it is unlikely they stay there. After tie breakers they are in 9th in the west. Worse, through four games they have nine goals, five of them credited to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. While there’s no doubt adding Yakupov to the lineup could take a young offensive unit to the heights it hasn’t seen since a certain trade with Los Angeles before most of their roster started playing hockey, the NHL isn’t the same animal it was then. So if they somehow managed to get the first pick in the draft, again, and decided to build their blueline up instead, Mathew Dumba, Nick Ebert, Ryan Murray, Jacob Trouba are just a few of the high end defensemen who could be picked up with an extra pick or two in the top forty-five picks.
The fun quest all season will be to see who can get publicly hammered with the least attention for it.