The NHL trade deadline came and went yesterday with little excitement. Yes, some (but not all) of the rentals that were expected to move went to interesting destinations, but we didn’t have a single blockbuster move or real hockey trade. So now the quest begins for the Stanley Cup with much of the teams and players that we had a week ago, with a Steve Ott here and a Lauri Korpikoski there.
Now for many fans of teams who have been holding out hope for a late playoff push; those who sold many of their assets yesterday in a waving of the white flag for the 2016-17 season, a new journey begins. The quest for the first overall draft pick.
There is no fight, some might say, because of the Colorado Avalanche’s death-grip on last place in the NHL. They have just 37 points through 61 games and have a legitimate shot at becoming the first team to compile fewer than 50 points in a full season since the 1999-00 Atlanta Thrashers, an expansion team that won just 14 games. Colorado will finish last in the league, of that there is no doubt. But that by no means guarantees them the first overall pick
This year, with the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights the last place team will have just a 17.9% chance to select first, not a very good chance at all. The Arizona Coyotes are likely going to finish with the second worst record. With just 51 points they have an eight point “lead” on the Vancouver Canucks and have traded away several pieces.
But that’s where it gets interesting. From the current third last team—those Canucks, who may have had the best deadline out of anyone—to the tenth worst is just six points. Beyond that the playoffs are just another handful of points away. The race for that third last spot is alive and well, and it could come with a big prize.
The 2017 draft class has been called weak, shallow and lacking impact talent. While it does in comparison to the past two—which featured generational talents not just first overall but second as well—it may be. But to think that it doesn’t house some incredible future NHL talent is ludicrous. It’s not like there are only third-line players available this season, and the battle for the top five should be as fierce as ever.
For teams that lack center depth (which is most of the NHL), this year gives you a choice of at least three phenomenal talents at the top of the board. Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier and Gabe Vilardi all play very different styles, but will all likely have long and prosperous NHL careers. The rest of the first round is littered with talent down the middle: Michael Rasmussen, Casey Middelstadt, Cody Glass and Ryan Poehling all will likely go somewhere in the top half of the draft and all play mostly center.
While Vegas has thinned the odds slightly for everyone after that top pick, coming 28th in the league would still give you a 10% chance at drafting first, and even better odds at landing in that top three. Make no mistake, all the teams that sold yesterday—Vancouver, Detroit, and New Jersey in particular—are after that spot. They’ll say the right things, and the players won’t take a single second of any shift off, but in the back of the GMs mind he’s hoping that Bill Daly opens that card on lottery day and they see their logo emblazoned in gold.
The day after the deadline, and the race for the bottom has begun.