- In an appearance on KFAN 100.3 (audio link), Wild GM Bill Guerin told The Athletic’s Michael Russo that “things are going in the right direction” when it comes to winger Kirill Kaprizov. Earlier this week, it was reported that teams would not be permitted to sign players that could then play in the upcoming play-in round, even if they were on their Reserve List; in normal seasons, that would be allowed. When asked if the team would consider signing Kaprizov and burning the first year of his entry-level deal without playing, Guerin indicated he was open to the possibility along with any other options that come up. Technically, the deadline to sign Kaprizov to a 2019-20 deal expired on Wednesday after being previously extended by a month; Guerin’s answer hints that another extension may have quietly occurred.
If Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly’s face didn’t give it away during Friday night’s NHL Draft Lottery, this result was not what the league was expecting or hoping for. In a season when a decorated Original Six franchise, the Detroit Red Wings, had one of the worst campaigns of all-time and the league’s most downtrodden franchise, the Ottawa Senators, had not one but two high-percentage chances of winning the top pick, the No. 1 overall selection will instead go to a to-be-determined “playoff” team.
With the league expanding the postseason field to 24 teams this season as a result of COVID-19 cutting the regular season short, 16 teams will vie for a chance to move through a “knockout round” onto a more standard version of the NHL playoffs. However, now those same 16 teams, all of whom finished above .500 this season, will also be in the running to win the top overall pick and the right to select a generational talent in forward Alexis Lafreniere. All eight losers of the qualifying round will have even odds in a second running of the lottery and one lucky team will get playoff experience and an elite young player this season. No one is going to be truly happy with the result (apart from the lottery winner and their fans of course) but who would you least like to see win the top overall pick?
The Pittsburgh Penguins might be at the top of many peoples’ lists. The franchise has won three Stanley Cups in the last decade and no one would be surprised to see them win again this year, especially given the fact that they finished the regular season in seventh league-wide in points percentage. The Penguins are the best team slated to play in the knockout round, but if by some chance they lose to the Montreal Canadiens, Lafreniere could potentially join Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and company in a move that could extend the dynasty for years still to come. The thought of the talented young winger playing beside either of those superstars would be daunting to every other team in the league.
Finishing just behind Pittsburgh with the ninth-best points percentage in the league this year were the Carolina Hurricanes. The club has quietly accumulated a deep, talented roster including a number of elite young players. Carolina is set to contend for titles for many years to come, but Lafreniere would make them truly dangerous. Like the Penguins, the Hurricanes simply do not need the best player in the draft. Keep in mind that they were also one of just two teams to vote against the expanded postseason model, making it especially twisted if they were to reap the benefits of this one-off lottery structure. As good as the Hurricanes were at times this season, they are a popular upset pick in the qualifying round against the New York Rangers and could wind up in the lottery.
The New York Islanders finished just outside the top-ten in points percentage this season and have a deep, experienced team. They also play a sound defensive system. While it works to win games, it isn’t the most exciting strategy and could limit the upside of an explosive offensive talent like Lafreniere. On top of that, the Isles don’t even know where they will be playing their home games next season and have suffered from poor attendance in recent years. It doesn’t exactly sound like an ideal landing spot for an exciting top prospect. Fortunately, the Islanders drew a plus matchup against the Florida Panthers and should advance past the knockout round if they can stick to their smothering defensive game.
Given their luck in the draft lottery over the past decade, it’s pretty gross to think about the Edmonton Oilers being in the running for another No. 1 pick. Likely soon to be the home of two MVP’s in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers landing Lafreniere as their fifth first overall pick and ninth top-ten pick since 2010 would really be something. With an improved NHL roster and a strong pipeline of talent, the Oilers are finally starting to be self-sufficient and don’t need Lafreniere like they might have in recent year. However, if the team can’t hold off a poor Chicago Blackhawks club in the knockout round, maybe they do need the pick.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are another team that is chock full of young talent and it would be an embarrassment of riches (and embarrassing for the league) to see them land Lafreniere. While the team would be in prime shape to finally snap their Stanley Cup drought with the addition, the Leafs are already well on their way and will be contenders for years and years to come even without the top pick. Additionally, should Toronto win the lottery, there would certainly be those that would cry foul about the whole situation. The Maple Leafs face the Columbus Blue Jackets in the qualifying round in one of the more evenly matched of the upcoming series. Toronto is likely the slight favorite, but could just as easily wind up in the lottery.
The current iteration of the Chicago Blackhawks is not good. However, they are also the most dominant franchise of this decade with three Stanley Cups. It’s not east to find many outside of Chicago who have pity for the current Blackhawks given their sustained success of late. With some of those core players still in place and some exciting young pieces starting to build up, the Blackhawks may already be back on the rebound without the assistance of Lafreniere. If they make it a series with the star-studded Oilers, it will be even more evident that they don’t need a top pick to stay relevant. Like the Maple Leafs, some will also be outraged if the Blackhawks win the lottery due to the perceived favoritism shown by the league on a number of occasions in recent years.
If you really want to hear conspiracy theories though, look no further than the possibility of the Montreal Canadiens winding up with No. 1 overall. Yes, the Canadiens have no business in a playoff series and would have been in the standard draft lottery anyway, but there will be plenty who think that it is far too convenient if the Habs win the top pick when a Francophone and Quebec native is the best player on the board. It used to be that Montreal – who don’t forget have more Stanley Cups than any NHL franchise – was able to claim the best French Canadian players in the draft regardless of draft order. If that opportunity should inadvertently occur once again, plenty of people might get upset at the league despite the fact that Montreal technically is the most deserving (read: worst) of the qualifying round teams. The NHL does not want that drama right now and its most decorated club frankly does not need special treatment, perceived or otherwise.
As for the remaining teams, the Winnipeg Jets, New York Rangers, and Vancouver Canucks were all better than their records implied this season and already have elite young players, the Florida Panthers and Arizona Coyotes may not have the fan bases to support a young star like Lafreniere, and I’m sure there are reasons to root against the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames, and Minnesota Wild as well. If you can think of a valid reason why the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have one playoff series win in franchise history, don’t deserve a stroke of good luck, that’s fine too.
What do you think? Which team do you absolutely not want to see Lafreniere go to, either because of existing talent or complaints of foul play or for any other reason? The reality is that one of these 16 will end up with the best player on the board, which in many ways is already a loss for the league, but it can get much worse from here.
Hold onto your hats: the NHL’s hub cities saga is taking yet another turn. Las Vegas is no longer a presumed selection for one of the NHL’s hub cities, per Frank Seravalli of TSN Sports. Veteran NHL Reporter John Shannon notes that increasing cases of COVID-19 in 36 states across the United States – including Nevada – are among the reasons the NHL has started to look more seriously at letting Canada host both the Eastern and Western Conference playoff bubbles. Toronto and Edmonton would be the presumed frontrunners now, though still, nothing is official. It’s surprising that it took the NHL this long to move off Vegas as their top choice, but if the delay amounts to the league doing their due diligence, the process is working as intended. Still, we continue to wait for the final word from the league. In the meantime, let’s check in on some player health notes…
- Minnesota Wild defenseman Carson Soucy has recovered from a mid-season upper-body injury and he’s ready to participate in the Stanley Cup Qualifier, per Pete Jensen of NHL.com. Soucy, 26, missed the final nine games of the season after scoring 14 points in the first 55 games. Soucy averaged over 15 minutes of ice time per game when he was healthy. He’ll be an option in the third pairing for Minnesota if indeed he’s back to full strength. Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Mathew Dumba, and Jonas Brodin figure to make up the top two defensive pairings for the Wild.
- Mercurial forward Phil Kessel told reporters today that he’d never been more banged up in a season than this year, his first with the Arizona Coyotes, tweets Coyotes’ beat reporter Craig Morgan. In 70 games with Arizona, Kessel managed just 14 goals, the lowest total since his rookie season in 2006-2007. His 24 assists somewhat salvaged the campaign for the 32-year-old Kessel, but it’s still a far cry from the 75 points per season he racked up in four years with the Penguins. Kessel is a typically strong postseason performer, but he’ll have to come out the gate hot to push the Coyotes past the qualifier stage. This very well might be a case of a player putting a positive spin on a down year, but Kessel at full-speed is a big enough difference-maker that it’s worth tracking.
- Although there is a report from Sport-Express in Russia suggesting that Wild prospect Alexander Khovanov could sign a one-year deal with Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL for next season, Michael Russo of The Athletic notes (subscription required) that the team is still discussing what the best route for him for 2020-21 will be. Now finished with his junior career in QMJHL Moncton where he had 99 points in just 51 games this season, the 2018 third-round pick can turn pro. However, with the start of the AHL season in question, the safer play may be to have him play in Russia and get a full year of development in. Khovanov has already signed his entry-level deal so he would be loaned to the KHL in this scenario without the risk of him trying to sign a long-term pact there.
Twenty years ago yesterday, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild were taking their first official steps as NHL teams, engaging in the 2000 NHL Expansion Draft. Yet the additions of the 29th and 30th NHL teams goes down as an utterly forgettable event in the annals of NHL history, given just how poor the results were. Fast-forward 17 years and the NHL finally adds team No. 31, the Vegas Golden Knights. Recency bias aside, the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft and especially the season that followed will have a firm foothold on their place in league history. The vast differences between these two drafts, both in format and outside factors, help to explain why the infant Golden Knights already seem to be more established in year three than the Blue Jackets and Wild, facing down their twentieth seasons in 2020-21.
Columbus and Minnesota: $80,000,000
Like most things in pro sports, this story starts with money. The Blue Jackets and Wild paid just $80MM in 2000 to enter the NHL, not exactly a premium price even 20 years ago. As a result, their introduction to the league was never intended to be smooth. The odds were stacked against them in their inaugural seasons and beyond as they had to fight hard for their place in the league. The Knights on the other hand paid over six times that amount and the 2021 Seattle expansion team is set to pay even more, a record $650MM. With that comes more cushy conditions upon entry, allowing for immediate success to be more realistic.
Columbus and Minnesota: Nashville Predators (1998), Atlanta Thrashers (1999)
The Blue Jackets and Wild also entered the league during a frenzy of expansion. The NHL added nine teams between 1990 and 2000 and Columbus and Minnesota were the unfortunate pair to bring up the rear. Talent was spread thinner than it ever had been before and Nashville and Atlanta, added in the previous two years, were completely exempt from the Expansion Draft. The expansion team thus drafted 26-man rosters. In contrast, when Vegas entered the league the NHL had not seen expansion in the better part of two decades. No one was exempt and talent had been replenished across the league, with Vegan able to pick from each of the 30 teams. Talent level continues to not be a concern approaching the 2021 Expansion Draft, in which Seattle will also have 30 teams to choose from other than Vegas, who also won’t receive a share of their entry fee.
Columbus and Minnesota: Nine forwards, five defensemen, and one goalie or seven forwards, three defensemen, and two goalies
Vegas: Seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie or eight skaters and a goalie
Nine forwards, five defenseman, and a goalie?! It’s no wonder that most people can’t remember the players selected by the Wild or Blue Jackets. They were either fourth-liners, bottom-pair defensemen, or minor leaguers. On top of that, the team were also competing with one another for these scraps. The secondary option in 2000 became the primary option for Vegas in 2017 minus a second goalie. This guaranteed that nearly every team would expose a top-nine forward, a top-four defenseman, and an experienced goalie.
Columbus: G – Frederic Chabot, Dwayne Roloson, Rick Tabaracci; D – Radim Bicanek, Jonas Junkka, Lyle Odelein, Jamie Pushor, Tommi Rajamaki, Bert Robertsson, Mathieu Schneider, Mattias Timander; F – Kevyn Adams, Kevin Dineen, Dallas Drake, Ted Drury, Bruce Gardiner, Steve Heinze, Robert Kron, Sergei Luchinkin, Barrie Moore, Geoff Sanderson, Turner Stevenson, Martin Streit, Dmitri Subbotin, Jeff Williams, Tyler Wright
Minnesota: G – Zac Bierk, Jamie McLennan, Chris Terreri, Mike Vernon; D – Artem Anisimov, Chris Armstrong, Ladislav Benysek, Ian Herbers, Filip Kuba, Curtis Leschyshyn, Sean O’Donnell, Oleg Orekhovsky; F – Michal Bros, Jeff Daw, Jim Dowd, Darby Hendrickson, Joe Juneau, Sergei Krivokrasov, Darryl Laplante, Steve McKenna, Jeff Nielsen, Stefan Nilsson, Jeff Odgers, Scott Pellerin, Stacy Roest, Cam Stewart
Vegas: G – Jean-Francois Berube, Marc-Andre Fleury, Calvin Pickard; D – Alexei Emelin, Deryk Engelland, Jason Garrison, Brayden McNabb, Jon Merrill, Marc Methot, Colin Miller, Griffin Reinhart, Luca Sbisa, David Schlemko, Nate Schmidt, Clayton Stoner, Trevor van Riemsdyk; F – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Connor Brickley, William Carrier, Cody Eakin, Erik Haula, William Karlsson, Brendan Leipsic, Oscar Lindberg, Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal, Tomas Nosek, David Perron, Teemu Pulkkinen, Chris Thorburn
Kinda one-sided isn’t it? Sean O’Donnell, Filip Kuba, and Darby Hendrickson were some of the best players available to Columbus and Minnesota, while the vast majority of Vegas’ roster was at the very least as accomplished as that trio when they were selected. No one taken in the 2000 Draft can even be remotely compared to established players in their prime like Neal, Perron, and Fleury, young scoring forwards like Marchessault and Karlsson, or up-and-coming defensemen like Schmidt and Miller. The Knights’ entire draft roster also had NHL experience or earned it in their first two seasons, while a number of Blue Jacket and Wild picks never even saw the light of day.or
Draftees To Play With Team
Columbus and Minnesota: 11 apiece
To make matters worse, some of the most well-known players selected by the Blue Jackets and Wild – Mathieu Schneider, Mike Vernon, Dallas Drake – never played a game for the franchise. This was by design, as the teams opted to take the select players specifically to allow them to walk as free agents and recoup the compensatory picks, but it sill added to the overwhelming lack of player value selected in 2000. In 2017, the Golden Knights managed to retain more than half of a 30-man roster that was far too large to ever retain completely. In fact, the only player who did not join Vegas in their inaugural season or was not traded away was goalie JF Berube.
First Playoff Appearance
So how did these drastically uneven expansion results play out? The Wild made their first playoff appearance in their third season with some holdovers from the draft and even made it to the Western Conference Final. However, they finished last in the Northwest Division in the two seasons prior and subsequent to this underdog run. The Blue Jackets did not make the playoffs for the first time until 2009, nearly a decade into their existence. By then, there was no trace of their bleak expansion draft roster. The franchise has just six playoff series appearances in their history, with their first win coming just last season. Vegas on the other hand turned the expansion trope on its head with an incredible run in 2018, fueled almost entirely by draft selections. The team then qualified for the playoffs again last season and are a top-four seed in the West in the upcoming expanded postseason.
First Stanley Cup Final Appearance
Columbus and Minnesota: None
The Golden Knights made it as far as any team can go without winning the Stanley Cup in their very first season. It was unheard of success for an expansion team in any sport and the structure and surrounding of the 2017 Expansion Draft played a major role. The Blue Jackets and Wild, limited for years by their own expansion restrictions, have never made the Stanley Cup Final and entering their twentieth season in 2020-21 don’t look particularly likely to do so next year either. These is a very strong likelihood that Vegas returns to the Final and possibly wins a Stanley Cup before Columbus or Minnesota and Seattle may very well share those same odds.
Twenty years later, the Blue Jackets and Wild are still struggling to establish themselves as top teams in the NHL and their struggles can be traced all the way back to the 2000 Expansion Draft. So while the anniversary can be celebrated for the formal additions of the franchises to the NHL – bringing pro hockey back to Minnesota and spreading the game to a market that has wholly embraced it in Columbus – it should also be remembered as the poorly-constructed entry device that limited these teams from the get go. The 2000 Expansion Draft will never be remembered for any individual players that were selected, but instead the complete lack of impact players selected and the factors that contributed to that result.
The return of hockey will soon seem like much more of a reality. The Athletic’s Michael Russo reports that NHL playoff teams can anticipate having their full rosters in town possibly by the end of the week. Russo writes that the European players for the Minnesota Wild are all expected to be back by Friday in order to meet the league’s mandated two-week quarantine period before Phase 3 training camps open on July 10. He adds that most European players are expected to do the same. While commercial flights from some European countries continue to be a struggle, players are also going the group charter route in order to get back to North America.
Among those making the trek from Europe is New York Rangers prospect Vitali Kravtsov, the team announced. The 20-year-old Kravtsov, a first-round pick in 2018, made the jump to North America for the first time to begin this season but was limited to the AHL and eventually returned to the KHL mid-season. In the team’s release, President John Davidson discusses Kravtsov’s early struggles and disappointment with not being used by the Rangers at the top level, but also raves about his ability and notes that the team could use talented depth for an uphill playoff run. The big, skilled Kravtsov will be given a chance to crack the postseason roster in training camp and just maybe will get the chance to play in the NHL that he had been seeking earlier this year.
- Over in the KHL, COVID-19 continues to complicate plans for 2020-21. League president Alexei Morozov announced that Admiral Vladivostok will not compete next season due to budget restraints and the possibility of limited income due to restricted attendance. Admiral struggled through a grim 2019-20 campaign that ended when they missed the playoffs for the third straight year. They may find it even harder to put together a winning team if and when they return to action after all of their players depart this off-season. Meanwhile, the other 23 teams have submitted their financial records to the league for approval and plan to play next season. However, Kunlun Red Star, the KHL’s lone Chinese team, may need to look elsewhere to open up the season. The Beijing-based club faces strict travel and public event restrictions as of right now that would prove problematic if still in place when the season begins this fall. One of the proposed locations for the team to host home games early on? None other than Vladivostok.
- There was some rare transaction movement in the AHL today, as the Manitoba Moose extended a pair of players. The Winnipeg Jets’ affiliate has re-signed forwards Brent Pederson and Cole Maier to one-year contracts for next season. Maier recorded 15 points in 59 games with the Moose, while Pederson – a former Carolina Hurricanes prospect – recorded nine points in 36 AHL games and spent some time in the ECHL as well. The San Jose Barracuda also made a move, as Steenn Pasichnuk follows his brother from Arizona State to the organization. The Sharks signed standout defenseman and Sun Devils captain Brinson Pasichnuk earlier this spring and have sweetened the pot by bringing his older brother along, a checking forward who will fight for bottom-six minutes with the Barracuda.
- People with diabetes are at a higher risk if they contract COVID-19 and accordingly, some have wondered if NHL players in that situation would opt out of playing. However, com’s Dan Rosen relays that Rangers winger Kaapo Kakko is expected to play in their play-in round series against Carolina while Sarah McLellan of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports the same for Wild winger Luke Kunin who is expected to suit up against Vancouver.
- In a podcast appearance with Michael Russo of The Athletic (audio link), Wild winger Marcus Foligno expressed a desire to work out an extension with Minnesota this offseason. The 28-year-old has spent the last three seasons with them after being acquired from Buffalo and set a new career high in points with 25 despite playing in just 59 games. He also surpassed the 180-hit mark for the seventh straight year. Foligno will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason and with the expected flattening of the salary cap, he may be hard-pressed to land a big raise on his current $2.85MM price tag.
The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is given out annually to the NHL player who exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. The award has been voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association since 1968, and today they announced their nominees for 2019.
Below are the nominees from each team:
Anaheim Ducks – Ryan Miller
Arizona Coyotes – Conor Garland
Boston Bruins – Kevan Miller
Buffalo Sabres – Curtis Lazar
Calgary Flames – Mark Giordano
Carolina Hurricanes – James Reimer
Chicago Blackhawks – Corey Crawford
Colorado Avalanche – Ryan Graves
Columbus Blue Jackets – Nathan Gerbe
Dallas Stars – Stephen Johns
Detroit Red Wings – Robby Fabbri
Edmonton Oilers – Connor McDavid
Florida Panthers – Noel Acciari
Los Angeles Kings – Jonathan Quick
Minnesota Wild – Alex Stalock
Montreal Canadiens – Shea Weber
Nashville Predators – Jarred Tinordi
New Jersey Devils – Travis Zajac
New York Islanders – Thomas Hickey
New York Rangers – Henrik Lundqvist
Ottawa Senators – Bobby Ryan
Philadelphia Flyers – Oskar Lindblom
Pittsburgh Penguins – Evgeni Malkin
San Jose Sharks – Joe Thornton
St. Louis Blues – Jay Bouwmeester
Toronto Maple Leafs – Zach Hyman
Vancouver Canucks – Jacob Markstrom
Vegas Golden Knights – Shea Theodore
Washington Capitals – Michal Kempny
Winnipeg Jets – Mark Letestu
Three finalists and the winner will be named at a later date.
While many NHL teams will be opening up their practice facilities to players as part of Phase 2 in small groups as soon as Monday, the Vancouver Canucks will not be doing that. Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre reports that with just three Canucks’ players in the area, each who has access to their own independent ice rinks, there is no reason to open up their training facilities, at least until Canada’s 14-day quarantine for foreigners is solved.
The three Canucks’ players, defensemen Alexander Edler, Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher all choose to stay in Vancouver during the shutdown along with injured forward Josh Leivo. More than half the roster reside outside of Canada. Of course, Phase 2 is voluntary and the Canucks cannot order their players back at this point, so most of their players aren’t necessarily eager to return to Canada yet.
- The Athletic’s Michael Russo (subscription required) writes that while the NHL has been insistent that unsigned players like Kirill Kaprizov will not be eligible for the upcoming tournament, the NHLPA is working on that issue since the league is technically changing a long-standing collective bargaining rule. That could be a big bonus for the Minnesota Wild if the NHLPA can reverse the NHL’s stance on that. The scribe writes that if the team feels Kaprizov could help immediately, he could push someone like Victor Rask or Ryan Donato out the lineup and make Minnesota’s squad even more interesting. “If we feel that (Kaprizov’s) ready to go then I don’t think it’ll be an issue whatsoever,” interim coach Dean Evason said. “It’s no different than a player popping in and out or sitting out or coming in and taking over for an injured guy. So no, we don’t feel that would be a problem at all and obviously (it’d) be very exciting for us in the organization if we can get him going right away.”
- Kevin Kurz of The Athletic (subscription required) writes that the team has a number of interesting free agents coming up this offseason, but perhaps the most interesting situation to watch will be that of forward Melker Karlsson, who is an unrestricted free agent and hasn’t always been a fan favorite of Sharks’ fans. While he has proven to be a solid fourth-line player and a quality penalty killer, many of his advanced metric statistics aren’t that impressive. However, after already losing a top penalty killer in Barclay Goodrow recently, losing a second player on a top-rated unit might not be the way to go, making it a very interesting scenario. The scribe writes that Karlsson’s agent said there was mutual interest in getting a deal done, but there have been no talks since play was suspended. His $2MM contact for the past three seasons might require him to accept a pay cut if he wants to stay.