12 NHL Draft Takeaways: Trades, rumours and surprise picks

Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas says his team’s draft performance satisfied Mike Babcock, then discusses juggling the re-signing of Marner, Matthews, and Nylander with free agency.

Trade rumours, early free agent agreements, surprise picks, and some creative dealing. The 2018 NHL Draft gave us more than enough to chew on over the weekend before John Tavares dominates headlines this week.

Here are 12 things we took away from a wild weekend of hot hockey news action.

1. Tavares will take five kiss-the-ring meetings.
Posting up in Los Angeles for a few days early this week with agent Pat Brisson, John Tavares has consented to five in-person meetings with hopeful teams looking to pry him away from the New York Islanders with money and opportunity, lifestyle and tax breaks.

Not only are Lou Lamoriello’s Islanders not out of the running yet — one report has them tabling an eight-year, $88-million offer — they’re still the consensus favourite.

Nonetheless, the Sharks, Stars, Maple Leafs and two of the Blackhawks, Lightning, Bruins and Golden Knights will be pitching with all their might to upgrade at centre.

This will be the story this week. Expect the other UFA and trade dominoes to fall after The Decision.

2. Capitals flex championship-level creativity to keep the best UFA defenceman in D.C.
Washington’s Brian MacLellan followed arguably his most cringe-worthy moment as general manager — cheaping out on a raise for the franchise’s only Cup-winning head coach, Barry Trotz, only to watch him get properly paid by a division rival — with his most inspired.

We knew Carlson would get paid, and we knew both sides preferred the Capitals to do the paying.

In order to free up the necessary cap space to ink his No. 1 defenceman to an eight-year, $64-million deal — a.k.a. Brent Burns money — MacLellan traded away the expensive Brooks Orpik (a sturdy blue line presence but a cap killer) and Philipp Grubauer (a promising RFA backup goalie he wouldn’t be able to keep happy anyway) to Colorado and scooped the Avalanche’s second-round pick in the process.

Colorado quickly signed Grubauer, 26, to a three-year, $10-million deal, meaning the crease is his to take from Semyon Varlamov in 2019-20 if not sooner.

That the Avs bought out Orpik, makes him an affordable free agent. The Caps could give raises to Michal Kempny and Tom Wilson, and still bring back Orpik at a reduced rate. Brilliant.

Advance word that Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the Coyotes had agreed to an extension that’ll pay the Swede $8.25 million per season surely helped raise Carlson’s ask.

3. Kovalchuk makes the Kings older, better
When you’re already paying five core members aged 30-plus $5.25 million or more each for the next three seasons minimum, you might as well double down on old talent.

The Los Angeles Kings were the NHL’s top defensive squad in 2017-18, but the fact they couldn’t buy a goal in the playoffs, and run particularly dry on the left side, explains why they’ve been linked in rumours to Evander Kane, Max Pacioretty and every other left-winger who can fire a puck with some oomph.

After playing roulette a handful of teams, Russian gun-for-hire Ilya Kovalchuk signed the Patrick Marleau deal with Los Angeles (three years at $6.25 million per), joining the exact team that snuffed out the former Devil’s Cup dream in the 2012 final.

The KHL’s leading scorer and 2018 Olympic MVP can still fire it. With Anze Kopitar setting him up, 30 goals seems like a reasonable request, even for a 35-year-old who hasn’t played in the NHL in five years.

It better be. No team has less projected cap space for 2018-19 than the Kings.

4. Flames-Hurricanes blockbuster divides the critics
The hockey world split in two Saturday debating the merits of the five-piece trade that sent offensive defenceman Dougie Hamilton, power forward Micheal Ferland and college prospect Adam Fox to Carolina in exchange for a pair of young RFAs, Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin, who were shipped out of town once their extension negotiations stalled.

Hamilton is the best player in the deal, but the fact a cap-friendly 25-year-old right-shot D has already been traded twice is curious. While we’d like more concrete evidence as to why Hamilton isn’t a great fit, Flames coach Bill Peters can obviously vouch for the new Flames.

Hanifin, 21, and Lindholm, 23, are young enough that either could eclipse Hamilton as the best player in the deal, and both rooms needed a shake-up.

I like that Calgary’s Brad Treliving isn’t pinning 2017-18’s failures entirely on fired coach Glen Gulutzan, that change is hitting a roster that wilted down the stretch.

Fun fact: Hanifin had to step out of a screening of Jurassic World to take his you-got-traded call.

5. Hockey: The other global game!
A record six countries were represented in the draft’s first six picks, and when all seven rounds were complete, players from 14 different countries were selected, including Canadians born in Jamaica and Thailand.

The Coyotes made history in Round 7 when they chose Liam Kirk 189th overall. The 18-year-old left wing became the first player born and trained in England to be selected in the NHL Draft and just the second from Great Britain (Scotsman Tony Hand was picked in 1986).

“I don’t have any words for it. I’m just very excited and really emotional. It’s been a long day, but I’ve been waiting for it,” Kirk told NHL.com.

“We’ve been watching on a live stream as every pick is made, and I was getting a little more nervous every time. Then finally, I got the message saying it’s happened, and my phone has been blowing up nonstop.”

6. Premium on defence doesn’t prevent the best ones from slipping
As GMs continue to favour defencemen and centres at the expense of goalies and wingers, a record 14 blueliners were drafted in the first round this year, starting with Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin.

Interestingly, half of those first-round D stand at under six-feet tall. While both is preferable, speed is trumping size.

Due to Montreal (Jesperi Kotkaniemi) and Arizona (Barrett Hayton) drafting centres over the consensus best player available, teams like Vancouver (Quinn Hughes) and Edmonton (Evan Bouchard) were thrilled to score playmaking offensive D-men farther down the ladder.

The Oilers were considering trading the 10th-overall pick until they sensed Bouchard (87 points in 67 OHL games) would still be on the board.

7. Zadina vows to make Ottawa, Montreal regret passing him by
No team was more surprised by its good fortune, however, than Detroit at No. 6.

Ken Holland was fully prepared to select a defenceman but switched to the best player available when sniper Filip Zadina got passed over.

“Everybody was probably expecting that I’m going to be in Montreal. But it’s a draft, so it can happen,” Zadina told reporters. “I was projected third and I’m going six.”

Zadina, who models his game after Nikita Kucherov, was asked if he’d have extra motivation facing off against the Canadiens or Senators.

“Yeah, I’m telling my agent if they will pass on me, I will fill their net with the puck. Yeah, it’s just I want to prove [to] them that they have done, like, bad decision. But I’m so glad that I am in Detroit right now, so I just want to prove to Detroit that they have got a pretty good decision.”

8. Can the Canadiens patch their relationship with their captain?
Another major NHL deadline, another rampant round of Max Pacioretty trade rumours, and nothing to show for it.

Multiple reports suggested both the Sharks and Kings were in talks to land Montreal’s captain via trade. All that talk fell through.

Amidst the chatter, Pacioretty changed agents, from Pat Brisson to Allan Walsh. The drama continues.

9. Dubas will trade down all day
Kyle Dubas will have difficulty denying he’s a trade-down guy next spring. The newly appointed Maple Leafs GM swapped his first-round pick (25) to St. Louis for picks 29 and 76 (third round), then flashed a smirk like he was pleased with his handiwork:

Dubas still got his man, reaching back to his roots to draft two-way defenceman Rasmus Sandin out of Sault Ste. Marie. The book says, the more picks, the better. Prospects are like lottery tickets.

Friday, everything turned up Rasmus: Sandin was the third Rasmus selected in the first round.

10. Islanders’ draft haul another good sign for Tavares
So many positive things have happened to the Islanders since they stopped playing hockey.

The Stanley Cup–winning GM-coach combo of Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz should usher in a culture change for the better. Matt Barzal won the Calder Trophy in a laugher. Eight more Nassau Coliseum home dates appeared on the 2018-19 schedule, bringing the total to 20.

And then New York scooped two top-10 prospects outside of the top 10: American sniper Oliver Wahlstrom (at 11) and Memorial Cup stud Noah Dobson (at 12), a right-shot defenceman whom many believe to be only second to Dahlin in the whole draft class.

Now, about that goaltending….

11. Goalie market gains new faces.
Ottawa’s No. 1 goalie Craig Anderson has requested a trade out of town, but at 37, buyers will have many younger, cheaper options to pick from.

By signing Grubauer over the weekend, Colorado is expected to let Jonathan Bernier hit the open market after his excellent bounce-back campaign.

RFAs Robin Lehner (Buffalo) and Petr Mrazek (Philadelphia) won’t be issued qualifying offers and thus become intriguing UFAs, joining a group that includes Cam Ward, Carter Hutton, Kari Lehtonen and Anton Khudobin.

The carousel should start spinning this week as Carolina and Chicago will join Lamoriello in the hunt for help in net.

12. They’re saying “Boo-ettman
Although the Dallas draft featured some welcome guests — notably Jamie Benn and Mike Modano announcing the local club’s picks — Gary Bettman was doused, per custom, in jeers when he stepped to the podium.

Unfortunately, the booing was awfully timed. The commissioner was about to give the E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence to Humboldt Broncos president Kevin Garinger.

He pleaded with his haters: “We have some important business to do in regard to Humboldt. Let’s do that and then you can boo me all night.”

Think before you boo, kids.

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