Once the ping pong balls had stopped bouncing and Saturday’s draft-lottery announcement was complete, we knew two things: 1) That the hockey gods hate the Colorado Avalanche, and 2) The order for this year’s top 15 picks. The bottom half of the draft is still sorting itself out in the playoffs, but the top half is locked in.
Well, at least for now.
While the order is set in stone, the picks themselves could still change hands via trade. This year’s first round has been unusually stable as far as deals go. Only two picks have changed hands, with the Blues getting Washington’s pick in the Kevin Shattenkirk deal and the Coyotes getting Minnesota’s for Martin Hanzal. (A third pick is still up in the air, as the Stars could still get Anaheim’s first from the Patrick Eaves trade.)
But so far, all the lottery teams are holding onto their own picks. And recent history suggests it might stay that way; a pick in the top half of the first round hasn’t been traded in advance of draft weekend since the Senators sent their first to Anaheim in the Bobby Ryan deal back in 2013. In a league where young, cost-controlled players are gold and most GMs don’t like to trade, holding onto your picks is the easy answer.
That said, “easy” isn’t necessarily fun, and we like to have some fun around here. In what’s expected to be a weaker draft, maybe this is the year that we can talk some GMs into shopping their picks. So today, let’s see if we can make a case for each of the lottery teams to trade its first-round pick. This will get tougher as we get closer to the first-overall pick, so we’ll start out easy and work our way up to it.
Pick No. 15: New York Islanders
The case for a trade: The Islanders just endured a disappointing season, following up their first playoff series win in 23 years by missing the playoffs and firing their coach. But they only missed the wild card by one point, so it’s not like they’re a candidate for a full-on reset.
Maybe more importantly, this is a team that has some serious incentive to win now. They’re looking for a new arena deal, and those can be easier to come by when you’ve got some positive momentum to build on. There’s also the John Tavares situation; the Islanders’ franchise player is eligible to sign an extension on July 1, and he may not be interested in spending what’s left of his prime treading water for a middle-of-the-pack team.
Add it all up, and mix in some new ownership that’s going to want to see some progress, and waiting around two or three years for another prospect to be ready is going to be a hard sell for Garth Snow.
Does it hold up?: It’s a pretty solid case. It’s not like Snow is going to be able to land a superstar for a mid-round pick in a weak draft, but using the 15th choice as an asset in a deal would make a lot of sense.
Pick No. 14: Tampa Bay Lightning
The case for a trade: We all figured they were Stanley Cup contenders, and maybe they still are. But after a season where just about everything went wrong, their window seems a lot smaller than most of us thought. Trading their top pick for immediate help would make a lot of sense, especially since anyone they draft from this spot isn’t likely to be a difference-maker any time soon.
Does it hold up?: On the surface, sure. But the problem in Tampa is the salary cap, where Steve Yzerman barely has enough room to handle all the guys on his current roster. Adding another veteran would be tricky, so while the Lightning’s focus should be on right now, Yzerman may not have any choice but to bank this pick for down the line.
Pick No. 13: Winnipeg Jets
The case for a trade: This year’s Jets season played out just like all the others since the team’s return — lots of young talent and plenty of potential, but, ultimately, zero playoff wins. Kevin Cheveldayoff has been preaching patience for years now, but at some point you need to start winning.
Fans in Winnipeg are among the most loyal in the league, but they’ve been looking one or two years down the road for six seasons now. The team needs to take a step forward someday. If not now, when?
Does it hold up?: You’d think so. Dangling the team’s top pick – maybe for goaltending help — seems like a reasonable play. But no team in the league has been more reluctant to make big trades than Cheveldayoff and the Jets, so let’s file this one under “unlikely.”
Pick No. 12: Carolina Hurricanes
The case for a trade: The Hurricanes haven’t made the playoffs since 2009, which now stands as the longest drought in the league. They’ve spent most of that time patiently building a solid foundation, and they seem to have addressed their goaltending issues with last week’s trade of Scott Darling. But they could still use some help up front, and have been linked with some of the bigger names in the rumour mill. A first-round pick could certainly help them land one.
Does it hold up?: The Hurricanes should absolutely be in on names like Matt Duchene, and if so, their first would be a valuable card to play. Carolina is also one of the few teams in the league that has a surplus of good young defencemen, so it’s possible they could land a front-line player without moving a pick.
Still, it’s becoming clear that Hurricanes will be a team to watch this summer, and moving their first could be part of that.
Pick No. 11: Los Angeles Kings
The case for a trade: After a disastrous season that cost the coach and GM their jobs, the Kings find themselves at a crossroads. Their window is closing, and the core that won them two Stanley Cups will need some help to win another. The future looks messy, but this team could still win right now and flags fly forever.
Does it hold up?: Not especially. As a new GM, Rob Blake will have a chance to think long term, and the Kings could use that approach. But maybe there’s another angle to this: If Blake does end up trading picks, it might make sense for it to be in deals to offload bad contracts, not bring in more veteran talent.
Pick No. 10: Florida Panthers
The case for a trade: They were supposed to be an up-and-coming contender. But after a weird off-season of front-office shuffling and mixed messages, they stumbled through quite possibly the league’s most disappointing season. The Panthers haven’t won a playoff round in 21 years, fans are frustrated, and the hockey world is openly questioning whether the organization knows what its doing. Patience isn’t really a virtue right now.
Does it hold up?: A little. But there’s a fine line between working with a sense of urgency and making a panic move. Dale Tallon doesn’t have a history of trading away his first-round picks, and the Panthers may figure they can already get back to the playoffs just on the strength of their young players getting better and staying healthy. Still, if any team could use a palette-cleansing blockbuster, it’s the Panthers.
Pick No. 9: Detroit Red Wings
The case for a trade: After missing the playoffs for the first time in a generation, the Red Wings look like a team that needs at least a partial rebuild. But the timing is awkward; with a brand-new arena opening and players like Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall coming to the end of the line, it could be tempting for Ken Holland to take one more swing at contending with this group.
Does it hold up?: Not really, no. Detroit fans are smart enough to realize what this team needs, and their first top-10 pick since 1991 (!) will be a big part of it.
Pick No. 8: Buffalo Sabres
The case for a trade: The rebuild isn’t unfolding the way they planned, and after another season finishing well out of the playoff race, patience is wearing thin. That’s already had an impact, costing Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma their jobs. But after watching the Oilers and Maple Leafs blow by them on the road to contending, are Sabres fans really interested in adding another piece for down the line?
Does it hold up?: That depends on who gets the GM job, and how much pressure owner Terry Pegula puts on them to get this turned around quickly. As in Los Angeles, new GMs typically get some time to put a plan in place. But the Sabres may not be your typical situation, and dangling this pick for some blue-line help could make a lot of sense.
Pick No. 7: Arizona Coyotes
The case for a trade: Like the Sabres, Hurricanes and Jets, the Coyotes are yet another team that’s been stockpiling young talent without making the sort of progress you’d expect. That’s kind of a theme around the NHL these days, and no team serves as a better example than Arizona. Their prospect pipeline ranks as one of the very best in the league, but they just finished missing the playoffs by 24 points. With an extra first-round pick later in the round, why not move this one for somebody — anybody — who can help them win a few games next year?
Does it hold up?: In theory, although it would seem to go against the organization’s philosophy. John Chayka doesn’t have enough of a track record to say for sure what kind of approach he’ll prefer, and he’s pulled out some creative moves over the last year. But remember, this is the organization whose owner was preemptively ruling out draft blockbusters last year before he even hired a GM, so we’ll keep our expectations low.
Pick No. 6: Vegas Golden Knights
The case for a trade: Hey, if you’re a new team looking to make a splash in a new market, you might as well go big right out of the gate, right?
Does it hold up?: No. The Golden Knights are going to be bad for at least their first few years, and that’s fine. They’ll get a honeymoon period while they build up the organization. Trading their first-ever draft pick, unless it’s for more or better picks, wouldn’t make any sense.
Pick No. 5: Vancouver Canucks
The case for a trade: Sure, they were bad this year and everyone is calling for a full-scale rebuild. But remember, the Sedins only have a few years left, and they haven’t won a Stanley Cup yet. It wouldn’t be fair to them to start over now.
Does it hold up?: Good lord, no. But Canucks’ president Trevor Linden seemed to make that argument earlier in the season, pushing back on the idea of a Toronto-style rebuild. Luckily for Vancouver fans, the organization seems to have come around to accepting reality since then, including making some strong moves at the trade deadline. That should continue here. Trading down to stockpile picks could make sense, but moving their first for immediate help would make even less sense in Vancouver than it would in Vegas.
Pick No. 4: Colorado Avalanche
The case for a trade: At first, it’s a tough one to make. The Avalanche are terrible, maybe the worst team of the cap era. Of course they need to start over, and that means loading up on picks and prospects.
The problem is that the Avalanche have already been down that road. They picked in the top three in three of five drafts between 2009 and 2013, and this would be their fifth top-10 pick in eight years. Tearing it all down in Colorado might not even qualify as a rebuild, since that word implies that you have to have built something first. Your fans suffered through years of losing to get the young core they have now – don’t you owe it to them to try and win now rather than start all over yet again?
Does it hold up?: Not all that well. All those high picks and missed opportunities hurt, but they’re sunk costs. There’s going to be some short-term pain in Colorado, with Joe Sakic under a ton of pressure this summer to get a deal for Duchene and/or Gabriel Landeskog done. Adding a decent prospect in the draft will help smooth some of that.
Pick No. 3: Dallas Stars
The case for a trade: This team was the Western Conference’s top seed just a year ago. Tyler Seguin is entering his prime, and Jamie Benn could be on the verge of leaving his. As disappointing as this season was, the window is still open for this group. They need a goalie and some help on the blue line. Well, the lottery gods just handed over some serious ammo to go shopping with.
Does it hold up?: Of all the teams in the top five, the Stars have the best case for dealing the pick. Unlike most of the other teams they’re slumming with at the top of the draft, they’re good enough to win right now, and getting better before training camp should be a priority. Maybe they don’t have to move this pick to do it, and the possibility of getting Anaheim’s pick could complicate things. But Jim Nill has already played his coach card, so all options should be on the table.
Pick No. 2: Philadelphia Flyers
The case for a trade: After a decade or so of chasing win-now quick fixes, the Flyers have been patiently rebuilding under Ron Hextall for three years now, amassing a decent cache of prospects and young players. They even made the playoffs last year, and seemed on track to do it again this season before slumping through the second half.
Still, there comes a time to shift gears and move forward. No team has ever been as good as the Flyers and then picked this high (without having traded for the pick). Maybe that’s a sign that it’s time for Hextall to start burning some boats.
Does it hold up?: It’s not completely crazy, even though it doesn’t seem like Hextall’s style. While the Flyers were good last year, they don’t seem as close to contending as a team like Dallas. They could have as many as 12 picks in this draft to deal with, but holding onto the second-overall choice seems wise. Still, Hextall is already on the record as being willing to consider it, so keep an eye on this one.
Pick No. 1: New Jersey Devils
The case for a trade: The Devils are yet another one of those teams in danger of getting stuck in perpetual rebuild mode. The clock is ticking on Schneider’s prime years, and with the possibility of an Ilya Kovalchuk trade looming, there’s a chance here to radically remake the roster over the course of a single off-season.
Does it hold up?: Not really. The Devils should keep the pick. There’s really no good reason for them to move it.
(Well, other than that you still have Taylor Hall, so even if you trade this lottery-winning pick you know you’ll get another one next year.)