DALLAS – The forecast calls for fireworks.
All the conditions are present for a dramatic first round of the NHL Draft Friday night. There’s a tremendous amount of trade chatter involving impact players and an unpredictable Top 10 after top prospects Rasmus Dahlin and Andrei Svechnikov that could see teams pinballing around once the picks start to fall.
The Canadian teams will be in the thick of the action. Montreal picks third, Ottawa goes fourth and Vancouver owns the seventh selection. Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli is openly shopping the 10th pick with hopes of addressing some short-term needs immediately.
“I’d be OK with our blue line as it is now, but we would look to move the pick if the right player – an NHL defenceman – is available,” said Chiarelli. “I’ve had discussions with some teams.”
History tells us that the talk only leads to so much action. But the mere possibility we could see the Senators trade captain Erik Karlsson and the Canadiens deal away captain Max Pacioretty gives you an idea of where the level of discussion is at.
The draft weekend is trade deadline light in a league where making moves has become increasingly difficult because of cap considerations. Opportunity exists here. Teams have just been told they have more money to spend with the cap being set at $79.5 million next season and there tends to be more roster flexibility in these days before the NHL’s calendar flips over on July 1.
Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has left open the possibility of trading down from the No. 3 spot, but it would have to take a tremendous offer to get him to move off a pick that high. He is known to be taking calls on Pacioretty with the 29-year-old winger set to enter the final season of his contract and coming off an unusually unproductive campaign. We’ve reached a point where it would be surprising if he wasn’t traded before the end of the summer.
There’s room to be bold in Montreal with the organization having fallen on hard times. These are a crucial couple days where the Canadiens can try and take a small step forward.
“What I’d like to do is make the team better right away,” said Bergevin. “I will, if that’s there, but also [keeping] in mind that I have to look at the long term for the good of the Montreal Canadiens regardless if I’m here or not. That’s my responsibility as the general manager, to make the team better now but always to look at long term. And that will not stop.”
In Ottawa, Pierre Dorion is just trying to stop the bleeding. It’s been a calamitous stretch for the Senators for reasons both within and beyond his control.
Impossible as it may seem now, this was an organization that played Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final less than 13 months ago. It has since embarked on something resembling a rebuild – without labelling it that – by trading away Kyle Turris, Derick Brassard, Mike Hoffman, Dion Phaneuf and a handful of others from that team.
Karlsson could be next if he’s unwilling to agree to an extension one year out from unrestricted free agency. There’s no guarantee it’ll happen on the draft floor at American Airlines Center, but the possibility can’t be ruled out entirely.
Even if it’s not him, the Senators are believed to be willing to move other veteran players such as Zack Smith.
“We aren’t going to talk about specific players,” Dorion told reporters on Thursday. “We’re not going to discuss any specific details or strategies. We don’t want to tip our hands to any teams to what our plans are moving forward.”
While the draft represents the future with young prospects realizing their dream of joining an NHL organization, it is also about the present. Two teams worth keeping a close eye on during the first round are the New York Rangers and New York Islanders because each owns multiple selections.
The Islanders could dangle one of their picks as part of a package to land goaltender Philipp Grubauer in a trade with Washington. The push is on for Lou Lamoriello to improve his roster in hopes of signing John Tavares ahead of free agency.
The Rangers, meanwhile, have more quality picks than anyone after conducting a sell-off before the trade deadline. They’ve taken a lot of calls from teams interested in hearing what they plan to do with them all.
“We have three first-round picks, two seconds, two thirds. A lot of opportunity to make our team better for the future and build pieces that we need,” said Rangers GM Jeff Gorton. “It’s a vital time for us.”
They’re far from alone. That’s what makes a weekend like this so intriguing.