The NHL Draft started with a flurry of trade action, some surprising picks, and a long second day that wasn't quite as busy on the player movement front.
Friday and Saturday set the stage for what should be a busy week ahead, especially with so many rumoured deals still hanging -- including the biggest in Jack Eichel -- and free agency looming on Wednesday.
Here are some of our winners and losers from a wild draft weekend.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Knowing they had to trade another star -- this time Seth Jones, one year from free agency -- the the Columbus Blue Jackets were in a tough situation with a potentially gloomy outcome. A rebuild, retool, whatever you want to call it, was incoming, but how to start off on the right foot?
Columbus ended up trading Jones to Chicago for puck-moving 20-year-old blueliner Adam Boqvist, a 2021 second-rounder and a 2022 first-rounder. The two teams also swapped 2021 first-rounders, so the Blue Jackets moved up 20 slots to 12th overall. They took Cole Sillinger with the selection, a hard-nosed centre with goal scoring upside and NHL bloodlines.
From Columbus' perspective, it's a huge win for the rebuild. Boqvist has two NHL seasons under his belt and a lot of promise -- and how good will the Hawks be next season? The 2022 pick Chicago gave up is top-three protected, but Columbus could end up with another mid-round selection there potentially.
Columbus then flipped that Chicago second-rounder to Carolina for another intriguing young puck-moving defenceman in Jake Bean. Buried under a strong blue line depth chart, Bean has had trouble getting more meaningful NHL minutes and could finally get them now with the Blue Jackets.
So the rebuilding of the Blue Jackets got off to a good start, but it was another reminder of how many talented players have moved out of this market. Promise is on the horizon again with these moves, but at some point they'll need to be able to keep their own top end talent.
That's why the initial reaction to Columbus' third trade was one of shock. Cam Atkinson, drafted in 2008 by the team and signed to a seven-year extension in 2017, was dealt to Philadelphia for Jakub Voracek -- a player they drafted seventh overall in 2007 and traded away four years later. This is a trade to help he Jackets in the here and now, though.
Atkinson is a goal scorer, two seasons removed from a 41-goal campaign, while Voracek a playmaker who perhaps will be a great complement to Patrik Laine. The cap commitment to Voracek is a substantial $8.25 million for another three seasons, but he makes them a better team in the top-six forwards.
The Hughes Family
Luke Hughes, the six-foot-two defenceman and younger brother to Quinn and Jack, was the second blueliner off the board and will join Jack in New Jersey. As excited as Luke was for the huge moment in his career, his brother/teammate looked more amped.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) July 24, 2021
It was an historic night for the family and the league. With Quinn being chosen seventh overall in 2018, Jack going first overall in 2019 and now Luke fourth overall in 2021, they are the first trio of siblings to be picked within the top 10.
In fact, it was a great draft weekend for brothers in general. With Seth Jones going to Chicago, he joins his brother, Caleb, who was traded there from Edmonton a week-and-a-half ago. Colton Dach was drafted 62nd overall by the Blackhawks and will join his brother, Kirby (third overall in 2019). And Taylor Makar was drafted 220th overall by Colorado, so he'll join his brother, Cale (who signed a market-setting extension this weekend), in the Avalanche organization.
It was an unusual draft for sure, with so many players being scouted sparingly, or not in-person for a very long time. A few years from now we're bound to look back in wonderment at how some talented players fell down the order. The Winnipeg Jets may be a team that benefitted.
Chaz Lucius was their first pick at 18th overall, but he's a player our own Sam Cosentino had going 12th overall in his mock draft. When Lucius played this season, he was a goal per game player for the USNTDP, but he didn't start his until February following off-season knee surgery. He missed all the major international events, which may have ultimately hurt his ranking, but he brings a lot of offensive upside.
In Round 2 at 50th overall the Jets nabbed Nikita Chibrikov, a surprising faller who Cosentino had 27th overall. A playmaker and Russia's captain at the U18s, Chibrokov may be the top Russian talent in the 2021 class. Winnipeg only had four picks overall in this draft and came out of it with two first-round talents anyway.
Nikita Chibrikov. Made Russia national team at 17, which still feels surreal to him. "Didn't believe it when I got the call"
He's 5-10. Loves Barcelona bc he adores Lionel Messi. "I like his story. People say it should be hard to play bc of his size, but he still became a star"
— Emily Kaplan (@emilymkaplan) July 24, 2021
A Friday blockbuster brought the Vancouver Canucks overpaid defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and underrated top-six forward Conor Garland from Arizona, in exchange for a whack of bad -- but expiring -- contracts. As Iain MacIntyre pointed out, the deal boils down to short term gain for a team that wants to push forward and ensure a playoff berth, at the high risk of long-term salary cap pain.
But as troubling as Ekman-Larsson could become with a $7.26 million cap hit for another six seasons as he heads into his 30s, the Canucks were facing a critical situation on their blue line this off-season. With Alex Edler and Travis Hamonic set to test free agency, and Nate Schmidt possibly on the way out via trade, the defence was thinning out quickly. In the immediate future, Ekman-Larsson gives the Canucks some security if Edler does in fact leave. He may not play up to his cap hit, but OEL can still play top-four minutes and help out a PP.
Garland is the true gem in the deal, though. An RFA this summer, Garland scored 39 points in 49 games this past season and effectively fills the role left vacant when Tyler Toffoli signed in Montreal.
The Canucks are winners over the weekend because they come out of it a better team than they went in. How tomorrow's cap problems are dealt with will be a problem for a later date.
With Sergei Bobrovsky signed long-term at $10 million and 20-year-old Spencer Knight breaking into the NHL at the end of this season, the Florida Panthers are secure at the NHL level in net. That made 2020 seventh-rounder Devon Levi moveable in a deal, so sending him along with next year's first-round pick was a very manageable price for the Panthers to pay Buffalo for Sam Reinhart.
Florida is going all-in for a playoff push after taking the Lightning to six games in Round 1 of these playoffs. Reinhart adds another layer to Florida's top-six forwards and can play at centre or, more likely, on the wing for them. He's an RFA right now and will need to be signed, but Reinhart instantly makes an already-dangerous offence that much scarier -- Reinhart was Buffalo's best and most consistent player in their miserable year, scoring 25 goals and 40 points in 54 games.
Contending teams will give up a first-round pick for less impactful players, and certainly rentals, at the deadline. Florida got out ahead of that with their buying mentality and picked up a player they presumably will have for some term.
Between Aaron Ekblad, Sam Bennett and Reinhart, Florida has three of the top four picks from the 2014 draft on their roster now. GM Bill Zito may not be done adding yet either, and is linked to UFA defenceman Ryan Suter in rumours.
Anyone who wanted finality to Jack Eichel trade rumours
He's the biggest fish of the off-season and we can't wait to see what the return will be for Jack Eichel.
But on a weekend that saw GM Kevyn Adams trade Reinhart to Florida and Rasmus Ristolainen to Philadelphia, Eichel remains unmoved. He's skating again, so that's a promising sign, but the asking price in trade reportedly remains sky high. As it should be. Eichel is one of the top talents in the game when healthy.
Whether or not Adams can get what he wants is the million dollar question. A number of teams have been in on Eichel, from Minnesota and Calgary and Anaheim, to the Rangers and Canadiens, two teams that were popping up again this weekend.
On the one hand, not moving Eichel this weekend means we have at least one more blockbuster we can probably look forward to, likely in the coming days.
But what if the Sabres don't get an offer they're comfortable moving their franchise cornerstone for?
"We've never looked at any sort of timeline or pressure point that we have to do something on any player," Adams said Saturday. "He is a player on our team, and a very good one, and that's how I look at it. I would have no problem at all if Jack Eichel is on our team when we start training camp."
What can be said? The choice of Logan Mailloux in the first-round is disheartening, troubling, enraging. Charged and fined for distributing a sexual photo without consent while playing in Sweden this season, Mailloux renounced himself from this draft, saying he had not "demonstrated strong enough maturity or character to earn that privilege."
In a story by Katie Strang and Corey Pronman of The Athletic, the victim in this case said she only wanted a heartfelt apology that had not yet come.
“I do not think that Logan has understood the seriousness of his behaviour,” the woman emailed The Athletic.
And now Mailloux is a first-round NHL Draft pick, the team justifying the decision by calling him "the best pick" from the hockey side of things. The only side that should have mattered was the victim's, and so not picking the player for at least a year was the smallest gesture that could have been made to actually show that this type of behaviour is not accepted in the NHL, or hockey in general.
Neither he nor the Montreal Canadiens had outlined a plan for what he'll do or how he'll show he learned from this, but now it'll be a topic through his development in the organization. It was a terrible way for the first round to end. Hockey needs to be better.
With a rebuild on the fly the past couple of seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks have slowly been adding young talent and doing their best to open up some cap space. The trading of Duncan Keith earlier this month moved one ageing, overpriced contract off the books and that followed Brent Seabrook's unofficial retirement which will permanently move his $6.875 million into LTI.
But in one big trade this weekend, the Hawks took on a brand new risky contract.
Now, Seth Jones is a good defenceman, perhaps undervalued by some analytical takeaways. But he's not been a Norris hopeful for a few years, and is not one of the top blueliners in the game. He'll get paid like one though.
Jones has one more year remaining on his contract and the reason he didn't end up in Philadelphia was because he wasn't ready to sign an extension with them. With Chicago, Jones will sign an eight-year extension with a whopping $9.5 million cap hit that makes him the third-highest paid defenceman in the league, behind Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson. His pending unrestricted free agency bumped up that value, but still, having that rate followed by the news Colorado's Cale Makar inked a six-year extension with a $9 million cap hit (buying one UFA season) shows that it will be next to impossible for Jones to live up to his paycheck.
Beginning in 2022-23, the Hawks will be paying $30.5 million to Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Jones. They're not even out of their rebuild yet, but don't have a first round pick next year either. It got messy for the Hawks again and as they return to a tough Central Division, the path back to the playoffs is not so clean.