This past NHL draft was viewed as a weaker crop of talent in comparison to previous years. This is precisely why teams were not hesitant to offer up first round picks in their attempted wheeling and dealings at the trade deadline. The 2015 draft is an entirely different story as the Erie Otters center Connor McDavid is the most highly touted prospect since Sidney Crosby. The 17 year old's game has improved leaps and bounds from the 2012-13 season, specifically in regards to his play in his own end as he went from a -24 to an incredible (and almost unbelievable) +47. The 2015 draft also includes Boston University's Jack Eichel, another center that surely would go first overall in most drafts.
This is not to say that the draft as a whole is star studded. We all remember the 2003 draft, which was like a gold mine. Whether you picked 5th or 15th, it didn't really matter because you were still going to end up with a star in the making. This draft revolves firmly around McDavid and Eichel as adding either of them to a roster in a years time can make an immediate impact.
This scenario certainly makes for an interesting end to this season. Teams that are firmly out of a playoff spot will start to think of the draft and how they can ensure better positioning in the lottery. As sports fans like to say, they’ll find ways to “tank.” Of course, no team is ever going to openly say that they’re going out there to purposely lose, but there’s ways to manipulate the system. Let’s take Carolina example (come on, that wasn’t a spoiler, you all knew Carolina was going to be on the list), if they see that they can improve their positioning in the draft by dropping the last game or 2, Eric Staal may just come down with a case of the sniffles.
Without further ado, here are the top 10 teams that will be in the Connor McDavid Sweepstakes.
10 Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks are stuck in limbo. They're in this precarious position where they're clearly not good enough to be a contender, but not quite bad enough to "blow it up" and start from scratch. Ultimately, they will need to do a complete overhaul but for the time being, management seems to be content with being in denial.
The sad reality is that Mike Gillis set this franchise back a few years with his butchering of the Schneider, Luongo ordeal. The team is also aging and Alex Burrows seems to have lost his touch. With the addition of Radim Vrbata, their first line is still potent. But as it stands, Chris Higgins, Nick Bonino and Zack Kassian are penciled in for the second line, which wouldn't even be a viable third line on most playoff teams.
9 Toronto Maple Leafs
In sports, they say: “if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards.” Not only is Toronto not moving forward, they’ve hit reverse and they’re flooring it.
The Leafs woes go beyond their annual collapse at the end of the season (2-12 down the stretch). Trading Carl Gunnarsson for Roman Polak, and adding Stephane Robidas on the back end may help to a degree, but other than that, it’s been a an unproductive off season. They’ve replaced Mason Raymond and Dave Bolland with 2 marginal players from the past in Leo Komarov and Matt Frattin, and also signed David Booth who was absolutely dreadful for the Canucks last season. Among his lowlights was being called “a weird dude” by John Tortorella.
There was such renewed hope among Leaf Nation when Brenden Shanahan came on board. But all he’s done so far is give the existing coach a contract extension and offer Dave Nonis a vote of confidence. A stamp of approval is not what the Leafs fans were looking for as none of the problems have really been rectified…except for maybe the broken toaster.
8 Winnipeg Jets
If you break down their lineup, they really don't seem like that bad of a team, which is why management more or less decided to stay the course during the off season. For whatever reason they just can't seem to get it together, with the exception of their #1 line of Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little.
There's a lot of "what ifs" going into this season for the Jets. Players to keep an eye on are Mark Scheifele, Evander Kane and Dustin Byfuglien. Scheifele oozes with talent and this season is a potential breakout season for the youngster. Kane is another case of a player with talent but his commitment level is often questioned. If the self proclaimed "natural" gets it all together, he will undoubtedly be a premiere forward in the league. As for Byfuglien, he's a proven winner and does his best work in front of the net. He had a minor setback when he was inexplicably put back on defence, but he appears to have regained his form.
There are some signs of hope for this team but if these "ifs" don't come to fruition, it's going to be a long year. They will also need better goaltending from Ondrej Pavelec who was simply not good enough last season.
7 Ottawa Senators
The Canadian teams are not doing so well in this one. The Senators roster is looking pretty depleted. They caught the league sleeping 2 seasons ago but since then, they lost their longest serving captain in franchise history in a better dispute over money. Jason Spezza then took over the reigns and he chose to walk too (and probably giggle), leaving holes in the Sens lineup that haven’t really been filled. Their projected first line of Bobby Ryan, Clarke MacArthur and Kyle Turris is solid, but the rest of their forward lineup lacks depth.
The one bright spot with the Sens is their defense. They are extremely solid from #1 and #2, with Eric Karlsson and Marc Methot, all the way to #6 and #7, with Patrick Wiercioch and Eric Gryba. In goal, Craig Anderson has also proven that when he’s on his game, he’s practically unbeatable. The issue with him is consistency, as when he’s bad the flood gates tend to open.
6 New York Islanders
The jury is still out on the Islanders, as many “experts” feel that GM Garth Snow has done a decent job filling in the voids that the Isles had at the forward position. But the players they’ve added are kind of castoffs from other teams. They’ve added Nikolai Kulemin, where even the Leafs had enough of him. They also added Cory Conacher who burned his bridges in Ottawa and Buffalo (two teams that are inept). Another addition is career underachiever, Jack Skille. The only credible addition up front is the always “delightful” (yet productive) Michail Grabovski.
But there has to be some good that Snow did, right?! Yes, Signing Jaroslav Halak will certainly give them some stability in goal. The money was right for Jaro, but it’s going to be a long season, I hope he likes rubber.
5 Edmonton Oilers
Oilers fans are starting to lose their patience, and rightfully so. People wonder how it’s possible to only see very marginal improvements in their overall results after obtaining 3 first overall draft picks in a row. It’s fairly simple, as management has refused to address the teams needs on defence. The NHL has evolved into a grinding, tight checking and defensively systematic game, and you just cannot be successful with a weak defensive core regardless of how much talent you have up front.
The Oilers brass is finally starting to take a hint as they’ve added some help on D. Mark Fayne and Nikita Nikitin will certainly offer some stability. They’re also starting the season with Ben Scrivens as their starting goaltender, which is a huge upgrade from Devan Dubnyk.
These are small improvements that will help, but they are still far away from competing for a playoff spot in the mighty Western Conference. Bold prediction: if they sputter out of the gate, one of their young forwards will be moved (not Taylor Hall) to bring in a stud defenseman.
4 Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes are a team that doesn’t garner much interest. People are probably bypassing this and jumping to #3 on the list, but I digress. One has to wonder how much longer Eric Staal will be willing to stick around with this slumping franchise, and also what has happened to Cam Ward? Once considered a top goaltender in the league, his numbers have consistently dipped with each passing year. He’s been plagued by injuries and hasn’t played much hockey but the fact of the matter is that his save percentage was ranked 47th out of 51 goalies in the NHL.
Adding Jay Mcclement will add some depth down the middle but other than that, it’s status quo for the Canes. Deeply appreciate those who are still reading. Onwards!
3 Florida Panthers
GM Dale Talon is notorious for making free agent acquisitions during the off season rather than going the trade route. This year was no exception as he signed Dave Bolland to a 5 year contract worth $27.5 million. This has been dubbed the worst off season move by many hockey experts because it’s unsure whether or not he’ll regain his form that he had during his tenure in Chicago. They also added Jussi Jokinen, who provided some decent offence for the Penguins last year, but how well will he do without Evgeni Malkin and James Neal on his line? They’re going to have to bank on Jonathan Huberdeau regaining form because goals are going to be hard to come by as it is.
On paper, their defense and goaltending is not bad at all. Willie Mitchell is a solid addition and stabilizes their blue line even more. If Luongo can keep them in most games, there’s a chance this writer will eat some humble pie. But you know what they say about ifs…
2 Calgary Flames
The Flames are a team that officially hit “rebuild” button as of last year. Management kept trying to put band aids on their issues and look for temporary solutions. The problem was that these band aids didn’t solve anything because the Flames would just end up narrowly missing the playoffs every year. They were too weak for the post season, but not weak enough to make an impact in the draft, the absolute worst place to be.
Respectfully speaking, they are still a brutal team for the time being (too harsh?). But they do have smart minds in place, and blowing it up was the right thing to do because they have pieces on the team that are slowly moving them in the right direction. The Flames will surely finish in the bottom 5 of the league this year but they do have a budding star in Sean Monahan as their top forward. Could you imagine if they snag Connor McDavid?
1 Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres have a very similar situation to the Flames. They’re going to be hearing the names of Conor McDavid and Jack Eichel quite a bit this year, but by the same token, they’re moving in the right direction as almost all their moves this off season have been for the better.
First and foremost, getting rid of John Scott will instantly give the team more credibility. He is the definition of a goon that contributes nothing on the ice (see Mike Milbury’s rant on Scott for a good chuckle). They’ve also dispelled the poor signings of former GM Darcy Regehr, by buying out Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff. Those two signings (that Pierre Mcguire claimed would turn Buffalo into a contender) hurt the team dearly and probably cost Regehr his job. They’ve also added some leadership in Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges, both who have proven to be solid voices in the locker room and dependable players. Last but not least, signing Ted Nolan to an extension will prove to be a wise move. Nolan is a huge upgrade from Ron Rolston, who basically let Patrick Kaleta and John Scott run around like lunatics while producing dreadful results. Nolan provides some class to this well established franchise.