2014 NHL Draft Results: Biggest Winners and Losers of Round 1
We already know the winners of the NHL draft so far: every team that chose a hockey player Friday night.
There has never been a bad pick on opening night of the draft. Every team was shocked—shocked—that their guy was still around at their pick. Every guy is a darkhorse, hidden gem, a sleeper that will surprise the hockey world.
A few years from now, some of those same general managers who mouthed those exclamatory words will be muttering under their breath about what a mistake they made, probably from a bar stool over a couple of cold ones.
But the draft has evolved into more over time. In today's Twitter world, it has become the equivalent of baseball's winter hot stove meetings, the place where trade talk happens. And it's often more than just talk. We had some deals this week in Philadelphia. We had some deals that didn't happen. We'll still have more of both before everybody gets on a plane and hunkers down for the really Big Enchilada of Twitter Buzz in the NHL, the first day of free agency (Tuesday).
It's not too soon, therefore, to dole out some judgments on what has transpired. Click on the following eight slides to find out who won and who lost in the draft happenings so far.
Winner: Bob Murray, Anaheim Ducks
The reigning general manager of the year in the NHL, Murray, got a great head start on the next season Friday by finally prying Ryan Kesler out of Vancouver in exchange for third-line center Nick Bonino, defenseman Luca Sbisa and the 24th pick in this year's first round.
Former Montreal GM Sam Pollock once said that whoever gets the best player in a trade wins that trade. Murray got the best player in Kesler, the 29-year-old two-way center. Yeah, Kesler has been dinged up some in recent years, but he did play 77 games for Vancouver this past season and scored 25 goals.
Sportsnet columnist Mark Spector panned the trade from an Anaheim perspective, with a blistering column on Kesler that questioned his character:
Here’s the deal: Kesler wasn’t well liked by many of his teammates, and Anaheim GM Bob Murray’s intelligence would have taught him that. We’re willing to say that on the record, even though NHL players do not go on the record with confirmation of something like that.
The guy is prickly, and by my contacts within the Canucks organization, that attitude went well beyond his dealings with media and stretched to team employees, few of whom will be sad to see this transaction finally get made.
But I don't care about whether guys toast "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" in the dressing room to Kesler or not. I care about results on the ice, and Kesler is still a top two-way player with playoff pedigree, just the kind of player Anaheim needed.
Bonino and Sbisa are nice complementary players, but Kesler is a marquee talent who just made Anaheim a lot better.
Loser: Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs committed the worst sin of all in Toronto: They made no buzz.
The rumor-loving fans of Hogtown are clamoring for a big deal of some kind, but GM Dave Nonis and new president Brendan Shanahan didn't give them one in Philly. They did tab William Nylander from Sweden with their first-round pick, and he could prove to be a good one, just like his dad, Michael.
But this is what Leafs fans read in a Friday article by the Toronto Sun's Rob Longley:
League sources say Nonis has been busy trying to pry the No. 1 overall pick from Florida — and the Toronto GM acknowledged talking with Panthers GM Dale Tallon as recently as earlier in the day.
If that's what Nonis really tried to do, then he failed. More from the same Longley story, with Nonis talking about how the Leafs can get better:
“It’s important that we’re more committed and we play differently,” Nonis said on Thursday, when asked if he felt it is vital to have a radically different look to the team that whimpered its way out of the playoff picture last spring. “You don’t want to change just to say we have a different lineup because you actually go backwards in terms of personnel.
“We’re looking at change, we’re looking at doing things a little bit differently. We’re looking for some of the players that were with us last year to improve. That will be the biggest thing we point to as we go through camp.”
Did anybody understand that? I didn't.
Winner: Pittsburgh Penguins
I threw Jim Rutherford under the bus when he was first hired, and he didn't win the public relations battle with Penguins fans by publicly missing out on his reported first choice of a new coach, Willie Desjardins, who ended up going to Vancouver.
But the former longtime GM of the Hurricanes pulled off a fine trade Friday night in getting rid of the overpaid, streaky winger James Neal for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.
Hornqvist is a four-time 20-plus goal scorer—and he did that on defense-first teams—while Spaling is a a really nice third-line-type of forward who scored 13 goals and 32 points with the Preds last year. He's only 25, too, and Hornqvist is 27.
Neal is only 26 himself and a proven goal scorer. It's not like the Predators got totally shafted on this deal. But Neal is a me-first type of guy who wore out his welcome in Pittsburgh, and you can't help but wonder how excited he is in going from playing with Sidney Crosby to...whomever is playing on the top six now in Nashville.
Loser: Philadelphia Flyers
When the NHL announced its salary cap number for the 2014-15 season—$69 million—a shudder immediately went up the backs of Flyer fans.
According to Capgeek.com, the Flyers entered Saturday already over the cap for the coming season, by nearly $237,000. Already, therefore, rumors are flying of them trying to rid themselves of stupid signings such as the one they made with Vincent Lecavalier a couple years ago.
One problem though: Lecavalier is due a $2 million bonus on July 1, as reported by TSN's Darren Dreger, so a trade before then is not going to happen. What team would make a deal for a guy that needs to be paid a dumb bonus agreement on his onerous contract?
Hey, I love the kind of guy Flyers owner Ed Snyder is. He's loyal, above all else. But there is no questioning his loyalty has cost him at times. Nowhere is that better exemplified by his stubborn support of former GM Paul Holmgren all those years and bad signings ago.
Ron Hextall will try to put things back on the championship course now, but with bloated contracts like Lecavalier still on the books, that won't be easy.
Winner: Florida Panthers
The Panthers did the smart thing Friday night and held on to the first pick, and the smarter thing in taking Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad.
The worst thing the Panthers could have done was deal the pick for some kind of flashy name in a short-term fix situation. Ekblad, a tremendous talent with grade-A character, is the kind of player who will help the Panthers get to the promised ice eventually.
GM Dale Tallon told TSN that he was close to dealing the pick to one team that had a pick between 10-20, but he held off. Again, it was the smart move.
Loser: Chicago Blackhawks
It was no secret that GM Stan Bowman wanted Ryan Kesler badly. Kesler wanted to go to either Anaheim or Chicago. But Bowman didn't get his man. Former Blackhawks player Bob Murray got him instead.
The Hawks are parting ways with center Michal Handzus, so a hole remains at the second-line center spot. Maybe Andrew Shaw will adequately fill the hole, but once you get beyond Jonathan Toews now, you aren't overwhelmed by Chicago's strength in the pivot.
When you make it known you're in it to win it with a sweepstakes on a player via trade, and you don't get him, it's a tremendous letdown to the fans. The Blackhawks are still a tremendous team, but they would have been better with Kesler.
Friday night, word went up that the Blackhawks and Sharks had a trade to announce. Would Joe Thornton be going to the Windy City to fill that center spot??? Uh, no.
Winner: Edmonton Oilers
Neon Leon (apparently, he doesn't like that potential nickname, but I'm using it anyway) I believe will be the best of the top three picks.
He's big, creative and very, very talented. Just what the Oilers needed was another top-talent forward, right? What about defense, right?
But Draisaitl will, in my mind, become the best of the current group of Oilers forwards—and yes, that includes all the other lottery picks still on the roster.
Longtime ace reporter Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal said this was the reason why the Oilers would do best with a guy like Draisaitl over, say, a D-man:
They need a centre more than a defenceman because they plan on moving Sam Gagner to the wing if he’s not traded, and they need somebody the size of Anze Kopitar more than Saku Koivu.
Matheson is right. The league is getting bigger again. Big guys who can skate are what everybody wants today. The Oilers got a guy who can do both very well.
Loser: San Jose Sharks
Nobody can really figure out what is going on in San Jose right now. GM Doug Wilson has promised change, but what exactly? He has vaguely talked of a rebuild, but old warhorses Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and coach Todd McLellan remain.
The Sharks went off the board somewhat to pick Russian left wing Nikolay Goldobin in the first round Friday night, which immediately made everyone in Silicon Valley say "Who??"
Is Thornton really on the trade block or no? Is Marleau on the block? Are they going another year with McLellan behind the bench, who has proven he can win regular-season games, but not postseason ones?
Meanwhile, Wilson bought out veteran Martin Havlat Friday. Buyouts are embarrassing to GMs, and Wilson should feel that way with this guy. Paying a guy to go away is a very public admittance of failure.
The Arizona Coyotes did the same thing Friday with Mike Ribeiro. The Disaster in the Desert franchise could have been in this slot as one of the draft-day losers, but it's no fun kicking a dog when it's down.