Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel: 2015 NHL Entry Draft Sweepstakes
Let's take a look at the Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel draft sweepstakes—or who are the five teams most likely to be the worst at the end of the 2014-15 NHL season.
Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid are the two most highly touted hockey prospects since Sidney Crosby (2005) and Alex Ovechkin (2004), per Mike Morreale of NHL.com. They are due to be drafted first and second in the 2015 NHL entry draft.
NHL teams, meanwhile, have just finished the 2014 entry draft. Most of the high-end free agents were signed in the last week. NHL teams are beginning to get an idea of what their rosters are going to look like for the 2014-15 season.
This is a look at which teams seem likely to finish last in next year's NHL standings. Baldly put, this is a prediction of the teams most likely to finish in the last five spots in next year's regular season, thus giving them the best chance for the first- or second-overall pick in the draft lottery.
Five Worst Teams Last Year
Last year the bottom five teams in the NHL were the Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and the New York Islanders. That resulted in a draft where Florida picked first followed by the Sabres, Edmonton, Calgary and the Islanders. The lottery did not really shake things up much.
The New York Islanders were a playoff team in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. A healthy John Tavares back in the lineup, the addition of secondary scoring with Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin and the signing of Jaroslav Halak to stabilize the team in net make them look like a playoff contender again.
Edmonton, Buffalo and Florida have all spent significant amounts of money on free agents. Buffalo and Florida had to do it just to reach the cap floor of $51 million. Not all of those teams will have managed to spend their way out of the NHL basement.
The Edmonton Oilers—and I know it sounds like a broken record (has anyone out there actually ever heard a broken record?)—with all their young talent, should not finish last in the West again.
The Oilers had Devan Dubnyk and Ilya Bryzgalov in net for the majority of last season. The consensus is that the combination of Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth will be much better. It does remain to be seen how these goaltenders perform with the Oiler defensive team in front of them.
The Oilers over the last few years have attempted to boost their defensive team play. This year they added two large mobile defensemen in Nikita Nikitin and Mark Fayne. They have also added a couple of mobile 6'3" forwards in Benoit Pouliot and Ted Purcell. They certainly have a size in mind when they are picking players.
The Oilers also want strong skaters. Playoff success in Los Angeles has led a lot of teams to add players who have a profile similar to Jeff Carter. To be clear, neither Ted Purcell nor Benoit Pouliot is Jeff Carter. They have yet to be offensively successful on a consistent basis at the NHL level. Pouliot in particular can be a huge defensive liability. It will be interesting to see how this model works in Edmonton.
The improvement in goaltending alone should be enough to lift the Oilers from the bottom five of the NHL standings. I can't see them making it to the playoffs in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, but they should no longer be among the worst teams in the NHL. If their young offensive stars catch fire together, who knows what could happen?
The Florida Panthers will have the services of Roberto Luongo, a credible veteran NHL goalie, for an entire year. They have added Dave Bolland, Jussi Jokinen, Shawn Thornton, Willie Mitchell, Al Montoya and Derek MacKenzie. That should more than compensate for the loss of Kris Versteeg, Ed Jovanovski, Scott Gomez and Dan Ellis.
The Panthers will re-sign restricted free agent Erik Gudbranson. They need to get Dmitry Kulikov under contract.
They have a pile of prospects they can draw on, including the newly drafted Aaron Ekblad, plus Rocco Grimaldi, Drew Shore, Quinton Howden, John McFarland and Vincent Trocheck. Some combination of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad can be expected to jumpstart the offense.
I think Florida will be just a bit too good to finish 26th or worse in 2015.
That leaves Buffalo to join Calgary as the only two teams from last year's bottom five in this season's bottom five.
26. New Jersey Devils
Three of the New Jersey Devils' five leading scorers from last season are now 36 years of age or older. Their lineup as currently constituted also features 35-plus players Dainius Zubrus and Bryce Salvador. They have added the 32-year-old Mike Cammalleri. Michael Ryder is 34 and Martin Havlat is 33. Ryane Clowe and Andy Greene are both 31. If Martin Brodeur is re-signed to be the backup, he will be the second-oldest player on the team behind only the venerable Jaromir Jagr.
I am a huge fan of Jaromir Jagr, Marek Zidlicky and Patrik Elias, but at what point do you have to stop expecting them to carry the load? Only six of the players currently signed on their major league roster—Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, Jacob Josefson, Adam Larsson and Jon Merrill—were actual New Jersey draft picks.
They have put together a collection of mercenary retreads and rejects who I'm afraid will perform poorly. Next season's version of the New Jersey Devils will suffer from huge injury problems.
The good news is New Jersey needs the high draft pick and the new blood. Hopefully the Devils haven't added enough quality veterans to finish ninth in the Eastern Conference.
27. Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres were an offensive disaster last year. Their 1.83 goals per game was the worst average in the NHL. They scored almost half a goal per game less than the next-worse team, the Florida Panthers.
Team scoring was led by two then-23-year-olds, Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis, who had 44 and 43 points respectively.
The Sabres bought out Christian Ehrhoff, their most productive offensive defenseman from last year. They also bought out the disappointing Ville Leino, who had 15 assists in 58 games.
They managed to lure Matt Moulson back for 2014-15. They made a good trade to add solid veteran defensive defenseman Josh Gorges to the mix. They also picked up a solid veteran defenseman via free agency in Andrej Meszaros. They overpaid for a half-point-per-game, 35-year-old winger in Brian Gionta.
Still, this lineup that was led by two youngsters and is looking for their young talent like 24-year-old Tyler Myers, 20-year-old Zemgus Girgensons and 20-year-old Mikhail Grigorenko to develop will not be hurt by having quality veterans like Gionta and Gorges join them.
Last season Buffalo had 40 games of Ryan Miller and his .923 save percentage to lean on. Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth are unlikely to be better than that.
Buffalo has improved just by adding some mentors for its young talent. The key for Ted Nolan and the team is to let those players develop their skills at the NHL level. The passing of a few years and the addition of a top-five draft pick this year could see Buffalo evolve into a very exciting hockey team.
It is just not going to happen next year.
28. Nashville Predators
The Nashville Predators do have a couple of golden pieces in their lineup with Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne. Unfortunately, after them the team seems to be a collection of retreads and youngsters not quite ready for the roles that have been thrust upon them.
Mike Fisher just ruptured his Achilles tendon working out for the 2014-15 season. He is expected to miss four-to-six months with this injury. More disturbing is the fact that this leaves 35-year-old Olli Jokinen (82 GP, 18 G, 25 A) as the team's first-line center. The last team Jokinen was the first-line center on was the 2011-12 Calgary Flames. They finished 17th overall. I expect this team to finish much, much worse.
James Neal could help a little in Nashville. Colin Wilson will get an opportunity to bloom this year.
They do have some good young players in the queue, but really their greatest prospect depth seems to be in goal with Carter Hutton (28 years old), Magnus Hellberg (23) and Marek Mazanec (22). Nashville has been very adept at drafting and developing quality NHL goalies. Perhaps this goaltending depth can be traded for some offensive skill.
Look for Filip Forsberg, Seth Jones and Ryan Ellis to generate some offense in Nashville because I am not sure where else it will come from.
29. Ottawa Senators
Despite some rather adamant disclaimers to the contrary, the Ottawa Senators seem to be laying the groundwork to finish last in the East next year. The Senators have lost two captains in two years and have barely spent their way off the cap floor.
David Legwand has been picked out of the Detroit Red Wings' discard bin to insulate another reclamation project, Kyle Turris, from having to be the Senators' first-line center. Both of these players seem to do better in the two slot.
Legwand is 33 years old and has played in the league for 15 years. He once, back in 2006-07, scored more than 20 goals in a season. Kyle Turris is 24 and managed to score 26 goals last year. Maybe he will be the Senators' first-line center. It is a lot to ask.
Erik Karlsson is the best offensive defenseman in the league, and he just might be the league's best defenseman overall. Bobby Ryan is a quality winger. Alex Chiasson should make the team. Ottawa will go as far next year as Robin Lehner and Craig Anderson can carry them. Mika Zibanejad may just have a breakout season because I am not sure who else is going to score in Ottawa.
Signing Milan Michalek (82 G, 17 G, 22 A) is not a sign that the Senators have turned some sort of corner.
30. Calgary Flames
The Flames' leading goal scorer from last year, Mike Cammalleri, has moved on to New Jersey. Young prospects the team has been counting on to carry the load, like Mikael Backlund and Sven Baertschi, have yet to develop into quality NHL offensive players.
Sean Monahan had a very good rookie season, but they are asking for a lot from the 19-year-old if they want him to lead the team in scoring this year.
The Flames have invested in Jonas Hiller to solidify their goaltending, which was a problem area last year. Hiller, unfortunately, has been inconsistent since he suffered a concussion back in 2011.
The Flames feature a one-two punch at center of Jiri Hudler and Matt Stajan. That combination is striking fear in no one's heart. The addition of free-agent defenseman Deryk Engelland likewise does not seem to actually improve the Flames defense.
The Flames have been bad enough long enough to deserve this chance to draft Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. They would probably be ill-served by too great an attempt to improve the team for next season.