The NHL Entry Draft is one of those annual “hope springs eternal” events. If the awards show bids farewell to a season gone by, the selection process for the latest prospect crop marks the league’s transition into next year.
Just like that, every club starts anew.
Just like that, the page is turned for all.
The Boston Bruins reign as Stanley Cup champions has just begun and yet, as of tonight, even they have work to do. 29 other teams are now gunning for what they have. And for some, reshaping their franchises to make a run at hockey’s iconic chalice will start with their first overall selection tonight.
Of course, it’s been said that there aren’t any immediate game-changers to be had among this crop – and certainly not beyond a half-dozen or so prospects atop most draft boards. But the draft itself has become such an integral aspect of building a championship-caliber team, even the late round selections will be a product of weeks and months of internal debate and study on the part of a team’s decision-making hierarchy.
For other clubs, the leap from 2010-11 to 2011-12 will be aided during draft weekend by trade. This year, with the Philadelphia Flyers kicking things off with a pair of earth-rattlers a day in advance, shipping key components Mike Richards and Jeff Carter out of town in separate deals yesterday, the expectation is that trade activity in St. Paul could be high. As teams gear up for free agency next week, some will look to get a jump on crazy season by filling holes and altering their salary scales with a deal or two and there is a wealth of big-name talent reportedly on the trade market already.
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Every year around this time, in writing this very piece, I usually begin with something along the lines of, “I swore I’d never make playoff predictions again.” For starters, everybody does it and I usually try my best to steer clear of being just like the rest of ‘em. But more than that, my repeated attempts to avoid postseason prognostication stem from my overwhelming lack of accuracy in years past. (The postseason underachievers of the world have drawn my ire time and again. San Jose, you still top my poop list for that reason.)
But worse than my failure to pick a set of winners that resembles anything close to accuracy is my perennial failure to avoid picking altogether.
Something always draws me in.
And now, I realize, I’m powerless to fight it. I’ll make my picks here today, do so again round after round and I’ll do it again next year (and the year after that, and so on and so forth). Might as well be honest with myself…
This year, the allure is in the series that will remain my primary focus, Tampa Bay vs. Pittsburgh. I have to admit, it’s still a bit surreal to see the hometown Bolts actually in the Stanley Cup playoffs. After the last two seasons of uncertainty, four seasons overall since their last playoff game and even despite the regular season success they managed early and often this year, the fact that exit medicals and getaway interviews haven’t already been conducted is still a bit of a walk through bizzarro-world for me. Better get over that, I suppose… The Lightning certainly aren’t thinking that way.
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My latest collection of thoughts and opinion on recent events in the hockey world (tied together, of course, by less-than-nothing). In short, a little of this, a little of that and maybe even some of the other…
Three-Pointers Risk Diminished Integrity of the Standings
As the NHL GMs meet this week in Boca Raton, much of their agenda will focus on player safety – and rightfully so. Headshots, blindside hits and concussions will dominate their discussions.
But something not on the agenda this week that has been eating at the integrity of the standings in each conference since the lockout is the existence of the “loser point” in the all-too common three-point game – and, frankly, it’s beyond time to reconsider the way team standings are configured once again.
I won’t go railroading against the shootout again today. There seems no point in that anymore anyway, as it is here to stay, the way I understand things. The more valid argument instead is far simpler: The return of two points – and only two – on the line for each and every regular season game. The way things are now, which essentially rewards mediocrity and runs the risk of skewing the standings in such a way that deserving teams might be penalized through no fault of their own, is unacceptable.
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[NOTE: This was originally about to be posted, quite literally, just as news broke of the Lightning dealing Dan Ellis to Anaheim in exchange for fellow goaltender Curtis McElhinney. Mike Smith has since been placed on re-entry waivers. We’ll know as of noon tomorrow whether he’s cleared and will rejoin the Bolts or he’s been claimed by another club.
One thing is certain, as you’ll see in the piece, Smith spoke in reminiscences of Tampa and gave no indication that he was expecting to be recalled. This, as of 5:00 PM, yesterday. Interesting.
All that being said, here’s the piece in its original state, with no editing upon today’s transaction news:]
For Mike Smith, this wasn’t how his tenure with the Tampa Bay Lightning was supposed to turn out.
Brought in from Dallas on February 26th, 2008 in the deal that sent away 2004 Conn Smythe winner and fan favorite, Brad Richards, Smith was supposed to be Tampa Bay’s goaltender of the present and future.
And, for a time, it appeared he was well on his way.
But amid coaching changes, ownership issues and unfortunate injuries at the most inopportune times, Mike Smith was never completely able to fulfill what was once considered his Lightning destiny.
Were it not for bad luck, his time in Tampa seems to have been marked by not having any luck at all.
“I’m not gonna lie to you,” Smith said by phone on Wednesday. “It does seem like that a little bit.”