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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Three Southeast tilts on tap for this evening, all with playoff implications. The Thrashers and Hurricanes, each still aiming for a post-season berth, square off against each other in Raleigh, while the Capitals and Lightning, fresh off head-to-head battle of their own on Monday night that culminated in a 2-1 shootout win and a two-point lead in the division for Washington, each host Western Conference opponents this evening in Edmonton and Chicago, respectively.
Thrashers at Hurricanes
Atlanta bested Florida in overtime on Saturday but had dropped seven of eight and 16 of 19 overall prior to that, leaving them seven points behind the playoff cut line, presently, with 16 games to go. With Carolina a point behind eighth place Buffalo, tonight’s game is crucial for any late-season playoff rally for the Thrashers.
The Blackhawks dropped the Hurricanes in Chicago on Friday in a 5-2 final, putting an end to Carolina’s mini two-game win streak and paving the way for the Sabres to take advantage of some games in hand and overtake the ‘Canes in race for the East’s final playoff spot. Carolina and Buffalo still meet twice more down the stretch but the Hurricanes would be doing themselves a huge service in shutting down any Atlanta push from behind before it really starts.
With this game and another remaining to close out the season series, Carolina is 4-0-0 against Atlanta this season, with just one of those victories coming in regulation.
Filed in: Atlanta Thrashers, Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink