There is arguably no team that had a better weekend than the Buffalo Sabres. Yes, drafting Jack Eichel with the number two pick was a foregone conclusion, but pulling off the trade for Ryan O’Reilly gives them one of the most formidable group of top six forwards in the NHL for the future. O’Reilly may be overpriced, but his durability to play down-the-middle or on the wing gives the Sabres significant flexibility at the center position. Along with Eichel, O’Reilly, and Zemus Girgensons, they also have highly-touted prospect Sam Reinhart, who was the second overall pick in last year’s draft. At this juncture, it’s difficult to jump on the bandwagon with pundits who are suddenly proclaiming Buffalo as a contender in the Eastern Conference. In spite of acquiring Robin Lehner from Ottawa on draft day, they still have significant question marks in net and on defense. This is a team that not only had the NHL’s worst record last season, but also owned the second worst goals allowed average. Buffalo took significant steps to becoming competitive, but make no mistake, the Sabres are still at least another 2-3 years away from being a serious contender.
The Ottawa Senators’ General Manager was a real wheeler and dealer during draft weekeknd. Before the draft started, Ottawa received great news that they tied down promising young forwards Mark Stone and Mika Zibanejad, who combined for 110 points last season, to new contracts. Murray was also able to relieve the Senator’s goalie glut by trading Robin Lehner to Buffalo and got David Legwand’s contract off the books in the same deal, which saw them receive the Sabres 21st pick in the first round. Trading Eric Gryba to Edmonton also cleared up roster space on the defensive side and now allows Jared Cowen to have increased playing time. It wasn’t a particularly flashy weekend for the Senators, but smart and safe.
Los Angeles Kings
In a weekend that saw the Bruins gut their roster, the Kings were one of the teams that capitalized by adding physical forward Milan Lucic. There was also talk of the Kings being in for Toronto’s Phil Kessel, but with LA’s size and physical style of play, Lucic should experience a seamless transition into head coach Darryl Sutter’s lineup. Lucic’s acquisition will soften the blow of losing the 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, Justin Williams. After trading backup goalie Martin Jones to Boston in the Lucic deal, the Kings will have to search for another backup via trade or free agency. The Kings will also need to add a top four defenseman due to Slava Voynov’s indefinite suspension by the league.
The Flames are another team to benefit from Boston dismantling their roster. On Friday, they acquired Dougie Hamilton, who many believe is not far off from becoming a bona fide no. 1 defenseman in the league. While Calgary did have to exchange the 15th, 45th, and 52 picks for Hamilton, the trade does very little to damage the Flames’ long-term ambitions. They’re among the youngest teams in the league, and according to Hockey’s Future, Calgary has the 11th best group of prospects. The team that was arguably the biggest playoff surprise in the NHL definitely improved themselves over the weekend with Mark Giordano, Hamilton, Kris Russell, and Dennis Wideman forming one of the league’s better blue lines. Between having one of the top ten defenses in the league and their young group of stud forwards, this team will be a force in the Pacific Division in the foreseeable future.
The Ducks continue to be in “win-now” mode, and many of their draft weekend moves demonstrated that. Bob Murray pulled off a stroke of genius by acquiring Anton Khudobin from Carolina and dumping James Wisniewski’s salary. Khudobin put up respectable numbers playing in Carolina with subpar defense in front of him, so one would only expect his numbers to improve playing on a better squad. With Frederik Andersen and John Gibson already on the roster, Anaheim will have to move one of them in the near future, but because Gibson is on a two-way contract, it will not be an immediate issue. With Andersen’s struggles late in the playoffs, it would not be a shock to see Andersen eventually traded. The Ducks also made a nice trade by acquiring the speedy Carl Hagelin from the New York Rangers, who will be a nice fit either alongside Ryan Kesler or on the third line, in exchange for Emerson Etem. With Etem’s diminished role in the Western Conference Finals, it became increasingly apparent that Bruce Boudreau lost faith in Etem’s abilities. Overall, it was a solid weekend for the Ducks, and their next order of business should be signing Kesler, who has one year left, to a new contract.
The Bruins were undoubtedly the team that stole the headlines for the wrong reasons over the weekend in South Florida. They became the first team in NHL Entry Draft history to possess three consecutive first round picks, all of which took place in the middle of the round, but what was more significant is what they gave up. Just before the draft, they gave up Carl Soderberg, Milan Lucic, and Dougie Hamilton. In return, they received no immediate help, except for backup goalie Martin Jones from the Kings. Yes, they had a mediocre season this year, but this was a squad that was only a couple of seasons removed from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance. Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference, Jaromir Jagr, Anton Khudobin, Milan Lucic, Daniel Paille, Tyler Seguin, Carl Soderberg, and Shawn Thornton were all meaningful players on the 2013 Cup finalists and now play for other teams. On some level, getting rid of Lucic made sense. The Bruins and Lucic could not find common ground on term for a new contract, and Lucic’s production has steadily dropped since his 30-goal season in 2011. With physical players like Lucic having a shorter prime than most NHL players, it could end up being a shrewd move in the long-term for Boston. Trading Dougie Hamilton, however was a little more mystifying. After losing Johnny Boychuk last summer and with Chara nearing retirement, Hamilton was the obvious choice to step into the no. 1 role on defense. They may have reinforced their prospect pool, but as of right now, they are a playoff bubble team heading into next season.
It’s hard to imagine how much pressure this 18 year-old kid is under right now. As if being compared to the likes of Gretzky and Sidney Crosby wasn’t enough, he’s now expected to almost singlehandedly lift the Edmonton Oilers, where fan expectations are through the roof, out of the muck in the Western Conference. Very few would argue that Peter Chiarelli is a great GM, and that Edmonton has an already great group of young forwards, but this team is a looooong way from being competitive. Like Buffalo, the Oilers have serious improving to do on the defensive side. They were the worst statistical defense in the league last season and acquiring Cam Talbot in net can only help. But, improving what has been a disaster for the last eight years is not going to happen overnight. Even “the generational talents” of McDavid and Eichel are going to need time to adapt to the speed and physicality of the NHL.
Toronto Maple Leafs
It’s not that the Leafs had a particularly bad weekend, in terms of drafting players. The Leafs’ weekend was more about the moves they did not make. Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, and Dion Phaneuf are all still on the roster. One would have to think the manner in which the Leafs tanked at the end of the season would’ve resulted in a firesale on all of those names. With new head coach Mike Babcock trying to make his imprint on the franchise, this would have been a great time to start the rebuilding process. With the draft complete, many of those names are going to be harder to move without the presence of draft picks as sweetners. With the depth of talent in this year’s draft, it would have been the perfect time to move their older core players in favor of high-round draft picks. It now looks like Bozak and Phaneuf could be wearing the Leafs’ jersey to start next season, which looked improbable only months ago. With interest around the league for Kessel, it seems a near certainty that he’ll belong to another team to start next season, but if the Leafs do move him, the return will likely be less than what they could’ve gotten this weekend.
GM Ron Francis had to be surprised when Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin fell to the no. 5 pick. Although Hanifin won’t contribute at the NHL level in the near future, he will be an exciting player to watch in the coming years. That’s pretty much where the good news ends for the Canes when analyzing their draft weekend. They traded away Anton Khudobin, who has demonstrated an ability to be a no. 1 goalie despite playing with one of the league’s worst blue lines. Yes, they shed over $1.1 million by trading him for Eddie Lack, but based on Lack’s performance in the playoffs against Calgary, can he really be considered an upgrade over Khudobin? The money that Carolina will save by acquiring Lack is ultimately negated by their befuddling trade for defenseman James Wisniewski, who carries a $5.5 million cap-hit. This is not a good addition on Carolina’s part, especially considering this team already carries two defensive liabilities on the blue line in John-Michael Liles and Ron Hainsey. Additionally, Francis failed to unload the burden of Alexander Semin’s contract.
In what was the most nonsensical pick of the first round, the Capitals picked Russian goalie Ilya Samsonov. It’s hard to fathom why Washington selected a goalie with so few draft picks. Braden Holtby, who’s a restricted free agent, will most likely be signed to a new deal. Looking further at the Capitals’ farm system, goalie depth is an area of strength. They already have talented prospects Philipp Grubauer, Pheonix Copley, and Vitek Vancek. With Brooks Orpik reaching the autumn of his career and Mike Green leaving via free agency, this team will have holes to fill on defense soon. After Madison Bowey, Washington’s farm system lacks sufficient depth in defense, which was helped somewhat by using their three remaining picks on defensemen. The Capitals also continue to lack depth among their forward prospects, which Brian MacLellan will no doubt address soon.