Your Draft Rumors And Speculation Have One Day Left

There’s plenty of people of all types – insiders, basement dwellers, the average Joe – who will tell you exactly what will and will not happen at the draft.  They will tell you what teams are thinking, and who is going to go where.  And as soon as they are wrong, you won’t hear from them until the next prediction is ready.  I’ve been asked who certain teams will take, and to tell you the truth, I have no idea. 

With the Avalanche, they have stated they with take Nathan MacKinnon first overall, and the best I can do is analyze that.  The next question is will they or won’t they, and I can only look towards the trust in their statement. I can’t predict the future.  

In the end, it doesn’t matter.  Tomorrow, we will find out what has happened, and all the wasted time and ink guessing what will happen will become even more useless than it already was.  We will find know what direction the teams have gone, and we can analyze, praise, grouse, or whatever we feel like. 

Predictions of this sort are fools gold.  If someone tells you they know what a team is going to do, they are full of it.  I quoted Elliotte Friedman earlier this week.  It’s worth doing again. From his excellent 30 Thoughts column:

9. Back when I first started as a radio reporter covering the Toronto Raptors, then-GM Isiah Thomas warned me, “Never believe anything anyone tells you about the draft. At draft time, everyone lies.” One year later, Thomas gave me the scoop he was going to take Marcus Camby. I didn’t believe him. He did take Camby and laughed, “This time, I was telling the truth.” I couldn’t help but remember that conversation upon hearing the Colorado Avalanche’s newfound openness. Joe Sakic picking up the phone to tell a reporter his team’s plans “certainly goes against ‘The [Pierre] Lacroix Principle,’” an opposing executive said.

If a smart and experienced guy like Friedman doesn’t know, chances are very few people know. 

And it really doesn’t matter in the end.  Right, wrong, win or lose, we are waiting for the future.  Let the waiting be fun. 

Tip of The Hand: Avs Draft Talk

My buddy Bill called me last week to ask why the Avs wouldn’t take Seth Jones with their first overall draft pick. Since I had just written about it, I pointed him to my blog post (thanks for being a loyal reader, Bill).  Which led to his next call, asking why the Avalanche would tip their hand and say who they were going to pick.

A lot of hockey writing in the media and online is speculation and opinions.  We don’t know what happens behind closed doors, or what exactly someone is thinking.  Even when we are told explicitly, “this is what we are thinking,” we hardly believe them.  So there is what we know, and what we don’t know.  And that’s how we have to look at this.

What we know:

The Avs said something, which is weird – Since the franchise moved to Colorado (and possibly before), they have been quiet.  It’s been the Pierre Lacroix way, and it carried over into the General Managing reigns of Greg Sherman and Francois Giguere.  And even though Sherman is still the GM, he has most certainly been gelded with the addition of Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy to the management team and coaching staff.  So far, we have heard from Sakic and Roy more than we heard from Sherman all last season (by my counts, once, when the Ryan O’Reilly situation finally ended).

That the Avs are talking to the fans is stunning.  We haven’t had much communication from the team for years. Now that there seems to be real effort to turn the team around from the top down, it appears that we, the fans, are finally being catered to a bit.  It’s welcome, and though it comes in the form of tipping the hand at the draft, I don’t think fans will turn their backs on this.

In control – The Avs have the first pick.  No one can take that away, they can only give it away.  So why not say what they think they will do?  What is the damage?  In fact, it might just help their negotiating position in trade talks.  More on that in a moment.

Brief Interlude – What a Smart Person Says:

Elliotte Friedman has a great weekly column called 30 thoughts.  If you don’t read it already, you really should.  This is what he said today:

9. Back when I first started as a radio reporter covering the Toronto Raptors, then-GM Isiah Thomas warned me, “Never believe anything anyone tells you about the draft. At draft time, everyone lies.” One year later, Thomas gave me the scoop he was going to take Marcus Camby. I didn’t believe him. He did take Camby and laughed, “This time, I was telling the truth.” I couldn’t help but remember that conversation upon hearing the Colorado Avalanche’s newfound openness. Joe Sakic picking up the phone to tell a reporter his team’s plans “certainly goes against ‘The [Pierre] Lacroix Principle,’” an opposing executive said.

10. There is incredible skepticism about what Sakic, who is Colorado’s executive vice-president of hockey operations, and head coach Patrick Roy are saying. However, there are at least two reasons to think they are telling the truth. First, Roy had the best seat in the house in 2012 QMJHL playoffs as Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin led Halifax back from a 3-0 deficit against Quebec. MacKinnon had eight points in the last three games. Second, the Avalanche are trying to rebuild their name in the Denver community. If they are not going to take Seth Jones, who has major local ties, it’s not the worst idea to prepare fans in advance.

That’s a great point about Roy seeing MacKinnon play against his team, and very successfully.

OK, back to my stuff.

What we don’t know, reasons edition - The conventional wisdom goes like this.  The Avs need defense, so draft a defenseman.  But the Avs need everything (except maybe goaltending, but that remains to be seen), and drafting a defenseman isn’t going to fix their current defense issues.  Buying a defenseman (or trading for one) will.  So that frees the team up to draft a forward.

Everyone was so convinced that the Avs were going to take Jones that they believed the three top forwards would be available.  If you wanted a forward, you didn’t have to deal with the Avs to move up to their pick.  Staying quiet would have only led to surprise for two teams who are not in the same conference as the Avalanche, and wouldn’t be previously motivated to talk to them.  The second pick is held by Florida and the third by Tampa Bay.  Since the Avs don’t want to move below third (pretty sure I heard that somewhere, but I could be wrong), they are free to deal with these two teams and maybe play them against each other to greater effect.  Wouldn’t that be fun?

If they moved down one pick, Jones would still be available, and that isn’t a bad pick, even if it doesn’t fill the need they have right now.

What we don’t know, motivation edition – So what was it exactly that made them buck the draft order laid out by central scouting?  Does it really matter?  Probably not.  Whomever the Avalanche pick, they will have a potential NHL player.  The draft is a scientific crap-shoot.  You never know who you are going to really draft until you put them in camp, in the minors, or on your roster.  Will they persevere?  Will they adapt?  Will they fall apart?  No one really knows.  All you know is what you see when you scout them, and Patrick Roy has essentially scouted MacKinnon himself.  Maybe that’s enough for them.

 

No matter what, no one will know who the first pick will be until they are chosen, and even then, we don’t know if they will work out.  But that’s all just part of the fun.

PS: I will not be at the draft this year.  I made it in Columbus and Los Angeles, and had a great time.  I look forward to going to one again soon, but not this year.  I hope all of you who go have a great time.

Who to Take? Avs Might Bypass Jones

Let’s be honest.  The Avalanche have less depth right now than Russell Crowe playing Javert in the Les Miserable movie.

Yes, I went there.

There have been a few defensive call-ups from the farm system.  I’m not as impressed with Elliott as some were when he was called up, but he got better as the season went on.  The problem is that there are few forwards that could develop into top six players in the Monsters right now.  Obviously, if you have a top six forward, put him in the NHL, damn it.  But replacements from Lake Erie  produced mixed results.  And every forward that was highly drafted or highly regarded (Duchene, Landeskog, O’Reilly) went right to the NHL because the need existed.  All three might have benefited from a transition year in the AHL, arguably.  But needs are needs, and needs in hockey are rarely convienient.

So what do you fix?  Do you draft a highly rated defenseman and plug him in right away, do you draft forwards that you might plug in or develop, or do you move down for more picks to stock up?

Let’s break it down.

Why draft a defenseman:

It’s pretty obvious that the Avalanche are in sore need of defense.  They were 27th last season in goals against and 29th in goal differential.  The Avs D was fairly awful in general, chasing pucks, losing steps, taking bad penalties and tuned out when the season was all but over.  When it was pointed out to me on the Avs Hockey Podcast that Matt Hunwick was the most consistent Avs defenseman last season, I almost ate my hat.  I don’t often wear hats, so I almost went to get a hat, put it on, take it off and eat it.

This is largely the defense that will be around next season.  The Avs have six defensemen signed and two call-ups that on entry level deals.  Unless the Avs move someone, you are stuck.  But six defensemen means the seventh slot is available, and that could be Seth Jones.  Aside from Erik Johnson and (grudgingly) Matt Hunwick, you could stick any of the other defensemen in the press box and that would be just fine.  Jones would get his ice time, Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott can go work on their game in Lake Erie, and life is good.

That is, if Jones is ready to play in the NHL now.  It’s a given that the first overall pick is going to play in the NHL as soon as the ink is dry on their contract, but that doesn’t mean they are NHL ready.  I’ve already mentioned a few Avs that should have been in Lake Erie for a year.  Let’s look to the east for another highly touted prospect that wasn’t quite NHL ready: Steven Stamkos. Yeah, he’s great right now.  He developed his game in the NHL, but for a time he was in the press box with a note pad.  He had some learning to do, which he did.  And then he came back and eventually tore up the league.

So if Jones isn’t ready for his NHL debut, fine, stick him in the AHL and maybe he has a bright future ahead of him.  A defenseman worth his salt is still an asset no matter when you call them up, no matter when they play for you.  Solid defensemen are not easy to find.  Grab them while you can.

Why draft a forward:

The Avalanche were 27th overall in goals scored (tied with Ottawa with 116, who made the playoffs with a stingy 104 goals against).  I have bad news for Avs fans, that ain’t good.  The fan base is in love with Landeskog, Duchene and O’Reilly, but the production isn’t there yet.  In the shortened season, only four Avs scored over ten goals. O’Reilly may have gotten there had he played the entire season.  Only six players collected twenty points or more.  Only two had over 30 (PA Parenteau and Matt Duchene with 43 each).  That isn’t good.

And how is Lake Erie looking for support?  Like no one is going to develop past a third or fourth liner.  There are no secret weapons looking to be called up.  The team had a ton of patience with players like Ryan Stoa, Joey Hishon may never play in the NHL, considering how his concussion history is going, and Brad Malone is still Brad Malone.  Maybe Sgarbossa will be ready (67th in scoring in the AHL)?  But the Monsters are not looking like the place to go for scoring right now.

If you need a defenseman now, go buy one.  And no, that hasn’t exactly been the Avalanche’s strong suit recently.  Greg Zanon and Jan Hejda aren’t exactly earning their money.  But this is a new regime (I say cautiously, as both Greg Sherman and Pierre Lacroix are still involved with the organization).  From the forwards back, it takes longer for a player to develop the closer you get to the crease, so drafting a defenseman to plug a need now is a crap shoot.  It might work out, or you might wind up stuck with a piece that isn’t providing what you need.

So do the Avs need scoring?  You bet they do.  And a forward fresh out of the draft might be the right fit for a young group like the top six Avalanche forwards.   It depends on how much of a complete game they have.  If they are like Matt Duchene, they might not be what they really need.

But consider that there is one defenseman that everyone is going nuts over while three forwards wait in the wings.  There is more variety and that may help the Avs find exactly what they need.

So what should they do?

Honestly, you got me.  I don’t think there is a losing scenario here, aside from trading down into territory that may not be as plunderable as the top four picks.  And considering the second, third and fifth picks go to the eastern conference (if that is what it will be called in the new realignment), missing out on a certain player isn’t going to come back to haunt you as much if they went to a division rival.

Time will tell.  Even if the Avs take Seth Jones, there is no guarantee that he will work out.  More than anything, I’m stunned that we are hearing anything at all from the Avalanche in June.  New regime indeed.

Picks for Goalies can be a Good Thing

Hot off the presses, Blue Jackets Scott Howson just traded three draft picks to the Flyers for goaltender Sergei Bobrobsky.

Good move, Blue Jackets.  Really.

I know, it’s weird, that the Blue Jackets and GM Scott Howson can make a good trade.  It doesn’t seem possible, like Phoenix drawing a sell out crowd, or the Kings winning a Stanley Cup.  I know, that sounds like I’m picking on these teams, but I’m really not.  Narratives are being rewritten all the time, and the story in Columbus could be taking an turn, starting now.

The Blue Jackets have an immediate need.  They have had this need for a long time, as Steve Mason wasn’t the goalie he was cracked up to be.  It was pointed out (I think by Justin Bourne of Backhand Shelf, but I could be wrong) that Mason was given the starting job in Columbus not after a good season, but a good half season.  Considering the goalie woes they suffered through previously, any ray of light was going to look like the clouds parted and the hand of God had reached down and touched the netminder on the shoulder.  Instead, it turned out to be foot of God from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Foot Of God squashes goalie

In the situation the Blue Jackets are in, they had an immediate need, and only two assets they could trade to get that need filled, draft picks and Rick Nash.  So why not just trade Rick Nash for the sweetest goalie ever, one with rocket launchers built into his blocker, and a few hockey cards in the spokes of his bike wheels?  Because Rick Nash, with his no trade clause, controls his own destiny.  You would be limited to where the big guy was willing to go to for trading partners.  That’s just not acceptable.

I’m all for trading picks for goalies, within reason.  If you have the number one draft pick, you probably shouldn’t trade it away for a goalie.  That is, if you knowingly have the number one pick.  But sure, throw a first rounder out there.  Worried that you are overpaying?  You tell me, would you rather have Angelo Esposito or a starting  goalie?

In fact, let’s go to the draft in Columbus in 2007.  Name the draft position you would feel comfortable with dealing away for a starting goalie.  And don’t forget, you don’t have a starting goalie in your system.  I would start at pick ten (inclusive), and that’s with the benefit of hindsight.  Now look at this draft class.  Where would you start?

I wrote about it when the Avalanche traded a first and a second round pick for the rights of Semyon Varlamov.  I thought it was the right move for the Avs, and I feel that it’s the right move for the Blue Jackets.  They have enough players in their minor league system to be able to spare a few lower draft picks in this draft.  What they don’t have enough of are puck stoppers.  Find a need, fill a need.

Strangely, the Blue Jackets did just that today.  It just looks weird because it happened in Columbus.

Draft: Oh, What a Night

Oh, how wrong I was.

I thought, what’s the point?  Why pay attention to the draft?  What could possibly happen that’s all that intriguing? I went to skate for a bit before running home, and then to the Mile High Hockey party, and that’s when things got interesting.

Liles traded to Toronto:

You know what?  I’m OK with this.  The Avs had to do something, and Liles has been the 800-pound trade gorilla in the room.  I will miss him when he was good.  But I will not miss other aspects of his game.  Every player has trade-offs.  Liles seemed to have consistency issues.  Some days, he was your main guy on the power play, others he was sucking wind trying to backcheck back into position.  Now, with Shattenkirk and Liles gone, the Avs need to do something.  And Eric Johnson?  You had better be ready.  I will be chewing this one over with Jay on the next Avs Hockey Podcast, that’s for sure.

Setoguchi to the Wild:

Burns, sure.  Fine.  But Setoguchi?  For those who thought Carter got hosed in Philadelphia, how about being signed to a three-year deal the day before you are traded to Winnipeg Lite?  If I were Setoguchi, I would be circling the dates the Sharks play Minnesota, and talk to Andrew Brunette about how to make your former team regret their transgressions.

Campbell to the Panthers:

Dale Talon gets his man, and the Florida faithful have to be wondering what the he sees in Brian Campbell.  Campbell won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks, yes, but he was less effective than most of the defensemen on that team.  If there is a place a contract like Campbell’s can be buried, it’s in Florida.  And Talon can say he is doing something to improve the team (Campbell improves the Panthers, which should say something about the defense in Florida).  But if this is the change the Panthers are looking for, they are worse off than I thought.  Also, they still need a goalie. They have a ton of cash to spread around, but still, what a move.

Avs take a winger instead of the best available defenseman:

I’m not going to pretend that I know what the best thing for the Avs will be in a few years when this pick starts to really pay out on the ice (even Duchene wasn’t perfect when he started his NHL career).  But man, is there ever a need in the Avs defense.  Maybe this is looking ahead and writing off other players that haven’t worked out so well.  Or maybe there’s just too many centers right now.  Whatever the rationale, the field was wide open, and the Avs got their man.  I just don’t know if I should be excited about him.

Siemens:

Somewhere, Alexander Semin is smiling, because he doesn’t have to be the target of stupid name jokes soon (as though he cares).  I must have been looking away when Siemens was picked by the Avs, because everyone says he looked quite upset when his name was called.  Then again, if ever there was a time to read too much into the facial expressions of a seventeen-year old, the draft is it.

A good night for USA Hockey:

Three players from the US NTDP (National Team Development Program) were selected in the first round, out of five total US born players.  Pretty good outing, USA Hockey.

Ryan Smyth:

How the hell was anyone taking the Ryan Smyth to Calgary trade seriously?  Sure, they are dumping salary with the potential (most likely as I write this) trade of Robin Regehr, but come on.  The Flames have $7 million in cap space, and Smyth is a $6.25 million cap hit.  Would it be worth dumping that much cap space for a player like Smyth.  No.  Come on, son.

So yeah, day two.  Meh.  It’s going to go fast, not like this long and dragged out event.  Even Versus couldn’t switch to bicycle racing fast enough.  Congrats to all the draftees.  I’m sleeping in.

Draft Day Decisions

Draftpreview

Like the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica, I had a plan.  Unlike the Cylons, it didn’t involve wiping out an entire species, but hey, if it happened, then whatever.  I was going to be prepared for the first round of the draft.  I picked up the draft issue of The Hockey News at the airport for my flight home, and was going to read it.  I’ve had it in my bag ever since game seven of the Finals, and that’s where it stayed.  And now, it’s draft day, and I am totally unprepared.

In fact, I may not even watch the draft.  I’m thinking about going to stick and puck time at 3:00PM at the local rink (the draft starts locally at 5:00).  There are gatherings and draft parties hosted by the Avalanche and Mile High Hockey, and I’m not sure I’m going to either one.  I could have gone to the draft in Minnesota (like I did in 2007 and 2010), but decided to save my money this year and stay home.

I know, bad hockey blogger, right?

I went to the 2007 draft in Columbus, and had a great time.  It was my first draft, and it seemed really special.  At least, day one was pretty special.  I got to meet several bloggers face-to-face for the first time, watched Angelo Esposito’s draft position tank, and enjoyed the hell out of the night in general.  Day two dragged on, and took forever to get through.  At least, from the buzz of the first day, it seemed to take forever.  The picks were chosen at a quick pace.  When the Ottawa Senators asked for a time out (who knew you could do this) in a later round, the crowd booed them for holding things up.  I was at a loss with what to do after the draft.  At least half the media hadn’t stuck around, and the crowd in the stands made it feel like and endurance test.  No one was on the streets in downtown Columbus.  You wouldn’t have known there was anything going on that weekend.  It was a huge contrast to the previous day.  Still, for my first draft, it was fun, and completely worth it.

In 2010, I went to the draft in LA.  On my way to the Staples Center for the first round, I saw this sign outside a bar a block from the draft.

Filmfest

So you can see what the priorities are in LA.  Was the evening less magical than in 2007?  A little, but that’s to be expected when you do something for the second time.  I was at the draft to see people I knew from the blogging circles more than anything else.  But most of the people I wanted to see were busy doing media things.  I still had a good time overall, and it was great to meet people I had talked to online or over the phone.  But for the outlay of money, and the dud that is the second day, I just couldn’t justify it this year.

But that doesn’t really excuse why I’m not paying much attention to the draft this year.  And I should pay at least a little attention, because the Avalanche have the 2nd and 11th overall picks. Two years ago, they picked up Matt Duchene with the third overall pick, and I don’t know any Avs fans who have been disappointed with that choice.  This is a huge draft for them.

The reason I can’t get into the draft this time is that nothing I do is going to change anything that happens.  I could study, gnash my teeth, spout off with a few barely educated predictions as to who will get taken, what the Avs strategy should be, and in the end, they are going to pick who they pick, plug him into the system, and see what happens.  I’m excited for the Avs having a high pick (after last season, there isn’t much else to be excited about), but what happens is what happens.  I don’t need to be able to change it, but it’s not much to get worked up about.  I know that isn’t the point; nothing I do would change the outcome of a game either.  But this year doesn’t seem as exciting as the last few.

It’s more interesting to see what trades happen at the draft.  Put the GMs together right before free agency with plenty of bargaining chips (draft picks), and something is bound to happen. When Tomas Vokoun was traded to the Panthers at the 2007 draft, the Panthers contingent stormed past us, looking like a very determined bunch.  Even to someone on the outside like me with no experience in these things, we knew something was up.  It was fun to know something was going on, but even when the trade was announced, all we had was a story to tell.  It was fun, and it was interesting, but the same news could have been had at home watching TV.

So I may watch a little bit of the draft, and undoubtedly laugh as people harumph and get all twitter-pated at the choices made, how a certain choice was wrong, or how a pick doesn’t fit into a team’s system.  But in the end, I’ll let the experts weigh in and inform me.  That’s what this great big internet is for, isn’t it?

Down And Out

Draft Day and Happy B-Day, JAHL

It’s time for the NHL Draft, and I am woefully unprepared. Luckily, since the Avs traded away their first round pick – if they even had one (I told you I was unprepared) – there is little I have to know today.

For anything I really need to know about the Avalanche and their draft, I can turn to the excellent blog Colorado Avalanche Prospects. Jori keeps us updated on all the action around the leagues pertaining to players in the Avs system. I don’t know how many other teams have a blog like this, but it’s unique as far as I have seen. If you are interested in Avalanche prospects, go check it out.

Last year, I was able to attend the draft, so I had all my reading material ready. This year, I busted ass on the drive from Tampa to Washington DC, just to get here in time. Aside from XM Radio, I have very little idea of what to expect, other than the obvious conclusion that Samkos is going to be selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Either that, or they wasted a lot of money in web development.

As a side note, and to stoke my own vanity, today is also the second anniversary of Jerseys and Hockey Love. Two years in blogging years feels like about 14 in real life (any real connection between blog years and dog years is strictly coincidental), and if I were to have an honest assessment of this past year of blogging, it would be a little disappointing on my end. I feel like I had things I wanted to say, but felt I shouldn’t, and that, as necessary as it was at the time, took too much time off from writing. if I had kept the pace, I feel like JAHL would be a little better place, and the quality of writing would have been better. I also miss some of the humor that I used to bring to the blog, that has fallen by the wayside (aka, I used to be funnier).

For what it’s worth, I plan to do more. By more, I mean that I have a new (hockey related) project in the making, and it’s going to need some help. I should be ready to announce what I plan on doing in about a month (hey, that’s better than Battlestar Galactia).

I do want to thank the people who read this blog, and especially the people who comment. I started Jerseys and Hockey Love to talk about hockey, and even though a blog is more of a one way conversation, it’s the commenters that make it fun. If you haven’t commented here before, take the ten seconds to say hi, and make sure to comment on other blogs. It makes the bloggers feel like they are fighting the good fight.