For two days, Consol Energy Centre in Pittsburgh stood in for Bruce Springsteen’s anthemic Land of Hope and Dreams.
In an uncertain, unpredictable NHL entry draft, pretty much every team left the place figuring they’d pulled a fast one on the competition. The Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Morgan Rielly, the No. 1 player on their list, and acquired forward James van Riemsdyk from the Philadelphia Flyers. The Montreal Canadiens selected four players (including Alexander Galchenyuk at third overall) who theoretically could have gone in the first round. The Calgary Flames reached down into the depths of the Central Scouting list for Mark Jankowski, grandson of popular former NHLer Lou Jankowski, and calmly theorized that 10 years from now he might be the best player chosen in the 2012 entry draft.
But, hey, no pressure, kid.
Jankowski left Pittsburgh saying he would try to meet Calgary’s faith in him. Years – and who knows how many regime changes, lockouts, trades and/or retirements – will unfold before anyone knows who was right.
On that macro level, entry-draft weekend never much changes. Some questions are answered. Many more are left up in the air, including the future of prized defenceman Justin Schultz, who left the University of Wisconsin following his junior year and is poised to become an unrestricted free agent. Schultz was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round of the 2008 entry draft, but declined to sign with them and now figures to get contract offers or overtures from a dozen or more NHL teams.
The Ducks were frustrated by their inability to sign Schultz after trading away 2010 first-rounder Jake Gardiner to the Maple Leafs. Might Schultz pick Toronto, just so he can play with his old pal?
Mostly in the past, deals at the entry draft set teams up for the opening of the free-agency period. The draft’s hosts, the Pittsburgh Penguins, made a second deal after the Jordan Staal blockbuster in which they sent defenceman Zbynek Michalek back to the Phoenix Coyotes, with whom he was the No. 1 shut-down defenceman in the 2009-10 season.
Phoenix does an admirable job of repatriating players who’d left in search of riches elsewhere; Radim Vrbata also returned after a year of wandering in the wilderness (2008-09) and merely scored 35 goals last season. Maybe that’s where Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke can park Matthew Lombardi, who had his most productive season (53 points) with the Coyotes in 2010. Phoenix needs a centre; it’s why defenceman Keith Yandle’s name was briefly heard in rumours over the weekend.
Coyotes captain Shane Doan is coming up on unrestricted free agency next week and though Doan has made it clear he doesn’t want to move anywhere, what if the sale of the team falls through yet again? Suddenly, Doan’s name will be added to the list of free agents hitting the open market, a relatively thin group headed by two superstars, Ryan Suter of the Nashville Predators and Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils.
The Penguins quietly shed themselves of a net $6-million (U.S.) in contract with the Staal and Michalek moves. Did anybody remember that Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero was working as an assistant in Nashville in 2003, when Suter went seventh overall to the Predators in the entry draft? And thus has a relationship with him? Suddenly, a new player has likely entered the Suter sweepstakes.
Most teams hope they get at least one NHLer in every entry draft. Two is considered a bonus, and the perfect world is four or more, something Montreal managed in 2007 when it took Ryan McDonough, Max Pacorietty, P.K. Subban and Yannick Weber, all of whom are playing already.
In addition to Galchencyuk, the Canadiens landed a trio of prospects – Sebastian Collberg, Dalton Thrower and Tim Bozon – on Saturday, all of whom were expected to go much higher than they did. If they all play, then general manager Marc Bergevin is off to a flying start. Right now, he’s just crossing his fingers.
Hoping … and dreaming.