A few random thoughts from Day 2 of the sleepiest NHL entry drafts of all time:
Short term, you'd have to concede that the Boston Bruins are the most improved team since the end of the season, given that they landed arguably the best or second-best prospect in the draft - Tyler Seguin - Friday night; and added a potential point-per-game player in Nathan Horton earlier in the week.
Horton, a player with a lot to prove, should play as top-six forward with the Bruins next year; Seguin has the capacity to be a star in the league for years to come, even if he might not be NHL ready coming out of training camp in October.
Bruins' GM Peter Chiarelli is showing pretty good poise for a young general manager - not afraid to deal when the mood strikes, but not about to go overboard either, which is what the Edmonton Oilers were trying to get him to do by making a hard push for the No. 2 choice on opening night.
Long-term though, the big winners over the weekend was unquestionably the Panthers, a team in need of a major overhaul. GM Dale Tallon, in his first month on the job, began the process by moving out Horton earlier in the week and then traded defenceman Keith Ballard to the Vancouver Canucks Friday night.
The Panthers finished with six of the top 50 picks, nine in the top 100 and chose 13 players overall. Included in that group were the equivalent of five first-rounders, if you count the three they actually took - Erik Gudbranson (Kingston, OHL), Nick Bjugstad (Blaine high school, Minnesota) and Quinton Howden (Moose Jaw, WHL) - plus the two that slipped into the early stages of the second round: John McFarland (Sudbury, OHL), and Alexander Petrovic (Red Deer, D) both of whom were projected to go in the top 30.
About the only team that ever had something similar on the go was the Colorado Avalanche in 1998 entry draft, when they had four first rounders, plus an early second-rounder. They are an object lesson: Of Alex Tanguay, Scott Parker, Robyn Regehr, Martin Skoula and Ramzi Abid, only Regehr really panned out.
Sometimes, the key to success at the draft table is quality through quantity. If the Panthers can get four or five NHLers out of this weekend's work, then perhaps the foundation for a turnaround may be in place.
Tallon had a funny story Saturday after the draft ended. Leaning on the rail, holding court, he noted: "After we got the 25th pick on Friday night, Dougie (Wilson, the Sharks' GM), who I played with in Chicago, called me up and said, 'do you want the 28th pick?' You might as well take over the whole draft. He was just doing it for fun.
"I said, 'well, what do you want for it?'"
Tallon assessed his haul this way: "It went beyond expectation. We were very happy. Overall, we got 13 players, with a lot of size and a lot of toughness. It's going to be an interesting rookie camp."
The Panthers made the only significant deal of the weekend, acquiring Steve Bernier and Michael Grabner as part of a package of players from Vancouver in exchange in the trade for Ballard. Ballard essentially replaces Willie Mitchell on the Canucks' blue line. They will likely need to add one more high-end defenceman - maybe free-agent Zbynek Michalek, who will almost certainly leave Phoenix - in order to compete with the Western Conference powers."
By moving Ballard and Horton, the Panthers save more than $8 million against the salary cap.
"We're very happy with that deal; it was good for Vancouver and really good for us," said Tallon, the architect of Chicago's Stanley Cup championship team, who was pushed upstairs into an advisory capacity last summer, before landing the job in Florida. He is effectively trying to duplicate the Chicago miracle, with a Panthers' team that has missed the playoffs in 10 of the last 11 years and badly needed a philosophical change of heart.
"I'm excited about our depth and our young passionate players," said Tallon. "I love young players. I like innovative, creative players and I like good kids, guys I can have fun with. That's what I'm all about. I'm a relationship guy; I like to develop relationships with these young guys."
Tallon was so popular among the young guys in Chicago that a couple of years back, after his father passed away, his players chartered a bus and went north to attend the wake - surprising their boss with the gesture. That's the sort of loyalty he engenders; the kind that those young guys in Florida may soon come to appreciate as they start their way down the NHL path.