On NHL entry draft day, it's easy to get caught up in the Connor McDavid hype because – let's face it – generational players only come along once in a generation.
But for the Edmonton Oilers, this year's draft needs to be about more than just stepping up to the microphone and announcing that McDavid is their first choice, which will happen early Friday night.
Oilers' general manager Peter Chiarelli has a long list of business he needs to attend to at the draft or, if he can't make everything happen there, leading into the beginning of NHL free agency on July 1 (the courting window opened Thursday). In addition to No. 1, the Oilers also have the 16th and 33rd picks in the draft – three premium selections they can either use to draft prospects or trade for more immediate help.
Chiarelli is open to dealing any pick other than the first one, and he needs reinforcements in goal and on defence to help the Oilers get to the next stage in their development.
Right now, the trade market for NHL goalies is bursting with possibilities. Edmonton, the Buffalo Sabres and the San Jose Sharks top the list of teams desperately seeking help between the pipes, while the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars are also making discreet inquiries, prices permitting.
Chiarelli can go one of two ways in goal. He can take a chance on a younger goalie or one with with a smaller sample size of work (such as Robin Lehner, Cam Talbot, Eddie Lack or John Gibson), or go with a more established veteran (Kari Lehtonen, Craig Anderson or Mike Smith).
An unproven goaltender is riskier, but if the gamble pays off, then whoever it is can mature along with the rest of Edmonton's young team.
A proven veteran might just provide the stability at the back end that is the quickest way to fast-track NHL success. Last season's Florida Panthers provided the template – the addition of Roberto Luongo was the single biggest reason a team that was really bad the year before became respectable in a 12-month span.
If Chiarelli is unable to trade for the right guy in goal, then free agency is a further option. The top unrestricted free agent is the Flames' Karri Ramo, who finished the year as the team's starter and is seeking to cash in on his playoff success. If Ramo ended up in Edmonton, that would create one more intriguing plot twist to the re-emerging Battle of Alberta, which next year will feature McDavid against childhood friend Sam Bennett of the Flames. Other free-agent options in goal: Antti Niemi of San Jose, Michal Neuvirth of the Islanders and Devan Dubnyk, if he doesn't re-sign with the Minnesota Wild.
The Oilers also need to solidify their defence corps, and a couple of options present themselves. The Nashville Predators are deep in blue-liners and woefully thin down the middle, even if they do re-sign Mike Fisher. If Chiarelli is swinging for the fences, there might be a fit there (wouldn't Shea Weber do for this Oilers team what Chris Pronger did for the '06 squad?). Anaheim, too, has defencemen to spare, but trading within the division is always a little trickier.
Ultimately, the challenge is balancing what Chiarelli calls "the competitive juices in all of us" – the urge to get better right away – with taking the longer view and showing patience with the rebuild.
It'll be difficult in Edmonton, where the Oilers have a new set of public faces – Chiarelli as GM, Todd McLellan as coach, McDavid as the team's big star – but are nine years removed from their last playoff spot.
In Calgary, meanwhile, the Flames made the playoffs this past season, won a round and convinced the paying public they're on the right track, so there's no pressure to fast-track the process.
"There are things you do for short-term gain and analyze the cost for such," said Flames' general manager Brad Treliving, "but I've been clear here, a lot of my calories are spent on the long term – how do we get better beyond the next 82 games?"
Following is a team-by-team look at what trade and draft moves might be in the offing:
Game plan: The Flames have six picks in the top three rounds thanks to late trades that sent Curtis Glencross to the Washington Capitals and Sven Baertschi to Vancouver. The Flames have great organizational depth in goal, but their two young hotshots (Jon Gillies and Mason McDonald) are years away from being NHL-ready. Their draft-day priority is depth on defence – they need to add blue-chip pieces – and they have cap space to spare, so they would consider taking on someone else's contract headache if the deal was sweet enough. That's how the Kings' Martin Jones gets linked to them.
Game plan: The Oilers are drafting first overall for the fourth time in six years, and after selecting McDavid, the key is to make better choices with their later picks than they have in the past. That said, the Oilers are open to trading both the 16th and 33rd picks to make improvements on defence and in goal. The biggest question for Chiarelli is: Would he trade a core young player off the current team if that's the price for a major upgrade on defence and in goal? If Ilya Samsonov, the young Russian goalie prospect everyone's excited about, is still available at 33 and the Oilers haven't moved that pick, it's hard to imagine they wouldn't pick him.
Game plan: The Senators have made it clear they'll move a goalie – either Robin Lehner or Craig Anderson – and probably won't get the value they want in return. Lehner has had some concussion issues, which has raised some red flags with GMs, while Anderson is 34 and considered mostly just a short-term fix. The Senators did sign two important players, Mika Zibanejad and Calder Trophy finalist Mark Stone, to reasonable contracts.
Game plan: Organizationally, the Canadiens would like to stockpile scoring wingers, big centres and maybe a left-hand-shooting defenceman at the draft. General manager Marc Bergevin completed one important piece of business already, getting defenceman Jeff Petry under contract before he could test free agency. Petry's addition to a defence corps that includes two other pricey pieces – P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov – suggests Bergevin may want to offload Alexei Emelin. Forward P.A. Parenteau is also said to be available.
Game plan: The Canucks began the off-season by floating Jacob Markstrom's name on the trade block and found little interest in the goalie who got their minor-league team to the AHL finals. Since then, they've tested the market for Eddie Lack, who appears to be a more valuable trade chip and is only a year away from unrestricted free agency. If Lack gets moved, Markstrom will back up starter Ryan Miller. One thought: If Boston decides to shop Milan Lucic, a persistent rumour, would the Canucks try to repatriate their hometown boy? For that matter, would Edmonton go after Lucic?
Game plan: GM Kevin Cheveldayoff did a nice bit of work just before the last trade deadline, landing defenceman Tyler Myers and the Buffalo Sabres' 25th-overall pick in this draft in the Evander Kane deal. Philosophically, Winnipeg is a draft-and-development team that operates with a tight budget, which is why it could lose versatile winger Michal Frolik to free agency. After making the playoffs this year for only the second time in franchise history, the Jets will be picking 17th, barring a trade, marking only the second time in the past eight years they're drafting outside the top 10. It'll be more difficult to find blue chippers such as Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele that last in the first round.