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Florida Panthers' General Manager Dale Tallon (L) is seen with Erik Gudbranson during the first round of the 2010 NHL hockey draft in Los Angeles, California June 25, 2010.REUTERS/Mike Blake (MIKE BLAKE)
Florida Panthers' General Manager Dale Tallon (L) is seen with Erik Gudbranson during the first round of the 2010 NHL hockey draft in Los Angeles, California June 25, 2010.REUTERS/Mike Blake (MIKE BLAKE)

Eric Duhatschek

Draft gives way to wheeling and dealing Add to ...

So there it is, in the books, yet another uneventful NHL entry draft. All the major trades happened before the teams sat down to make their picks, and a lot is still likely to occur between now and next Thursday when the 2010 NHL free agent season officially opens.

But on Friday and Saturday, nothing - or not much, beyond the one deal where the Vancouver Canucks landed defenceman Keith Ballard in the Florida Panthers' fire sale to bolster a blueline that was found wanting in the second round against the Chicago Blackhawks.

It was truly anticlimactic given what was known ahead of time: The Edmonton Oilers and Boston Bruins would put a pair of blue-chip youngsters - Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin - into their respective lineups, and after that, every other team will be crossing its fingers in the hopes that their shiny new prospects pan out.

Every general manager said pretty much the same thing afterwards: It wasn't for a lack of trying that the draft lacked panache.

"What I've learned is, it's very difficult to trade players at the draft unless you've already laid the groundwork," said Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson. "Obviously, what happened here was the groundwork for a few of those trades was laid early and those deals (for Jaroslav Halak, Nathan Horton, Dustin Byfuglien and others) just happened to go down before the draft.

"It's very difficult to go to a team right at the draft table and say 'Do you want this player?' because they haven't thought about it and haven't done enough work on it, so they get uncomfortable with it. They're focused on the draft."

Howson was one of several GMs with high picks who explored the possibility of trading down. The Blue Jackets had the fourth overall pick and immediately threw all those mock drafts into disarray by going way off the board and selecting Portland Winterhawks centre Ryan Johansen with their pick.

The Blue Jackets probably could have gotten Johansen anywhere in the No. 9 to 12 range, but since they couldn't pry anything tangible out of a team in order to move down, they opted to go with their instincts and pick the player they liked.

Once the New York Islanders followed by choosing Swiss star Nino Niederreiter with the fifth overall choice, all bets were off. That old draft-day saw - when teams say they can't believe a player was actually still on the board when they went to pick him? It was actually true this year a handful of times.

Teams saw prospects sink like stones - the Anaheim Ducks hadn't even interviewed their first pick, Cam Fowler of the Windsor Spitfires - because they thought there was no chance they could get him. As a result, they needed to make lightning-fast calls on the draft floor.

Nine of the final 16 picks in the opening round were moved, as teams jockeyed back and forth in the draft order - and it turned the focus away from trading roster players.

In the end, the Florida Panthers, under new general manager Dale Tallon, may emerge as the big winners, if a handful of their baker's dozen of draft choices pans out. Florida took 10 players in the top 100, six in the top fifty, and had the equivalent of five first-rounders, if you count the three that they actually selected and two others who were projected to go in the opening round and slipped back into the early part of the second round.

Tallon was positively ebullient as he left the draft floor on Saturday, repeating over and over again how things went so well - and far beyond his own expectations. It was a nice moment for a well-liked executive.

Tallon wasn't there at the end to see the team he nurtured win the Stanley Cup this spring - he'd been replaced as the Chicago Blackhawks' GM this time last summer and had acted in an advisory capacity ever since before landing the job in Florida.

He talked about utilizing the same blueprint with the Panthers that worked so well for the Blackhawks.

"I like innovative, creative players and I like good kids, guys I can have fun with," he said. "That's what I'm all about."

Florida has been one of the NHL's operational dark holes for years now, a franchise on never-ending life support after having missed the playoffs in 11 of the past 12 seasons. Tallon needs more hits than misses with his picks, but at least there is a tiny light at the end of that dark tunnel now, one that hasn't existed in quite some time.

As for the rest of his peers, there will be no rest, not with free agency about to begin Thursday.

Howson, for one, is anxious to see how the 2010 edition of the free-agent frenzy unfolds, as he seeks one more proven scorer for his squad.

"It's to our advantage to wait until July 1 and see what happens on July 1," he said. "I think you'll see significant talk on July 1 - or the period around July 1 - because the free-agent class is not as large and is a little weaker, a little thinner. So there are going to be teams that want to do things."

After a sleepy weekend with little of the anticipated fireworks, one can only hope he's right.

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