This year or next year?
As part of the three-team trade that sent Kyle Turris to Nashville and Matt Duchene to Ottawa, the Colorado Avalanche acquired the Senators’ first-round draft pick in either the 2018 or 2019 NHL Draft.
It’s up to Ottawa to choose the year. And for general manager Pierre Dorion, it could be a more difficult decision than where to send Erik Karlsson this summer.
Either one is a tough pill to swallow for a rebuilding team.
As of Wednesday, the Senators had the third-worst record in the NHL, meaning they would have a 10.5 per cent of winning the No. 1 overall pick in the draft lottery, which takes place on the final weekend of April. If that happens, the Senators would obviously keep this year’s pick and select top prospect Rasmus Dahlin. Even if they fall one or two spots, they would still have a chance at selecting NHL-ready wingers Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina or Brady Tkachuk.
But if Ottawa is outside the top five, the question becomes trickier.
It’s not about projecting a prospect’s future. It’s about projecting the team’s future.
As bad as the Senators have been this season, what will they look like next year without Karlsson? Will they bottom out again and have an even better chance at winning the No. 1 overall pick? Or will they go the New Jersey route and surprise everyone by making the playoffs?
The case for the latter becomes stronger if the Senators are able to land an NHL-ready prospect in this year’s draft. However, the risk of making the pick could haunt them if it means that next year they miss out on a potential franchise forward such as Jack Hughes.
Lucky for Dorion, the decision doesn’t have to be made until the day of the draft, when it is Ottawa’s turn to pick. Which way he decides will say a lot about how competitive the Senators expect to be next season.
• With Vancouver’s Brock Boeser and Boston’s Charlie McAvoy done for the regular season, the rookie-of-the-year race is down to just one player. But let’s be honest: this stopped being a so-called “race” weeks ago. Mathew Barzal, who has a 14-point lead on Boeser, has already equalled Auston Matthews’ total (69) from last year — in 15 fewer games. If he continues at this pace, he’ll become the first rookie since Evgeni Malkin to reach the 85-point mark.
• It was unfortunate — and a bit ironic — that Boeser was hurt while trying to deliver a check. After all, that hit was just the 29th he had recorded all season, which ranks him outside the top 300. Not that he’s alone in that regard. Of the top 40 scorers, only Alex Ovechkin also ranks in the top 40 in what is becoming a dying art.
• If Auston Matthews was the best rookie last year, then Patrik Laine (38 goals and 61 points) has been this year’s best sophomore. Either way, the gap between the 2016 No. 1 and No. 2 picks is closer than ever. Matthews has 68 goals and 119 points in 135 career games, while Laine has 74 goals 125 points in 139 games. Like Crosby and Ovechkin, the only way these two are going to differentiate themselves is in the post-season.
• Forget about creating a Rod Langway Award to recognize the most defensive defenceman. Right now, the Norris Trophy is between Victor Hedman and Drew Doughty. Neither is in the top five in scoring for defencemen. If this holds up, maybe the league needs a Paul Coffey Award for the top-scoring defenceman.
• By definition, the Hart Memorial Trophy is awarded to the “player judged most valuable to his team.” If that’s the case, the winner will come down to Taylor Hall or Nathan MacKinnon — with the caveat being each is on a playoff team. With a league-best 1.34 points per game, MacKinnon is the favourite.
• I don’t get a vote for the Vezina Trophy (the 31 general managers determine the winner), but if I did Marc-Andre Fleury would be on my ballot. I don’t care that he’s played 20 fewer games than Toronto’s Frederik Andersen, the Vegas goalie has a 2.26 goals-against average (second in the league), a .926 save percentage (sixth) and has won 65 per cent of his games. Without him, the Golden Knights would not be leading the Pacific Division.
• Vegas might still be the story of the year, but right behind them are the Florida Panthers — as long as they can make the playoffs. I hope it happens, if only because it would be shine a brighter light on Selke Trophy-worthy Aleksander Barkov and provide the ageless Roberto Luongo (.927 save percentage) with a heck of a swan song.
• Hey NHL schedule-maker: you had one job. Having Toronto and Buffalo, who didn’t play each other in the first five months of the season, suddenly match up four times in the final four weeks is brutal. Maybe someone thought this would be a playoff preview? If so, I hate to see whom they picked to win the Cup.
• Have to think that the immediate success of the Golden Knights had an effect on season-ticket sales for the Seattle franchise. The NHL wants to give the unnamed team the same competitive advantages that Vegas received, but don’t expect opposing GMs to make the same mistakes twice when it comes to protecting their players.
• It appears that the novelty of the outdoor game is wearing incredibly thin. Either that or the all-white jerseys the Maple Leafs wore during their outdoor game against the Capitals last week forced viewers to change the channel or risk permanent eyesight. The game, which was hampered by a brief blackout and just plain awful hockey, was the lowest-rated and least-watched primetime NHL game ever on NBC. And yet, chances are we’ll see even more of them in the future.
• Sidney Crosby and Carey Price are still the best at what they do, Connor McDavid is the player everyone wants on their team and no one really gives Nicklas Backstrom credit for just how good he is. At least, those were some of the findings in the 2017-18 NHLPA player poll. More than 500 players took part in the questionnaire, in which they rated everything from their favourite coach and rink to the fastest and toughest players.
Connor McDavid, Edmonton, 81.0%
Michael Grabner, New Jersey, 3.6%
Nick Leddy, NY Islanders, 2.4%
The only players who didn’t vote for McDavid were probably Grabner and Leddy.
Most Difficult Goalie to Score On
Carey Price, Montreal, 41.0%
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles, 12.1%
Pekka Rinne, Nashville, 9.3%
Apparently, this poll occurred before the actual season began.
Most Difficult Player to Play Against
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh, 29.9%
Connor McDavid, Edmonton, 23.7%
Patrick Kane, Chicago, 4.6%
Sure, give it to the guy who’s won back-to-back playoff MVPs.
Ryan Reaves, Las Vegas, 44.7%
Milan Lucic, Edmonton, 14.8%
Zdeno Chara, Boston, 4.0%
Interesting that the so-called toughest player has fought only six times.
Nicklas Backstrom, Washington, 8.6%
Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis, 6.8%
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay, 6.2%
Backstrom? Kucherov? I think players are confused about the word “underrated.”
Player to Start a Franchise
Connor McDavid, Edmonton, 48.6%
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh, 23.8%
Auston Matthews, Toronto, 5.8%
The question not asked: what supporting players do you need to build a franchise?
Most Difficult Defenceman
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa, 22.1%
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles, 20.4%
Shea Weber, Montreal, 19.4%
The price for Karlsson just went through the roof.
Coach to Play For
Joel Quenneville, Chicago, 16.5%
Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay, 14.2%
Gerard Gallant, Las Vegas, 11.6%
Something for Quenneville to put on his resume after this season.
Assistant coach who should be a head coach
D.J. Smith, Toronto, 8.3%
Todd Reirden, Washington, 7.4%
Ulf Samuelsson, Chicago, 5.1%
Smith won three Memorial Cups, one as a head coach, before joining Mike Babcock and the Maple Leafs.
Bell Centre, Montreal, 24.8%
United Center, Chicago, 21.9%
Madison Square Garden, New York, 14.6%
Everyone likes playing in Montreal this season — except the Canadiens.
• After five coaches lost their job last season, it was somewhat surprising to see not one single coaching change this year. Then again, just wait until the summer.
With Chicago, Edmonton and Ottawa all out of the playoffs and finishing well below expectations, there could be quite a few changes coming. Here are four coaches who are believed to be on the hot seat:
Joel Quenneville, Chicago
It sounds silly to put Quenneville’s name on this list, considering that he was chosen as the coach most players want to play for in an NHLPA poll. Then again, all coaches have a shelf life. And after spending 10 years in Chicago, the time to move on from Quenneville could be now — especially if the team is trying to retool and give younger players more of an opportunity.
Guy Boucher, Ottawa
Boucher spent 2½ seasons as the head coach in Tampa Bay. Based on how far the Senators fell this year, his time in Ottawa could be even shorter. What’s working in his favour is that if the team is rebuilding, then it might not make sense to bring in a new coach now. But if the Senators hope to turn this ugly season around in a hurry, then finding a new voice might also be part of the deal.
Todd McLellan, Edmonton
GM Peter Chiarelli has gone on record stating that he has no plans on switching coaches. But with a roster that is tied to long-term contracts, he might not have many other options. No question, this year’s Oilers are not the same team that played with speed and swagger a year ago. Is it the coach’s fault? Maybe not. But unless you can find someone willing to take Milan Lucic in a trade, it might be easier to put a new body behind the bench.
Mike Yeo, St. Louis
A year ago, Yeo led the Blues to a 22-8-2 run after replacing Ken Hitchcock behind the bench on Feb. 1. This year, the Blues went in the opposite direction. Since the start of February, St. Louis has lost 10 of 14 games and fallen to 10th place in the West. With a roster that includes Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn and Alex Pietrangelo, along with goals-against leader Carter Hutton in net, this team is too good to miss the playoffs.
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