Leafs need to make a draft deal
Trade can erase memory of ugly season
By Michael Traikos, National Post; National Post
April 14, 2012
Nail Yakupov is the consensus top pick for the NHL Entry Draft, but the team with the No. 1 selection -the Edmonton Oilers - does not need him. Will the Oilers make a swap?Photograph by: Richard Wolowicz, Getty Images , National Post; National PostWe cannot say this for sure, but ever since Edmonton Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini said that the No. 1 pick he received in Tuesday's draft lottery could be available for trade, you have to believe that the first call he received was from Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke - or KHL president Alexander Medvedev.
The KHL could use Yakupov - and they might get him if the NHL fails to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with the players before the start of next season. But the Leafs, who have the fifth-overall selection, truly need this No. 1 pick. Not so much because it will help the team, but because it will help erase the bad feeling in everyone's mouth after a lousy second half to the season.
There might not be a whole lot of difference separating the first from the fifth overall selection in this year's draft, but a No. 1 pick provides hope for the future. People throw draft parties and envision that the fresh-faced 18-year-old will develop into a franchise-saving star like Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos.
Yakupov could be that type of player. While he does not address Toronto's need for a big centre, the dynamic winger appears to possess Pavel Bure-type speed and is the consensus top prospect in a draft that is lacking in "sure things."
"For us, his skill-set stands out," NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr said. "He's a very exciting player."
That - perhaps more than anything else - is needed in Toronto right now. And unlike in 2009 when Burke was gunning for the right to draft John Tavares with the first-overall pick, the team might finally have the assets necessary to pull it off.
So what is it going to cost? Well, for starters, a defenceman. In the last five drafts, the Oilers have selected Taylor Hall (first overall), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (first), Magnus Paajarvi (10th), Jordan Eberle (22nd) and Sam Gagner (sixth). Where they could need help is on defence. But the top defenceman in this year's draft, Ryan Murray of the Everett Silvertips, might not go higher than fourth or fifth overall.
This is where Toronto comes in. If the Leafs flip picks with the Oilers, Murray could still be available. If not, there are other top-end defenders - Mathew Dumba, Jacob Trouba, Griffin Reinhart and Morgan Rielly - that Edmonton could be happy selecting.
Of course, moving up four places takes more than a firm handshake and future considerations. The last time a team traded its No. 1 pick was in 2003, when the Florida Panthers sent the No. 1 and No. 73 picks to the Pittsburgh Penguins for the No. 3 and No. 55 picks and forward Mikael Samuelsson. Pittsburgh turned the picks it received into goalie Marc-André Fleury and Daniel Carcillo. Florida selected Nathan Horton and Stefan Meyer.
With the New York Islanders and other teams potentially also interested in acquiring Yakupov, you can expect that the Leafs would have to sweeten the pot. The Leafs, who had more defencemen than they knew what to do with this season, could offer Cody Franson or Luke Schenn, as well as a second-round pick, a minor-league prospect (Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne, Carter Ashton) or both.
But if anyone can pull it off, it might just be Burke. When he was the Hartford Whalers general manager, he moved up from sixth to second overall in order to select defenceman Chris Pronger. Years later, when he was the Vancouver Canucks GM, he orchestrated a complicated series of trades and was able to draft both Daniel and Henrik Sedin with the No. 2 and 3 picks.
Three years ago, Burke tried to move up from seventh to first or second overall, but found the price was too high. "Could we have moved up? Easily," he said in 2009. "We could have done it on the floor and we could have done it two weeks ago if we put Luke Schenn in the deal. And, to me, that's a step backwards for our franchise."
Today, trading Schenn could represent a step forwards. At the very least, it would represent some buzz for a franchise currently in the dumps.
It has been nearly 20 years since a Canadian NHL team hoisted the Stanley Cup, but hockey fans keep rooting for the underdog. Despite dismal seasons that left them out of playoff contention, the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs remain crowd favourites, according to an Angus Reid poll released Friday. The Canadiens won just 31 games this season, finishing last in the Eastern Conference with 78 points. Yet, 19% of respondents - and nearly a quarter of selfdescribed hockey fans - cited Montreal as their favourite Canadian NHL team. Toronto hasn't made the playoffs since before the NHL lockout in 2004-05, but 17% of all respondents - and a little more than 20% of hockey fans - said they still root for the Leafs above all others.
Just 11% of respondents in the Angus Reid poll called Vancouver their favourite team, but more than a third said they would cheer for the Canucks this playoff season. The Canucks and the Ottawa Senators are the only two Canadian teams in this year's race for the Cup.
Angus Reid teamed with Maclean's magazine for the online poll in part to find out whether or not the Canucks were Canada's most-hated team. They're not. That honour belongs to the Leafs; one in five respondents listed the Leafs as their most-hated team. Among self-described hockey fans, the loathing jumped to 33%.
THE DRAFT PREDICTOR
If the No. 1 pick is in play between now and the NHL draft on June 22, doing a mock draft is a bit of a crapshoot. But Post reporter Dustin Pollack gave it try:
1. Edmonton Oilers
RW Nail Yakupov
The Oilers' biggest need is on the blue line, not up front, so they might well trade down a few spots. If they keep the pick, it might be hard to take defenceman Ryan Murray over Yakupov.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets
C Mikhail Grigorenko
If Rick Nash has played his last game in Columbus the Blue Jackets will need a bigbody presence to replace him. Grigorenko is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds and had 85 points with the Remparts this season.
3. Montreal Canadiens
D Ryan Murray
Andrei Markov is 33 and has played just 65 games in the last three seasons (13 in 201112) because of injuries. The steady Murray could match well with the free-wheeling P.K. Subban for years to come.
4. New York Islanders
LW Filip Forsberg
They Islanders have an elite centre in John Tavares, and a second 30-goal scorer in Matt Moulson. But if they go for the best player ahead of positional need, Forsberg is the likely choice.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs
C Alex Galchenyuk
One of the biggest needs is a top-line centre, though GM Brian Burke would have to be patient with Galchenyuk. A knee injury limited him to two regular-season games. Defenceman Jacob Trouba is another option.
6. Anaheim Ducks
RW Teuvo Teravainen
The Ducks have talent up front, but their leading scorer was Teemu Selanne, who turns 42 this summer. Saku Koivu, fifth in team scoring, is 37. Teravainen could be their next Finnish star.
7. Minnesota Wild
D Mathew Dumba
Red Deer, OHL
The lowest-scoring team in the NHL could use some offensive help - Galchenyuk, Teravainen, maybe Radek Faksa - but the best players available could be defencemen, like Dumba or Trouba.
8. Carolina Hurricanes
D Jacob Trouba
U.S. Development (USHL)
The best player in the U.S. developmental program right now, Trouba has starred in U-17, U-18 and U-20 tournaments. He has an offensive side to his game, but also plays physically.
9. Winnipeg Jets
D Griffin Reinhart
At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, size may be his biggest asset, but he also been praised for his skating ability. He has the bloodlines, too. His father Paul, a first-round pick in 1979, played 11 seasons with the Flames and Canucks,
10. Tampa Bay Lightning
D Morgan Rielly
Moose Jaw (WHL)
He had 18 points in 18 games with Moose Jaw before a torn ACL forced him to miss the rest of the season. Tampa Bay does not have a defeceman with that kind of offensive upside.
11. Washington Capitals (from Colorado)
C Radek Faksa
The Czech star is big - 6-foot-3, 203 pounds - and talented offensively. He led all OHL rookies with 29 goals and 67 points, and had a pair of goals in the world junior tournament.
12. Buffalo Sabres
C Brendan Gaunce
The Sabres' forwards lack size, and Gaunce, at 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds, would help there. He has offensively ability, leading Belleville with 68 points in 68 games, and comes from the same Markham organization that produced Steven Stamkos and Cody Hodgson.
13. Dallas Stars
D Cody Ceci
The 67's blueliner jumped 10 spots in Central Scouting ranking of North American skaters, going from No. 16 at the mid-term to No. 6 . He has size (6-foot-2, 203) and skill (60 points in 64 games). And the Stars could use some offence on the blue line.
14. Calgary Flames
C Zemgus Girgensons
The Latvian-born star had 99 points in 98 games over the last two seasons in the USHL. The Flames are thin down the middle, and will be weaker still if they do not sign unrestricted free-agent centre Olli Jokinen.
© Copyright (c) National Post