What We Learned: NHL Draft 2017 weekend report card

 

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

Change was promised, change was delivered.

But the question very quickly becomes: Is it change for the sake of change?

A quick rundown of the past few days for Chicago: Marian Hossa, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Artemi Panarin are out, Connor Murphy and Brandon Saad are in. There are some picks and prospects in there too — maybe you figure Anton Forsberg is their presumptive backup — but other than that, those are the big changes.

(Worth noting here: The fact that these trades, which took place the morning before the first round started, were still the big story of the weekend even after that first round probably speaks to the quality of the draft class and Chicago’s place in the league.)

The problem is obviously that there’s no clear evidence these moves make Chicago better. Quite the opposite: Stan Bowman traded short-term roster stability for long-term cap certainty, while not actually trimming any cap dollars (for now). Chicago is younger now, for sure, but the core of big players expected to contribute stay the same age. It’s fair to call this a panicked overreaction to a statistically improbable sweep at the hands of the Predators.

Overall you have to say the Saad-for-Panarin swap is a good one on its surface. Saad is a marginally better player than Panarin if you look at the big picture: His contribution in all parts of the ice probably makes him a little more valuable even if the offensive numbers leave a little to be desired. Saad had 106 points and missed only four games over his two seasons of study-abroad in Columbus while Panarin racked up 151 and missed just two games riding shotgun with Patrick Kane.

All indications are, right now, that Saad will move onto Jonathan Toews’ line to add a little extra scoring pop. But even when they were running buddies a few years ago, Saad didn’t exactly kick the Toews offense into high gear, which you can certainly say for Kane and Panarin. This is stealing from Patrick to pay Jonathan, to some extent, and you have to wonder what the tradeoff is in terms of goals saved versus generated by making such a change. Obviously you need more defensive stability without Hossa anchoring the third line — especially with Marcus Kruger potentially out of the picture soon enough — and Saad provides that.

And he does that being exactly as expensive and a few years younger. That’s solid, no doubt. The “goals” question linger, though.

Maybe Chicago expects Alex DeBrincat to contribute some additional offense too, but he’s a right wing, just like Saad and Kane, so minutes on side of the ice are getting hard to come by in a hurry. It’s probably not a bad thing if Richard Panik is your fourth-line right wing, either, but the point is this was a Chicago team that was already over-reliant on youth and marginal forwards to score. They had 240 last season, ranking them in the top 10 in the league, but how many did this one trade alone shave off that number? Can DeBrincat or a bargain signing make up that gap? It’s tough to say.

And of course, no one really thought Chicago’s offense was the problem last season. It was the blue line that understandably had people worried. It got worse this weekend.

Yes, Hjalmarsson is on the wrong side of 30 and signed for just two more years at $4.1 million. Yes, Murphy is just 24 and signed at $3.85 million through 2022. (Dauphin already looks like he’s never going to be a regular NHLer.)

That adds cost certainty at a time when Chicago badly needs it. That is: Two-plus years from now. Shaving a quarter-million off your books isn’t necessarily bad when you’re that up-against-it with the cap, but with Murphy still approaching his peak and nowhere near as valuable as a declining Hjalmarsson, well, you have to wonder what Bowman actually bought. The bargain’s not quite trading an old, beat-up quarter for a couple dimes and a penny or two, but it’s something in that area.

It’s hard to determine quality on a team as obviously bad as Arizona has been the past few years, but Murphy shouldn’t strike anyone as having moved the needle too much overall, especially when you consider how gently Dave Tippett used him against anything resembling quality competition. So the fact that Chicago swapped him in for Hjalmarsson, one of the few useful defense-first defensemen in the world, should be worrying too. Murphy seems to be more like one of those defense-first defensemen whose quality is greatly exaggerated because it kind of has to be. Players improve as they approach their 25th or 26th birthday, but we don’t have a lot of evidence Murphy can approach the kind of value Hjalmarsson provides, especially because he too provides little in the way of offense.

So where people should have already been sweating bullets about what a one-year-older Chicago D corps looked like, the subtraction of Hjalmarsson is worrying, especially because even after those trades Bowman’s boys are still over the damn cap, and will remain that way until Hossa can be LTIR’d on Day 2 of the season. Which means they can’t maneuver out of this squeeze until some angel comes along and takes on his deal in exchange for a draft pick next year. And reports are that few teams are willing to do that. Not traditional dead-salary sinkhole Arizona (because they’re in this sort of bizarre Going For It mode all of a sudden) and not even potential new facilitator Vegas.

This all leaves Chicago at least marginally worse than they were last year, when, yeah they won 50 games, but also ranked 14th in attempts-for at full strength, 19th in shots-for, but third in PDO. Which of those things are least likely to hold up? They’re still an elite team in a lot of ways, but they’ve already stopped drawing a lot of penalties (where their high talent level can make up the 5-on-5 deficiencies). Tales of their struggling PK are already well-known.

And the problem with that is obviously that there are only so many more years in which Toews and Kane and Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford are still well above average. Brent Seabrook has long since fallen out of that territory. And without Scott Darling, who was dynamite last season, as the backup the margins thin out even more.

We talk a lot about “windows” to win. Chicago’s is, in my opinion, still open an inch or two, even if they’ve won just three playoff games in the past two seasons. A run of good luck could be enough to push them two or three rounds deep, but they’re no longer truly elite.

These trades brought the pane down a little closer to the sill. It was closing anyway. It’s tough to see why you don’t try to wring as much competition out of that group, especially when all these changes (in addition to firing a popular assistant) are apparently pissing off your top-three-in-the-world, Hall-of-Fame coach.

Yes you get more cost certainty for three years from now, but how effective will the big guns be three years from now? It’s a big gamble.

Teams typically don’t rack up 212 points over two seasons when they’re bad. Chicago is, therefore, reasonably described as “not bad.” But now they’re heading in that direction faster than they were on Thursday. And they cost the same against the cap as they did before.

So, uh, that’s weird, right?

What We Learned: Draft Weekend Grade Edition

Anaheim Ducks: They didn’t have a first-round pick this year (the price for Patrick Eaves, whom they resigned for short money this weekend in a tidy little move) but their picks at 50 and 60 were generally solid. Overall an okay showing. B-

Arizona Coyotes: Not sure I understand what’s going on out there now. Derek Stepan is good. Niklas Hjalmarsson is good. Antti Raanta is (probably) good (and certainly at least as good as Mike Smith, who is bad). But wasn’t this team approximately a mile away from the playoffs? How does this get them even remotely close? Do they have plans to throw money around on July 1? At the same time, four picks in the first three rounds and consistent efforts to get more picks by trading down is a smart strategy for a team trying to get better three years from now. They undoubtedly improved, though. B

Boston Bruins: They didn’t trade for anyone that helps them right away. Urho Vaakainen, like most picks in the mid-to-late teens, is a project (though he played against men pretty much all year as a teenager, which is encouraging). They only had five picks total. C

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres drafted Casey Mittelstadt, who is a very good prospect. They also drafted a goalie fairly high (No. 54 overall). These are two things that are good for the Sabres. And generally speaking they seemed to go after fast guys who can skate — including a 5-foot-9 defenseman??? — which is where the league is heading. A lot of times all you have to do is not screw up and they did not screw up. B-

Calgary Flames: I think the Travis Hamonic trade is really smart for a defense that now has a guy who, despite an awful 2016-17, might still be a borderline top-pairing guy. When you have three clear top-pairing guys and a guy who might be there, you’re in great shape. They also took another defenseman in the first round, but that was their only pick until No. 109. This is Going For It, and it’s probably more advisable than not given the group they have. Oh also the draft was only fine, but that’s not their area of focus these days. B

Carolina Hurricanes: Five picks in the first three rounds, all of them considered solid players but also projects. Didn’t hit a home run with any of them, really. Just generally smart to continue operating how they have for a while. B-

Chicago: Awful weekend for the “now,” better-than-average weekend for the future. I like some of their picks but the organizational decision-making these days is bizarre. D

Colorado Avalanche: Cale Makar at fourth overall was a no-brainer. We’re still waiting on a Matt Duchene trade. This is a team that’s spinning its wheels in a lot of ways, stuck between a(nother) rebuild and just plain old being bad and not knowing what to do about it. B-

Columbus Blue Jackets: They got Artemi Panarin, who I’m sure Tortorella is going to love. Some people say it’s partly a play to pursue Ilya Kovalchuk. They also traded for Jordan Schroeder and did not have a first-round pick thanks to the expansion draft. I dunno, did they do fine anyway? I guess. But this was a fairly whatever draft for them. C

Dallas Stars: Miro Heiskanen is going to be a good NHLer and so is Jake Oettinger (well, “probably” on Oettinger). But of course Dallas drafted a goalie a few weeks after signing Ben Bishop for forever. Can’t have enough. That is very funny. Anyway, nice to have three picks in the top 39, that’s for sure. B

Detroit Red Wings: Ask just about any draft expert: Detroit had the absolute worst draft in terms of quality of anyone in the league. They’re trying to rebuild on the fly but then they’re like, “Big Michael Rasmussen is our guy.” Panned immediately, because he scored more than half his goals on the power play mainly because of how big he is. If you’re setting your sights on “This is our next Tomas Holmstrom,” you’re aiming real, real low. Their other picks were also mostly frowned-at. Not the kind of draft this particular franchise needed. F

Edmonton Oilers: The balls to take the smallest forward in first-round history is respectable, given the way the league is going and the kind of success a little fella like Johnny Gaudreau is having right down the road. But the thing is, Edmonton needs these picks to start hitting now, because Connor McDavid is probably going to re-sign for $12-14 million and they’re going to need good players on ELCs to stay really competitive long-term. So I like where they’re headed but they need some of these lottery tickets to hit. But that Eberle-for-Strome trade so you can pay through the nose to keep Kris Russell? Huge negative. C+

Florida Panthers: I don’t know if you guys heard but Owen Tippett has insanely red hair. He also scored goals as a 17-year-old in the OHL at a near-historic pace, which seems like the thing we should be talking about here. And because their dumb trades decisions the expansion draft technically didn’t happen this weekend, I can’t knock ’em here. Very good draft, even if the direction overall is questionable. B+

Los Angeles Kings: Getting Gabe Vilardi at 11 is great, great value. Everyone seems to like Jaret Anderson-Dolan as well. They had seven picks, but all of them were in the first five rounds, so that’s probably good given the mediocre organizational depth they brought into the weekend. A-

Minnesota Wild: They didn’t pick until the third round, which generally speaking is not a good idea. I would not recommend this kind of strategy to anyone, regardless of where their NHL team sits. D+

Montreal Canadiens: Ryan Poehling is going to be a very good college player. Like, top-shelf college player. Picking four more times in the first 87 is just good business. Everyone seems to like all the guys they took high-ish, so that ain’t bad at all. B+

Nashville Predators: Eeli Tolvanen at No. 30 is another great value pick, and the reason he dropped seems to have been due in part to the fact that he might not be able to play college hockey next season as he originally intended. They also seemed to get good value elsewhere in the draft, and when you’re not picking high you’re gonna be feeling good about yourself. A

New Jersey Devils: Nico Hischier was the absolute correct pick at No. 1. Everyone else is a project but they mostly did a good job with the draft. A-

New York Islanders: The big acquisition this weekend — especially since they didn’t have a first-round pick — was Calgary’s first- and second-rounders next year. As for their draft itself, you’d like more than five picks given that you’re not a playoff team, but they did fine with those picks, I guess. C+

New York Rangers: The franchise-changing trade they made was getting Anthony DeAngelo and the pick that became Lias Andersson, who went maybe a little too high, for their (very good) backup and No. 1 center. I’m not sure where that puts them for the near future, but Jeff Gorton actually used the term “rebuild on the fly,” which I think is the smart play. They also got Filip Chytil, who went roughly where he should have. Then they didn’t pick again until the fourth round. So, y’know. B-

Ottawa Senators: Shane Bowers is going to a premier college hockey program and looks pretty solid. But they only had four picks, and they’re already probably not very well set-up for, say, four or five years from now. So I dunno about all this. C-

Philadelphia Flyers: Hard to screw up the No. 2 pick in this draft and they, of course, did not. I’m not sure I understand the Brayden Schenn trade at all, except to say that it got them Morgan Frost, which was a bit of a reach but not a terrible one. If we’re going just by the picks they’re probably higher, but I’m not sure Jori Lehtera, at the current price point, makes sense. B

Pittsburgh Penguins: I don’t care how good their draft was, and that’s with the acknowledgement that I think they screwed up a few picks (Zachary Lauzon? Nah). But giving up a first-round pick — which, okay, would have been a second last year — for Ryan Reaves is insanely dumb. I don’t understand anything they did this weekend. F

San Jose Sharks: Josh Norris at No. 19 is decent. Mario Ferraro at No. 49 is a big reach. They got back on track later but you gotta start hitting on those higher picks given the age of this team’s core. C

St. Louis Blues: Two first-round picks, one of whom dropped, I’m sure, due to The Russian Factor. I really liked their Friday for other reasons though. They absolutely bilked the two Pennsylvania teams, making their GMs look like Keystone Kops. That’s a good joke for a very good weekend. A

Tampa Bay Lightning: I have almost no opinion about their draft weekend, which is a change from the usual raves they draw this time of year. Callan Foote is a defenseman with upside, and Tampa is already a defense factory. Everything else, meh. C

Toronto Maple Leafs: Timothy Liljegren dropping as far as he did is completely incomprehensible to me. Smart of the Leafs to grab him at No. 17. But it seemed like a lot of people didn’t like their Saturday efforts. They went for size, which isn’t always a smart bet in today’s league. So I dunno. You’re just buying lottery tickets, and Liljegren is one that seems likely to hit for something resembling a jackpot. B-

Vancouver Canucks: They didn’t screw up any picks as far as I can tell. They didn’t take Rasmussen, which I am stunned by but it’s very much the right call. And this is the Canucks, so I’m feeling generous here. I’m gonna grade on a curve for this team only. A

Vegas Golden Knights: Hard to screw up with five picks in the first two rounds, and they didn’t. Cody Glass seems like a player. Nick Suzuki looks like he could be one of the big steals of the draft given that he’s widely purported to be a possession driver in addition to scoring a lot. Erik Brannstrom looks very solid for a late-round pick as well. A

Washington Capitals: If you forgot the Caps were even at the draft this weekend, you can be forgiven. They didn’t pick until No. 120. I have no idea who any of the kids they took are. Call it a below-average draft, I guess. C-

Winnipeg Jets: Took a Lowell guy. A+

Gold Star Award

Gary Bettman put the boots to Chicago fans for not booing him hard enough. What a heel move. Way to go, Gary!

Minus of the Weekend

This was an insanely boring draft and I did not appreciate it.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “cheech70” wants to make sure the Rangers have no NHL defensemen next season.

McDonagh for Draisaitl.

Move Skeji to 1LD sign Smith and maybe Shattenkirk

Makes the Oilers instant Favorites

Make any sense?

Not really, no.

Signoff

Correction, the only thing that’s over is that transmission.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)