Last week, a few big-name players signed contract extensions, and superstars were traded. The NHL Awards and the NHL Draft also took place. Here are a few of the biggest headlines from one of the craziest weeks in hockey.
1. My Draft Takeaways
Last weekend’s draft was pretty underwhelming. The top two picks were obvious for months and there weren’t many surprises. I will say that watching Jack Hughes’ Devils match up against Kappo Kakko’s Rangers will be must-watch hockey. I love that the top two picks were selected by teams that share a market. I hope the fact that they were selected one and two will spark a rivalry between them, similar to rivalry that developed between Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
Other than the hype surround those two guys, there wasn’t much to write home about for this draft. The Red Wings did surprise most pundits when they selected German defensemen Moritz Seider sixth overall. I had heard really good things about him when he played for Germany at this year’s IIHF World Championships, so I was pretty hyped when the Wings took him. Actually, one of my buddies texting me asking me what I thought of the pick. I responded with, “I FUCKING LOVE THAT GUY.” So, it’s safe to say I’m excited.
One of the storylines I was following throughout the draft was predicting where American forward Cole Caufield would be picked. Caufield was this draft’s biggest enigma because of his small size. He is 5’7” and 163 lbs, which makes him, along with NTDP teammate Domenick Fensore, the shortest player in this year’s draft. Even at 5’7” Caufield broke a few NTDP records including most goals in a season and most goals in a career. If he was at least 5’10” he probably would have gone in the top three. Yet, many teams are still hesitant to take a player that small higher in the draft. Caufield has drawn many comparisons to Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat, who is also 5’7”, as a player that is small in stature but is uber skilled.
Caufield ended up being drafted by Montreal with the 15th pick, which was slightly lower than most had projected. This is a huge steal for Montreal as they drafted a proven goal-scorer, something they could really use on their roster. Caufield will have to wait to prove to everyone that size doesn’t matter because he will begin next season at the University of Wisconsin. I think Caufield will be another important litmus test for NHL front offices to assess whether a player so small can contribute at the NHL level.
2. The New Look Devils
It’s no secret the Devils got significantly better in the last 72 hours. First, they drafted phenom Jack Hughes from the US NTDP with the first-overall pick. Then, they acquired superstar defenseman, P.K. Subban, in a trade with Nashville for Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, and two second-round picks. It was a good day to be a Devils fan.
Taking Hughes first-overall was a no-brainer for the Devils front office. Hughes has long been thought of as a generational talent and will probably be the favorite to win next seasons’ Calder Trophy. If Hughes is as advertised, then the Devils have a great one-two punch at center, with Hughes and former first-overall pick, Nico Hischier. Not only that but adding Hughes and Subban to the roster might be enough to sway superstar Taylor Hall to stay in New Jersey long-term.
I actually like the Subban trade for both teams. For the Devils, this move works perfectly on the hockey and contract sides. New Jersey needed help on defense. Prior to the trade, they only had four defensemen under contract for this upcoming season: Santini, Andy Greene, Sami Vatanen, and Damon Severson. After the trade, they now have one of the best defensemen in the league. They will obviously need to add a bottom pairing but they definitely got better on defense.
On the contract side of things, the Devils had plenty of cap space to spare. Yes, Subban has one of the largest cap hits in the league at $9 million. But, no current Devil has a cap hit north of $6 million. Subban also has three years left on his deal. It’s not like the Devils were absorbing Subban’s contract knowing he would decline and would contribute nothing for the last few years. He is only 30-years-old and should play well through the end of his contract. After this season, the Devils will only have Subban and Severson under contract, so the term of Subban’s deal will prevent the Devils from having to fill another spot on defense next offseason.
For Nashville, they unloaded their largest contract at their deepest position. It’s no secret the Predators needed to make a big splash and extend their current core’s window to compete for a Stanley Cup. What the Predators boast on defense they lack at forward. Their third highest paid forward, Kyle Turris, is coming off a career-worst season. Rumors have been swirling that the team will target Matt Duchene in free agency, and he won’t come cheap. Nashville needed to unload Subban’s contract to have a shot to sign Duchene. Not only is Duchene a priority, so is captain Roman Josi. Josi is due for a massive extension as he contract expires after this season. I bet he doubles his current $4 million salary. The decision to extend Josi and trade Subban was probably a bit easier considering Subban had a subpar season, scoring only 31 points, his lowest total point output since his rookie season.
Overall, this trade could be great for both teams. The Devils made a huge upgrade on defense adding Subban and the Predators cleared cap space at their deepest position. They also put themselves in a position to extend Josi and sign Duchene.
The Devils will be the team to watch next season with Hughes down the middle and Subban on the blue line.
3. The NHL Awards
The NHL Awards were last Wednesday and they were filled with a few classic moments but overall were pretty vanilla. I loved the idea of having a guy like Keenan Thompson host the show. He obviously has a deep connection to the sport after starring in the second and third installment of the Mighty Ducks’ series. I thought Thompson did a great job, especially when he burned the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The reactions from the players killed me pic.twitter.com/XQCUeUqA9g
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) June 20, 2019
That being said, I feel like the crowd wasn’t all that receptive to Thompson’s humor. If you watched you could tell the audience didn’t laugh at many of his jokes. I think it’s because the NHL wants to keep it pretty vanilla and wouldn’t be okay with Thompson getting a bit raunchy. It also doesn’t help that most hockey players are usually modest and shy away from showing their personality. If there is anything I would like to see the league work on is encouraging the players to show their personality. That’s what the fans want to see and it helps the league market their players better. Regardless, I give major props to Thompson for making the best out of a bad situation.
The awards weren’t all bad, Carey Price gifted us with one of the most heartwarming moments of all. Many of you probably heard about Price consoling a little boy after losing his mom to cancer earlier in the season. The NHL invited the boy to the awards and Price made the trip to surprise him onstage. I’m not going to lie, I was tearing up a bit. Here is a link to the story if you want all the details.
Robin Lehner also shared details about his mental health after winning the Masterton Trophy. I thought this was a huge moment of the NHL. The league has actually done a really great job when it comes to promoting social issues, most notably with their “Hockey is For Everyone” campaign and their promotion of women’s hockey at the most recent All-Star Game. Lehner’s acceptance speech really helped promote mental health awareness among the players. I think that is super important for a league where the players are praised for playing through injuries. You see it after every playoff run, a team will release their injury report and it’s astounding to see what these guys play through. But those injuries are always physical. Now we know that there are guys in the NHL suffering through injuries we can’t see. If there was any moment to take away from the NHL awards, it was this one.
When it comes to the actual awards, I agree with every single winner. There were no upsets this year and I didn’t see anyone complaining on Twitter that one of the winners was undeserving. Overall, there were a few really great moments during this season’s award show. As much as I would like to see the players let their guard down and show some personality, their vulnerability shined through tonight because of guys like Lehner and Price. Hey, maybe it’s a goalie thing?
4. The Flyers Extend Hayes
There were a bunch of major moves this past week and I’m only one man, so I’ll make sure to cover the big ones. The Flyers were back in the news again after they re-signed the recently acquired, RFA, Kevin Hayes to a seven-year/$50 million deal. Hayes will carry a $7.14 million cap hit.
Hayes spent his first four and a half season with the Rangers before being traded to the Jets at the deadline last season. Hayes is coming off his best season having scored 19 goals with 55 total points.
This is a great deal for Hayes. He will play alongside a combination of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, and James Van Riemsdyk. His point totals should increase with that cast of talent. For the Flyers, I’m not a fan of this deal. They already have a ton of money invested in their top tier forwards. Giroux, Voracek, and Van Riemsdyk all have a cap hit of $7 million or above. Hayes’ $7.14 million cap hit is a lot for a 27-year-old forward who has never eclipsed 60 points. Yes, Hayes does give the Flyers really great forward depth, but they are lacking defensively. Their top two defensemen are the aging Matt Niskanen and Shayne Gostisbehere who is rumored to be on the trade block.
I think the Flyers have a small window to compete in the short term if they use the rest of their cap space to improve on defense. They need to win before Hayes declines and while they have Couturier on a bargain deal. If they don’t, they could be in the nightmare zone very soon with a bevy of highly priced, aging forwards on their roster.
5. Marleau on the Move
The entire league knew the Maple Leafs have been doing everything to clear enough cap space to sign RFA Mitch Marner to a new contract. Patrick Marleau was a prime candidate to be traded because of his age and $6.25 million cap hit. On Saturday, the Leafs traded Marleau, a conditional first-round pick in 2020, and a 2020 seventh-round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for a 2020 sixth-round pick.
This was a necessary move for Toronto. They must sign Marner at all costs. It will definitely hurt that they had to give up a first-round pick for one year of cap relief, especially to make room for a player that is already on their roster. Hopefully, for Toronto, the guys who step in to replace Marleau can make up for and exceed his production, which has declined with age. He only scored 37 points last year, his fewest in a full season since his rookie year.
For the Hurricanes, this was a good deal to make. Not great, but good. The good is that it seems as they plan on buying out the last year on Marleau’s deal, freeing him to sign with any team. Most teams don’t like to pay players not to play for them, but buying out Marleau will give more opportunity to one of their young players to develop. It also gives them another first-round pick, which they can use to select a player (the pick will probably be somewhere in the 20-30 range) or deal the pick for assets.
The bad is that after the Hurricanes storybook run to the Conference Finals this past season, their fans expect them to continue building a winner. Now they have $6 million less to spend against the cap. An important thing to note is that the Hurricanes are built to compete for years to come. Other than figuring out their plans are for Justin Faulk and Petr Mrazek, none of their core pieces will be UFAs after this coming season or the season following. So, they can definitely bide their time for a year and work to build a team that can contend for the next three to five years. It helps that their core is very young and will only improve with experience. ■
Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.