Playoffs, schmayoffs. Let's talk draft lottery, people! Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun, take it away.
BURNSIDE: Good evening from Pittsburgh, my friend. Hope you are enjoying St. Louis, where you will open the 2013 NHL playoffs. While most of the hockey world was focused on matchups and predictions, for those teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs, Monday night loomed as a potentially franchise-altering evening with the annual draft lottery. For the first time, all 14 non-playoff teams had at least a mathematical chance of snaring the No. 1 pick in the draft that will be held this June in Newark. In what is considered a deep and top-heavy draft, teams that ended up with one of the top five picks were looking at the possibility of drafting an NHL-ready player. While the first 12 teams stayed in the draft position determined by their finish, the real drama came with the final two draft positions. And, as was the case last year, the league’s worst team, in this case the Florida Panthers, was denied the first-overall pick as the Colorado Avalanche, the 29th team, ended up with what a first overall pick that could dramatically change the fortunes of this once-proud franchise that has gone adrift in recent years. How long after Monday’s draft lottery do you think the first Seth Jones Avs jerseys hit the streets of Denver?
LEBRUN: Talk about a script written in Hollywood, as Jones -- son of former NBA player Popeye Jones -- grew up skating in Denver. Even the Avs can’t screw this up. And he’s exactly what they need. Colorado has a nice young cast of forwards up front, led by Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene, but what they need is a sure-fire stud on defense and that’s what they would get in Jones, rated first overall by many draft forecasters. I feel bad for Panthers GM Dale Tallon because Jones would also have been a perfect fit in South Florida, a nice compliment to impressive Panthers rookie center Jonathan Huberdeau. But as far as consolation prizes go, if the Avs do indeed take Jones first overall, having to choose between Canadian forwards Nathan MacKinnon or Jonathan Drouin isn’t a bad choice at all.
BURNSIDE: You’re right, this is as good as it gets for an Avs franchise that needs a significant shot in the arm after missing the playoffs in four of the past five seasons. I think the bigger question is: Who stands at the podium at The Rock in Newark on June 30 and calls Seth Jones’ name? Will it be GM Greg Sherman? Or maybe someone more recognizable? After the Avs fired head coach Joe Sacco after the end of the regular season, all the buzz was whether this opened the door for a return of iconic Hall of Fame netminder Patrick Roy to the Avs fold. Interesting times ahead in Denver for sure, and it couldn’t come at a better time for a team that is all but forgotten in that terrific sports town. I agree with you that it seems a bit unfair that Florida won’t have the first-overall pick, but they’ll get a good one. The team I feel a bit bad for is Nashville, which will have the fourth pick behind the Avs, Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. If, as you noted, MacKinnon and Drouin go behind Jones, that will leave a difficult decision for GM David Poile and his staff. Aleksander Barkov, a talented Finnish pivot, is considered next in the pecking order, although dynamic Russian Valeri Nichushkin is also very much in the discussion. The Preds have a desperate need for an offensive sparkplug, preferably one that could step right into the NHL with recently acquired Filip Forsberg, and on this night the Preds are one team that could have used some mathematical karma to jump into the top three.
LEBRUN: Yes, I was thinking the same thing about the offensively starved Predators, who would have loved no doubt to get their hands on Drouin or MacKinnon. We should also note that the Edmonton Oilers hold the seventh overall pick heading into the June 30 draft. I think new GM Craig MacTavish will shop that pick hard. It’s no longer about draft picks for the Oil, it’s time to win. If they can package that seventh overall pick for help on defense, I believe they will do so.
In any case, my friend, the draft is a long time away. Now it’s time for two months of playoff hockey. Drop the puck. I’m ready.