Thursday, June 24, 2004

Wheeling, Dealing hopefully even a bit of Stealing

Draft day in the NHL is only a couple of days away now, and with a less than stacked deck of draftees to choose from, trading upwards is almost imperative if a team hopes to find a nugget of gold this year.

In fact, this draft year is so thin in depth that even the third pick Chicago Black Hawks want to trade up, hoping to convince the Washington Caps to give up their claim to the number one pick.

Two Russian players Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin are expected to be drafted one and two respectively on Saturday morning. The only question is whether George McPhee in Washington or Craig Patrick of Pittsburgh bring the traditional hockey sweater to the stage for photo time. So far the sweaters are in their hands, the price perceived as too high for a trade. But as the countdown begins and we get closer to the noon hour (ET)/9 am (PT) start time from Raleigh, NC things may change. Cel phones at the ready and lawyers on alert, there may still be a deal cooked up to send one of the Russians to another team.

But it may be a case of buyer beware for numbers one and two. The Russian Ice Hockey Federation and the NHL’s transfer agreement has expired, and like contract talks between the players and the NHL, so to have things reached a standstill between the NHL and RIHF. The too sides say they are working to reach an accommodation, but until some kind of agreement is reached it’s expected that the Russians may keep their players at home.

After the first two picks though it could be anyone’s day to rise and fall. The crop of players that fall between picks 3 and 15 don’t have much between them talentwise to separate them. Those picks will probably be more of a positional situation, maybe a winger is needed or a defenceman.

For other teams it's a matter of being so far down the path that a trade may be the only chance they have to improve. Darryl Sutter coach and GM of the Flames has only one pick in the first three rounds, he's looking to improve those odds significantly and a trade may just be the answer. But if Sutter is feeling a little worried about waiting til the 19th pick, how about the Leafs!

Toronto won't be pulling their sweater out of mothballs until the 90th pick overall. That means Bud fans won't be seeing GM John Ferguson Junior until at least the third round of the day. Even the Leaf Friendly TSN folks may have called it a day by that time. If for no other reason than to remind Bob McKenzie, Dave Hodge and the rest of the TSN crew that Leafs are still in the league, you might see Ferguson make a deal before draft begins on Saturday.

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