Now that we’re finally beyond the NHL playoffs and into the offseason news should start happening all around the league, but things have been mostly quiet before the storm other than the recent trade of Kevin Fiala to the LA Kings for a prospect and pick. Of course, that hasn’t stopped the rumor mill from churning out all sorts of fanciful stuff which most likely won’t happen. Quite honestly the media’s wishcasting over all sorts of nonsense is turning me off to the pre-draft hype, like all the stupid rumors of the Devils trading #2 overall for anyone from Alex DeBrincat (not likely) to JT Miller (that would be a fireable offense if Fitz traded #2 OA for a 30-year old on a one-year deal, coming off a career year). Not to mention all the misdirection over who the Devils would pick if expected top pick Shane Wright is off the board (not likely, despite the Bob McKenzie piece where scouts actually ranked Wright at #2), and whether they would trade the pick or not if the Habs threw a curveball and picked someone else.
After all this nonsense it’s just gonna make me roll my eyes when the Habs pick the Great Canadian Hope at #1 and the Devils don’t trade #2 OA. Who the Devils pick at #2 OA is still somewhat debatable, though the slight betting favorite is still Slovakian power forward Juraj Slafkovsky, who not only fits the prototype of what they need up front (size with skill) but he wouldn’t be a reach considering in the McKenzie piece it was actually Slafkovsky who got ranked at #1 OA. However that same article allows that there probably isn’t as much separation between the top handful of players as there would be in a normal year, nor is there even a real sure thing in this draft as indicated by this one anonymous quote from a club executive:
“Teams who rank Slafkovsky at No. 1 are struggling with Wright’s draft year being so average [compared to prior seasons],” he said. “Teams who like Wright at No. 1 can’t forget what they saw in Wright’s first OHL season and the 2021 U-18 world championship.”https://www.tsn.ca/2022-nhl-draft-rankings-bob-mckenzie-1.1818580
There’s also the matter of Slafkovsky excelling in international tournaments (both the Olympics and the Worlds) while only struggling five goals in Finland’s Liiga all season, as the article points out. It is possible the Devils throw a slight curveball and take someone not named Wright or Slafkovsky, and I couldn’t really fault them. Especially when we still have to hear it from the cynics about Cale Makar being the best player in the Nico Hischier draft, and how Nico hasn’t been enough of a difference maker for a #1 overall, even after a career year of 60 points in 70 games.
Given that potential for second-guessing it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Devils went with one of the other projected top five picks – with the possible exception of smallish center Logan Cooley. Considering the Devils have already committed long-term to Hischier and Jack Hughes, and also have Dawson Mercer who could still slot in at center long-term, Cooley better be your no-doubt best player on the board if you’re picking yet another midget down the middle and passing on players who fit your roster needs better. Defensemen Simon Nemec and David Jiricek are also outside possibilities for #2 OA…watch the pick be one of them and me having to scramble to come up with some profile tomorrow or on my off day Friday.
I’ve pretty much thought the pick was going to be Slafkovsky from the minute we got bumped up to #2, it just seems to fit too well everything considered – but all the media nonsense is making me paranoid that Fitz is going to do something desperate. Don’t get me wrong, I would like to see a little more urgency from the Devils in general but there’s a happy medium to be found between ‘process GM’ing’ and just burn everything to the ground in a quixotic win-now chase when the Devils just came off their worst season in 35 years. Could you make an argument for trading the pick for DeBrincat, sure – dude’s a proven 40-goal scorer and he’s 24 years old. You hope whoever the Devils pick tomorrow is even 75-80% of that level, but it’s a risk if only cause you just never know if guys will re-sign long-term (exhibit A, Jesper Bratt who I’m still nervously waiting on considering our last contract negotiation with the Bratt camp culminated in a holdout, and that was before his own career year). Plus you’re likely going to have to trade more than ‘just’ the #2 OA for DeBrincat and I don’t know if we’re at the level to be chucking away assets going star-chasing.
Even just writing down the same type of speculating I’ve been seeing for weeks is making me roll my eyes. Let’s just get to tomorrow at 7 PM or whenever the Devils pick (or trade). It would be nice if there was an actual arena draft party the way there was in the old days, but new ownership would rather use the date for K-Pop or whatever other concert happens to be there on a summer afternoon. That’s understandable but I’m not really keen on going to some random bar for that – especially paying $10 a head and having to go to Asbury Park, no thanks. Especially since we’ll likely be done a half hour into the draft barring some unforeseen deal. At least at the arena you had other things to do and could talk to people without being crammed in.
At least there’s other news and stuff to talk about. For one thing the NHL schedule was released today. I can’t say I’m going through it with a fine-tooth comb just yet though I probably will later tonight to make some scheduling plans – mostly figuring out when we have the four game in six night stretches where I’ll sell a game off, or home back-to-backs that I usually sell one off from. Generally I just wanted to know when the season started (October 13 in Philly), when the first home game was (two nights later against Detroit) and when the regular season ends – exactly six months later on April 13. We’re still more than three months away from the actual opener, but at least it feels closer now with the draft upon us and free agency not that far behind.
I’m not a huge fan of the new-ish schedule format where you only play division teams 3-4 times, along with other conference games three times and non-conference teams a home and an away game each. If you’re going to balance the schedule than it makes zero sense to have a division-heavy first two rounds of the playoffs. Either we’re emphasizing division rivalries or we’re not. I would rather go back to straight seeding 3-8 after the two division winners but the NHL – like other sports leagues – wants to sell bracket picking for the playoffs. If you are going to have brackets (mostly) based on division format though then you need to have a few more division games in the regular season as well. Eight was too many in the late 2000’s…5-6 would be better. It’s also hard to explain the NHL’s playoff format to a neophyte fan…so the top two teams are seeded and the last two wild cards are seeded to play those two teams irrespective of division but #2 and #3 always play each other in each division, wha?
At least the Devils – and defenseman Dougie Hamilton – showed off a sense of humor with the schedule release, corny as this mini-promo was.
Gotta say this for Dougie, at least he’s going all in on being part of the Jersey experience after a mixed bag in his first season here, with injuries ruining his second half. I don’t just mean the ad, he’ll also be the only current player as far as I know (with the usual roster of alums like Ken Daneyko, Bryce Salvador, etc) to attend the Devils’ draft party tomorrow night, which will also have a live band playing. I guess that justifies the $10 entry fee lol, but I’ve never been a fan of the whole music inside of bars scene, you just can’t talk to or listen to anyone while the band’s playing, at least I can’t.
After all that, there is one other bit of news today as the Devils announced the promotion of Kate Madigan to assistant GM, the first female to hold that title here.
Hopefully one day soon we won’t even have to note these kinds of things, especially with more women playing hockey and getting involved in the management and scouting departments. I actually thought it would be Meghan Duggan (current director of player development) who would eventually get promoted to that kind of role but Madigan’s been here longer and worked her way up the ranks. I also didn’t realize we were in the market for another assistant GM – Dan McKinnon was already an assistant GM – but hey if head coaches can have multiple assistants, why shouldn’t GM’s? Not only is it a nice touch to announce the promotion right before the draft, but it’s a telling vote of confidence to promote her right before such a pivotal offseason for the franchise.