2011 NHL Draft: PHT’s pick-by-pick analysis

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The future is now.

With the trades wins blowing and prospects eagerly awaiting to hear their name called, the NHL Draft is when all 30 teams have the chance to improve for the future. Trades for draft picks, salary dumps, trades for the future, trades for the present– oh, and 30 prospects joining the NHL. It’ll be an exciting night for all hockey fans.

We’ll be here updating this post with instant analysis for the entire first round. You can also find more real-time information at NBC Sports’ NHL Draft HQ!

FIRST ROUND

1. Edmonton Oilers: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Center (Red Deer, WHL): The most dynamic playmaker in the entire draft will be setting up last year’s #1 overall pick Taylor Hall for years to come. There are some questions if he’ll be able to step into the NHL next season, but he’s already added 10 pounds of muscle over the offseason. Every part of his game is NHL-ready today; we’ll see if his body is ready in the fall. Whether he’s in Edmonton this year or next, he’ll be an offensive force in the NHL for a long, long time. Here’s a complete profile for the newest member of the Oilers.

2. Colorado Avalanche: Gabriel Landeskog, Left Wing (Kitchener, OHL): Colorado adds a player who is generally considered the most NHL-ready player in this year’s draft. He decided to get accustomed to the North American game by playing the 2010-11 season with Kitchener. Landeskog brings a solid overall game to the table and seems like he has the market covered in that beloved buzzword of “intangibles.” TSN compares him to Brenden Morrow, but Landeskog probably hopes to follow his Swedish hero Peter Forsberg’s footsteps by becoming an elite player in Colorado. For more on the Avs’ new Swede, click here.

3. Florida Panthers: Jonathan Huberdeau, Center (Saint John, QMJHL): Last year, the Panthers went after a big blueliner who they think will be a defensive cornerstone for the future when they selected Eric Gudbranson. With Huberdeau, Dale Tallon and Co. should have a top flight center for the future. One of the best two-way players in the draft, Huberdeau exploded on the scene as the season went along. As part of the Saint John Sea Dogs juggernaut, Huberdeau was the best player on a team stacked with blue-chip prospects. When the pressure intensified in the QMJHL and Memorial Cup playoffs, he raised his game to another level. After a great draft last season, the Panthers are setting themselves up nicely for the future.  For more, check out his draft profile.

4. New Jersey Devils: Adam Larsson, Defense (Skelleftea, Sweden): Could this be the steal of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft? That question probably doesn’t matter much to the Devils, a team whose defensive corps have been decimated by retirement and free agency since the lockout ended. Larsson draws comparisons to Swedish legend Nicklas Lidstrom, but it might be more functional to compare him to 2009 No. 2 overall pick Victor Hedman. He might not be as gifted as Hedman, but he boasts a superior understanding of the defensive side of the game. His extensive international experience and time with Skelleftea indicate that he could jump to the NHL as early as next season, but either way, the Devils have their defenseman of the future. Read more about the big Swedish blueliner here.

5. New York Islanders: Ryan Strome, Center (Niagara, OHL):  International Scouting Services had Strome ranked as the 2nd best playmaker in the entire draft and within minutes, pundits were already dreaming about Strome making sweet music with John Tavares on Long Island. He has great hands, can make plays in tight spaces, and has improved dramatically as he’s improved his conditioning and his willingness to go into the dirty areas of the rink.

6. Ottawa Senators: Mika Zibanejad, Center (Djurgarden, Sweden): The Senators wanted a big center so they hope Zibanejad fits that bill. He’s a feisty player who competes at each end of the ice and is noted for being a solid guy in the faceoff circle as well. TSN reports that he has a chance to compete for an NHL job next season, which might not be out of the realm of possibility considering his responsible two-way game and the transitional stage Ottawa is going through.

7. Winnipeg Jets: Mark Scheifele, Center (Barrie, OHL): The Winnipeg Jets’ first pick of their reincarnation was a shocker. Most had the Barrie Colts center going somewhere in the middle of the first round, but the Jets wanted tabbed the potential power forward at the 7th overall pick. He got better as the season went along—mostly because he’s a power forward who likes to use his body on the ice. As he grew, his game grew with him.

8. Philadelphia Flyers (from CBJ): Sean Couturier, Center (Drummondville, QMJHL): The Flyers saved Couturier from the “Cam Fowler syndrome” as Philadelphia picked him up with the 8th overall pick. As early as yesterday, this pick belonged to Columbus and they were looking to improve their young team. Now, the Flyers have added yet another good, young, talented body to go with other gifted forwards like Claude Giroux and James Van Riemsdyk. If Couturier develops like most scouts project, he’ll be mentioned in the same breath.

9. Boston Bruins (from TOR): Dougie Hamilton, Defense (Niagara, OHL): There’s something weird about the Stanley Cup champions selecting in the top 10 of the draft. When Hamilton dropped down to the 9th overall pick, the Cup champs watched the 2nd best defenseman fall into their lap. The big, physical defenseman has a booming slap shot from the point and a long reach in his own zone. If he becomes a little more consistent, he’ll be top pairing defenseman in a few years. That’s a top pairing guy for a team that just won the Cup. That Phil Kessel trade is looking better and better for the Bruins every single day.

10. Minnesota Wild: Jonas Brodin, Defense (Farjestad, Sweden): A smart, young defenseman, Brodin gets it done in his own zone by using his hockey IQ. Think of a player who’s good at reading the play, getting in passing lanes, and using a poke check. On the plus side, he’s a player who already has NHL level poise at only 17-years-old. On the other hand, he won’t be able to contribute for the Wild until he puts on some muscle.

11. Colorado Avalanche (from STL):  Duncan Siemens, Defense (Saskatoon, WHL): A true defensive defenseman, Siemens is never going to be the kind of player that dazzles with his offensive ability. But in acquiring the pick from the St. Louis Blues in the Johnson/Stewart trade, Siemens is the type of player who could fill the Adam Foote void when the Avs bring him up to the NHL level in a few seasons. He’s big, physical, and has a knack for annoying the opposition. Perfect qualities for a potential shutdown blueliner.

12. Carolina Hurricanes: Ryan Murphy, Defense (Kitchener, OHL): When watching Kitchener play, Murphy is the kind of player who would absolutely jump off the screen. He is as offensively talented as any other player in the draft—and certainly the most dangerous offensive blueliner in the draft. The only question about Murphy is his defensive ability. Regardless, with his skating ability and the post-lockout rules limiting obstruction, Murphy will be the quarterback of an NHL power play one day.

13. Calgary Flames: Sven Bartschi, Left Wing (Portland, WHL): The Swiss-born forward doesn’t bring much size to the table (he’s listed at 5-11, 175 lbs.) but Bartschi is a skilled player who excelled in the WHL because he was willing to go to tough areas of the ice anyway. In a post-lockout NHL that demands skill as much as – if not more than – size, he could be a nice asset for a Flames franchise that hasn’t been able to stock up on many first round picks.

14. Dallas Stars: Jamie Oleksiak, Defense (Northeastern, H-East): With the last lottery selection, the Stars opted to help out their defensive corps with a guy who’s big enough to cover the entire blueline by himself. The 6’7” blueliner could probably touch the boards on either side of the ice if he stood in the middle of the ice. Translation: he’s going to be tough to skate around when he has a hockey stick in his hand. Even though he’s a huge physical specimen, he’s a much better skater than people expect. Size and skating ability will translate into a promising prospect every time.

15. New York Rangers: J.T. Miller, Center (U.S. Under-18): Miller is an example of the “Mario Lemieux effect,” one of those Pittsburgh-area (Miller was born in Ohio) players who was probably inspired to play the game by the Penguins legend. He was considered one of the three best players for Team USA at the 2011 Under-18 World Championships.

16. Buffalo Sabres: Joel Armia, Right Wing (Assat, Finland): Darcy Regier hasn’t picked a European since 2006 — a streak that ended when Buffalo selected the offensive-minded Joel Armia from the Finnish Elite League. He’s been playing with men and was still able to put up 18 goals in 48 games; his hard, accurate shot will translate to any league in the world. The 6’3” has enough skill to have scouts wondering just how high his upside can be.

17. Montreal Canadiens: Nathan Beaulieu, Defense (Saint John, QMJHL): One of the most important rules for ever Montreal Canadiens’ GM to remember: if there’s a good prospect available from Quebec, pick him. In Beaulieu, the Habs picked up a very good defenseman on a great junior team. The great skater has size, intelligence, and skills all rolled into one package — a combination that doesn’t fall to the 17th overall pick very often. If he can eliminate any questions about his consistency, then bleu blanc et rouge will be happy with their pick.

18. Chicago Blackhawks: Mark McNeill, Center (Prince Albert, WHL): The Blackhawks are stockpiling prospects (they just traded Troy Brouwer for Washington’s 26 pick) but McNeill might be the best they get for some time. McNeill is a fast player with some promising upside; he went from scoring 24 points in 09-10 to 81 in 10-11. He’s a big, strong center who could end up being a nice pick for the ‘Hawks.

19. Edmonton Oilers (from LA): Oscar Klefbom, Defense (Farjestad, Sweden): Klefbom is an interesting prospect because the respect he’s earned is almost all on potential. He didn’t play very much last season in the Swedish Elite League as he was on one of the best (and deepest) teams in the league. But despite only two points last season, scouts love his skating and offensive potential. Some people even say he has the highest ceiling of any Swedish player in the draft. While we don’t think he’ll ever be as good as Adam Larsson, he’s still an intriguing prospect with daunting physical tools. The selection adds to the defensive depth the Oilers started to rebuild when they acquired Colten Teubert in the same trade (Dustin Penner).

20. Phoenix Coyotes: Connor Murphy, Defense (Kitchener, OHL) – Murphy is considered a “project player” who might not be ready for NHL action for some time. TSN notes that Murphy didn’t get to play very often in the last couple seasons, dealing with a serious back injury. It seems like a gamble for the Coyotes, but let’s be fair: we’re in the gamble zone now. Murphy’s father is former NHLer Gord Murphy.

21. Ottawa Senators (from NSH): Stefan Noeson, Right Wing (Plymouth, OHL): The Senators used the pick they acquired in the Mike Fisher trade to draft another defensive-minded forward with offensive upside.  Noesen ended up leading his team with 34 goals, but the competitive winger will make his money by developing into a well-rounded pest.

22. Toronto Maple Leafs (from ANA): Tyler Biggs, Right Wing (U.S. Under-18): Instead of picking at #22, the Anaheim Ducks traded their first round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 30th and 39th picks in the 2011 NHL Draft. In Biggs, the Leafs selected a big, mean nasty player—it shouldn’t be a huge shock that Brian Burke trade up in the draft for the opportunity to acquire him. He can grind on the boards and drop the gloves with the best of them. All he’ll need to do is work on his quickness.

23. Pittsburgh Penguins: Joe Morrow, Defense (Portland, WHL): Ray Shero is a fan of defensemen who can skate well, play defense and score a bit. Morrow might not be that far above average when it comes to scoring ability, but he improved his skating ability and was already known as a capable defensive defenseman. It might be a while until he makes the NHL, so a spotty junior career shouldn’t hurt his chances too much.

24. Ottawa Senators (from DET): Matt Puempel, Left Wing (Peterborough, OHL): The Senators were able to acquire their third pick of the first round by trading their 35th and 48th picks to acquire #24 overall from the Red Wings. Matt Puempel has the skills to be a pure sniper with his excellent (and accurate) shot. He’ll still have some work to do with the Petes as he rounds out the rest of his game, but if he can skate better and learn to back check a little smarter.

25. Toronto Maple Leafs (from PHI): Stuart Percy, Defense (Mississauga, OHL): Percy is a steady, responsible defenseman who helped Mississauga St. Michael’s make it to the Memorial Cup final. Percy also has a solid sense of humor, apparently.

26. Chicago Blackhawks (from WASH): Phillip Danault, Left Wing, (Victoriaville, QMJHL): The Blackhawks sent Troy Brouwer to the Washington Capitals for the opportunity to select Danault in the first round. Danault is a gritty, in-your-face forward who can do work on the PK and will succeed by working harder than his opponents. The major question surrounding him is his offensive upside. If he can make the transition to center, he may just end up growing into a Troy Brouwer type player when his potential reaches its peak.

27. Tampa Bay Lightning: Ladislav Namestnikov, Center (London, OHL): Well, a Russian player finally went in the draft … sort of. Namestnikov has played for Russia before but also grew up in Michigan, where he made some roots with Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. He has some slick skills but might take some time to adjust to the North American game. Want another sign that there were some Red Wings/Russian connections involved? Slava Kozlov is his uncle.

28. Minnesota Wild (from SJ): Zack Phillips, Center (Saint John, QMJHL): The Wild used the first round pick they acquired in the Brent Burns blockbuster to land talented center Zack Phillips. The grinding center had been pegged to be a higher draft pick at the beginning of the season, but questions about his skating are the concerns that made him drop to 28th overall. He had great hands, he’s not afraid to crash the net, and knows how to find the soft spots in the ice for scoring opportunities. His hockey IQ is there—he’ll just need to keep working on his feet.

29. Vancouver Canucks: Nicklas Jensen, Left Wing (Oshawa, OHL): Jensen draws comparisons to two mercurial scorers: Jussi Jokinen and Michael Grabner (Grabner being the most obvious comparison now that Jensen will be a player in the Canucks system like Grabner once was). Much like Grabner, he seems known best as a speedy skater with some questions about his willingness to go into the dirty areas. That worked out pretty well for Grabner, but the Canucks hope that Jensen does that damage for Vancouver rather than another team.

30. Anaheim Ducks (from BOS, then TOR): Rikard Rakell, Right Wing (Plymouth, OHL): The Ducks moved down by trading their 22nd overall pick for the 30th pick tonight and the 39th overall pick in the 2nd round on Saturday. With the pick, the Ducks drafted another Swede who chose to take his talents to Plymouth, Ontario to improve his draft stock. His two-way play and penalty killing ability will give him a chance to stick at the NHL level in a bottom-six role.

Stanley Cup Final Preview: Who has better coaching?

NBC Sports
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Leading up to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC), Pro Hockey Talk will be looking at every aspect of the matchup between the Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights. 

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Barry Trotz doesn’t have a contract beyond the conclusion of this current season. He entered the year with no job security, no sense of what his future would hold and still steering his troops to the top of the heap in the Metropolitan Division, and now, the Stanley Cup Final.

Washington’s start to the season didn’t help and rumors of Trotz’s pending axing swirled. But the man who sits fifth all-time in coaching wins turned his team around.

Trotz has found another gear behind the bench and has guided the Caps with calmness during these playoffs. It’s paid off. The Capitals were able to exercise their demons against the Pittsburgh Penguins and then come back from being 3-2 down against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Oh, and he did this:

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

There isn’t a world where Gerard Gallant doesn’t win the Jack Adams this year for top bench boss in the NHL. He’s simply done the unthinkable with a team no one expected to be competing, never mind being one of two teams set to do battle for the Stanley Cup.

Look, Gallant was given a bunch of players from all over the league and a mandate to try and figure out how they all fit together, who plays on what line. Who pairs with who on defense. What the power play and penalty kill look like. It was a tall task to begin with, but Gallant has nailed it every step of the way.

There’s been lots of talk of how poorly the Panthers fared when they lost both Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith in the expansion draft. But one of Florida’s biggest losses was firing Gallant and leaving him on the side of the road.

That decision paved the way for Gallant to join the Golden Knights and smash nearly every record by an expansion team ever.

Gallant has given his players the controls. Mistakes don’t mean less ice time. Gallant has inspired his team and doesn’t have them playing scared. It’s a perfect approach and one that’s evidently paid off.

Advantage: Golden Knights

Trotz is a great coach, but there’s just something about the spirited way Gallant has Vegas playing that simply cannot be denied. We’ve seen it all season and all playoffs.

2018 STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW:

• Who has the better forwards?
Who has better defense?
• Who has better special teams?

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Stanley Cup Final Preview: Who has better special teams?

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Leading up to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC), Pro Hockey Talk will be looking at every aspect of the matchup between the Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights. 

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

There is no team with a better weapon on the power play than Alex Ovechkin (sorry, Patrik Laine). The fact of the matter is Washington has clipped along at damn-near 30 percent (28.6%) in the playoffs on the power play through three rounds. The only team better is the Boston Bruins, and well, they were ousted in the second round.

And it’s not just Ovi producing on the power play (he has nine points). Defenseman John Carlson leads the team with 10 power play points. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has been simply sensational in the playoffs, has nine, as does T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom.

One of the X factors in this series is going to be special teams, and for Washington, specifically, they’re going to need to tighten up on the penalty kill. They allow one goal every four opportunities they give to an opposing team on the power play. Couple that with the fact that they’re the most penalized team in playoffs (61 times shorthanded), and you can see where this all could go wrong. Perhaps the good news for the Caps here is that their road PK percentage (79.3%) is better than their home numbers (71.9%).

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

Vegas’ pedestrian 17.6 percent power play success rate is a full 11 percent behind the Capitals, so Washington has them beat in this regard. Vegas is the second-most shorthanded team in these playoffs (57). Forward Erika Huala leads the team with 12 power-play points while William Karlsson (8), Reilly Smith (7), and Jonathan Marchessault (6) round out their top-four point producers.

The Golden Knights could use a spark on the power play away from home, where they take advantage of just 13 percent of their man advantages.

Vegas has been much better than the Caps when shorthanded, however, at 82.5 percent. Given how many penalties the Golden Knights have taken — and the fact they played Patrik Laine and the Jets in the Western Conference Final — that’s pretty impressive. They muzzled the Jets all over the ice, but were particularly good at keeping Laine and Mark Scheifele off their game on the power play.

Vegas’ PK has been good both on the home and away from T-Mobile Arena — much like everything they’ve done this season.

Marc-Andre Fleury owns a .909 save percentage on the penalty kill, compared to Braden Holtby‘s .857.

Advantage: Capitals (ever so slightly)

Washington’s power play pushes them just over the top here, especially against a team that gives up so many opportunities. It has to be said though that this battle is very close on paper. Vegas has the better goalie in shorthanded situations and they have a better penalty kill all-around.

Special teams is certainly an x-factor in this series and should be fun to watch given the talent on both teams. 

2018 STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW:

• Who has the better forwards?
Who has better defense?

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

No contract, no problem: Trotz guides Caps into Cup final

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) One of the lasting images from the Capitals’ playoff run came the morning of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final.

Usually Alex Ovechkin hustles around the rink in a hot lap prior to the morning skate. Only this time it was 55-year-old coach Barry Trotz, who answered the call from his players to do the lap.

“I was worried about the turns,” Trotz said. “The rudders haven’t been sharpened all year. … I almost bit it at the end there trying to imitate Ovi.”

The Capitals beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 that night to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final, but they might’ve won Game 7 at that moment. Rarely in previous postseasons had Trotz been that relaxed, the result of an unusual situation.

Trotz went into the season without – and still doesn’t have – a contract for next season, a circumstance that almost never happens to an experienced coach of a team with legitimate postseason hopes. But in a strange way, being a lame-duck coach might’ve helped Trotz not feel the pressure of past early exits and played a positive role in getting this far.

“I think it could be the same effect on a player, too, that’s becoming a free agent,” general manager Brian MacLellan said Friday. “He’s basically becoming a free agent as a coach, and what effect does that have? Do you have your best year when you’re a free agent?”

Trotz has. Even with the fifth-most victories of any coach in NHL history, until this spring he hadn’t made it past the second round in 18 previous seasons with the Nashville Predators and Capitals. He called it “luck of the draw,” running into championship-bound teams from Detroit, Chicago and Pittsburgh.

This improbable Capitals run that continues with Game 1 of the Cup Final on Monday in Las Vegas is not luck. It’s parts Ovechkin and goaltender Braden Holtby, and also the right moves by Trotz. He called on Philipp Grubauer to start the first round in goal before switching to Holtby in Game 2 against Columbus and watching him get on a roll. He put Jakub Vrana on the top line not long before the rookie scored the winner in Game 5 against the Penguins and pushed all the right buttons on rest and preparation.

Teams tend to read cues from a head coach, and those have been positive.

“I think his demeanor has changed a little bit,” MacLellan said. “He seems a little lighter, a little looser, a little less pressure, maybe a little more freedom in terms of how he goes about things.”

Despite back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies, MacLellan and Capitals management didn’t offer Trotz an extension.

Before the playoffs, Trotz said he hadn’t lost any sleep over his status and referred questions to MacLellan and owner Ted Leonsis. In March, Leonsis said he doesn’t talk about contracts, and MacLellan has repeatedly stated that any talks would wait until after the playoffs. There are currently no vacancies in the NHL.

Toronto’s Mike Babcock is the highest-paid coach at $6.25 million, Chicago’s Joel Quenneville is next at $6 million and Montreal’s Claude Julien comes in at $5 million. Those three have combined to win the Cup five times.

Trotz’s price tag has gone up however the Final goes against the Golden Knights.

“He’s probably going to benefit from this, too,” MacLellan said. “I think he’s done a good job managing it. To come in this year with so many questions – not from my point of view the lineup questions were that a big deal – but just the emotional state of our team coming in to start the year and how to handle that, I think he’s done an outstanding job.”

Trotz survived a 10-9-1 start that culminated with 6-3 and 6-2 losses at Nashville and Colorado, and the Capitals winning 12 of their next 14 games might have saved his job. Players’ response to Trotz reading them the riot act showed he certainly hadn’t lost the room.

But a journey of self-discovery last summer went beyond not having a contract.

“It gave me just some clarity on what defines me, what defines us, what defines you,” Trotz said. “If you don’t win any awards or anything, I’m not going to look at you any different. If you’re a good person and you treat people right and you live your life right, then I’m going to think really highly of you. If you don’t, I’m not going to think so much of you. And I started getting that clarity that everybody looks for the wrong in people rather than the right and it gave me a lot of clarity. And some things happened in my life that allowed me to see that and it’s been good.”

Happy, relaxed Trotz has made more appearances in these playoffs than buttoned-down, terse Trotz. He hasn’t soured amid the road bumps this postseason.

The Capitals have followed Trotz’s even-keeled approach and even been upbeat following losses. Like his players, he’s enjoying the ride.

“Playoffs are fun,” Trotz said. “They are a grind. But they’re fun. And they should be treated as fun. They’re sort of all the hard that you have to put in just to get there and it takes even more hard work to go farther, but it is fun. I’m finding I’m having a blast during the games.”

More Stanley Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/StanleyCupFinals

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SWhyno

Golden Knights success raising stakes for next NHL expansion

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SEATTLE (AP) — From his office about 1,000 miles away from T-Mobile Arena, Tod Leiweke has watched the Stanley Cup playoffs with a growing appreciation for what is taking place in Las Vegas.

He was keeping an eye on the Golden Knights even before he became president of Seattle Hockey Partners LLC, the group looking to bring an expansion NHL franchise to the Pacific Northwest. Once he took charge of Seattle’s efforts , Leiweke’s interest intensified, just as Vegas began its run to the upcoming Stanley Cup Final.

”They’re playing the game with great joy and they’re having fun and it’s just inspirational to watch,” Leiweke said. ”We’re absolutely loving it and living vicariously through them.”

The Golden Knights’ success in their inaugural season has been unprecedented as Vegas prepares for Game 1 on Monday night against the Washington Capitals. It’s also seemed to have heightened the expectations for the next wave of NHL expansion.

Seattle is on deck. If the NHL awards the city a franchise, it could be on the ice as early as the 2020 season. It would require a $650 million expansion fee and a renovated arena. There’s also talk of future growth, with Houston mentioned regularly as a possible destination for the league.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has met with new Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, who is certainly more open to acquiring an NHL franchise for Houston than former owner Les Alexander. Seattle is certainly further ahead in the process by showing interest, but Houston has the arena and a potential owner already in place for the near future.

For now all the focus is on what’s happening in Seattle. And if Leiweke is feeling any additional pressure for his potential franchise given Vegas’ success on and off the ice, he’s not showing it.

”Well, to tell you the truth, I guess someone could interpret it that way that there’s all of a sudden this unusual pressure on us but in fact all they’re doing is helping us,” Leiweke said. ”They’re showing us how successful this league could be, the brilliance of the game, they’re showing us what happens when a team comes together and plays inspired hockey. We don’t at all see it as anything other than just a great thing for the National Hockey League. Those that come before us will set the table for us. When I think about what they’ve done my endorphins go off and I have such admiration and we’re truly inspired by it.”

The indications about six weeks ago, when Leiweke was hired, led those involved in the expansion process to believe some type of conditional approval would be granted by the NHL Board of Governors during their June meeting, to be followed by full approval in September. The staggered approach was to make certain construction on the arena would begin in late October as scheduled.

That has changed. Bettman told The Associated Press this week that the Seattle expansion won’t be formally addressed next month.

”What we have said to the people – David Bonderman’s group – is we’re on your timetable. There’s information that needs to be gathered after information is submitted. We have to finish doing our due diligence and our homework. We need to have the timetable understanding as to when the building’s going to get done. We can move as fast or as slowly as you want. There’s no rush,” Bettman told the AP. ”We’re in the middle of the process. They’re doing their homework, and they’re proceeding on two fronts because they’ve got to renovate a building and they’ve got to pursue the team and they’re doing both very nicely. They’re working with the city, they hired Tod Leiweke.

”Is it going to be on the June agenda? No. After that, could it be September? Could it be the annual meeting in December? It’s possible.”

Leiweke was hoping to have a true rooting interest in the finals, but the Tampa Bay Lightning were ousted in the Eastern Conference finals by the Capitals. Leiweke was the CEO of the Lightning from 2010-15 and was part of the group that turned around the organization, both with its on-ice success and in the stands, rejuvenating a fan base that had slumped following Tampa Bay’s title run in 2004.

The experience in Tampa Bay gave Leiweke an understanding of what it’ll take for Seattle to have a successful franchise. And while it may not be on par with what Vegas is accomplishing, Leiweke sees no reason why Seattle won’t have a chance to be a contender from the start.

”I won’t be foolish enough to say we’re going to make it to the Stanley Cup (Final) in our first year but I believe that we can absolutely build a team that is long-term competitive here,” Leiweke said. ”So when we think about this we don’t say look, we’re resetting a goal and our goal is to make the Stanley Cup in year one. But our goal is to replicate a good part of what they’ve done by building an incredibly competitive program where those players are proud to pull on that sweater.”

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.

More Stanley Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/StanleyCupFinals

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Schedule