Quinn Hughes

PHT Morning Skate: Will players opt out?; Dumba on Hockey Diversity Alliance

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen on the NHL’s Return to Play plan: “I’m not quite 100 per cent confident yet. I think the league is very adamant about working towards that [return]. I think once we get to the hub cities, everyone has to be confident [in those] and that the league will have a good setup. So once we get there we’ll be good, but I think it’s a matter of getting there first. It looks like there’s some more things that need to be ironed out first.” [TSN]

• Potential Calder Trophy winner Quinn Hughes on how he’s feeling after four months off: “I feel as strong as I’ve ever been, so I’m confident, excited and ready to come back here.” [NHL.com]

• Will we see NHL players opt out of returning to play? [Sin Bin Vegas]

• If the NHL resumes play later this summer, the Blue Jackets will have Alexandre Texier back from injury. [Blue Jackets]

• On Matt Dumba, the Hockey Diversity Alliance and how he’s pushing the sport to become more inclusive. [NBC News]

• The ZSC Lions have given head coach Rikard Gronborg an early two-year extension. Gronborg, who’s been linked to NHL jobs in the last few off-seasons, has an out-clause in his deal for the 2022-23 season. [Swiss Hockey News]

• How Rangers head coach David Quinn leans on Lindy Ruff and Chris Drury for their playoff experience. [Forever Blueshirts]

• Five questions with David Andrews, the longtime commissioner of the AHL who retired on Tuesday. [NHL.com]

• Rick Dudley, the Hurricanes’ Hockey Ops VP, will not have his contract extended by the team. [News and Observer]

• Alexis Lafreniere donning the bleu, blanc et rouge? The draft lottery outcome has given us that possible outcome. [Sportsnet]

• From the barber poles to the classics, a look at the best and worst Canadiens jerseys. [Hockey by Design]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Mock Draft: Projecting top picks for the 2020 NHL Draft after part one of draft lottery

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So, uh, we still don’t know which team will (almost certainly) pick Alexis Lafreniere first overall in the 2020 NHL Draft. On the bright side, the zany draft lottery did determine picks two through eight of the 2020 NHL Draft. With that in mind, let’s ponder which players will represent the top eight picks by way of PHT’s mock draft.

Actually, perhaps you should consider this a mock draft of mock drafts. Maybe call it a consensus of consensuses?

PHT compiled the top 10 rankings from 11 different mock drafts/prospect rankings/big boards to put together a mock draft medley for the 2020 NHL Draft. If that doesn’t provide enough of a “consensus of consensuses,” consider how some of those mock drafts were compiled.

As a prominent example, TSN’s Bob McKenzie surveyed 10 scouts and presented that consensus. So this is a riddle wrapped in an enigma cooked with bacon, but for mock drafts for the 2020 NHL Draft. Or something like that.

For more insight on the process behind this mock draft for the 2020 NHL Draft, check the bottom of this post. You’ll find links to each of those 11 lists, too. What value!

Note: These rankings were compiled before the draft lottery, so yes, this leans toward “best player available” logic.

Lafreniere the near-unanimous top pick of 2020 NHL Draft

1. MYSTERY PLACEHOLDER TEAM — Alexis Lafreniere

Give credit to Cam Robinson of Dobber Hockey for being the one brave soul who didn’t rank Lafreniere first. Before you gather torches and pitchforks, realize that Robinson merely ranked the winger second, and praised Lafreniere effusively.

The Athletic’s Corey Pronman projects Lafreniere to be a “foundational player.” Others waffle between calling him a franchise player or, more modestly, a first-line winger. Maybe right off the bat.

So, will Lafreniere be special, or just really good? A team in the Qualifying Round will be glad to find out.

(Pauses for inevitable tanking jokes.)

[Click here for more on the NHL Draft Lottery.]

Second pick debates could be interesting

2. Los Angeles Kings – Quinton Byfield

Once you move beyond Lafreniere, Byfield stands tallest among top 2020 NHL Draft prospects — literally and figuratively. Robinson ranked Byfield ahead of Lafreniere, believing that Byfield has potential to eventually surpass the probable top pick.

Now, not everyone ranks Byfield second among prospects. The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler wonders (sub required) if some dipping opinions boil down to overexposure. Wheeler praised many aspects of Byfield’s game:

He’s huge, his skating has become enough of a strength that he can really push the pace through the middle of the ice, he’s got excellent puck skill for a player his size and he’s surprisingly creative for his size. He’s also one of the younger players in the draft, so he’s got time to figure out the rest.

At times, NHL teams overvalue Huge Hockey Humans.

That said, it’s different when that Huge Hockey Human boasts discernible hockey skill. If Byfield puts it together, who knows what his ceiling can be? He also plays center, so Byfield could conceivably make the Kings really tough down the middle alongside (an admittedly aging but still effective) Anze Kopitar.

(Or someone else will get a potentially fantastic center.)

3. Ottawa Senators – Tim Stutzle

Let’s move from size to speed.

In the eyes of a healthy number of scouts, Stutzle is the second most enticing prospect.

“If there’s someone in this draft who could go by Lafreniere in the years to come, it’s this kid,” An anonymous NHL scout told TSN’s Bob McKenzie about Stutzle. “It’s because of the skating.”

It’s possible that Stutzle could go as high as second, yet there are some experts who barely squeeze the speedy German into the top seven. We’ll have to see how the Senators view the speedster. For all we know, Ottawa might try something bold with its two high first-rounders.

Room for movement after top three prospects in 2020 NHL Draft mocks

4. Detroit Red Wings – Jamie Drysdale

Largely believed to be the best defenseman in the 2020 NHL Draft, Drysdale should draw plenty of attention. Experts praise Drysdale’s skating — not just speed, but strong edge work — as one of his best qualities. Experts diverge, however, on how much of an impact Drysdale can make.

The Red Wings selected Moritz Seider during the 2019 NHL Draft, so maybe they’d prefer a forward. But … honestly, they need a bit of everything after a profoundly disastrous season. The Red Wings simply need to pick who they believe is the best player available.

5. Ottawa Senators – Marco Rossi

From Cole Caufield to Alex DeBrincat, it feels like each draft sports at least one polarizing, undersized forward prospect. Rossi looks to fit that bill for the 2020 NHL Draft. The 5-foot-9 forward inspires a range of rankings, with some picking Rossi as high as third.

Count Rossi as one of those smaller forwards you might describe as feisty. Even so, Pronman and others are concerned that Rossi might not be speedy relative to his size.

Will we see another smaller, skillful player slip? That hinges on how the Senators and other teams (above/below them?) view Rossi’s potential. Ottawa might end up only being willing to (slightly) gamble on one of Stutzle or Rossi, also. We’ll see.

(Also, the gap between Drysdale and Rossi was small, even though they’re quite different players.)

6. Anaheim Ducks – Lucas Raymond

More than one expert ranked Raymond as high as fourth. Among those, Robinson praises Raymond as  “an explosive winger who is equally dangerous with his shot or pass” who boasts rare “escapability.”

The Ducks need all the offensive punch they can get, so Raymond — or another forward — would make total sense.

7. New Jersey Devils – Cole Perfetti

Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino describes Perfetti as “a magician in the offensive zone with his ability to change pace and find teammates.”

That said, Perfetti inspires a range of rankings, as some are concerned about his skating (at least for a 5-foot-11 player slightly on the smaller side).

Personally, I believe Perfetti should get bumped up a letter grade for having a tremendous name.

8. Buffalo Sabres – Alexander Holtz

McKenzie made an interesting comparison between Holtz and fellow Swedish prospect Lucas Raymond:

Holtz, who plays both the left and right sides, has one of the best shots in the draft and is among the best natural goal-scorers. If Raymond sometimes gets questioned for being on the perimeter, Holtz gets high marks for getting to the inside and playing a harder game.

The Devils have locked down some high-end forward talent, but Holtz might be the sniper who really boosts a playmaker like, say, Jack Hughes. That said, the Devils also really need defense (and lots of other things), so it may come down to whether or not they believe Holtz is a potential 40-goal scorer (as Robinson believes).

(As a side note … there were some close results from this experiment, but Perfetti and Holtz finished in a dead heat.)

Honorable mock draft mentions for 2020 NHL Draft

  • Yaroslav Askarov (sometimes spelled Iaroslav) – Goalies don’t go in the first round very often. Despite that trend, Askarov has a chance to crack the top 10. Hey, if a goalie looks about as can’t-miss as goalie prospects can look, then it could be worth the risk, right?
  • Jake Sanderson – A team looking for a defenseman might prefer Sanderson to Drysdale. He’s generally considered the second-best blueliner by mock drafters, but that can vary.
  • Anton Lundell – The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy describes this center as “practically plug-and-play.” Lundell accounted well against older hockey players. Still, some wonder about his upside. When he showed well in rankings, Lundell generally peaked in the No. 9 or No. 10 spots.
  • Jack Quinn – In ranking Quinn 10th, Cosentino described Quinn as one of the “best-in-class goal-scorers.” Selfishly, I’m pulling for Jack Quinn to join Jack or Quinn Hughes during his career. In an ideal world of chaos (we’re living in a less-than-ideal world of chaos)? Team up all three.

Method for mock draft for 2020 NHL Draft, and further reading

To reiterate, PHT collected the top 10 rankings from 11 mock drafts/draft boards. Every list came out in April at the earliest, while several were published this week.

You can see the results in this clunky spreadsheet. Here are the staffs and/or writers who produced such lists (note: some articles may require subscriptions):

MORE: Lafreniere head of the 2020 prospect class

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Power Rankings: Top Draft Lottery memories

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Hockey fans will get something to obsess about on Friday, June 26, as the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will air on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET. If one of the NHL’s bottom seven teams wins the first draw, we might know where Alexis Lafrenière is headed (assuming, reasonably safely, that he goes first). As promising as Lafrenière is, history shows that winning a draft lottery isn’t the only part of putting together a championship team — if you even get that far.

I mean … don’t get me wrong, as this list shows, it often helps. A lot.

The latest PHT Power Rankings list breaks down top memories that have come from draft lotteries. Sometimes we’ll see big winners, losers, or both. Sometimes there will be tragic comedy, or incredible luck (*cough* or both).

The experience of seeing your team’s luck swing on the bounces of lottery balls can be agonizing. It also makes just about every experience a personal one. So, if you have draft lottery memories that didn’t make the cut, absolutely share them.

Try not to ruin your day going over such memories, though.

[How the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will work. It could get complicated.]

1. Penguins land Crosby in strange 2005 NHL Draft Lottery

You know it’s an odd, memorable draft lottery when Sports Illustrated gives it the oral history treatment.

Sidney Crosby also ended up justifying the hype, making the 2005 NHL Draft lottery possibly the most pivotal since the format began.

On one hand, the Penguins received some of the best odds to win. They received three of the 48 lottery balls in the NHL’s strange setup, ranking among four teams with the most. Even so, they had a 6.3 percent chance to win the Crosby sweepstakes. (Somewhere, Brian Burke is still fuming about this.)

You can probably set off a brushfire of hockey debate by asking how much the Penguins’ success hinged on luck — not just landing Crosby, but Evgeni Malkin second in 2004, and a bucket of other high picks — and how much hinged on solid management. There’s no debate that the Penguins came out of the lockout with two enormous additions.

You can also entertain yourself with some Ducks alternate history. What if they did land Crosby? Imagine if Burke’s alleged aims to trade for Joe Thornton worked out? Would Burke still be challenging Kevin Lowe and others to barn brawls as Ducks GM to this day?

*Loosens tie over the whole thing*

Also:

  • The Canadiens only received one lottery ball, yet eventually drafted Carey Price fifth overall.
  • The Sabres had three lottery balls, but chose (*moves imaginary glasses from forehead to eyes*) … Marek Zagrapan? Oof.

That 2005 NHL Draft tops the list of lottery memories. There are plenty of other dramatic swings to mull over, however.

2. Blackhawks lose big in 2004, then win big in 2007

It’s easy to zero in on the top pick of a draft versus the second when you look back at draft lottery swings. But don’t sleep on the third pick, and on, because that’s where the deepest belly laughs and cringes often lurk.

Consider 2004. The Capitals rocketed back to relevance thanks to Alex Ovechkin. Malkin served as the first of the Penguins’ two superstars (but far from the only high picks, as the Penguins marinated in those during a run of profound ineptitude).

The Blackhawks? They chose Cam Barker third overall. Brutal.

Luckily, the Blackhawks ended up trading Barker for a future building block in Nick Leddy. Amusingly, fourth overall pick Andrew Ladd also helped Chicago down the line.

But most luckily, the Blackhawks landed the top pick in 2007 despite having the fifth-best chances (8.1 percent). Chicago selected Patrick Kane, pairing him with Jonathan Toews on their way to three Stanley Cups.

The Flyers suffered through a miserable season, yet instead of drafting Kane, they ended up with James van Riemsdyk. There’s a kinship, oddly, between JVR and Bobby Ryan: two New Jersey natives, who were second overall picks, and enjoyed bumpy-but-productive careers that probably didn’t soothe the wounds of those who were mad about draft lottery results.

Did we mention they were from New Jersey? (Crowd boos.)

[NHL Mock Draft: Lafreniere head of the 2020 prospect class]

3. The Oilers land McDavid, McDavid makes classic McDavid face

Compared to the Sabres’ 20-percent chance, the Oilers were underdogs to land Connor McDavid with the third-best odds (11.5). But the Oilers’ rain and reign of first overall picks continued.

As you may remember, McDavid looked thrilled.

There’s a sound argument for this rankings second, not third, among draft lottery memories. After all, McDavid ranks as the biggest star to emerge first overall since Crosby.

He also made that face.

But the other factor that looms large is the deep failure of the Oilers and the Sabres. Edmonton achieves borderline art in poor development (Nail Yakupov, first in 2012) and poor decisions (trading Taylor Hall, first in 2010) to squander so much good fortune. Only now are the Oilers flirting with the success they were practically gifted, and that hinges a ton on McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

The Sabres have been a mess for about a decade. They can’t pin that on getting Jack Eichel instead of McDavid, even if they clearly tanked for McDavid.

Hockey fans might want to attribute the success of teams like the Penguins and Blackhawks to premium picks alone. Yet, the Sabres and especially Oilers show us that you can squander such riches.

4. Taylor Hall, lottery ball specialist

Taylor Hall, one-time MVP and himself the top pick of 2010, became a good luck charm for his teams — at least when it came to draft lotteries. The biggest win came when the Oilers won the McDavid sweepstakes in 2015, while the Devils also landed Nico Hischier and most recently Jack Hughes in lotteries with Hall in the fold.

Hall hasn’t just shown a good sense of humor about it. He’s done so multiple times.

In 2015, McDavid:

After 2017, when the Devils eventually added Hischier:

Hall still provided some great barbs in 2019, though he wouldn’t spend much time with Jack Hughes:

So, a question: do we gauge Hall’s continued lottery ball dominance based on where the Coyotes draft, or if he signs with a different team in free agency? This is important, I think.

[PHT Roundtable: Draft Lottery format reactions]

5. Flyers make biggest jump ever

Heading into the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery, the Flyers held the 13th rank. Despite that standing, they jumped all the way to the second pick. Philly had a 2.4 percent chance to do that.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem like a Blackhawks Barker-to-Kane flip. Early in his career, Nolan Patrick has been some combination of inconsistent and injured (his career outlook is still foggy because of migraines).

Patrick’s health issues make it seem way too harsh to throw the word “bust” around. But that jump to No. 2 definitely didn’t deliver for the Flyers quite like they dreamed.

The next three picks turn the knife deeper for Flyers fans. The Stars drafted a defensive pillar in Miro Heiskanen. Then the Avalanche got a pillar of their own in Cale Makar. Finally, the Canucks might have drafted the “real” top pick in Elias Pettersson.

Ouch.

Honorable mention NHL Draft Lottery storylines and memories

To reiterate, good draft lottery luck doesn’t always translate to the standings. Sometimes it doesn’t even mean you’ll choose the right player.

  • The Thrashers (Patrik Stefan) and Islanders (Rick DiPietro) followed back-to-back blunders, and made blunders around those moves. Trading Roberto Luongo, giving DiPietro a ruinous contract, and so on showed that winning the lottery isn’t everything. Granted, Atlanta eventually struck gold with Ilya Kovalchuk (2001) — at least for a while.
  • Buffalo suffered some bad luck, but they need more than lottery wins. Rasmus Dahlin (2018) looks legit, yet he hasn’t been able to solve the Sabres’ problems. That takes multiple shrewd moves … and, yes, some luck.
  • You could rank the Canucks among the teams that have been burned by bad draws. Even so, some of their best recent picks came outside the true no-brainer range. They selected Elias Pettersson fifth in 2017, and he’d probably be the top pick in a re-draft. The Quinn Hughes pick (seventh in 2018) looked smart then, and brilliant now.

MORE POWER RANKINGS:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Power Rankings: Off-season buyout candidates

Monday would have marked the latest day that the NHL’s buyout period would open. Per the CBA, the window begins 48 hours after the Stanley Cup is awarded or “the later of June 15.”

Well, since this season is like no other, we won’t be seeing Commissioner Gary Bettman handing out the Cup until the fall — if that even happens at all.

The financial implications of the COVID-19 shutdown will have a major affect on the NHL’s salary cap going forward. Before the pause, it was believed that the 2020-21 cap ceiling would rise to between $84-$88.2 million. Now? It may remain at $81.5 million, squeezing some teams who have money committed and more extensions to give out.

That will cause plenty of teams to get creative in trying to get under the ceiling and be able to ice a competitive roster. Compliance buyouts have been discussed but owners are reportedly against them. While keeping the compliance buyouts costs off your books may not be an option once the NHL’s regular business resumes, traditional buyouts will still remain a tool for teams to ease the pressure on their salary cap picture.

In this week’s Power Rankings we take a look at five players who would make for prime buyout candidates this off-season.

1. Karl Alzner, Canadiens: It has been not a fun ride for Alzner in Montreal since signing a five-year, $23.125M deal in 2017. Since cashing in during free agency, the 31-year-old defenseman has played 95 games over three seasons with the Canadiens. He’s played nearly as many (87) with their AHL affiliate in the last two seasons. Alzner has two years left on a contract that carries a $4.625M cap hit, which includes a $1.5M signing bonus due this off-season.

A buyout would put a heavy hit on the Canadiens’ cap for next season — $3,958,333M — but for 2021-22 that would go down to $1,958,333M and then $833,333 in the final two years. Montreal is already at $63M committed for next season and that doesn’t include extensions for restricted free agents Max Domi and Victor Mete.

2. David Backes, Ducks: The 36-year-old forward was part of that 2016 free agent class of forgettable contracts that featured the likes of Frans Nielsen, Milan Lucic, Andrew Ladd, Loui Eriksson, and Troy Brouwer. Backes’ production and ice time diminished over his four seasons in Boston as he battled through injury and an inability to find a consistent spot in the lineup. He moved on in February in a deal that sent Ondrej Kase to the Bruins.

Anaheim is attempting to trend towards youth, and while a Backes buyout won’t free up a large amount of cap room ($3M in 2020-21, $750K in 2021-22), the move would open up a roster spot and ice time for one of their younger players. It would also help a team that is currently tied to nearly $76M in cap space for next season.

3. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers: The emergence of Igor Shesterkin has put Lundqvist’s future in New York in doubt. The 38-year-old netminder has one year remaining on his deal, which carries a pricey $8.5M cap hit. Considering the Rangers are in a transition phase and looking to get younger, getting out from Hank’s number would assist long-term in easing cap pain and helping continue to build for the future.

The Rangers spent big last summer, bringing in Jacob Trouba and Artemi Panarin. That’s put them with a little over $67M committed for next season. Due for extensions are RFAs Brendan Lemieux, Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Strome, and pending unrestricted free agent Jesper Fast. One more RFA who’s owed a new deal is goaltender and long-time piece of trade bait Alexandar Georgiev.

Buying out Lundqvist would mean $5.5M on the Rangers’ books next season, plus Shesterkin’s $925K and either a few million for Georgiev to be part of the picture or a cheap, veteran backup. New York’s cap picture in 2021-22 would see Lundqvist’s buyout hit drop to $1.5M.

Before any move happens with Lundqvist he has to agree to waive his no-move clause. GM Jeff Gorton could always seek a trade, but the goalie’s cap hit would make that difficult.

Getty Images

4. Kyle Turris, Predators: Nashville has $72M committed for 2020-21 and it’s clear Turris’ place in their lineup has diminished. He’s been a healthy scratch at times and still has a $4M cap hit with him for the next four seasons. A buy out would put $2M on the Predators’ cap picture through 2027-28.

In a normal off-season there would always be the possibly of David Poile looking to dump Turris’ contract to a team looking to get above the cap floor. But that will likely not be an option for teams looking to unload money in a tight-cap world.

5. Loui Eriksson, Canucks: Part of that rich 2016 free agent class, Eriksson has not been able to recapture the scoring touch that saw him net over 25 goals four straight seasons in Dallas and hit 30 in his final year with the Bruins. In 245 games with the Canucks he’s scored only 38 times. If compliance buyouts were a thing, he’d be a no-brainer, but a regular buyout? That decision would be a tough one for GM Jim Benning.

Eriksson has two years left with a $6M cap hit per season. The Canucks would be stuck with $5,666,667M and $3,666,667M on their cap the first two seasons post-buyout before a more palatable $666,667 in the final two years. Right now they have almost $64M tied up for next season and have UFAs and RFAs to decide on like Jacob Markstrom, Tyler Toffoli, Jake Virtanen, Adam Gaudette, Chris Tanev, and Troy Stetcher.

As Benning navigates this off-season for his transitioning Canucks, he’ll more certainly be keeping an eye on the summer of 2022. That off-season is when Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes can become RFAs. Cap room will be needed to re-sign those two cornerstone pieces.

All salary cap data via the wonderful CapFriendly

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Roundtable: Qualifying round excitement; draft lottery reaction

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Which Qualifying Round series are you most excited to see?

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: There are two reasons why I’m eager to see the Canucks-Wild series. Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.

They’re the two cornerstones of the Canucks rebuild and they helped Vancouver take big strides this season. This will be their first postseason — if you want to describe it like that — experience and in such a short series they could cause plenty of problems for Dean Evason and his charges.

Pettersson and Hughes weren’t the only two key cogs for the Canucks. J.T. Miller and goaltender Jacob Markstrom could share the team’s MVP award this season. Miller was their leading scorer (72 points) after being acquired from Tampa last summer and Markstrom finished top five in even-strength save percentage (.925). That will be important going against a Wild team that averaged over three goals per game.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: As tempting as it is to go rogue from my own selections — and as difficult as it was to rank all eight qualifiers to begin with — I should stay consistent and choose Penguins vs. Canadiens.

And, really, there’s a lot to love. For one thing, whether the Penguins are really “scared” of Carey Price or not, it adds some sizzle to the steak. There should be plenty to chew on with this series, too, as Pittsburgh boasts those big stars, while the Canadiens have been a strong possession team with not-so-strong results for some time now. The Penguins might be the most “overqualified” team for this play-in format, so imagine if Montreal pushes Pittsburgh to the brink?
(After watching Jaroslav Halak upset the Penguins back in 2010, wouldn’t it be odd for Price to do the same a decade later?)

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: I’ll have my eyes glued to the TV for the Toronto-Columbus series. The Maple Leafs have not won a playoff round since 2004, and the pressure is mounting considering how firmly entrenched in “win now” mode they are. After three straight first-round exits, a coaching change, and a lot of cash paid to its superstars, Toronto is running out of time to capitalize on their plan.

From Columbus’ perspective, a couple things stand out. First, the question mark in net. Neither goalie has any playoff experience. Joonas Korpisalo was stellar in the first half of the season and was named an All-Star, but got hurt and didn’t play much in 2020. Elvis Merzlikins didn’t win a game until New Year’s Eve, but once Korpisalo went down, he took the starter’s load and at one point recorded 5 shutouts in less than a month. Who will step up?

Another other major factor is Columbus’ health. Their top players were battered and bruised all season, and rarely at full capacity. With such a long layoff, we may see the best version of these Blue Jackets.

Considering the Leafs were staring down a First Round matchup with the Lightning before the pause, they will seemingly have their hands less full with Columbus. Then again, those Blue Jackets were a buzzsaw last year and swept the Presidents’ Trophy winners, so you really do never know. Especially when John Tortorella is involved.

 

[NHL announces return-to-play plans]

Complicated as it is, do you like the draft lottery procedure for this unique season?

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: I had to read it a dozen times just to come close to comprehending exactly how it will all go down.

It should have just been simplified: Those seven teams who didn’t make the Return to Play plan? Congrats! You have an equal shot at landing Alexis Lafreniere and are part of the lottery. Then, at the conclusion of each round, the losing teams will be slotted into the appropriate spots by regular season winning percentage until we end the Round 1 order with the two Stanley Cup teams.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Not really.

For one thing, if the NHL was so eager to run an early-June draft (at least according to reports), weren’t they doing so to create buzz? Going to go out on a limb and say that when rules are so convoluted that even Gary Bettman is apologizing for them, you probably aren’t going to leave fans very excited about the draft lottery. Considering that many of the most hardcore hockey fans only know a smattering of prospects, shouldn’t the lottery to win the few known quantities be a little more straightforward?
We live in complex times. Why not make sports easier to follow?

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Putting the very intricate details of the draft lottery aside for a moment, I am thrilled that the decision was made to place the draft itself after the conclusion of the season. The concept of a June draft never felt right to me. Not only would the determination of a draft order have felt somewhat arbitrary without a completed season, but there are so many components of crucial league business predicated on the draft taking place in the offseason. By keeping the draft in its traditional place, the NHL has ensured the most fair outcome for its teams as they prepare for what is hopefully a somewhat normal 2020-21 season.

Now, regarding the draft lottery: I am not a proponent of the procedure as outlined. The complexity doesn’t bother me; if the goal was to come as close as possible to the traditional format, where 15 non-playoff teams all get a shot at the lottery, then this is the best way to do it because there is no incentive to lose in the Qualifying Round, and the odds for the teams at the bottom of the standings remain as high as they usually are.

Except there are not 15 non-playoff teams. Effectively, there are only seven. And those seven teams are at a disadvantage relative to the 16 teams who will play in the Qualifying Round.

A reason why the NHL ended up with a 24-team format was to accommodate the large number of teams who were on the playoff bubble. So, the cutoff line for those who will get a shot at the Stanley Cup was made more forgiving. Why then is there simultaneously a reward for those teams (getting the chance to win a Cup), as well as a safety net (chances at the top 3 picks). Normally, you either get one or the other. Now, you get both, all while the system remains unchanged for the teams at the bottom.

MORE:
NHL targets early June for Phase 2 of return to play plans
A look at the Eastern Conference matchups
Final standings for 2019-20 NHL season, NHL draft odds
A look at the Western Conference matchups

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.