2019 NHL Draft

Sakic has Avs trending up after two straight playoff seasons

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Back in his Colorado Avalanche playing days, Joe Sakic’s approach was pretty much title or bust.

As the team’s general manager, a similar feeling is beginning to develop.

Sakic and the Avalanche took a little time for reflection following a Game 7 loss to San Jose in the second round. That page has been turned.

The Hall of Fame player turned executive has his full focus on improving a team that’s been to the postseason in back-to-back seasons for the first time since he was on the ice.

High on Sakic’s to-do list: A deal for restricted free agent Mikko Rantanen and preparing for the draft, where the Avs possess the fourth overall pick (courtesy of Ottawa) and the 16th selection. There’s also a multitude of players to consider retaining , which includes unrestricted free agent goaltender Semyon Varlamov.

”You’ve got to keep building and getting better,” Sakic said Tuesday. ”As great as the end of the year was, we still didn’t accomplish the end goal. We’ve got to find a way to get better.”

In 2018, Colorado was simply content with getting into the playoffs and lost in the first round to Nashville. This season, the Avalanche expected to make some noise, which they did by upsetting Calgary, the top seed in the West. It was the first time since 2008 they had advanced out of a series. But their run came to a halt with a 3-2 loss to the Sharks.

”Someone had to lose that series – unfortunately it was us,” Sakic said. ”Our guys learned a lot in that series.”

It’s easy to see why securing Rantanen remains high for Sakic: The forward is coming off a regular season during which he set career bests in points (87), goals (31) and assists (56). Rantanen paired with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog to form one of hockey’s most lethal line combinations.

”We want to make sure we have him signed,” Sakic said.

Sakic plans to meet with the coaching staff to make evaluations involving players under contract, restricted free agents (Nikita Zadorov, J.T. Compher and Alexander Kerfoot head the list) and those with expiring deals (such as Derick Brassard, Colin Wilson, Patrik Nemeth and Gabriel Bourque).

As free agency approaches, the Avalanche already have some players in mind.

”We’ll be more aggressive this year with that, but if it doesn’t work out with the players we want to talk to, we’re not just going to go spend on anybody,” Sakic said. ”We want the right players and the right fit.”

Other topics Sakic addressed:

– On a possible extension for coach Jared Bednar, whose deal is up after next season: ”We’ll get to that at the appropriate time. … There’s a good respect and good relationship the way he handles the players and the way the players respond to him.”

– On Nathan MacKinnon banging into the boards with his shoulder early in Game 7 at San Jose: ”He’s getting better every day. He’ll be fine in a couple weeks.”

– On the possibility of bringing back Varlamov, who’s been with the Avalanche since 2011-12: ”We’ll see what happens July 1 with him. … We’ll be in communication.”

– On working out a deal with defenseman Tyson Barrie, who is a free agent after ’19-20: ”All I can tell you is he’s an incredible player. He was a driving force down our stretch and with what we saw with him, Cale (Makar) and (Samuel) Girard I’d be very, very comfortable starting the year with that group.”

As for the draft, Sakic doesn’t plan on dealing the No. 4 pick. Although, he’s open to offers.

The last time Colorado drafted at No. 4 was 2017 when they took Makar, who led Massachusetts to the Frozen Four final before signing with the Avs soon after and joining the team for Game 3 of the Calgary series. The rookie provided a big boost in the postseason with a goal and five assists.

”He’s going to be an incredible player,” Sakic said. ”There’s a lot of excitement about this team. We’ve got to keep building and try to get to the next level.”

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It was the Kaapo Kakko show vs. Canada at IIHF World Championship

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Kaapo Kakko will likely wind up with the New York Rangers as the No. 2 overall pick in next month’s NHL Draft in Vancouver. On Friday, he showed why New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero should have second thoughts about going with Jack Hughes with the top selection.

During Finland’s 3-1 win over Canada in their opening game of the 2019 IIHF World Championship, the 18-year-old forward scored twice, including this highlight-reel goal in the first period.

Kakko’s profile on Elite Prospects tells you what we saw on that goal. 

“A quick-thinking winger, Kakko never seems to be in a rush. He reads the game exceptionally well and finds himself a step ahead while the play is still developing.”

As soon as the Thomas Chabot turnover lands on Arttu Ilomaki’s stick, Kakko takes off up ice as he sees how the play is developing. Toni Rajala’s touch pass then sends Kakko through Chabot while Brandon Montour takes a penalty in an attempt to stop him. Then the young Finnish forward shows off his edge work and smoothly beats Matt Murray for the opening goal.

The top prospect was later out on the ice as Finland defended their 2-1 lead late in the third period. Kakko, who was named “Player of the Game,” created a turnover and then finished off Canada with an empty-netter to complete his memorable night.

Kakko is eyeing history during the 2019 Worlds. If Finland wins the tournament, he would be the youngest player to ever win gold at the U18, U20 and senior World Championships.

2019 NHL DRAFT FIRST-ROUND ORDER
1. New Jersey Devils
2. New York Rangers
3. Chicago Blackhawks
4. Colorado Avalanche (from Ottawa Senators)
5. Los Angeles Kings
6. Detroit Red Wings
7. Buffalo Sabres
8. Edmonton Oilers
9. Anaheim Ducks
10. Vancouver Canucks
11. Philadelphia Flyers
12. Minnesota Wild
13. Florida Panthers
14. Arizona Coyotes
15. Montreal Canadiens
16. Colorado Avalanche
17. Vegas Golden Knights
18. Dallas Stars
19. Ottawa Senators (from Columbus Blue Jackets)
20. New York Rangers (from Winnipeg Jets)
21. Pittsburgh Penguins
22. Los Angeles Kings (from Toronto Maple Leafs)
23. New York Islanders
24. Nashville Predators
25. Washington Capitals
26. Calgary Flames
27. Tampa Bay Lightning
28. Conference final losing team with fewest points
29. Conference final losing team with most points
30. Stanley Cup Final losing team
31. Stanley Cup winner
————

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.

Avalanche offseason presents big opportunities — and challenges

The Colorado Avalanche don’t want to hear this – not after falling painfully short against the Sharks in Game 7 – but to many observers, that agonizing ending feels like just the beginning.

Just consider the players who spearheaded their surprising five-game steamrolling of the Calgary Flames in Round 1, and the players who pushed San Jose to the limit in Round 2.

  • Nathan MacKinnon‘s the headliner, and at 23 with a ridiculous bargain $6.3 million cap hit through 2022-23, he might be the best value in all of the NHL.
  • After a bumpy start to his Colorado stay, Philipp Grubauer sure looks like a legitimate No. 1 goalie. He’s 27 and cheap ($3.33M) though 2020-21, too.
  • Mikko Rantanen‘s not that far behind MacKinnon, and just 22.
  • It feels like Gabriel Landeskog has been around forever, but he’s just 26. His $5.571M cap hit doesn’t expire until after the 2020-21 season.
  • Cale Makar looked right at home in the pressure cooker of the playoffs, and he’s 20. Samuel Girard is another nice piece, and could improve since he’s just 20, too.
  • Tyson Barrie‘s like Landeskog in that he’s still young (27), and affordable ($5.5M through 2019-20).

Of course, it’s not just all that precocious youth that makes the Avalanche seem like a Team of Tomorrow.

Thanks to that brilliant Kyle TurrisMatt Duchene trade by GM Joe Sakic, the Avalanche didn’t just add Girard and other more immediate pieces; they also snagged what would become the Ottawa Senators’ first-rounder in 2019 (along with Ottawa’s third-rounder).

While Colorado didn’t enjoy the sexiest option of getting a shot at Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko, you won’t see a ton of teams make two consecutive playoff appearances and land the fourth pick of the draft. That happened thanks to the Turris trade, and the Avalanche are also slated to pick 16th with their own selection, as confirmed by NHL.com.

[Sharks hold off Avs in Game 7]

Having two picks in the top half of the 2019 NHL Draft gives Sakic & Co. some fascinating options.

Most directly, they can stick with both picks. They could also move one or both of those selections for more immediate upgrades via trades.

Both options are tantalizing, but the latter scenario is fascinating because of the road ahead for the Avalanche. Let’s take a look at the decisions Sakic must make, both in the near and longer-term future. As always, Cap Friendly is a crucial resource for contract information and other details, and served as a great resource for this post.

Tons of cap space, but some big names to re-sign

Via Cap Friendly, the Avalanche have about $46.9 million in cap space devoted to 13 players, with few problem contracts (aside from, I’d argue, Erik Johnson‘s deal).

There’s some significant money coming off the books as this season ends, and it remains to be seen if Colorado wants to bring back any of veterans Semyon Varlamov (31, $5.9M in 2018-19), Derick Brassard (31, $3M after retention), and Colin Wilson (29, just under $4M). Honestly, the Avs would probably be wise to let both Varlamov and Brassard walk, and maybe see if Wilson would take a little less cash for some term.

Either way, a ton of money will be allotted to RFAs. Rantanen figures to come in at a big clip, and it wouldn’t be one bit surprising if he landed in double digits. Honestly, even if he did, his trio with MacKinnon and Landeskog could probably still be underpaid as a group.

Rantanen isn’t the only noteworthy RFA. Alex Kerfoot, 24, and J.T. Compher, 24, both need new deals, and each player is somewhat tough to gauge value-wise. (Kerfoot is sneaky-effective from a two-way perspective.) Nikita Zadorov is another interesting situation as a 24-year-old RFA.

A window opens

Considering how young this Avalanche core is, the instinct might be to take a zen-like, slow approach.

Yet, if the Avalanche look at cap-crunched teams like the Maple Leafs, they should realize they have an unusual advantage to know that a window is opening, and that they should seize opportunities when they come along.

MacKinnon’s contract represents the outer limits (2022-23) of that window, but Colorado should also consider more immediate “deadlines.”

  • Landeskog and Grubauer are eligible to become UFAs after 2020-21, and should expect hearty raises.
  • Tyson Barrie’s deal runs out after 2019-20, and could be pricey considering his offensive production.
  • Girard’s slated to be an RFA after 2019-20, while Cale Makar’s rookie deal ranks as another competitive advantage for Colorado.
  • Granted, there will also be moments of cap relief. Carl Soderberg‘s $4.75M cap hit ends after 2019-20, so that should come in handy. The Brooks Orpik buyout ends after 2019-20, too.

With all of that in mind, the Avalanche should strongly consider ramping up their aggressiveness by either landing a free agent (maybe recent opponent Erik Karlsson, if he springs free? How does Artemi Panarin feel about skiing?) or by trading for a big ticket player. It’s tough to imagine the Predators trading P.K. Subban in general, yet especially to a division rival where they’d face Subban multiple times per year, yet Subban might be the type of gamebreaker Colorado should try to land.

Again, this is where that fourth or 16th pick could make things that much more interesting. Colorado could sell a trade partner on receiving cap space and/or a high draft pick in exchange for taking a known quantity, and a player who’s already x number of years into their development.

Imagine the Avalanche team that battered the Flames and challenged the Sharks adding an All-Star-level player, or even two? It’s a scary thought for opponents, and the Avalanche shouldn’t wait forever to try to make big strides. MacKinnon’s contract gives them a lengthy advantage, yet other bargains will evaporate soon. Why not get a surplus of talent while you still can?

***

Whether you believe the Avalanche should go bold or take a more measured approach, it sure seems obvious that this team has a lot of potential.

If management makes the right decisions – and, honestly, gets a few lucky breaks – then the Avs might just reach that potential.

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.

Hurricanes trade top prospect Fox to Rangers

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The New York Rangers’ added another significant piece to their rebuild on Tuesday afternoon when they acquired the rights to defense prospect Adam Fox from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for the Rangers’ second-round pick in 2019 and a conditional third-round pick in 2020.

The condition on the third-round pick is that it will become a second-round pick if Fox plays in at least 30 games for the Rangers during the 2019-20 season.

Originally drafted by the Calgary Flames in the third-round of the 2016 NHL draft, the Hurricanes acquired Fox as part of this past summer’s Dougie Hamilton trade.

Fox had been a prized prospect in the Flames’ farm system but they included him in the deal because there was serious concern as to whether or not he would actually sign with the team.

It hasn’t exactly been a well kept secret that the 21-year-old Long Island, N.Y.  native had his sights set on signing with the Rangers as soon as his draft rights had expired, allowing him to become a free agent. Because of that it is kind of surprising that the Hurricanes, given what little leverage they almost certainly had in trade talks, were able to get as much they did out of the Rangers.

The second-round pick in 2019 is the 37th overall pick in the draft and there is still the potential for next year’s pick to also become a second-rounder.

The Hurricanes now have three second-round picks in 2019, already possessing their own pick and the Buffalo Sabres’ pick as part of the Jeff Skinner trade.

Fox spent the past three seasons playing his collegiate hockey at Harvard where he recorded 21 goals, 95 assists, and 116 total points in 97 games. He was a runner-up for the Hobey Baker Award this past season, finishing as a runner up to now-Colorado Avalanche defender Cale Makar.

There is no telling at this point what type of career Fox has ahead of him, but this is still a nice piece for the Rangers to add to their organization simply due to the potential he has. It also comes just a couple of weeks after the Rangers won big in the draft lottery by moving up to the No. 2 overall pick where they will likely end up with Kaapo Kakko (assuming Jack Hughes goes No. 1 overall to the New Jersey Devils). 

Related: What Rangers gained in draft lottery

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Draft Lottery: What Blackhawks, Rangers gained; what Kings, Avalanche lost

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On Tuesday night 15 NHL teams had a significant part of their future come down to a couple of ping pong balls.

In the end, it was the New Jersey Devils getting the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft for the second time in three years, going from the third spot in the lottery up to the top spot. It is there that they will have the opportunity to select prized prospect Jack Hughes and add him to their core alongside Nico Hischier (the No. 1 overall pick two years ago) and, hopefully, Taylor Hall assuming they can work out a long-term contract extension.

It was a great night for the Devils and their fans, but they were not the only team to win big.

Others, however, lost big.

It’s not an earth-shattering revelation to point out that there is a significant difference between picking first versus picking fourth, or picking third instead of 12th. You can find good players at any pick in any round, and there are always good players available, it’s just that your odds drop dramatically with each spot.

Obviously the higher you pick in the draft, the better chance you have to land an impact player that can change the long-term outlook of your franchise.

You expect to get, at the bare minimum, a consistent All-Star with the No. 1 or No. 2 overall pick. You might get a good first-or second-liner with the 10th pick. You hope to just find someone that will make the NHL and have a nice career as you get toward the bottom half of the first round and beyond.

[Related: Devils win draft lottery, will get No. 1 overall pick]

But what exactly does that look like from a numbers and production perspective, and how does that impact the big winners and losers from Tuesday night?

The Colorado Avalanche were big losers

The Avalanche entered the night with the best odds of winning the No. 1 overall pick (18.3 percent) due to the fact they have the Ottawa Senators’ top pick as a result of the 2017-18 Matt Duchene trade. It could have been a PR disaster for the Senators, especially after they passed on the opportunity to send their 2018 pick to Colorado and hang on to this pick to complete the trade. Had the Avalanche won there would have been a ton of second guessing going on in Ottawa.

But the Avalanche not only did not win the top pick, they fell as far as they could have possibly fallen and ended up with the No. 4 overall pick. That is still a great position for a playoff to be in, but it is probably not going to be as franchise-changing as it could have been.

The table below shows the past 20 players to go No. 1 and No. 4 overall, their career totals, and the average games played and total production from each slot.

Obviously this is not the most scientific way to do this, but it does at least give us a little bit of a baseline of what to expect from each spot.

Look at how big the drop off is, not only in terms of the star power each side has, but also in the overall careers. There are some outstanding players on the right side (Andrew Ladd, Ryan Johansen, Evander Kane, Seth Jones, Mitch Marner, Alex Pietrangelo) and a likely Hall of Famer (Nicklas Backstrom). There are also quite a few busts, or players that did not quite fulfill expectations.

Then look at over the left side. You have two clear busts in Patrik Stefan and Nail Yakupov, a couple of really players in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Aaron Ekblad, and Erik Johnson, an injury ravaged career in Rick Dipietro … and then every other player is either a superstar or has the potential to be one day be one. There is a massive difference in value, and we are only talking about three spots in draft position, while they are both considered prime draft picks.

This is a tough break for the Avalanche.

The Los Angeles Kings were even bigger losers, while the New York Rangers were huge winners

At least if you are an Avalanche fan you have a playoff team to watch this season, while you still have your own first-round draft pick to go with a top-four pick. That is a huge bonus and can still land you a really good young player to add to your core. Not getting the No. 1 overall pick might stink, but your team is still in a great position.

The Kings, however, had some rotten luck because this is not the way they wanted their rebuild to start.

Entering the night with the second-best odds to win the top pick, the Kings fell all the way back to the No. 5 overall pick. And if you thought the gap from No. 1 to No. 4 was big, the gap from No. 2 to No. 5 might be even bigger.

The No. 5 spot has produced some legitimately great players (Phil Kessel, Blake Wheeler, Carey Price, Thomas VanekElias Pettersson is certainly trending in that direction) and some really good ones, but other than Ryan Murray, whose career has been sabotaged by injuries, and probably Kari Lehtonen, just about every player at the No. 2 spot has had an impact career as either a top-liner or franchise player.

At No. 2 the Kings probably would have been guaranteed to get a star in either Hughes or Kaapo Kakko. They could still get a star, or at least a really good player, at No. 5, but history suggests their odds of doing so dramatically drop.

Their fall down the draft board coincided with the Rangers going from the sixth spot to the No. 2 spot, where their rebuild now gets accelerated as they will be the ones getting the opportunity to select Hughes or Kakko.

It is a huge win for them, and it all happened because of Ryan Strome‘s overtime goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the regular season finale. If the Rangers do not win that game, it is the Edmonton Oilers in the lottery spot that would have moved to the second pick. The Oilers, of course, traded Strome to the Rangers mid-season for Ryan Spooner.

Luck is a funny thing sometimes.

The Blackhawks were HUGE winners

The Devils were the biggest winner of the night simply because they received the No. 1 overall pick. But the Chicago Blackhawks were not far behind them, and if you wanted you could probably build a convincing argument the Blackhawks were the biggest winners just because of how much they stand to gain by going from the No. 12 pick all the way up to the No. 3 overall pick.

That is a massive jump in games, goals, points, production … everything. It should — should — help the Blackhawks land another young building block, and maybe even a potential star, to go with Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, and their core of veterans that are still around. The ping pong balls falling the way they did may have helped keep the Blackhawks’ championship window open a little bit longer in the near future.

The 2019 NHL Draft will take place at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. The first round will be held Friday, June 21. Rounds 2-7 will take place Saturday, June 22.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.