2020 NHL Draft

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Why Wild are better off being terrible next season

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When you ponder what separates the good, the bad, and the ugly in the NHL, don’t forget the importance of self-awareness.

For all of Minnesota Wild GM Paul Fenton’s lizard tongued blunders through his first year at the helm, the Wild’s biggest problem is that owner Craig Leipold is in denial about his team.

It’s been about a year since Leipold shared this message, yet all signs point to the Wild refusing to embrace a true rebuild. In ignoring their reality, the Wild only dig the hole deeper by making more mistakes, and dragging their feet on finding better answers.

Instead of getting the best of both worlds of competing and “rebuilding on the fly,” the Wild are stuck in purgatory: too bad to credibly contend, too competitive to get the picks that help teams win championships. Leipold’s paid for a contender while the Wild have slipped to the level of outright pretenders.

In catering to Leipold, both Chuck Fletcher and current GM Paul Fenton created quite a mess. The Wild’s Cap Friendly page might as well include a horror movie scream mp3 every time you load it up.

Allow this take, then: the Wild would be better off bottoming out in 2019-20, rather than battling for mediocrity.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Changing perceptions?

Most directly, an epic Wild collapse would help them get higher draft lottery odds.

The indirect benefits are considerable, if not guaranteed. Most importantly, Leipold may finally realize that the current plan isn’t working. Failing to even be “in the mix” may also inspire the Wild to trade away certain players, and for those players to make the process easier by waiving various clauses.

  • To start, there are players who are more or less in their primes, but may slip out by the time the Wild can truly compete. Jared Spurgeon is the biggest example with his expiring contract, but it continues to make sense to shop Jason Zucker, and Jonas Brodin heads the list of other considerations.
  • If the Wild end up cellar dwelling, it might be easier to convince Mikko Koivu and Devan Dubnyk to accept trades, and perhaps even to part ways with Eric Staal. (Trading Staal would be awkward since he gave the Wild a sweetheart deal, but sometimes things have to get awkward before they get better.)
  • Via Cap Friendly, the Wild’s commitments for 2020-21 go down to $59.46M, and really open up in 2021-22 (just $37.36M to seven players). So, if the Wild are too stubborn or cowardly to trade some of the above players, Fenton could get something close to a clean slate if they merely let them walk or retire. This thought makes a Spurgeon decision especially important.

On Parise and Suter …

Speaking of money regrets, the Wild should try to get Parise and Suter off the books, even if it’s tough to imagine them actually pulling that off.

  • Honestly, if Parise went on LTIR, I’d view it as far more credible than plenty of other cases. He’s had significant back issues, and those don’t tend to go away, particularly for 34-year-olds with a lot of mileage.
  • Suter seems impossible to trade, but we’ve seen other seemingly impossible trades actually happen.
  • Maybe there’d be a hockey deus ex machina, like expansion draft creativity, or a compliance buyout?

Not the best odds, yet Fenton would be negligent if he didn’t explore many avenues to ease concerns.

Hope can come quickly

A long rebuild would be a tough sell, but maybe Fenton could sell a Rangers revamp to Leipold: going all-in for a short period of time to bring in picks, prospects, and generally gain flexibility.

[More on the Rangers’ rebuild]

While I doubt that many teams can recreate the Rangers’ mix of wisdom and luck, the bottom line is that the Wild have gone a long time since they focused on getting blue chip prospects. Look at the Wild’s draft history and you’ll see how rare high first-rounders have been lately, and how often they’ve lacked higher picks altogether.

To sweeten the deal, the 2020 NHL Draft crop is getting quite a bit of hype, too.

Imagine the Wild landing a lottery pick, some picks and prospects through trades, and Kirill Kaprizov’s long-awaited NHL leap. If they hoarded cap space, they could strike for their own answer to Jacob Trouba and/or Artemi Panarin. Suddenly, the Wild go from drowning slowly in quicksand to seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.

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Things can change quickly in sports. The Wild could make their “poor, sad, dejected, beaten down” fans far happier with some bold changes, but they must sway their most important fan: their owner. If a truly lousy season is the only way for Leipold to clue in, then it might just be worth it for the Wild.

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 acquire Marleau, set to buy him out

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Patrick Marleau is a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, but only for a moment.

The Toronto Maple Leafs shipped the 39-year-old, a conditional first-round pick, and a seventh-rounder in the 2020 NHL Draft to Raleigh in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the same draft. The condition of the first round pick is this: If the pick is in the Top-10 in 2020, Carolina instead receives Toronto’s 2021 first-round selection.

Marleau, meanwhile, is expected to be bought out by the Hurricanes after waiving his no-movement clause, although the Hurricanes are expected to try and convince him to play with the ‘Bunch of Jerks’.

As Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports, Marleau would like to return to San Jose once the free agency period opens on July 1.

For the Leafs, they get something in return in the way of a late draft pick next year, but the real reward is the cap space it frees up. Toronto doesn’t retain any of Marleau’s salary, meaning they have $6.25 million added to a budget that was getting increasingly tighter.

The team is trying to re-sign Mitch Marner on a deal that’s reportedly going to be worth north of $10 million. They also have to sign Kasperi Kapanen in a deal that was reported as being “close” yesterday and basically done today.

Marleau played two seasons with the Maple Leafs after signing in Toronto as a free agent in July 2017.

Marleau had played 19 seasons with the San Jose Sharks prior to joining the Maple Leafs. He scored 508 goals and 1,082 points in a Sharks sweater. With Leafs, Marleau had 43 goals and 84 points in 164 games.

More importantly, Marleau was a mentor to Auston Matthews et al.

“He’s so important,” Matthews told the Toronto Sun recently. “I talk to him all the time. For myself, it’s really tough to put into words. He’s just such a good human being. He’s so unselfish. Puts everyone above him. I could tell you a hundred stories where we go to dinner and before we know it, he’s given his credit card to the waitress when nobody was looking. He always took care of guys.

“It didn’t matter if you were a veteran or a rookie, he treated everyone the same. No matter what happens, that relationship with him and Mitch isn’t going to change. It’s going to suck not seeing him all the time and spending time with him.”

If Marleau is to be bought out and is to return to San Jose, it’s likely he could sign a very team-friendly, bonus-laden deal given he’s already getting paid for next year and anything on top of that is double-dipping.

Carolina’s cap situation, with Marleau, looks like this at the moment:

Patrick, through his wife Christina’s Twitter account, posted a thank you note to the Maple Leafs, their fans and the city of Toronto.

“It was an honor to play with the iconic Maple Leaf on my jersey and be a part of Leaf nation,” Marleau wrote.

MORE:
• New Jersey Devils take Jack Hughes with No. 1 overall pick
• Rangers select Kaapo Kakko with second overall pick
• USA Hockey big winner of Round 1
• 2019 NHL Draft tracker — Round 1

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.

NHL draft in 2020 awarded to Montreal

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MONTREAL (AP) — The NHL draft is returning to Montreal for the 27th time and first since 2009.

The NHL on Wednesday announced the Canadiens will host next year’s draft, which will be held June 26-27. The announcement was made as the league holds its annual awards ceremonies in Las Vegas, and prepares to hold the draft in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Friday and Saturday.

Montreal hosted the first 22 drafts starting in 1963 before it was held in Toronto in 1985. Though Montreal also hosted the draft in 1986, ’88 and ’92, the NHL then began shifting the event’s location to make it more accessible to its fans.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Trade: Flyers add Braun to blue line as Sharks shed salary

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One day after the San Jose Sharks handed Erik Karlsson $92 million over the next eight years, they shipped defenseman Justin Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for a 2019 second-round pick (No. 41 overall) and a third-round selection in 2020.

“Justin has been an important part of our organization since we drafted him in 2007 and over that time, we have seen him develop not only as a player on the ice but as a man,” said Sharks general manager Doug Wilson in a statement. “He has played a large role in our team’s success since joining the Sharks roster, including appearing in three Conference Finals and competing for the Stanley Cup in 2016. I want to thank Justin and his wife, Jessie, for their commitment to the Sharks organization and wish them all the best in their future.”

In the wake of the Karlsson extension Wilson needed to shed some salary off the Sharks’ cap. This trade does that, freeing up $3.8M from their books for the 2019-20 NHL season. Braun has one year left on his deal and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in 2020.

Wilson and the Sharks now have a little over $16M in cap space, per Cap Friendly, to try and re-sign some of the team’s restricted free agents like Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc, and figure out what to do with UFAs Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist.

“Under a cap system, choices and decisions need to be made,” Wilson said on Monday. “I don’t think anybody should rush to conclusions on anything. There’s many ways to accomplish different things.”

The Braun acquisition continues an aggressive off-season by Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher. In the span of a week he’s acquired the negotiating rights to pending UFA Kevin Hayes, swapped defensemen with the Washington Capitals by shipping Radko Gudas in exchange for Matt Niskanen, bought out Andrew MacDonald‘s contract, and now added Braun.

This now gives the Flyers a blue line with a left side featuring Ivan Provorov (RFA), Shayne Gostisbehere, Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, and Travis Sanheim (RFA). Who will be on the move out of that group? Judging by how some NHL GMs are talking this week, it could be a very busy summer of player movement.

“I think there’s been more conversation, more communication between the GMs in the last month than maybe ever since I’ve been a GM,” Wilson said. “There’s so much competition, especially for the high-end player. … There’s a lot of things going on.”

MORE:
Sharks set to sweat salary cap after Karlsson extension
Teams looking for defense should seek trades, not free agents
Free agent market for defensemen looks thin without Karlsson

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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.