Joe Thornton

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.

Joe Thornton’s wonderful ‘lifestyle beard’ is gone

Sharks/Twitter
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Quarantine has brought out the beards. When there’s no office to get to and you’re not leaving your house, there’s no need to break out the razor a few times a week for a facial trim.

But if you’re Joe Thornton and you’ve been sporting a woodsman-like beard for several years, going with a clean mug for a while isn’t such a bad idea.

The Sharks forward revealed over the weekend that his wonderful beard is no more. In a video posted over the weekend, Thornton’s beard disappears after a “I Dream of Jeannie” head snap from his daughter, Ayla.

It hasn’t been that long since Jumbo went clean-shaven. Teammate Brent Burns buzzed off the fuzz before the start of the 2018-19 season with Thornton saying goodbye to his “lifestyle beard.”

Hopefully, whenever the NHL returns, Thornton’s beard will as well.

————

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.

Joel Ward retires from hockey, reflects on 726 unlikely NHL games

Capping an unlikely playing career, Joel Ward announced his retirement from hockey on Monday. Ward shared the news in a compelling piece at The Players’ Tribune.

Ward, 39, titled that announcement “726.” That represents the number of regular season games Ward played with the Wild, Predators, Capitals, and Sharks. For a lightly scoring player even at the University of Prince Edward Island — a player who went undrafted — Ward realizes how unlikely his journey was.

While Ward received a tryout with the Canadiens before 2018-19, he last enjoyed NHL action with the Sharks in 2017-18. That also represents his last hockey run, as Ward didn’t go overseas.

In retrospect, retiring this way ended up feeling fitting for Ward.

Hockey is a beautiful game, and it works in mysterious ways. Some players, they end on a perfect high, some have it taken from them. But me, I kind of thought it was fitting that I went out the way I came in — without anybody really noticing.

Ward truly took an unlikely path to the NHL, going from the University of Prince Edward Island, jumping suddenly from the ECHL to the AHL, and then making a lasting impact at the highest level. As Ward notes, he even played for Team Canada during the 2014 world championships.

Ward retires from hockey, 2014 world championships
(Photo by Xavier Laine/Getty Images)

Ward shares details from his career as he retires

Of course, Ward didn’t just play in 726 regular-season games. He also appeared in 83 playoff contests, managing a memorable playoff overtime goal against the Bruins while he was with the Capitals in 2012.

Ward fondly recalls “[Alex Ovechkin], with the biggest smile on his face, flying at me full speed,” after Ward scored the goal, which you can watch in the video above this post’s headline. Ward focused on that memory, rather than the unfortunate, racist reaction from some fans after it.

Despite admittedly not being a smooth skater, a fighter, or a grinder, Ward managed to find a place in the NHL. He scored 133 goals and 304 points during those 726 games, including a 24-goal, 49-point season with the Capitals (2013-14) and a 21-goal, 43-points campaign with the Sharks (2015-16). Ward managed pretty strong playoff numbers, too (22 goals, 52 points), even if he eschewed labels like “clutch.”

Ward picks the Sharks locker room as his favorite, even if memories of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final still sting him today.

I miss that group so much already. I miss how much fun it was to come to the rink every day. That’s what separates San Jose from anywhere else. The atmosphere in that locker room, it’s remarkable. Every day was a blessing there. Patty, Pavs, Jumbo, Burnzy — those guys set the culture and everyone followed. I’m thankful to that organization for the opportunity to have played there, to have been a part of it all.

Really, thank you.

Ward’s Players’ Tribune retirement piece is worth your time, particularly if you enjoyed any of his 726 regular-season games and 83 postseason appearances.

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.

What is the Sharks’ long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the San Jose Sharks.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The San Jose Sharks had a strong core for years that helped lead to consistent playoff appearances over the last decade. But general manager Doug Wilson is looking for the next crop of players to usher in a new era of hockey in San Jose. Joe Thornton and Brent Burns are still around but the organization is relying on Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Erik Karlsson and others to lead the franchise for the foreseeable future.

The Sharks stumbled this season through the first 70 games and currently sit at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. San Jose will not even be rewarded with a top draft pick due to the trade with the Ottawa Senators for Karlsson in September of 2018.

Thornton entertained the idea of waiving his no-movement clause at the NHL Trade Deadline if a true contender wanted to acquire the savvy centerman. There was a lack of interest but if Thornton is interested in chasing the Stanley Cup next season, there is a strong chance he will not be back in the Bay Area.

Despite the horrific season in San Jose, there is still plenty of talent on the roster. Timo Meier led the team in points with 49, Evander Kane was closing in on a 30-goal season and Karlsson still had 34 assists in only 56 games. In addition, Couture and Hertl missed time with injuries and should provide further offensive firepower.

Long-Term Needs

The most glaring weakness for the Sharks has been their play between the pipes. Martin Jones had a sub .900 save percentage and a 3.00 goals against average. The 30-year-old goaltender still has four additional years remaining on his contract and will be a difficult asset to move via trade.

San Jose also has significant cap space tied up in several long-term contracts and has to solve problems from within. Between Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Karlsson, the Sharks have more than $26 million committed through 2024-25.

Looking at the forward group, Couture, Kane, Meier, Hertl all have lengthy contracts and Kevin Labanc will need a new deal after taking an extraordinarily team-friendly agreement last summer. Similar to every NHL team, Wilson and his staff need to find the right pieces at a bargain price to fill out the roster.

Long-Term Strengths

The Sharks have taken great pride in building a culture that allows players to thrive. Thornton was a key figure in building the foundation, but he has passed on the characteristics of a strong locker room to his teammates.

Trade acquisitions are able to seamlessly fit in both on and off the ice while young players looking to earn their stripes at the professional level feel comfortable right from the beginning.

While Thornton could switch uniforms in the upcoming offseason, it will be up to Couture, Burns and others to make sure that culture isn’t lost.

The Sharks struggled mightily with the departure of Joe Pavelski this past summer but are too skilled to have a second straight dreadful season. If their play in net can improve, and key players can remain healthy, the Sharks could bounce back next season.

MORE ON THE SHARKS
• Looking at the 2019-20 San Jose Sharks
• Sharks biggest surprises and disappointments so far


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

PHT remembers hockey video games: An ode to the NHL 2K series

Thornton NHL 2K cover
via 2K Sports

Every Tuesday, PHT will remember a hockey video game (or games). Since we don’t have every console or cartridge, some posts will be recollections, not reviews. This week, we look back at the NHL 2K series, which served as great competition for EA’s NHL games, particularly during the Playstation 2 era.

This past weekend, ESPN’s feed gave Twitter addicts welcome reprieve from “pick three” lists with the question: “What is the peak of your personal athletic achievements?”

Naturally, I sat that out, as my peak athletic achievements lean toward “not being chosen last in a pickup game.” Now, if you ask about the peak of my fake video game athletic achievements, the NHL 2K series etched one moment in my memory.

A personal highlight from the NHL 2K series

Allow me to set the scene.

It was late in the summer of 2006, in my deeply crummy Texas apartment. If “Guitar Hero” wasn’t on the screen, chances are, it was “NHL 2K6.”

Facing off for the first time against someone who would become a lifelong friend, I was controlling Ilya Kovalchuk. And, folks, I made the move.

If you’ve ever gotten hooked on hockey video games, you know that there are some surefire ways to score goals. In that run of NHL 2K games, this cheesy behind the net plus backhand move was money. Especially with Kovalchuk.

Yet, instead of cash registers ringing from said money, there was … nothing. Was I mad? Perhaps, but I was undoubtedly perplexed.

Well, it turns out that the money move was indeed money. Maybe Kovalchuk doing the move broke the game. The puck actually hit the very top of the glass behind the net, bounced back off of the opposing goalie, hit the crossbar, and went in.

Speaking of being mad or not, if my friend was upset, he didn’t exactly show it. We were both perplexed, and frankly in awe.

During the latter years of the Playstation 2 era, the NHL 2K series captured my attention away from EA’s offerings. That turned out to be short-lived, as EA pulled away with the “skill stick” and jump to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.

NHL 2K didn’t just fall behind in the race. It ended up falling out altogether.

But, like the Blackhawks and Kings … hey, we still have the memories. And a lot of the NHL 2K memories ended up being fond ones. For a while.

The birth of the NHL 2K series

As with 2K Sports’ other sports titles, including the still-running NBA 2K franchise, and the still-beloved NFL 2K games, the NHL 2K series got its start on the all-too-briefly realized Sega Dreamcast console.

(If you want to observe people getting weird about video game hardware, do some Dreamcast deep diving.)

  • NHL 2K launched the series with Brendan Shanahan on the cover.
  • The series took a year off, returning with Chris Drury-starring NHL 2K2. It might have been the final North American release for the Dreamcast.
  • NHL 2K3 and the following release ESPN NHL Hockey both featured Jeremy Roenick on their covers. (The 2K games did this around that era, as Allen Iverson basically had a monopoly on the NBA 2K games.)

ESPN NHL 2K5: darkest spot of the golden era

There was a lot to like about ESPN NHL 2K5. It was part of the run of 2K games that were only $20, and it didn’t backfire for the NHL 2K series like it did for NFL 2K.

(People also lionize ESPN NFL 2K5 to this day.)

But whenever I saw that cover with Martin St. Louis, I couldn’t avoid thoughts about the 2004-05 lockout.

2K Sports/Youtube

Dark times.

  • Personally speaking, NHL 2K6 and NHL 2K7 were the last titles in the series that truly hooked me (and friends).

NHL 2K7 wasn’t just a swan song to many. It also featured out of place songs by way of a soundtrack with acts like The Postal Service. It’s uncomfortable that the latter stages of the series were more worthy of emo.

EA Sports pulls away

Things drastically changed when EA made a more successful jump to the next consoles thanks to brilliant execution of “the skill stick.”

  • You could really start to see the strain to catch up with NHL 2K8, which wasn’t received particularly well. Things didn’t get much better for NHL 2K9, either.
  • Consider NHL 2K10 something of the end of an era, as it was the last in the series to appear on the more powerful consoles. It’s also an oddity that Alex Ovechkin was on the cover, being that he also appeared on the cover for EA’s NHL ’07.

NHL 2K10 did cater to fans in two specific ways: being the first to feature the Winter Classic, and also helped turn the tide for the Hartford Whalers’ jerseys to appear in games again.

  • Things really fizzled out from there with NHL 2K11 (Wii and iPhone) and simply NHL 2K (mobile game) years later in 2014. Curiously, Ryan Kesler was the cover star for the latter two games.

***

Basically, the NHL 2K series went out like … erm, Ryan Kesler, actually. But like a beloved star who stayed around too long, let’s try to remember the good times instead of the sadder moments.

PHT remembers other hockey video games:

  • NHL Championship 2000, Fox’s rare foray into hockey video games, starring Mike Modano.
  • NHL Slapshot, a Wii video game with a small plastic hockey stick peripheral that even Wayne Gretzky found delightful.
  • EA’s NHL ’98, when the company hit its polygonal stride, and also featured a great soundtrack (ironically and unironically?).

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.