How to Enjoy the NHL Draft When You Don't Care about the Draft

From the Leafs to the Oilers, we look at what some teams need to do at the draft and how they can screw it up by not listening.

by Dave Lozo
Jun 22 2016, 8:20pm

Photo by Sergei Fadeichev/TASS

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.

The NHL Draft. The event that can change the fortunes of every team. From June 24-25, the league's franchises will gather at First Niagara Center and pluck teenagers from across the globe to join their teams, allowing them all to realize a dream of playing in the NHL.*

*Unless those kids never make the NHL. And for most of them, it won't be for a few years, if at all; actually, like three players, maybe four, out of 211 will be on NHL rosters for the duration of the 2016-17 season.

Here's the thing with the NHL draft—unless you're picking in the top five, it almost never pays dividends right away. When you watch the NFL draft, it's mostly guys in their early-20s ready to make an immediate impact; in the NHL, it's mostly guys that will have to wait years to maybe play support minutes.

READ MORE: Why Sidney Crosby Is This Generation's Wayne Gretzky

TSN's Bob McKenzie, who knows more about hockey than you know about your family, says you shouldn't expect many immediate impact players to come out of this year's draft.

So who cares about the draft? Do you really want me to chart an entirely invented career projection of Matthew Tkachuk, a player who I've never seen play? "Matthew Tkachuk: Son of Keith, good scorer, wants to get better in his own zone and be a complete player."

No! You want to know what your team should or should not do at the draft, not in the draft, and that means trades (and, fine, OK, an occasional actual draft thing) and signings, the things that will actually affect your team next season.

Here is what some teams should and should not do when they descend on Buffalo this week.

Toronto Maple Leafs

What they need to do: Draft Auston Matthews with the first overall pick.
How they can screw it up: On the night before the draft, the Leafs' front office can accept a dinner invitation from the Winnipeg Jets' brass. "Come on, Kyle Dubas, it's your 21st birthday, just do one more shot," says Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, as he tries to get the assistant GM drunk with help from peer pressure. With Dubas needing care the following morning as he pukes in the toilet, the Leafs realize there's no one at their draft table as the clock expires and the Jets take Matthews with the second pick.

Edmonton Oilers

What they need to do: Not trade Taylor Hall.
How they can screw it up: By trading Taylor Hall.

I'm sure the Oilers won't mess up this sound advice. Photo by Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Vancouver Canucks

What they need to do: Keep their first-round pick.
How they can screw it up: The Canucks are like a gambler who doesn't know when to say enough. Everything about last season screamed, "It's time to rebuild!" Then the Canucks said, "We are a playoff team if we had Brandon Sutter!" We laughed—like, really hard, too—then they traded Jared McCann and the 33rd pick for Erik Gudbranson. Suddenly, it's not funny anymore. The Canucks are taking out a line of credit, smacking the blackjack table and screaming at the dealer when his showing 6 turns into a 21. Just take Tkachuck with the fifth pick and quit while you're... moderately behind.

New Jersey Devils

What they need to do: Acquire players that can... play.
How they can screw it up: By adding Pavel Datsyuk's $7.5 million cap hit for 2016-17. I mean, what are the Devils doing? They are coming off one of the more miraculous 84-point seasons in NHL history, have a franchise goaltender in Cory Schneider who isn't getting any younger, and with a plethora of cap space, their first move of the summer is to add Marc Savard's contract? The Devils have the second-most cap space of any NHL team, and getting closer to the floor is the plan of attack? They should be trying to poach teams in cap hell for guys like Teuvo Teravainen. Instead, they acquired Savard, so it can't be ruled out that they'd get Datsyuk, Chris Pronger and Nathan Horton as a precursor to one of the greatest tanks in NHL history.

Don't get any ideas, New Jersey. Photo by Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

St. Louis Blues

What they need to do: Trade Kevin Shattenkirk for immediate help.
How they can screw it up: By taking back a late first-round pick or a package of picks. It's Ken Hitchcock's last season in 2016-17. Shattenkirk is one of the best defensemen in the league and has one year left on his deal at $4.25 million. That has to be worth a top-six forward (like Jordan Eberle or Ryan-Nugent Hopkins). A deal for either Oiler would leave the Blues about $11 million in cap space, which is plenty if they want to bring back David Backes. Keep that Cup window open another year, St. Louis.

Pittsburgh Penguins

What they need to do: Trade Marc-Andre Fleury for anything.
How they can screw it up: By deciding Fleury is a necessary safety net for Matt Murray next season, or hanging onto him because he's best buds with Sidney Crosby. The Penguins can bring back about as close to an identical team of any Cup winner in recent years but they could use the $5.75 million in cap space to fortify their defense and someone will want Fleury for the next three seasons at that price. The Penguins are plenty good enough to be dominant with Murray in net next season. Take two second-round picks. Take a first rounder in 2017. Take a gift certificate to a steakhouse. Take a free voucher from Ticketmaster to see a Hootie and the Blowfish concert. Just free that money and roster spot before July 1.

Need further proof Murray > Fleury? Photo by John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay Lightning

What they need to do: Cling to Ben Bishop for dear life.
How they can screw it up: By thinking they are still a Cup contender without Bishop. Look, I get all the reasons to deal Bishop. He's always hurt in the playoffs. He has a big cap hit. Andrei Vasilevskiy is cheaper, younger and acquitted himself well in the playoffs. But Vasilevskiy has played 40 regular-season games in his career. Bishop, unlike Fleury, is one of the top goaltenders in the league and no matter how you do the pros and cons, Tampa needs two viable goaltenders to win. There's nothing in free agency (maybe there is in an trade) that will bring more value to the Lightning than Bishop for next season.

New York Rangers

What they need to do: Set Henrik Lundqvist free so he can live his best life
How they can screw it up: By believing they are still Cup contenders. In any sane world, the Rangers would see their roster as it's comprised now and realize Lundqvist can no longer [clears throat] save them. Yeah, the Rangers will probably trade someone else in an attempt to improve the roster, but it will only be a band-aid. For his years of meritorious service, the Rangers should trade him somewhere else so he can Hasek a Stanley Cup he deserves. If there's a market for Fleury, there has to be one for Lundqvist. Give the Dallas Stars a call. Get yourself a Val Nichushkin package. Or whatever. Either way, the Rangers need to embrace death and let Lundqvist go.

Trade him before he starts freaking out. Photo by Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Edmonton Oilers (Part 2)

What they need to do: Trade the fourth overall pick.
How they can screw it up: The Oilers have drafted in the top five for long enough. They don't need another forward prospect. Defensemen take forever to develop. Is the fourth pick too much for Fleury? Sure. Is the fourth pick too much for Shattenkirk? Yeah, probably. Should the Oilers absolutely overpay for a player that will make them immediately better? At this point, yes. The Avs said they don't want to trade Tyson Barrie, but would they do it for the fourth pick? Giving a team in cap hell the No. 4 pick for a good player and a toxic contract would be too much, but a deal is to be made and the Oilers should do it. Maybe Columbus wants to pick third and fourth this year?

Buffalo Sabres

What they need to do: Trade for the rights to Steven Stamkos.
How they can screw it up: I mean, they can't screw this one up. No one will fault them if this doesn't happen. And this is coming from someone who is baffled by trading for the rights of top UFAs but if the Coyotes can get Alex Goligoski—arguably the top UFA defenseman this summer—to sign without going to the market, why can't Tim Murray do the same with Stamkos? Sure, it would in all likelihood be a waste of a draft pick, but if a market gets pumped for acquiring Goligoski's rights, imagine what just the idea of getting Stamkos would do for Buffalo. Sign Stamkos for $10 million, play him with Matt Moulson to pump up his value, expose his $5 million cap hit for the expansion draft, watch him walk, use that cap space next summer to sign a cheaper replacement who can produce just as much as Moulson. Easy peasy. (Note: This is one of the many reasons I'm not an NHL GM).