Around the League – Playoff Edition – wk 5

Four games into the conference finals and my interest is waning, and I’m guessing anyone who isn’t a fan of the Flyers, Habs, Sharks and Hawks is feeling something similar. Part of me wants the Sharks and Habs to make their series’ competitive, but the other side wants them to roll over so we can get to the Cup finals.

The only thing dragging out longer than the playoffs is the Taylor Hall v. Tyler Seguin debate, and we only have 36 days left before Steve Tambellini calls a name and many can claim, “I told you so.”

The fact is the debate won’t end June 25th, and we probably won’t know who the better NHL player is for a years to come, but Hall’s play at the Memorial Cup, while Seguin sits in oblivion with no chance to respond, has strengthened the argument to take Hall first overall. But history shows the projected best player in June doesn’t always pan out to be the best NHL player.

In the last ten drafts there are five clear cases where the 1st overall pick has turned out to be the best NHL player to this point:

2001– Ilya Kovalchuk

2002 – Rick Nash

2004 – Alex Ovechkin

2005 – Sidney Crosby

2007 – Patrick Kane

2000 produced the biggest bust, Rick Dipietro, but injuries have played a big role in his demise. 2003, the deepest draft in the past 30 years, had Marc-Andre Fleury taken first, but Eric Staal was taken 2nd and the rest of the first round produced many elite NHLers. Eric Johnson went 1st in 2006, but so far the ensuing four picks have developed quicker; Jordan Staal (2nd), Jonathon Toews (3rd), Nicklas Backstrom (4th) and Phil Kessel (5th). Steven Stamkos went 1st in 2008, but Drew Doughty (2nd) is on par, if not ahead, with Stamkos at this point, and last year’s first overall pick, John Tavares wasn’t any better than Matt Duchene in their rookie campaign.

Hall is physically more mature and has a more dynamic game than Seguin, but no one has declared either of them to be as dominant as Crosby or Ovechkin. Crosby and Ovechkin were heralded as “the next ones” when they were drafted, and were considered the consensus first pick in 2004 and 2005. Crosby is clearly the class of his draft, but even Ovechkin has been pushed a bit by Evgeni Malkin who went 2nd in 2004.

Outside of Crosby, only Kane has emerged as the obvious best player in his draft year, and that recent history has to make people realize that it isn’t a guarantee that Hall will be the best player taken in the 2010 draft. Of course that doesn’t mean, he won’t be, but it is something that needs to be considered.

Dany Heatley and Marian Gaborik have outperformed Dipietro by leaps and bounds since being drafted 2nd and 3rd in 2000.

It’s fair to say that Duncan Keith is the best player to come out the 2002 draft, but he was taken 54th, so every team didn’t consider him a first rounder at the time. Nash went first, followed by Kari Lehtonen, Jay Bouwmeester, Joni Pitkanen, Ryan Whitney, Scottie Upshall, Joffrey Lupul and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Alex Semin went 13th to Washington and Carolina took Cam Ward 25th. At the time Nash was considered the best player, and none of the other top ten picks have proven that selection incorrect.

Fleury has won a Cup and been to another already, so it’s not like he was a bad 1st choice, but Eric Staal also has a Cup and is more valuable to Carolina than Fleury is to Pittsburgh. The rest of the first round included: Nathan Horton (3rd), Thomas Vanek (5th), Milan Michalek (6th), Ryan Suter (7th), Braydon Coburn (8th), Dion Phaneuf (9th), Jeff Carter (11th), Dustin Brown (13th), Brent Seabrook (14th), Zach Parise (17th), Ryan Getzlaf (19th), Brent Burns (20th), Ryan Kesler (23rd), Mike Richards (24th) and Corey Perry (28th). You can’t critique Pittsburgh’s pick, because Fleury is in the upper echelon of goalies, but it’s clear there were many other good players they could have chosen.

The 2004 draft might be the closest comparison to Hall v. Seguin. I’m not saying Hall will be as good as Ovechkin (1.33PPG), nor Seguin as Malkin (1.23 PPG), but if in 2016 Hall is averaging 1.06 PPG and Seguin is 0.96 will it be considered a landslide victory for the Oilers? And remember that Ovechkin didn’t play in the league until he was 20. He had a late birthday in 1985, and because of the lockout he never played until the 2005/2006 season. Malkin also never came into the league until he was 20, after missing one year of the lockout and spending another year in Magnitogorsk before coming to Pittsburgh in 2006/2007. So don’t expect Hall or Seguin to come close to the rookie totals of either Malkin or Ovechkin.

Hall’s performance at the Memorial Cup is reason to believe the kid is big-game player and I can understand why many Oiler fans will want his name called on June 25th. I spoke with a scout who said this, “It’s pretty hard to overlook what he does when the games matter most. Even with the concern about the big hits he takes; it’s his ability to bounce back and score goals that is more impressive.”

I’m still in favour of taking Seguin, but we won’t know who was the correct choice for years. But will Hall be to Seguin like Kane is to Van Riemsdyk, or Crosby to Ryan? I don’t think so. I think it’s more likely we will see two very good players, who succeed by playing completely different games.

ICE WOMEN OF THE WEEK

My apologies for the small pics from last week, so here’s a few extra to make up for it. These women aren’t part on any Ice Crew, but are or were women of the men on ice.

Noureen Dewulf is Ryan Miller’s girlfriend. Good on you Miller. Willa Ford is married to Mike Modano. Sirpa Selanne looks like her husband acts; classy. Former Flames tough guy Cale Hulse is married to Gena Lee Nolin and of course who can forget the ex-wife of former Oiler, Petr Nedved, Veronica Varakova.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

  • Did Hockey Canada really need to defend Sidney Crosby from the communications guy from IIHF? Szymon Szemberg wrote a lengthy article bemoaning how players from every country stuck their noses up to the World Championships. He had some valid points, but considering he works for the IIHF it’s clear he had an agenda. News flash Szymon, the Worlds don’t matter that much anymore, especially in an Olympic year. That being said, I wonder what Canadians would say if we hosted the World Cup and Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czechs didn’t send their best players. We’d be pissed.
  • I’m curious why people are ripping the job Mark Messier has done as GM of Team Canada? Many suggest he has built a bad team. Crosby, Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla, Ryan Getzlaf and every other player from the Olympics, except Corey Perry, said no. If players don’t want to play what is the GM supposed to do?
  • It’s no different than saying Steve Yzerman is a great GM because he put together the Canadian team. Outside of the Patrice Bergeron spot, there wasn’t much debate over who should have played. Putting together an all-star team doesn’t convince me that Yzerman will be a great NHL GM. Let’s see what he does when he has to worry about the salary cap, asset management, drafting, trades and managing an entire organization.
  • I wonder why Jay Bouwmeester didn’t go to the Worlds? Was he upset from not making the Olympic team? If he wanted to make the 2014 Olympic team he should have gone. Right now he’d be listed behind Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Drew Doughty, Mike Green and Tyler Myers.
  • Can Michael Leighton win the Conn Smyth if he didn’t play until halfway through the second round?
  • Who will the Canucks name captain this off-season; because I don’t see any how they can continue with the failed experiment of having Roberto Luongo as captain.
  • I’m surprised it’s taken this long, but next year we will see the first European-trained official during NHL games. Swedish born, Marcus Vinnerborg, will start the year in the AHL, but is expected to work NHL games over the course of the year.
  • Dustin Byfuglien might struggle with consistency during the regular season, but his work in the playoffs proves why the Hawks won’t move him this off-season. I’ve debated with many who thought Byfuglien might be available when the Hawks have to dump a contract or two this summer. Outside or Byfuglien, the only other top-nine forward the Hawks have with size is Andrew Ladd. Patrick Sharp is a more complete player than Byfuglien, but the Hawks have lots of skill in Patrick Kane, Jonathon Toews and Marian Hossa. I’d trade Kris Versteeg in a heartbeat before Byfuglien, and the Hawks will probably move Sharp because he’ll garner more of a return and he doesn’t have the size of Byfuglien.
  • If Scott Hartnell is available, Steve Tambellini and Mike Gillis should put in a call. He’s exactly the type of forward both teams need. Both could use his size and skill. The Canucks have more skill than the Oilers right now, but it’s obvious they lack the necessary grit to win in the playoffs. Would the Flyers take Andrew Cogliano and Theo Peckham or a Mason Raymond and a draft pick?
  • It sounds like Hawks assistant coach, John Torchetti is a leading candidate to get the Atlanta Thrashers job. Thrasher beat reporter, Chris Vivlamore, told me that new GM Rick Dudley has said he won’t interview anyone else until he talks with Torchetti. Will the Hawks grant him permission to do an interview before the Stanley Cup finals, like Detroit did with Todd Mclellan and the Sharks two years ago?
  • I don’t think that Messier should be ripped on. Even down 4-0 at this point, nobody wanted to go & play. Tough to make an elite team if”elite” players don’t want to go.

    Leighton is a great story. Picked up on re entry waivers, he has cost them SFA. I hope Montreal can make a series of it, but it might not happen.

    No comment on the first overall pick….it’s been discussed enough & I bought the t shirt for my choice.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    @ Gregor, have you heard anything regarding Coburn falling out of favour in Philly as well? He’d be a great addition to our 2nd pairing, and along with Hartnell would fill two pretty glaring holes.

    • Jason Gregor

      I haven’t heard anything, and considering he is playing 24 minutes a night, if they are pissed with him, they aren’t showing it.

      He is an RFA this summer and in line for a big raise over the $1.3 million he is currently earning.

      He might get priced out of Philly, but I don’t see anything that suggests Laviolette is unhappy with his play.

      I bet they’d trade a forward (Hartnell and/or Gagne) so they could keep Coburn.

      • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

        Thanks, just heard a few flyers fans whining about him earlier in the year. And as you’ve said, he’s in for a decent sized raise, so I figured we might be able to pluck him.

        Lets put Cogs and a third put together and get us Hartnell.