As you can see from the weekend open thread, the possibility of the Flames trading down into the top-5 is a bit contentious. It’s hard to say how high the price might be to make the move, but my assumption is it won’t be cheap – the top tier in this draft class seems to be clearly demarcated in most scouting circles, so it’s going to take an extraordinary package or sacrifice to make the move from 6 to 4 or higher.
I agree with the general sentiment that it probably won’t be worth the move, with the caveat that it will also depend on how the draft goes – If MacKinnon, Jones, Barkov, Drouin and Lindholm all go in the top-5, the only apparently remarkable talent who will be left on the board is Valery Nichushkin, who is a gamble for several reasons (KHL contract for one).
I doubt the Flames, who haven’t picked a Russian since Andrei Taratukhin, will spend their first top-10 pick since Dion Phaneuf on a potential KHL flight risk. Meaning, if the big-5 are gone by 6, the Flames likely drop down to the obvious second tier of talent populated by guys like Sean Monahan, Hunter Shinkaruk, Darnell Nurse, etc.
So if the org brass considers that scenario likely, I’d like to see them seriously investigate moving up. The Monahan’s of the world aren’t bad consolation prizes, but guys like Barkov and Drouin hold the possibility of being team changing talents.
– Don’t tell Minnesota Wild fans, but their GM thinks that puck possession and shot differential matter:
“Last year in an 82 game season, we outshot our opponent  24 times. This year in a 48-game season, we outshot our opponent 26. Our shot differential last year was minus-4.9. We gave up 34.1 shots per game, 26th in the league. Basically, the games we won was because of our goaltending.
“We gave up a lot of shots, we were in our zone an awful lot. This year cut that down to 27.1, 6th-best in the league. To me that’s huge. This year we had the puck more than our opponent. Our shots on goal went up close to 2, a 6.6-shot swing. That’s the biggest improvement of any team in the league since 07-08.
“This year, while we think we have to shoot better and execute better, we had the puck more, we were in our zone less, we defended better, our structure was better."
For those unaware, a big feud erupted between "stats guys" and a segment of the Minnesota Wild fan base last year when the former predicted the Wild’s strong start to the season was mostly an illusion based on their league-worst possession stats and exaggerated percentages. Minny predictably collapsed in the second half of the season, but there’s still a large portion of Wild fans who sneer at possession-based analysis.
As such I expect a torch and pitchfork mob to oust Chuck Fletcher this off-season, largely for his heretical reference to shot differential witchcraft.
– How did the Wild improve? Mostly thanks to the pricey acquisitions of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, although it’s hard to overlook Jonas Brodin who should have been a calder finalist this year. The rookie defender jumped right onto Minnesota’s top pairing with Suter and more than held his own. He could very well develop into a high impact blueliner.
– No major surprises in the playoffs this year, aside from the San Jose sweep of the Canucks. The Islanders probably deserved a better fate in the Penguins series given how much of the game was played in the Pittsburgh end, but they got the bounces in the last couple of contests which happens sometimes.
New York is poised to become a going concern in the East for the first time in recent memory. If their management doesn’t screw it up, of course.
– The Leafs hanging with the Bruins is a bit of a shocker I guess. The Bruins are still mostly controlling play at ES, although not to the degree I expected. In part, I think, because Carlyle has kind of been forced to play a good line-up. Jake Gardiner, Cody Franson and Mikhail Grabovski are playing much more than they did in the regular season and that seems to have firmed up the Leafs possession to a non-trivial degree. Clarke MacArthur not being scratched has helped the last couple of games as well.
They’re still the second best team in the series, but the difference between the clubs isn’t as stark. Boston is the favorite on home ice tonight, but it’s not a slam dunk.
– The GM of the year nominees are Bob Murray (Ducks), Marc Bergevin (Canadiens) and Ray Shero (Penguins). Perhaps this should be re-dubbed the "GM of the team who most overachieved relative to expectations and maybe stole some guys at the trade deadline" because there doesn’t seem to be much else behind these nominations.
On my ballot would be the Sharks Doug Wilson. His team began the year with a big gaping hole at the end of the roster – to the degree that the bottom-6 was dragging down his impressive collection of stars elsewhere. By the trade deadline, he had cleared out the dead wood (Handzus, Clowe, Murray), improved the bottom-6 with a few low cost acquisitions (Scott Gomez, Raffi Torres) and converted his trash to a nice collection to future assets to boot.