Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why Not Follow Up a Blockbuster Season With a Blockbuster Trade?

There are a lot of advantages to rooting for a successful hockey franchise. It’s great to watch a game knowing that your team has a chance to win. Playoff beards are fun to grow. The trading deadline is no longer about what prospects you can get, but what prospects you can give up in order to get that big name out there (and they don’t get any bigger than Antoine Vermette!). However, there is at least one diamond that loses it’s luster the more successful a team gets - the draft.

As a Lightning fan who’s been around for awhile I’ve had the pleasure of watching them draft number one overall twice (Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos), second (Victor Hedman) and number three twice( Alex Svitov and Jonathan Drouin). I was really excited for all of those drafts, and really, really happy with who they drafted - even Alex Svitov (go ahead, look at that draft and see who else was available).

High draft picks are fun, because they are filled with so much promise, so much potential.  After a miserable season fans can say, “Hey, that sucked but think how much better we’re going to be with -------”.  It makes marketing the team easier.  “Seen Stamkos” “The Michael Jordan of Hockey” - that‘s what you do with a first overall pick.  I mean, he’s a nice guy, but I don’t think you’re going to build a season ticket buying campaign around Mikko Rantanen.

So as the Lightning keep winning on the ice, the chances of drafting a dynamic, franchise player keeps getting less and less likely.  And unfortunately the chances of Conner McDavid going to Edmonton (where 1st round picks fade into obscurity) get more and more likely.  Luckily, I have a plan to solve both problems (and a third problem yet to be mentioned!)

Now, we all know that General Manager Yzerman is cool, calculating, ruthless acquirer of talent. He holds no player sacred, everyone on the roster is expendable as long as they can be used to make the team on the ice better.  Think about it. Is there anyone in the organization that you would say it 100% untouchable? He’s traded and bought out captains. He’s traded potential Calder Trophy winners and Calder Cup finalists. HE TRADED TEDDY PURCELL! In short nothing is more important than the constant improvement of the team.

So if there is any GM in the league that is willing to pull of a draft day shocker it’s Mr. Yzerman.  It’s not out of the realm of possibility that, on the eve of the draft, in a hotel room in South Florida that Mr. Yzerman picks up the phone and calls Peter Chiarelli with a Godfather deal.

For the overall number one pick, the rights to Nail Yakapov and a second round pick the Tampa Bay Lightning trade their 1st round pick , Ben Bishop, Jonathan Drouin and Matt Carle.

“Jon Cooper held a gun to his head, and Yzerman assured Chiarelli that either his brains or his signature would be on that trade sheet.”

I know I just made Jon Cooper Luca Brasi in this scenario So would that make Julien Brisebois Michael Corleone? Can we work out the cast of the Godfather with Lightning employees? Sounds like a late July post to me.

Not to dwell too deep into this fantasy scenario but, out of all of the GM’s in the league Mr. Yzerman is the one that you could see doing that, right?  Imagine what would happen if something along those lines happened in real life?  What’s the penalty for threatening another GM with death over a trade? Forfeit a season? Disband the team? Lose all of your draft picks?  Would anyone every hire Yzerman again (after his jail term of course)?  “Sure he threatened to kill someone, but that just shows his will to win!”

I almost want it to happen just to see the reaction on Twitter and the rest of the internet.  Heck, hockey might even grace Sportscenter for more than 14 seconds a day.  It would be hard to knock that story out of the news cycle.

But back to the actual trade.

Who says no to that deal? The Oilers fill two of their most glaring needs - number one goalie defense. Before you say anything about Matt Carle, can you name two defensemen better currently on their roster? He would play 20 minutes a game on that team.  Oh, and they get a pretty good player in Drouin, who if rumors are to be believed, is on the trading block.

No matter what the Oilers do, they‘re not going to get seriously better until they solve their problems between the goal pipes. Bishop, while not an elite goaltender, has proven that he is a capable number one who can steal games when his team needs him. They have enough cap room to absorb both contacts and still have room to make other moves.

Drouin finds himself on a team where he isn’t blocked by half-a-dozen other young offensive stars. He showed flashes of his ability throughout the season and despite whatever went on in the playoffs he’s going to be a good player in the league. Throw him on a line with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle and that could be a lot of fun to watch.

The Oilers give up on a generational player, but become a much more competitive team. It won’t spring them up into the Blackhawks/Ducks stratosphere, but it does put them on par with Colorado, San Jose and all of the other borderline playoff teams.  Plus, based on the history of Edmonton and their top picks, perhaps it’s better that the best prospect since Sidney Crosby stays as far away as possible from Oil Country.

The Lightning shed enough cap space so they can afford Stamkos without hamstringing themselves against the cap for future deals. The Triplets are going to need new deals soon and Victor Hedman’s extension doesn’t seem as long as it was when he signed it.

With Bishop and his $5.95 million cap hit safely north of the border the Bolts also clear up a bit of their goaltending logjam.  Andrei Vasilevskiy looks like he can handle the NHL.  Yes, that’s based on a small sample size, but Mr. Yzerman isn’t afraid to take a risk or two. Adam Wilcox can’t stay in college forever and he will move up the depth chart quickly once he turns pro.

As for Yakopov? Well, maybe he clicks with a few more Russians on the team or Mr. Yzerman flips him for draft picks.

Remember that third problem I mentioned earlier?  McDavid could be the solution to it.  It’s the problem that we as Lightning fans have tried to downplay. We really, really don’t want to think about it this year, but it does linger in the back of our brains like a spider egg.

What if Steven Stamkos really does want to play for Toronto?  What if, come 2016, he basically thanks us for the support but goes to play for his hometown team? Can I really blame him?  Can any of us? After all, when we’re growing up and dreaming of playing in the big leagues, be it baseball, hockey, football or soccer, don’t we dream of playing for our favorite team.  I remember those days in high school when I thought a 76-mph fastball and a questionable work ethic would get me to the majors I didn’t dream of playing for Cleveland or Houston.  I wanted to take the mound in Camden Yards.

So can we begrudge Stamkos if, having completed his indentured servitude to the Lightning, wants to go home and play for the Leafs?  Sure, we can be pissed, but he‘s earned that right.  In a perfect world the Lightning would make a deal for McDavid, re-sign Stamkos and create a Florida hockey empire. This isn’t a perfect world so good general managers have back up plans. Having McDavid spend a season watching Stamkos play wouldn’t be a bad back up plan.

The good news for Mr. Yzerman is that the doesn’t have to be exclusive to Edmonton. Buffalo’s deadline purge left them without a franchise goalie as well  and Jack Eichel wouldn’t be a bad plan C. They could even stuff him back in college for another year without losing too much offense on the main club.

Having done a quick search of the 2017 draft eligible players, it doesn’t look like there is the once-in-a-generation player available so striking this year would make a lot of sense. It’s also in keeping with the way Mr. Yzerman operates, always with an eye on the future. He keeps control of his salary cap, keeps the team flush with young talent and arguably makes the team better.

I know this isn’t going to happen.  In fact this whole post is nothing more than an extended (E4) rumor.  Isn’t that what this time of year is all about?

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