First Round of NHL Draft Featured Just About Everything
BUFFALO — The Toronto Maple Leafs got their man.
The Calgary Flames got their goalie.
The Detroit Red Wings got the salary cap space they need to potentially take a run at Steven Stamkos, should he become available.
And those who anticipated a trade by the Montreal Canadiens got their wish, although this swap did not involve P.K. Subban.
Welcome to the NHL draft in Buffalo, which certainly provided its share of dramatics. And they started out quite early on Friday.
Indeed, just a couple of minutes after the Leafs had made 18-year-old Arizona native Auston Matthews the first overall pick as expected, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stepped up to the microphone on the First Niagara Center stage accompanied by a chorus of deafening boos.
“We have a trade to announce,” Bettman said, the jeers finally dwindling. “The Montreal Canadiens have traded …”
At that particular moment, the capacity crowd in the sold-out arena collectively thought the same thing: This was it. This had to be it.
Following days of speculation that the Canadiens might trade Subban, general manager Marc Bergevin had finally pulled the trigger on the blockbuster.
Or so the entire building thought. Bergevin had other ideas.
Subban had not been traded. At least not yet.
Bettman’s announcement concerned a pair of swaps engineered by Bergevin that saw forward Lars Eller become a Washington Capital and former Blackhawk Andrew Shaw end up in Montreal.
The Habs shipped Eller to the Caps for second-round picks in 2017 and 2018, then turned around and acquired pending restricted free agent Shaw from Chicago for the 39th and 45th picks in this year’s draft.
Shaw will join Brendan Gallagher as twin super pests who will give opposing goalies fits by planting themselves on the edge of the crease. A nice deal for the Habs, but no blockbuster.
That would come about two hours later, courtesy of Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland.
In an effort to clear cap room, the Red Wings traded the 16th pick and Pavel Datsyuk‘s contract to the Arizona Coyotes for forward Joe Vitale and the 20th and 53rd selections in the 2016 draft.
Datsyuk, 35, announced earlier this month he was heading back to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League, leaving the Wings on the hook for the $7.5 million US cap hit remaining on the final year of his contract.
Now, thanks to Holland’s wheeling and dealing, Detroit has some cap flexibility, which could translate into taking a strong run at Stamkos in the event the Tampa Bay captain does not re-sign with the Lightning.
Asked what he’ll do with the additional cash, a coy Holland said: “Hopefully spend it. We’re looking for forwards.” He didn’t identify by name who’s on his radar but you can connect the dots.
Meanwhile, Flames general manager Brad Treliving addressed his issue in goal by acquiring Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues. Calgary landed Elliott in exchange for a second-round draft pick in 2018 and a conditional third-rounder.
Elliott, 31, is entering the final year of his current contract, which carries a digestible $2.5 million US cap hit in 2016-17. If he re-signs with the Flames, St. Louis gets a third rounder in 2018
Elliott finished the regular season with a 23-8-6 record, league-best .930 save percentage, and four shutouts. He certainly fills a hole for the Flames, who lost out to the Leafs earlier in the week in a bid to land Anaheim’s Frederik Andersen via trade.
As for the draft itself, the first two picks went as expected, with Matthews ending up in Toronto and Finnish sniper Patrik Laine being taken by the Winnipeg Jets.
As Matthews’ name was announced, a group of fans in stands stood up to proudly show off their custom-made t-shirts which were accompanied by the words “AUSTON 20:16”.
Asked if he could feel the love coming from Leaf fans sprinkled throughout the loud boos coming from the Sabres faithful, Matthews replied: “Yeah, you could see it up there in the stands there. It was pretty loud up there, so it was definitely a pretty cool moment.”
After Laine was selected, the shocker of the first round came, courtesy of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who took forward Pierre-Luc Dubois with the third overall pick, bypassing Finnish winger Jesse Puljujärvi. Puljujärvi was considered one of the top three available players.
The euphoric Edmonton Oilers then took Puljujärvi with the fourth pick, with GM Peter Chiarelli wearing a grin that stretched almost all the way to the Alberta capital.
“I like Edmonton, and I’m very excited to go there,” Puljujärvi said, adding he didn’t feel snubbed by Columbus. “I’m very happy now.”
So are the Oilers.