John Tavares of the Ontario League's London Knights is very likely to go first overall in the upcoming NHL draft. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Amidst the glorious nerdy fun that was Tuesday’s draft lottery was the underlying importance of the event to the NHL as a whole.
With all due respect to Erik Johnson, Steven Stamkos and Patrick Kane, determining the future whereabouts of John Tavares and Victor Hedman were of the utmost importance to a league riding considerable momentum and buzz in the sporting world.
And naturally, some of the worst-run teams in the NHL fraternity were on hand to lay some landmines for the best hockey league in the world.
But I’m happy to report the NHL made it out of the lottery largely unscathed. Sure, the best-case scenario wasn’t realized, but neither was the worst. What are my criteria for this? Naturally, good hockey situations for both players are paramount, but in a more big-picture way, marketing of said players is also crucial.
The NHL is getting lots of media play off Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and like him or not, having Sean Avery back on Broadway does wonders for league exposure, even if most of the time it’s scandalous.
With the New York Islanders winning the lottery and likely taking Tavares with the pick, the NHL gets a fresh new superstar with the on-ice potential of an Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby (off-ice J.T. is much closer to Crosby, personality-wise) and the geographic convenience of having him in the Big Apple. True, Long Island isn’t Manhattan, but the Isles get covered by all the same media outlets and with the NHL head office (not to mention a flagship retail store) in town, Tavares can help the league with his presence.
In landing the No. 2 selection, Tampa Bay gets to add another excellent young talent to its roster in Hedman and with a glut of top-six forwards, it’s probably best it worked out this way. Hedman loves to rush the puck and was successful in Modo this season because he was teamed up with defensive defenseman Mattias Timander. In Tampa, coach Rick Tocchet could pair him with Lukas Krajicek or, assuming he re-signs, Marek Malik.
So what would have been the best-case scenario for the NHL? Pretty simple: Colorado wins the lottery. The Avalanche may have been ruined by injury and managerial ineptness (Darcy Tucker and Andrew Raycroft didn’t work out? Really?) this season, but Denver is a great hockey market and the team has a history of excellence. Tavares could easily have learned the ropes from Joe Sakic as the classy superstar winds down his career (much like the Mario Lemieux-Crosby torch-passing) and the Avs would go forward with Tavares and Paul Stastny as their two No. 1 centers for the next decade.
Hedman then falls to the Isles, who can market the big Swede as the next Denis Potvin – they could even get Rangers fans to yell “Hedman Sucks!” Plus, in a recent interview, the Modo standout told me the first thing he thinks of when it comes to America is the yellow cabs of New York he has seen in movies. Point blank, he loves the town.
The worst-case scenario from a marketing perspective would have been Atlanta or Phoenix winning Tavares. The two teams have major ownership issues and play in cities where hockey is way down the list when it comes to sports fans.
And for Toronto GM Brian Burke – who has let his intentions to move up in the draft be known - the worst-case scenario came true. As much as he wants to pry Tavares away from the Islanders, I just can’t conceive of a package the Leafs could put together that would convince New York GM Garth Snow to part with a potential league superstar and face of a franchise that desperately needs one.
On the bright side, with the seventh pick, Burke will likely have the option of bringing Brayden Schenn into Toronto to join brother Luke.
Much like the lottery as a whole, it’s more than a satisfying conclusion.
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Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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