It seems like less than a week ago that Carolina Hurricane Ray Whitney was hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head, shouting "This shit rocks!!" through spaces where non-hockey players have teeth. Well, it was. But alas, the NHL is a juggernaut and thus the NHL draft is already upon us.
The combination of Olympic break and unusually long playoffs has forced the draft so quickly after the end of the season, and teams -- now with some concept as to how the "new NHL" looks, are ready to gear themselves for a championship run next year. This will be an interesting draft--perennial powerhouses like the Avs, Red Wings, and Devils are finding themselves in transition mode, having to adjust to the speed and parity of the new league. With a bump in the salary cap (now $44 million, up $5 mil from last year), players and picks will be on the move. The swapping started early Saturday, when the Florida Panthers and Vancouver Canucks swapped megastars Roberto Luongo and Todd Bertuzzi as part of a 5-player deal. Bertuzzi, as you'll remember, ended Steve Moore's career and hasn't been the same since. But like Dany Heatley's move to Ottawa, Bertuzzi's new environment should get him to play up to his once All-World level. As for the Canucks, they no longer need to worry about Dan Cloutier in net, as they have one of the top 5 goalies in the game.
Other rumors find Chris Pronger wanting out of Edmonton after a year and the Devils, desperate to re-sign deity Patrick Elias, looking to acquire his good friend Senator Martin Havlat for extra motivation. The cost for New Jersey? Firey winger and owner of the Devils single-season goal tally Brian Gionta and his running mate, former Rookie of the Year Scott Gomez. The Devils are bumping right up against the cap and might have to move some salary (Gionta and Gomez will be unrestricted free agents next year) in order to keep Elias, even though from a personnel decision Gomez & Gionta are invaluable playmakers.
Who will go #1? All signs point to strong, tough defenseman Erik Johnson, but who will take him? With solid depth at the blue line already the St. Louis Blues, who hold the #1 pick, might be looking to trade down for a sniper or legitimate #1 goalie.
The 2006 NHL Draft should have all of the movement, strategery, and excitement you look for in a draft, minus Chris Berman spoiling the surprise of every pick. It's win/win.