Thursday, May 28, 2020

What if the 24 playoff teams could each draft a player from the eliminated clubs?

It started with a question from a reader: What if the NHL held a draft where each of the 24 teams who’ll be resuming the season could pick one player from the seven outsiders?

Not permanently. Just a loaner, one that would join a contender for the rest of whatever the 2019-20 season looks like, then return to his original team for next year and beyond. Consider it a temporary boost to a postseason that’s already breaking most of the rules anyway.

Would the NHL ever do this? Of course not, for a million reasons, starting with the fact that it barely makes sense. But it wouldn’t be completely unprecedented in hockey history. And far more importantly, it would be fun.

All of this led me to a second question: How can I turn this idea into an article where all the other writers do most of the work for me?

After a brainstorming session, some fine-tuning of the concept, a few Slack invites that turned into even more invites and, if we’re being honest, more than a couple of mid-afternoon beers, the concept was born. And we had 24 writers on board to make it happen.

Then it got weird.

OK, yes, the whole concept is weird. But then the draft started, and it got even weirder. Some picks made sense. There were a few that maybe didn’t. There was a trade. There was instant evaluation. There was trash talk.

Welcome to the 2020 NHL supplemental playoff draft. The rules: each of the 24 postseason teams can draft one player from any of the seven other teams, just for this playoff run. Cap hits don’t count, all no-movement clauses are waived, we’re drafting in reverse order of points percentage and you have to set aside any cognitive dissonance over how none of this could ever actually happen. Oh, and a different writer will draft for each team.

This makes no sense. Let’s do it.

1. Montreal Canadiens – Jack Eichel, Sabres

GM Marc Antoine Godin: Is it really this easy to land a franchise center? Had they known it, the Canadiens probably wouldn’t have wasted 25 years trying to find one. We considered other options on the blue line – Thomas Chabot or Rasmus Dahlin would have been a handy addition to the left side of the top pair – but there’s no point in overthinking things when you have the first pick. It’s like shortly before the 2009 draft when the rumors that filtered out that Matt Duchene had a shot at going first overall. Please. It wasn’t going to be anyone other than John Tavares.

The same holds here – it was always going to be Eichel. A dominant center who changes the complexion of a team like no other player available. The Canadiens are going to wreak devastation on the NHL! (cue the sound of a clock chiming)

Sean says: Maybe not a slam dunk pick, but pretty close. Congratulations to the Canadiens on finally landing a legit first-line center for the first time in a generation. Enjoy it for a few weeks.

2. Chicago Blackhawks – Erik Karlsson, Sharks

GM Mark Lazerus: I think five months is enough time to heal a broken thumb, so I’m going with the most dynamic defenseman of the past decade. I was tempted to take Anze Kopitar because the idea of having Jonathan Toews and Kopitar as the Blackhawks’ top-two centers is tantalizing, even if it’s not 2014. But the Blackhawks’ most glaring flaws are on the blue line and the power play, and Karlsson — even the current Karlsson — is a massive upgrade on both. I wouldn’t sign him to an eight-year deal as he hits 30 next week but certainly he can recapture the magic for a couple of months. Plus, he nicely fits the whole team vibe of highly accomplished veterans in their 30s trying to prove they’re not washed.

Sean says: And this is where the heckling started.

Reviewing the Slack timestamps, Mark’s pick had been on the board for less than one minute when a fellow GM asked “Are we allowed to chirp the picks as they’re made?” Another immediately called it an “awful pick.” There were jokes about Doug Wilson changing his phone number and refusing to take Karlsson back at the end of the playoffs. (That may have been me.)

But to his credit, Mark stood his ground and defended the pick, and his case isn’t a bad one. We’ve seen an injured Karlsson carry a bad team deep into the playoffs before, so I kind of like seeing the Hawks swing for the fences.

Besides, Mark has nothing to worry about here – nobody remembers No. 2.

GM Craig Morgan: The Coyotes have been looking for a No. 1 center since Jeremy Roenick left town in 2001. The void at that critical position is noticeable in matchups against every other Western Conference team, and it is the greatest impediment to legitimate progress.

Arizona thought long and hard about consistent postseason performer Logan Couture. If this draft were about more than this 24-team, don’t-call-it-a-playoff format, the Coyotes also would have looked at Dylan Larkin, but for one postseason run, they’ll take Kopitar, a big, two-way center who is still productive (21 goals, 62 points) and has oodles of postseason experience (66 points in 79 games) from the Kings’ deep runs in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Were it not for Kopitar’s $10 million cap hit, the Coyotes would have inquired about him earlier. He will fit like a glove into Rick Tocchet’s system, while allowing Christian Dvorak, Nick Schmaltz and Derek Stepan to slot into roles better suited to their current abilities.

Sean says: No heckling on this one. We’re back on track with a solid pick.

4. Minnesota Wild – John Gibson, Ducks

GM Michael Russo: For 19 seasons, the Wild desperately could have used a No. 1 center. Now, they’ve got a golden opportunity to snag one … so naturally we’re going to follow Wild tradition and pass up on Dylan Larkin and Logan Couture, one of the best playoff performers in NHL history.

The reality is if the Wild want to be a true Stanley Cup contender this summer, they may have to upgrade their goaltending (although Alex Stalock, a career backup, overtook Devan Dubnyk as the Wild’s No. 1 and was great the final month heading into the pause).

Therefore, GM Michael Russo (has a great ring to it, doesn’t it?) selects goalie John Gibson.

Sure, he had a miserable season, but he’ll have had four months off to refresh and reinvigorate. Discount this past season, from 2015-16 through 2018-19, Gibson ranked second in the NHL with a .922 save percentage (minimum 115 games). He’s our guy.

Sean says: I was wondering where Gibson would go, but this wasn’t the spot I expected. The Wild have Dubnyk signed for another season, so this obvious vote of non-confidence might create some awkwardness. Still, the peanut gallery loved the choice, with one observer calling it a “great pick” and another giving it the ultimate compliment by calling it “the anti-Laz.”

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