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4 questions the NHL must answer in order to have a June draft

4 questions the NHL must answer in order to have a June draft

The calendar has turned to May and still the NHL season remains on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. If and when the current season may resume is the biggest question facing the league, but there is other business that teams need to attend to and the NHL is trying to fast track one item on the to-do list. The NHL sent a memo to all teams on Friday stating its case for keeping the NHL Draft in June as opposed to postponing it until after the conclusion of the season. Having the draft with the season still technically ongoing, however, raises numerous questions and challenges that the league would not normally face.

Here are the four biggest questions the NHL must answer if it does indeed intend to hold the draft in June.

How would the draft lottery work?

In a normal season, the 15 teams that do not reach the playoffs would all be included in the draft lottery with a chance to move up to No. 1 overall. The rest of the draft order would be determined by playoff results with the Cup winner taking the last pick. Obviously you can't do that in this situation. Not only have the playoffs not started, but the regular season has not even concluded yet.

In the league's memo, it proposed using points percentage to determine which teams to include in the draft lottery and reverting to the previous draft lottery system where one winner is picked and can move up only a maximum of four spots. In the current system, three teams are picked to determine the first three picks in the draft and the remaining picks continue on by record. That means any team in the lottery can earn the No. 1 pick and any team that is not picked could move back a maximum of only three spots total. The issue with using that system before the season is over is that a team could potentially qualify for the draft lottery on points percentage, qualify for the playoffs once the season resumes and win the Cup.

Having a team win both the lottery and the Cup in the same season is not something the other general managers would be happy about.

Reverting to the old format, however, would mean the Detroit Red Wings, last place in the NHL, would pick no lower than No. 2 overall.

What happens to conditional draft picks?

There are numerous trades that include conditional draft picks based on what happens in the playoffs. The New Jersey Devils, for example, traded defenseman Sami Vatanen to the Carolina Hurricanes for a package that included a conditional fourth-round pick. That pick becomes a third-round pick if he plays in 70-percent of Carolina's playoff games. Those conditions won't be settled if the draft is held before the season and the playoffs end.

So what will the NHL do?

In the memo, it stated the league would propose solutions for each condition and each team would be given seven days to accept the league's decision or rework the trade. That seems a very simplistic solution for what is a very complicated issue. No team will want to accept less than what they could have reasonably if the season were allowed to play out.

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Will teams be allowed to make trades?

A lot of action comes from draft weekend and the draft is only part of it. The other part is the numerous trades. But when you hold the draft before the season is over, that obviously complicates things. The trade deadline has already passed and you can't trade away players who are going to be on the roster for the remainder of the season.

OK, so just don't allow player trades. Easy fix, right?

There are two problems with this. First, draft weekend is a time when many teams work the salary cap, trading away players for draft picks. That will be needed this season with the salary cap such a big question mark. It is almost certain the cap will not climb next season. In fact, the ceiling may actually drop depending on what happens over the next few weeks with the season. If player trades are not allowed, it takes away a major tool the general managers use to work the cap in a normal year. That would hurt them even worse this year.

Second, some teams have compiled draft picks in order to unload them for player assets. Montreal, for example, has 14 draft picks for the 2020 draft after drafting a total of 21 players the past two years. There was no way Marc Bergevin was heading into this year's draft with the intention of holding onto all those picks. There just are not enough contracts to go around for 35 prospects in three years.

Obviously, the coronavirus has changed everything and the NHL shouldn't make too many adjustments based on what everyone just assumed would happen. Teams will have to adjust accordingly, but teams that were planning on using the draft to manage the cap or to try to package picks to obtain players, they are not going to want to see the draft cut into the season.

What happens to the Coyotes?

The Arizona Coyotes are being investigated by the league for fitness testing draft-eligible players which is against the rules. TSN's Darren Dreger has reported that the Coyotes tested at least 20 players with each violation carrying a fine of $250,000 or more per incident. The NHL has said this matter would be resolved before the draft, but the coronavirus has made these potential violations more serious considering how it has limited teams' access to prospects. Suddeny, Arizona may have information on these players that other teams may not be able to get at all. With no combine to test these players, the Coyotes could have an even greater competitive advantage if the allegations are true. Will that mean more severe punishments? Will Arizona be forced to divulge any information they obtained?

The timeline for finding out will be pushed up if the NHL sticks to this plan for a June draft.

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The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if Vrana had a top power play role all season?

The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if Vrana had a top power play role all season?

We are looking at some of the biggest “what ifs” for the Capitals for the 2019-20 season.

Today’s what if: What if Jakub Vrana had a top power-play role all season?

Jakub Vrana may be having the best season that no one is talking about. When you are teammates with one of the best goal scorers of all-time and a bonafide superstar, other players tend to get overshadowed. Just ask Nicklas Backstrom.

Vrana scored 24 even-strength goals in the 2019-20 season, tied for 11th in the NHL. It’s only four behind David Pastrnak, three behind Leon Draisaitl, one behind Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin, tied with Jack Eichel and more goals than players like Mika Zibanejad (23), Nathan MacKinnon (23), Connor McDavid (23) and Brad Marchand. So why isn’t Vrana viewed as the same caliber offensive player as those others? The answer is the power play.

While Vrana ranks 11th in even-strength goals, he ranks tied for 35th overall with 25 goals. That’s right, he has one single power-play goal this season. The 10 players ahead of him in the even-strength goals list averaged just over 10 power-play goals for the season. An extra 10 goals would have tied Vrana with McDavid for 10th in the NHL.

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Vrana did not start the season on the top player play unit. He was actually only moved there late in the season as Washington’s power play struggled. Relegated to the forgotten and rarely used second unit, Vrana only recently started to see more opportunity on the power play resulting in just one goal which came on Jan. 11.

But what if Vrana had been on the top power-play unit all season? Would he have racked up enough goals to garner national attention?

RELATED: 2003 NHL REDRAFT

Probably not as much as you may think.

First, let’s remember that the power play has been terrible this season. It ranks 17th in the NHL overall, but is actually 24th since Dec. 23. Second, there is not a natural spot where Vrana fits on the top power play. He is a sniper, his best asset is shooting and he is not going to replace the player tasked with taking the one-timer from the far faceoff dot, Alex Ovechkin. Vrana was playing the goal line in place of Evgeny Kuznetsov. Based on how Washington's power play has worked the last few years, this spot is primarily for setting up the slot or bouncing it back to the half-wall. Vrana is a better set-up player than many give him credit, but this role really does not put him in the best position to use his shot. More time on the power play should increase his goal total just as a result of him being on the ice more, but based on how the power play has played and how he is used, it probably would not have boosted his totals into being one of the top 10-15 scorers in the NHL this season.

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Redrafting the 2003 draft: Patrice Bergeron could have been a Penguin

Redrafting the 2003 draft: Patrice Bergeron could have been a Penguin

It takes years to determine who the best players in any given draft are. How would past NHL drafts look if they were redrafted today? Let's look back at the 2003 draft and see how it shaped today's NHL.

Here's a look at the first round of 2003 redrafted.

The draft was a total bust for Washington

In the real draft, the Caps took Eric Fehr 18th overall. He played in 652 NHL games. The remaining five players the team drafted combined for one single NHL game. Yikes.

Phaneuf to the Caps?

In the redraft, I had defenseman Dion Phaneuf going to Washington. Before you groan, let's not forget that he played in over 1,000 NHL games and, while he was with Calgary, he looked absolutely dominant. I don't think there are any questions that he struggled handling the pressure as captain of Toronto. Almost every stat takes a precipitous decline when you compare his Calgary numbers to when he was with the Maple Leafs. I don't think that would have been a problem in Washington as just one year after this draft, the Caps selected a guy by the name of Alex Ovechkin who took all the attention. If Phaneuf had been in a city where he could just play, he would have been a top-pair defenseman for most of his career.

This also would have affected the 2004 draft for Washington. The Caps had three first-round picks. They used one on Ovechkin then took Jeff Schultz and Mike Green late in the round. Do they go both defense at that point if they had taken Phaneuf the year before? I'm not so sure.

Would Bergeron have helped Pittsburgh?

Patrice Bergeron was the best player in the 2003 draft. He went with the 45th overall pick to the Boston Bruins. The Pittsburgh Penguins had the No.1 overall pick that year and selected goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. That is not a bad pick by any stretch, but with one of the best two-way forwards of all-time available to them, would Pittsburgh have been able to pass him up knowing how good he really was?

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The interesting thing about this is that if Pittsburgh had taken arguably the better player in Bergeron, it may have cost them in the long run. Fleury was the backstop of three Stanley Cup runs for the Penguins. OK, so he only played in two playoff games in 2016 and yielded the crease to Matt Murray, but he retook the No. 1 job in 2017 when again Pittsburgh won the Cup. Also, just two years after the 2003 draft, the Penguins ended up with a pretty decent two-way center by the name of Sidney Crosby. The idea of a team with both Crosby and Bergeron on it is daunting, but its two players of the same position and they would have still needed a goalie.

The Penguins may not have ended up with the better player overall, but they did get exactly the player they needed in Fleury.

Fleury to Columbus?

In the redraft, Fleury dops from first to fourth and is snagged by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Would Fleury have been able to get Columbus over the playoff hump sooner? That's a tough question to answer.

Goaltending has not been a major weakness for Columbus. Yes, he could have given the team a boost, but the roster was awful there for several years after the expansion draft. When the team did finally make the playoffs for the first time in 2009, it was off the back of an incredible rookie season from goalie Steve Mason. They also had a pretty good netminder in Sergei Bobrovsky from 2013 to 2019, or at least he was pretty good in the regular season.

Correction: regular season goaltending has not been a major weakness for Columbus. Actually, Bobrovsky was terrible in the playoffs for much of his career. Perhaps there is some validity to the argument that better netminding from Fleury -- who is a strong postseason performer -- could have potentially changed the trajectory of the franchise.

See the first round of 2003 redrafted here.

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