Taylor or Tyler?
That question has been around for several months, and it won't go away until Friday's first round of the Entry Draft provides the answer and starts the closeout on what is shaping up to be one of the most interesting weeks of the season. Until then, junior left winger Taylor Hall of the Windsor Spitfires will continue to have a lot of people pegging him to go first overall, while supporters of Plymouth Whalers center Tyler Seguin, ranked first in the final NHL Central Scouting report, will keep making the case for him.
|Oilers GM Steve Tambellini gets to set the direction of the draft from the top. (Getty Images)|
Seguin was named the Ontario Hockey League's outstanding player in only his second season and shared the scoring title with Hall before averaging more than a point per game in the playoffs. He is projected to be a first-liner.
Where remains an issue.
The Edmonton Oilers won the first pick in the lottery, but GM Steve Tambellini isn't tipping his hand over which Mr. T he prefers. Still he has let it be known he's willing to entertain offers for the choice.
Meanwhile, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has dropped hints about wanting to swap the second pick he got in a trade last season with Toronto to the Oilers to make sure he gets the player he really wants. And Leafs GM Brian Burke has not dissuaded anyone from thinking a first-round pick could be part of a package that tempts him to deal away defenseman Tomas Kaberle.
That suggests there could be quite a bit of wheeling and dealing leading up to and through the draft, with a potential frenzy that could exceed the trade deadline in terms of impact. This is the time of year when teams start seriously reshaping their roster and payrolls, and already the process has started thanks to the Canadiens, who traded away playoff goalie hero Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis. The Nashville Predators didn't take long to follow suit, moving the rights to pending unrestricted free agent Dan Hamhuis to Philadelphia and shipping veteran Jason Arnott to New Jersey. And several other teams are likely to follow.
It should make for an interesting week. Here are some things to look out for:
Big name movement: Kaberle can be a top two defenseman on just about any team and has another season on his contract at a bargain price of $4.25 million, so he'll be an attractive target. So are Jason Spezza, who the Senators have been shopping the last couple of months, and several Florida players including goalie Tomas Vokoun, Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss. No one would be surprised to see the Flyers part with Jeff Carter for the right price, and look for the Blackhawks to ease their budget burden by moving one or more of the players who helped them win the Stanley Cup.
Union future: The immediate issue facing the NHL players association is whether to invoke an inflating factor on the salary cap next season. The PA has a right to a 5 percent increase in the salary cap under the collective bargaining agreement, but since league-wide salaries can't exceed 57 percent of all hockey revenue, the rise could be negated if the overall income doesn't keep pace. The upside is that by using the escalator, the union would push the salary cap to nearly $59 million, providing more money for teams to sign free agents. The downside is there is no guarantee the players would get all that money. The CBA protects the owners by forcing players to put some of their salary in escrow in case revenues do not match projections.
Players have ended up giving back about 11 percent of what they thought they would have earned the past couple of seasons. But if the membership does not approve the escalator clause, the cap will actually decline slightly to just over $56 million, and perhaps more critically, the PA will probably lose any shot it has at getting former baseball union head Donald Fehr to become its new leader.
Fehr has been acting as a PA consultant and helping the search for a new union chief for the NHLPA, but he is the first choice of most of the members for the job. Fehr also supports the idea of an escalator because he believes in maximizing the potential for enriching his players. If it doesn't happen, he might be less inclined to take up the cause of a union that will have to enter new CBA negotiations within the next two years.
Class of 2010: Is Eric Lindros a Hall of Famer? You'll get an idea Tuesday when the new inductees are announced, and in the case of big No. 88, the decision either way is going to be fraught with controversy. Lindros certainly had great numbers for the number of games he played, but they were undermined by the many injuries that severely limited his career. Then there were the off-ice controversies that marred him from the time he was eligible to be drafted and always seemed to surround him. Lindros is eligible for the first time, but so is Joe Nieuwendyk, John LeClair and Pierre Turgeon. And others who have been squeezed out in recent years but will still get some attention include Doug Gilmour, Dave Andreychuk and Phil Housley.
Schedules: Hall announcements will have to share the spotlight Tuesday with the release of the 2010-11 schedule. Some of the dates to highlight will be the Penguins home opener at their new arena, the Blackhawks banner-raising ceremony at their home opener, and the Winter Classic on New Year's Day at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
What happens in Vegas ... is that the NHL will announce its annual award winners at a glitzy show at the Palms Hotel. Should be interesting, too, because there are no obvious winners in the major categories. Vancouver's Henrik Sedin could break the hold Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby have on MVP honors, while Mike Green is counting on his offensive numbers being enough to convince voters he, not Duncan Keith or Drew Doughty, was the best defenseman. The Vezina Award for best goalie again has the venerable Martin Brodeur in the running, but he'll be hard-pressed to win this season because of the season's Ryan Miller and Ilya Bryzgalov had. And another goaltender, Detroit's Jimmy Howard, could walk away with the top rookie prize. He's up against Tyler Myers and Matt Duchene.
Rubber stamping out headshots: It's stunning how an issue that no one really wanted to deal with for years has been resolved so quickly. The league's board of governors will meet this week at the draft essentially to rubber stamp new penalties for blind-side hits to the head, a problem that caught everyone's attention this season because of the impact it had on star players. The board approved a recommendation for stiffer penalties made by the general managers in March, and with the competition committee signing off on a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct in addition to supplemental discipline last week, this is essentially a done deal. The PA will still have to get a vote from its full membership, but once the BOG vote effectively makes it official, the rule will be place next season.