Draft day comes but once a year and for hockey fans it's like a second Christmas. The anticipation of what you will get is palpable. Wondering what waits for you underneath the tree is enough to drive you nuts. Will it be that sweet new Ninja Turtle, or a pair of dress socks? What if I get Michelangelo and I already have him? That's okay. Trade him to your cousin for Leonardo.
Now don't get me wrong, every year the draft is a big deal, but the circumstances surrounding this year have boiled this draft into a frenzy for nearly every club.
So, what makes this year so big for so many teams? I'll tell you:
1) Money. With an expected drop in the salary cap ceiling, many teams need to adjust their rosters. Some teams are pushed up against the ceiling and need to find ways to move pieces and still retain their strength. The Flyers are a great example of this. They are stacked with talent and only need some minor tweaks to improve, but the salary cap is forcing them to be creative. They recently signed Ray Emery to take the reins in goal because he is talented, yet his attitude is questionable, thereby making his price tag much smaller.
Then you've got teams like Tampa Bay. They are a lower-budget team looking for a change, but are saddled with a big expensive contract like Vincent Lecavalier's. Ideally they would move him before his no trade clause kicks in, but finding a suitor means finding a team with a lot of room under the cap and that can provide a valuable return.
2) Marquee players hitting the market. This is a pretty big off-season for UFAs with Gaborik, Hossa, Bouwmeester, Havlat, Sundin, and plenty of other game-breaking players entering free-agency. Every year there is one coveted player hitting the market that teams are after, but this year there is enough to go around. Not to mention Dany Heatley who is not a UFA, but will no doubt be leaving Ottawa after his request to be traded.
3) Teams looking for a big change. A lot of teams find themselves at turning points. The Islanders are a team that has hit bottom and officially needs to rebuild. Toronto has been rumored to be pushing for a higher pick in the draft and they factor to mix things up. Los Angeles is a team that has patiently rebuilt from the draft and is ready to get those final pieces that can push them into playoff contention. Teams like the Kings can really shake things up because they have talent to spare, are actively looking for players to trade for/sign, and have cap space to take on big contracts, like a Lecavalier. These teams can really get the cogs moving on trades.
4) Teams looking for that little boost. Even the most succesful teams from the previous season need to tweak. The cup winners will have players set to become UFA's and they'll certainly want to keep those pieces or replace them. Teams that came oh-so-close like the Hurricanes and Blackhawks will want to make those little moves that will keep them competitive and maybe push them a step closer to winning it all. Detroit came up one win short and will need to give themselves the edge in some way to turn the tables next year.
and finally the X-Factor...
5) Tavares and Hedman. The reason why this draft is so special is because the top two players in the draft are a toss up. Elite level toss ups. Not, good-but-not-great toss ups. Great toss ups. Hedman has received comparisons to Chris Pronger, standing 6'6", skating well, and being talented offensively from the blue-line. Tavares, bereft of comparisons, has been talked about for years, tried to enter the draft early, and has broken Wayne Gretzky's long standing junior records.
They are such a big factor because they figure to be the key dominoes in the chain. If the Islanders take Tavares, Hedman goes to Tampa and maybe Lecavalier stays, but if the Isles take Hedman, Tampa could do a number of things from taking Tavares and trading Vinny, trading the pick and sending Tavares to a number of salivating suitors, or a plethora of other options. And don't forget about Matt Duchene who is slated to go #3 in the draft and has been compared to Joe Sakic. Phew.
All of these factors come together to make a HUGE off season for the NHL. We could be looking at some seriously different clubs come next season.
So come Saturday there will be a lot of hockey fans running down the stairs to see what's under their tree. Will your team land a Ninja Turtle, or get stuck with some dress socks?