Well, the ’99 season has come to a close. And now, as is tradition, we direct our attention to “The NHL Draft”. Even before St. Louis makes its first selection, Blues fans have reason to be excited about the team’s future prospects in the organization. The “build from within” approach instituted by CEO & President Mark Sauer and GM Larry Pleau is ahead of schedule. Young players, that in previous years would be dealt for immediate help, have begun to emerge from Worcester. Michal Handzus had a solid first season in the NHL. He is already regarded as one of the top defensive players in the game; the offense will come in time. Lubos Bartecko made contributions late in the year and showed that he is close to playing full time with the big club. In the playoffs, Jochen Hecht was a pleasant surprise. He showed the great puck skills and skating ability that enabled him to lead all players in points in Worcester. If he can continue his great play, expect him to settle in at left wing for the Blues next year. Jamal Mayers also played well down the stretch. And Marty Reasoner is not too far down the road. That being said, Let’s take a look at the possibilities for the Blues at this years draft.
Back in the early 70s, the British rock band The Who released the album “Odds & Sods”, which was a collection of songs that had been left off of previously released albums for various reasons. In the spirit of that recording, I’ve decided to break from my usual Top 20 format to make this season wrap-up column a review of the playoff performances of certain Sabre prospects, as well as other random items from the post season.
The big news is, of course, that the Buffalo Sabres will be appearing in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 24 years. Meanwhile, down the I-90, the Rochester Americans liked the idea of the Sabres appearing in the finals so much that they defeated the defending Calder Cup champs from Philadelphia to return to the Calder Cup finals for the 5th time this decade. Based on these events, it is clear that the Sabres organization has finally become one to be envied by the rest of the NHL for the first time since Punch Imlach was GM of the Sabres. The Sabres may not land their first Cup this year, as they are definite underdogs against Dallas, but they will almost certainly be contenders for the foreseeable future. Their contender status is the result of good drafting and shrewd trading, not to mention excellent coaching. Rather than praise those responsible for the Sabres success (others have done this better than I could), I will simply wish the Sabre organization good luck in the NHL and AHL finals, and, like all other Sabre fans, I’ll sit back and enjoy the moment.
CHL Playoffs and Memorial Cup Read more»
The Toronto Maple Leafs have spent the past few years trying to pick up the pieces from a largely broken down franchise in the mid-1990′s. The management team, headed by President and General Manager, Ken Dryden, has decided to try to rebuild the team from the ground up, using the draft to add skilled prospects and the Leafs’ system to develop that talent.
Following the end of the Leafs’ magical playoff run in 98-99, Coach Pat Quinn earmarked a team need for more bigger, stronger, physical, forwards who have the speed and skills to be significant offensive threats as well. Associate GM, Mike Smith, then stated that the free agent route will most likely not be an avenue used by the team this year to “upgrade” their talent level. It appears that for the most part, the Leafs will use their own system to add to this “team need” as they enter a new season and a new milleneium in 1999-2000.
The Leafs went out, a bit, on the “proverbial limb” in the 1998 draft by selecting a largely unknown prospect in center, Nikolai Antropov from Kazakstan. Antropov has some potential as he is refining his game with the Moscow Dynamo team in Russia. Some in the Leafs’ system feel that Nikolai may push for a roster spot next season, but it is likely he will return to Russia for one more season and then may need at least a half of a season at St. John’s to acclimate himself to the North American pro game.
A clean slate. That is what the Avalanche will be looking for come this summer. Following a disappointment in the playoffs, the Lanche are faced with an interesting summer and new year. From a new arena to a new owner, this upcoming season will be one full of changes as the Lanche try to right what they feel to be a few “wrongs” in their system.
Let me first get a few things out before we even look at what the Lanche will go after this year in the draft, trades and free agency. Lacroix must stay, he’s made solid deals and wants to win. Kamensky, Lefebvre, Gusarov and their high salaries are all gone…unless they sign for less money. Fleury might not re-sign. He has less than a month till free agency and big money. Lacroix will be working overtime to get his lone big name FA signed. He does have a few plusses in his corner…Sakic and a team called the Avalanche. If or if not Fleury re-signs, Lemiuex, Donovan, and Sakic will be shopped around the league. Yes Sakic. Joe is in his last year of his contract and he has two things going for him…a cheap contract and star status, which means most teams will bite. Come next off season we could see Roy gone too as the expansion draft approaches and the Avalanche will be forced to decide on Roy or Denis. They can stop this by getting Atlanta to take Billington in the expansion draft hence preventing the Lanche from losing another goalie next year. My guess is the name Billington will be called on draft day. Now that the ground work is laid out, lets take a look at what the Lanche need and want.