When the brain trusts of all 30 teams gather in one place, plenty of business gets done. Draft weekend may be second only to the trade deadline when it comes to making deals, and this year’s draft next Friday and Saturday in Pittsburgh promises to be no different.
Big name veterans like Rick Nash, Roberto Luongo and Jay Bouwmeester could be on the move, and a deal for the rights to pending free agent Ryan Suter is also possible.
Columbus features to be one of the primary movers, with the possibility of star forward Nash finally getting his wish for a trade. The Columbus Dispatch reported Friday that the Blue Jackets have had “significant” trade talks with seven teams, while several others have “kicked the tires.”
Acquiring Nash will still cost mightily. Columbus’ asking price proved too high to complete a deal at last year’s trade deadline, but the Blue Jackets aren’t going to come down too much on their demands for the face of their franchise, and with so many interested parties they may not have to. If high draft picks are going to be included in any package for him, the Blue Jackets will want to get a deal done before Friday’s first round to kick-start their latest rebuilding project.
Columbus general manager Scott Howson might want to be careful how he proceeds. His last big draft day deal didn’t work out too well for the Blue Jackets. Last year he shipped Jakub Voracek, the eighth overall pick and a third-rounder to Philadelphia for Jeff Carter. Voracek and Sean Couturier, who was taken with that eighth pick, made significant contributions to the Flyers right away, while Carter never warmed to the idea of playing in Columbus and eventually forced his way out of town, landing in Los Angeles and helping the Kings win the Cup.
Howson seems undeterred. He’s also made it known that the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft is in play as he’s open to any options to help right the ship in Columbus after finishing dead last in the NHL this past season.
“We’d be open to any suggestions,” Howson told Sportsnet 960 The Fan in Calgary on Thursday. “It’s not an easy trade to trade out of the two slot, or one slot or three slot for that matter.
“We’ve certainly listened to people,” Howson added. “We’ve had a couple of expressions of interest on the pick in terms of moving down. We wouldn’t want to move too far down so we’ll just see how it plays out next week. Traditionally, and if history repeats itself, teams get a little more serious about exchanging picks as we get closer to the draft on the draft floor.”
Moving down appears to be the only option. Despite their horrid record, the Blue Jackets didn’t win the lottery. Instead Edmonton earned the right to pick first for the third straight season. The Oilers also shopped that pick, but on Friday reports surfaced that Edmonton was resigned to holding on to the pick when they couldn’t find a taker for their trade demands.
The Oilers are in a bit of a bind. The clear-cut top pick this year is talented Russian forward Nail Yakupov, but the Oilers are already loaded with young talent up front with the likes of the last two No. 1 overall selections, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, plus Jordan Eberle.
Edmonton’s real need is on defense. That’s what they were seeking to get in return for this year’s top pick, but Sportsnet’s Mark Spector reported that the Oilers were rebuffed in efforts to pry young blueliners Jake Gardiner and P.K. Subban out of Toronto and Montreal, respectively.
The Oilers will now have to choose between taking the top player in Yakupov and adding to their stockpile of young forwards, or perhaps reaching a bit to fill a need with a defenseman like Ryan Murray. If they go the latter route, Columbus will be sitting pretty with the chance to grab Yakupov or auction that right to the highest bidder.
Edmonton isn’t expected to finalize their decision until next Thursday or Friday, but either way they go, things are sure to be interesting next Friday. They always are at the draft, especially when there are veterans as well as prospects up for grabs.