NHL season wrap and the Wild 2023 NHL Entry Draft strategy

Marc Elliott

SIDE LAKE – The Vegas Golden Knights finished off their quest for the Stanley Cup with a four games to one series victory over the Florida Panthers. They lifted the mighty silver chalice after dispatching the Cats in a Game Five 9-3 exclamation point type of win in Vegas, and the party was on.

Last night on the famed "Vegas Strip" there was a parade and it was the first one ever held for anything on the globally known hot spot. I viewed some of it and must say that it was fitting for the first championship for the first major league professional-level team in the city's history. There should be little doubt that they did it up right.

There was some doubt and speculation as to who would be winning the Cup this year though. I recall a conversation with my son William back in January as to who we thought would be in the Conference Finals and then the Cup Final and who had an honest shot at winning it.

I brought up the Boston Bruins, who were in the midst of a record-setting regular season. I said that if they continued to play as they were that they would win the President's Trophy. (Regular season Champion) I also said that if that happened they would have to deal with the Presidents Trophy curse whereby whoever wins it usually flames out early in the tournament and that I didn't feel they had the netminding to go deep into the playoff.

Well, whether it was the curse or goaltending, they were booted from the first round by FLA in a G7 OT win by the Cats. It was on BOS ice and also came after the Bruins had a three-to-one series lead. Talk about insult to injury. In the West the VGK were having an outstanding year, even while they battled injury and salary cap matters. But while they plugged away I once again told my son that I wasn't certain they had the goaltending to win a Cup.

At the time they were relying on 25-year-old Logan Thompson. Their organizational number one, Robin Lehner was deemed to be out for the season due to injury, and his backup, Laurent Brossoit, was also on the injury list, so Thompson began the season for them. He acquitted himself well, going 21-13-3 in 37 tilts before hitting the injury list himself in early February after being injured in a game against the WILD. He attempted a comeback in late March and was reinjured quickly. A

t this point Brossoit had rejoined the club and the team had acquired former LA Kings goalie and two-time Cup Champion Jonathan Quick, and also had Adin Hill and Jiri Patera on the roster. Hill and Quick became the new tandem sliding Brossoit to the three spot.

At the start of the playoffs, Vegas Coach Butch Cassidy opted to play Brossoit raher than Hill and Quick. It was a great decision, with the VGK winning Round one against WPG by a four games to one tally. Brossoit was the #1 for the second round too but suffered a LBI in G3 and never returned to action. But hey! No problem! Cassidy gave Hill the nod and he did nothing but go 11-4 the rest of the way and was seen sipping Champagne from the Cup at last night's party. The question begs to be asked, with both Brossoit and Hill being journeymen type of players on the tail end of their mid-20s, just how good was the Vegas defense? Exceptionally good. Fern Rivard could have won a Cup behind this group.

And I don't wish to take anything away from either tender, but Hill would have won the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) if it hadn't been awarded to teammate Jonathan Marchessault. I'm convinced of that. He had a heckuva performance. So the tourney is over, it was absolutely great and our thoughts about a possible Eastern Conference Cup Champion held no water or champagne. The NHL continues to flourish under Commissioner Gary Bettman's guidance.

There have been some not-so-great moments and occurrences, but in my view the positives far outweigh the negatives. In what is now being called the "post-pandemic" era the league has made a full comeback. Attendance for the 2022-23 season was at 22.4 mil which represents a 7.9% increase ,with the league playing to 93% of total arena capacities. Total hockey revenues set a record as well, with those coming in at $5.9 bil which is a league record. If the salary cap has enabled the league to have some regular season "parity" that seems to fall by the wayside in the Cup tourney. Of 16 teams in the playoffs, there are quite clearly only three, maybe four, that had enough juice to go all the way.

And this year, once the tourney got fully underway it became evident quickly that Vegas may have been in a league of their own.

Did I witness any club that was going to beat them in a potential seven-game series? No. There were none. The league's last signed TV deal is the best they have ever had from a financial standpoint. I am still getting used to some of the personalities and nuances of the new networks, but I am becoming more used to the changeover. In my analysis, the league is doing great. It isn't perfect but is consistently improving. If I compare it to the league as it was when I was a young man, it isn't even close. From top to bottom it is a better product now. But, but – what about that playoff officiating? Don't get me started!

THE NHL ENTRY DRAFT begins on Wednesday, June 28, and finishes on 29th. It will be held in Nashville, with a full house of Preds fans expected to be on hand. I'm usually not a draft or stats geek but I have to profess that with the Wild’s current positioning with their cap penalties I am watching this year quite intently.

At the moment the team has about $9.1 mil in available cap space. They only have 15 contracts of a possible 23 signed. When you include the "non-rostered" players they have 33 of 50. Luckily the non-rostered players don't count against the cap. With goalie Filip Gustavsson in need of a deal and a big raise, what will be left after that deal gets done? Not much.

And they will still need players. The club has two glaring needs in my opinion, they need a couple of "true" NHL-ready centers and a top-five level D-man. Any thoughts of Cup contention should be on hold until this occurs.

As usual the WILD will select in the later third of the draft order. (21st-1st round pick) If they went after a center, all mock projections say that the best five will be gone by the twelfth pick. So much for that. And they won't be getting an all-world D-man at 21st either. In my view there won't be much happening at the draft table for the Wild without swinging a major deal. At least one real big contract is going to have to be leaving St. Paul to make room for the future. Who will it be? PEACE