Detroit — This year’s NHL Entry Draft has a bit of a reunion feeling to it.
All 32 teams are back under the Bell Centre roof in Montreal, each with all their front office personnel and scouts around long tables, after two years of conducting the draft via Zoom because of COVID-19 pandemic concerns.
So, finally, the league is back together in a sense.
With that development, in years past anyway, there’s usually a sizeable amount of trades right around the draft. Sometimes it’s an avalanche, occasionally just a smattering.
There’s been speculation that because everyone is under one roof — and have been for days in Montreal leading up to the actual draft — there could be more trades than usual.
But Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman isn’t entirely buying that likelihood.
“Most (teams) aren’t making trades just to make trades,” Yzerman said. “You can do that anywhere. You pick up a phone, texting, you walk across the room — half the time (at the draft) you’re texting the guy sitting at the table next to you.
“It’s not like we just wander around the room kind of looking for somebody, open up the raincoat and sell them a watch or something like that. There is a bit of a plan to it.”
The Wings are expected to be one of the teams that could be active, at the draft or afterward, given their salary cap space ($35.7 million with 15 of 23 players signed to contract) and Yzerman’s desire to see the Wings further improve.
“We watched the positive impact some of our younger guys had this year,” Yzerman said. “We’d like to add to that and continue to move forward.”
But Yzerman would be hesitant about subtracting from that ample cap space, simply by adding a player from another team looking to shed salary for a draft pick.
“We have cap space, but I try to use it wisely because it can disappear in a hurry,” Yzerman said. “We’re looking at teams that have to move players just to be cap compliant to start the season. In those situations, you look at the player and what impact they’re going to have on your team and what they cost. Or you look at other deals potentially where you’re maybe helping someone out, alleviate their cap issues, for various reasons. Maybe you’re getting an asset.
“Ultimately, I look at both situations, if it’s going to make our team better this season or in the future.”
For NHL scouts, this season was certainly a case of seeing things gradually return to normal.
Except for a brief blip in late December when the pandemic again reared its head and smacked hockey schedules, this was a typical hockey year with scouts able to attend games, get on planes, head overseas, and scout prospects in person.
“Certainly (there’s) a little bit more familiarity with all the players,” Yzerman said. “Two years ago, we’re all excited about the U-18s (under-18s) and watching these kids in the playoffs throughout all the junior leagues. Then everybody is shut down, so we missed an important part of the season.
“Last year some of the kids didn’t even play. It was really challenging.”
One of those leagues that didn’t get on the ice two seasons ago was the Ontario Hockey League. There was talk at the time about how that lost ice time would adversely affect the OHL. But Yzerman feels if a player is good enough, there will be a spot in the NHL someday.
“I truly believe if you’re going to make it, you’ll find a way to get there,” Yzerman said. “Sitting and not playing a year for anybody is not a good thing. The more you see players, the better you know them, the more familiarity you have with them and you’re more comfortable. If you haven’t seen them, it’s hard to project what they’re going to be.
“They’ll make it if they’re good enough and they have the determination to make it. But certainly, the fewer viewings you have, the fewer situations they’ve played in, whether it be with their team and their league or national teams or regional teams, ultimately it affects their draft order.
“But I don’t think it affects their development to play in the National Hockey League.”