That’s going to be the underlying approach this corner is going to take when the NHL Draft hits Montreal this week. For the first time since we gathered in Vancouver in 2019, all the NHL club officials, draftees and the media from across North America will be in one place and the floor of the Bell Centre will become the center of the hockey world for two days.
That will lead to plenty of talking in the restaurants and watering holes of the city, and lots of mighty interesting conversation on the floor prior to the first round Thursday night.
“I don’t know if it’s because the pandemic, but I think in the last month, there’s not a person in the hockey world that I haven’t run into that didn’t say, ‘I’ll see you in Montreal,'” Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said. “So I don’t know if they’re going to have enough hotel rooms in Montreal to fit everybody. But I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Remember, this will be Adams’ first in-person draft as Sabres’ GM. It’s his third one overall, but the last two were done virtually and he was simply holed up with his staff in the team’s “war room” setup in KeyBank Center.
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Adams acknowledged he’ll be back to being more like a rookie GM with his first run at a live draft.
“I can tell you this: I won’t have like 50 notecards in front of me so that people or (TV) cameras can see,” he said. “When you’re up in a war room, you can hide it a little bit, so that will change. I’m really looking forward to it. There’s nothing that replaces communication back and forth in person, nothing. So for me to look over the table and to be able to walk over and have a conversation, there’s nothing better than that. So I’m excited for that.”
The draft is where trades often come to fruition, or at least the wheels get started on deals that happen later in the summer. If you’re into the Chaos Corner like I am, the thing to root for is for Montreal to pass on Kingston center Shane Wright as the No. 1 overall pick and instead take Slovak winger Juraj Slafkovský. New Jersey is believed to be all-in on Slafkovsky at No. 2, but reportedly open to trading the pick for NHL assets if the Habs pull a fast one and pass on Wright.
Generally, Top-5 picks don’t get traded at the NHL Draft like they often can in the NBA or NFL. The last time the home team had the No. 1 pick in the draft? It was 1985 at the Metro Toronto Convention Center and the Leafs took a kid from Saskatoon named Wendel Clark. That worked pretty well.
The Sabres are picking at Nos. 9, 16 and 28 in the first round. Adams has said repeatedly he plans to make all three picks, but he’s open to change, whether it’s packaging one of those for another asset or even moving up if the New Jersey-led shakeup takes place.
“I do think (an in-person draft) it leads to opportunity,” Adams said. “What I have learned over the last couple of years is the majority of things that ultimately will play out on draft day have been worked on for a while. So going back weeks now, there’s been conversations going on with every team and you’re talking about things that they’re looking for and what are we trying to do? And as you get closer, you know that you’re building on those conversations. So they don’t just come together ultimately just within minutes, it’s weeks and months, sometimes.”
In this particular draft, however, the minutes might matter.
“You have those conversations previous, and then you can walk over to the table (of another team),” Adams said. “And maybe that’s how you get it to come together. There’s more opportunity for that, sure. But that’s why it’s so critical to do the work before to be in those conversations before, just so you’re ready.”
Adams said there’s rewards to the Sabres’ scouting staff, too. Director Jerry Forton and his scouts can gather for team meetings and greet the players they’re picking in person for the first time in three years, as well.
“I’m also just excited for having all of our staff together,” Adams said. “For Jerry and his staff, the amount of work these guys do throughout the year is a ton. To have everybody come together and hear the name that we call, be a part of that and shake hands, I just think that’s a big part of this job.”
D-camp has two looming questions
The Sabres will wait until after the 2022 draftees are selected to announce the full roster for development camp, but it might be the best one we’ve ever seen because it will include mega names like Owen Power, Peyton Krebs, Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka.
The big ones to watch for from this view: Do unsigned defenseman Ryan Johnson and goalie Erik Portillo attend the camp? Or do their rights get traded at some point during the draft? It doesn’t feel like either are trending to sign with the Sabres, although they still have until next summer to do so.
Adams also said Mattias Samuelsson will attend, and the Sabres are hopeful he’ll be on the ice after he was held out of Rochester’s playoff run due to an ankle injury suffered late in the season with Buffalo.
We’re expecting see some players to make their debut in Buffalo, like 2021 first-rounder Isak Rosen, and Adams is also hoping newly signed ’21 second-rounder Alexander Kisakov can be here, as well, in preparation for his first season in Rochester.
One major sidelight expected to come during draft week is the release of the 2022-23 regular season schedule. Many teams, including the Sabres, have released their preseason slates, and the 82-game regular season should be just about back to normal this year after two pandemic seasons and last year’s aborted Olympic-break schedule.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said at the Cup final the schedule will open Tuesday, Oct. 11, which realistically leaves the league only about five days behind its normal schedule. Next season should end with both the Cup final and draft held in June and free agency returning to July 1 in 2023.
It is always interesting to peg key dates on the Sabres’ schedule, like visits from Western Conference stars like Connor McDavid and Patrick Kane. The date of Colorado’s trip to Buffalo now becomes a big circle on the schedule after the Avalanche’s Stanley Cup run.
The Sabres have traditionally pushed the league for an October road trip as a way to push team bonding. They got the desired effect in that area last year on the West Coast, albeit in a 1-3 trip that included Craig Anderson’s injury in San Jose and the trade of Jack Eichel on the trip’s last day in Seattle.
Yzerman gets Wings’ coach in Tampa
Things had been quiet on the coaching front in Detroit, and there was plenty of speculation at the Stanley Cup Final that GM Steve Yzerman was simply waiting for Tampa Bay’s season to end to reunite with one of Jon Cooper’s assistants as Jeff Blashill’s replacement. That’s exactly what happened with the hiring of Derek Lalonde, a first-time NHL boss at age 49.
Lalonde, a former college goalie at Cortland State, adds to the pipeline from the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers in the Atlantic Division. Sabres coach Don Granato led that club from 1994-97 and got to the ’97 USHL finals. Cooper coached two seasons in Green Bay and won its first USHL title in 2010 while Lalonde won it in 2012 in his first of three seasons there.
So on your Atlantic coaching carousel scoreboard, it’s Lalonde for Blashill in Detroit; Paul Maurice for Andrew Brunette with the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately Florida Panthers, who replaced a Presidents’ Trophy-winning interim coach; Martin St. Louis on a permanent basis in Montreal; and Jim Montgomery for Bruce Cassidy in Boston. Granato, Cooper, Toronto’s Sheldon Keefe and Ottawa’s D.J. Smith retained their posts.
• Williiamsville’s Andrew Poturalski has won the last two AHL Calder Cups, in 2019 for Charlotte and this year with Chicago. He had 124 points in 89 games this season, combining the regular season and playoffs, in one of the most spectacular seasons by an AHL player in recent memory. The Carolina Hurricanes have given him four NHL games. It’s time for him to find a new parent club and get a real NHL chance.
• The Stanley Cup marked three titles this year for Avalanche owner Stan Kroenke, who also won the Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams and the National Lacrosse League title with
the Colorado Mammoth (beating the Buffalo Bandits).
• Some goofiness going on in San Jose as ex-Sabre Bob Boughner and his staff got turfed by interim GM Joe Will on Friday – after all the other coaching vacancies in the league were filled. The Sharks missed the playoffs for the third straight year, so you can justify the move – but why wasn’t it done in the first week of May?
Will said the decision was made to allow a new GM to bring in his own coach. That process is ongoing and former Sabres winger Mike Grier, who played for the Sharks from 2006-09 between his two stints in Buffalo, is considered one prime candidate.
When San Jose made its visit to Buffalo last season, Boughner paid tribute to Rick Jeanneret by remembering RJ’s call of his first fight in the Aud: “Put your kids to bed, the Boogey Man is out”
Cracked Jeanneret: “With that schnozz on ‘The Boogey Man,’ he could smell around corners. That must have gotten broken a few times.”
• Also on the ex-Sabre front, former Buffalo defenseman Brian Campbell is taking on a growing profile in the Chicago front office as a confidante of new Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson. He’s been promoted from development coach to hockey operations advisor and is No. 3 on the operations totem pole, behind new assistant GM Meghan Hunter and legendary senior advisor Scotty Bowman.