The Nashville Predators’ (arguably surprisingly) defeat at the hands of the surging Chicago Blackhawks on April 25, 2015 in the 1st-round of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs is the Toronto Maple Leafs’ gain.
An unanticipated early exit from the playoffs by Nashville
Most of us who follow NHL hockey had expected Nashville to go (at least relatively) deep into the playoffs and potentially challenge for the championship as they have been a bona fide cup contender for virtually the entire regular season with the club finishing the 2014 to 2015 NHL season with a franchise-tying record 104 points by going 47-25-10. In fact, the team’s consistent and strong performance over the course of the season (notwithstanding its subpar record in March and April) is a major reason why the Predators made the trade with Toronto for D Cody Franson and C Mike Santorelli (with C Olli Jokinen, F Brendan Leipsic, and Nashiville’s 1st-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft going to the Maple Leafs) back on February 15, 2015 as Nashville GM David Poile wanted to strengthen his team’s depth on Defence and Centre (granted not many would have predicted that the Predators would have had to face Chicago in the 1st-round of the playoffs back then, a team that won the cup twice–2010 and 2013–in the past 5 years and still has its core intact).
— Brooks Bratten (@brooksbratten) February 15, 2015
The ramification for Toronto
Toronto has Chicago to thank because rather than drafting in the late 20s in the 1st-round with the Nashville’s 1st-round pick in the 2015 draft (after the Maple Leafs’s own selection at 4th overall), the Toronto brain trust (led by Shanahan, Hunter, and Dubas) could now potentially pick in the late-teens or early 20s overall instead. The reason is because in the 1st-round of the draft, the defending Stanley Cup champion selects 30th overall, the Stanley Cup runner-up chooses 29th overall, the two (Eastern and Western) Conference Finalists–assuming that one or both of them do not advance to the Stanley Cup Final–pick 28th and 27th respectively, the division (Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central, and Pacific) winners–assuming that one or more of them do not advance to the Conference Final and beyond–occupy the other lowest draft positions, and the remaining teams select in order of fewest points to most points earned from the preceding regular season. As a general rule of thumb, when treating teams that are eliminated in the same round of the playoffs (notwithstanding the Stanley Cup Final), the teams that had the lower regular season point total will be awarded the higher draft pick.
With the Minnesota Wild, Calgary Flames, Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings–teams that finished lower in the standing than the Predators in the past regular season–all still alive in the playoffs as of April 25, 2015, one or more of these teams could well upset their opponents and advance to the Conference Finals (if not further) and push Nashville’s draft positions (including the Predators’ 1st-round pick which now belongs to Toronto) higher. For Shanahan, Hunter, and Dubas, that is a jump of approximately half-a-dozen to a dozen draft positions in what is supposed to be an extraordinary-deep draft that rivals its 2003 predecessor, the latter draft widely being regarded as a near generational-defining draft that produced star players in the 1st-round such as G Marc-Andre Fleury (going 1st overall to the Pittsburgh Penguins), C Eric Staal (going 2nd overall to the Carolina Hurricanes), RW Nathan Horton (going 3rd overall to the Florida Panthers), LW Thomas Vanek (going 5th overall to the Buffalo Sabres), LW Milan Michalek (going 6th overall to the San Jose Sharks), D Ryan Suter (going 7th overall to the Nashville Predators), D Dion Phaneuf (going 9th overall to the Calgary Flames), C Jeff Carter (going 11th overall to the Philadelphia Flyers), RW Dustin Brown (going 13th overall to the Los Angeles Kings), D Brent Seabrook (going 14th overall to the Chicago Blackhawks), C Zach Parise (going 17th overall to the New Jersey Devils), C Ryan Getzlaf (going 19th overall to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim), RW Brent Burns (going 20th overall to the Minnesota Wild), C Ryan Kesler (going 23rd overall to the Vancouver Canucks), C Mike Richards (going 24th overall to the Philadelphia Flyers), and RW Corey Perry (going 28th overall to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim). Even the 2nd-round of the 2003 draft saw what turned out to be excellent NHL players, such as LW Loui Eriksson (going 33rd overall to the Dallas Stars), C Patrice Bergeron (going 45th overall to the Boston Bruins), D Shea Weber (going 49th overall to the Nashville Predators), G Corey Crawford (going 52nd overall to the Chicago Blackhawks), RW David Backes (going 62nd overall to the St. Louis Blues), and G Jimmy Howard (going 62nd overall to the Detroit Red Wings).
Previously unreachable prospects that are now accessible
Looking at the pool of highly-talented prospects that are available in the upcoming 2015 draft, the Maple Leafs, if they wish to stockpile centres (seeing that the team badly needs elite-level prospects in this key position), would now potentially be able to target the likes of Travis Konecny and/or Joel Eriksson Ek with their second 1st-round selection that is acquired from Nashville earlier, an improbable scenario if the club were to select in the late 20s. Of course, Toronto may well opt for the best available player on its draft board at that point (which may not be a centre) but no matter which of these scenarios unfold, Toronto would be able to choose a player that is considerably higher-ranked on its draft board due to the Predators’ somewhat unexpected early-exit from the playoffs.
Bottom line for the Maple Leafs
At the end of the day, this is a nice windfall for the Maple Leafs even though Toronto did not win the earlier jackpot (which was the draft lottery and the golden ticket to draft Connor McDavid 1st overall in the upcoming draft).
Kenneth Lam is an Assistant Professor in the School of Health Policy and Management at York University; a former Junior Fellow at Massey College; as well as a Peer-Reviewer for American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc., Healthcare Policy, Oxford University Press Canada, and Women’s Press.