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Hello! And welcome back to Season Two of Blackhawks Beat. Each Tuesday, I’ll dump hockey thoughts from my brain onto you. These first few will be unlocked to everyone, then we’ll make them a Diehard-only perk, similar to Adam Hoge’s “Bears Things” newsletter.
Want to make sure you get them all year? You can become a Diehard today and not only get all my newsletters, but access to Mario and Greg’s weekly “Rebuild Report” and a free Hawks-inspired t-shirt as well!
Now, onto this week’s Blackhawks Beat.
You may have missed this piece of news last week, but the NHL is likely doing away with one of their coolest and most unique events … the centralized NHL Draft.
Centralized? What the hell does that mean, Jay?
Every year, when the NHL holds its entry draft, each team gathers in front of the stage at designated team tables. GMs, assistant GMs, scouts, owners, and other executives all gather together to draft. Every team, every exec, all within 100 feet of each other for the entirety of the draft. Fans and media in the arena can watch, in real time, if a GM gets up to talk to another GM. They can see teams interacting with each other and reacting to the draft as picks happen.
Two weeks ago, the league sent a survey to NHL teams asking if they supported the decision to decentralize the draft. The vast majority voted yes, so it looks like 2024 will be our last chance to experience the draft in its current format.
So why is the NHL doing this?
The bottom line is money. It’s expensive for teams to fly, board, feed, and accommodate their staff for a week in a road city. Some teams have also expressed concerns over the proximity of the draft to free agency, which usually happens the week after the draft.
Fine … but here’s the thing. Does it have to be all or nothing? Couldn’t teams send fewer people? Couldn’t the league move free agency back a week? Why does it have to be a complete elimination of one of the NHL’s coolest features? Now the NHL will be like the NBA and NFL with all picks being made remotely.
From a personal and somewhat selfish standpoint, 2023 was my first time covering the draft in person. It allowed all of us at CHGO a unique networking opportunity. We got to work around some of the biggest names in hockey media and interact with some of the biggest executives in the game. I know that doesn’t matter to the average NHL fan, but it makes everyone wearing an NHL credential a better and more informed journalist.
I implore the NHL and their teams to think of the fans. The current format leads to so much more intrigue for the viewer and fans. Get creative and find a way to make this work. It’s so rare that the NHL has an entertainment edge on the other big leagues in sports. Why take away something so unique to the game we love? I hope they reconsider.
The Week Ahead
Saturday – vs Florida Panthers
The Panthers are currently sixth in the eight-team Atlantic Division, and they have a winning 4-3-1 record. That’s how stacked the Atlantic is this year. The defending Eastern Conference Champs aren’t off to the start they expected, but should still be in strong position for a playoff spot when the season wraps up. Last year, they proved they can make a deep run in spite of a low playoff spot. They’ve been without defensive stalwarts Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad so far this season, but both are expected to be back in the lineup by Saturday. Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been an unexpectedly solid addition in their absence.
Sunday – vs New Jersey Devils
The Devils are the NHL’s next big thing. They’re young, fast, and ready to win. They’re off to a 5-2-1 start, led by the offensive fireworks of 2019 No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes. In eight games this season, Hughes has 5 goals and 13 assists for 18 points. You read that correctly … 18 points in 8 games. And he’s 22 years old. Hughes is hardly a one-man show, though. Jesper Bratt, Timo Meier, Dougie Hamilton and rookie Luke Hughes (Jack’s brother) are just a few of the names that make up a stacked Devils roster. To me, they are the most exciting team in hockey, right up there with the Colorado Avalanche. Their biggest question is in goal. Both Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid have sub-.900 save percentages and goals against averages of 3.24 and 4.07 respectively.
If the Devils can get their goaltending even up to league average, they’re going to be very dangerous.
Have a great week, Blackhawks fans. We’ll see you back here next Tuesday.
Headline Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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