After a final scramble that saw four straight losses on Saturday night and Sunday by teams trying to give NHL fans their first game seven of the 2017 NHL playoffs, the first round is officially over. Despite no game sevens, the first round offered its fair share of drama and excitement.
The second round is now set with the Penguins versus the Capitals as the marquee match up, the Rangers also carrying the Metropolitan Division flag against the Senators, the Blues and Predators meeting up after toppling the top two teams in the Central Division and Connor McDavid and the Oilers lining up across from the Ducks.
Despite the fact that Hurricanes did not reach the playoffs, the first round still had a few notable impacts on the Hurricanes’ future:
Carolina Hurricanes’ acquired draft picks get downgraded
The first went as poorly as possible in terms of slotting the Hurricanes’ acquired draft picks. The Rangers and Penguins whose 2017 second round draft picks are both owned by the Hurricanes both won pushing those picks farther down toward the bottom of the second round. The Bruins loss slightly upgraded the fifth round pick that the Hurricanes own, but it was at the expense of downgrading the third-round pick from the Senators.
So netting it out, the Hurricanes had the three highest (two second-rounders and a third-rounder) acquired draft picks downgraded with only a small offset with a fifth-rounder settling higher.
Losses that could make good players available in shake ups
I said when the first round match ups were decided that the loser of the series between the Canadiens and the Rangers had the potential to lead to shake ups that free up good players. Both of those teams are built to win now, and once paired up one was destined for an early exit from the playoffs and big disappointment. With the sense of urgency and the disappointment comes a reasonably high probability that the Canadiens will try to make a significant move this summer.
There are multiple possibilities for a shake up, but one player potentially sitting in the cross hairs is Alex Galchenyuk. Despite notching pretty decent scoring totals including 30 goals and 56 points in 2015-17 (82 games) and 17 goals and 44 points in 65 games in 2016-17 by the age of 23, Galchenyuk has had an up and down time with the Canadiens. He has played his way up and down the Habs lineup and will be a restricted free agent this summer. Many think he could be part of the group leaving to make room and salary cap space for whoever management wants to bring in to try to jump start the current group.
As a young center with decent size and the potential to play on a top scoring line, Galchenyuk could be a match for Francis’ efforts to add a top-end forward. Galchenyuk may be the biggest and most exciting name potentially freed up by the Canadiens first round loss, but almost anyone with a high salary is more likely to be available now. As such, the Canadiens’ early playoff exit could turn out to be the most significant Canes-centric event of the first round of the 2017 NHL playoffs.
Another player almost certain to be available is Flames netminder Brian Elliott. He struggled early in the regular season getting acclimated to a new team, seemed to find his footing, but then had a really tough time of it in the playoffs. Based on his up and down 2016-17 season, I do not see him as a top target, but he does make yet another goalie added to the pile of options this summer.
Next-generation NHL front-runners established — Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames
Many of the favorites to win in the 2017 NHL playoffs are led by stars who are 30 years old or very close. Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby (29), Evgeni Malkin (30) and Phil Kessel (29). Washington has Alexander Ovechkin (31) and Nicklas Backstrom (29). Chicago (yes I realize they lost badly) has Patrick Kane (28), Jonathan Toews (28), Duncan Keith (33) and Corey Crawford (32). Anaheim boasts Ryan Getzlaf (31), Corey Perry (31) and Ryan Kesler (32).
But through only one round of the 2017 playoffs, I think two teams have staked a claim to being the front-runners for the next generation of elite teams. The Edmonton Oilers did so in impressive fashion by winning their playoff series against 2016 Stanley Cup Finalist San Jose. The Toronto Maple Leafs ultimately came up short against the Washington Capitals but made almost as strong of an impression along the way. The Calgary Flames were felled partly by goaltending issues and have a reasonable claim to also be considered given their playoff berth for the 2016-17 season.
As a team that became the youngest in the league at the 2017 NHL trade deadline and improved again this season, the Hurricanes are gradually building toward a higher position in the standings. In terms of benchmarking against other young teams, I think the Oilers and the Maple Leafs are now the two to gun for. Both teams are lead by cores that are young and could be forces in the NHL for years to come. With the Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference, that is the team I will be watching most closely going forward of the young group.