Skip to content

For Monday’s episode of “The Athletic Hockey Show,” four of us — Max Bultman, Mark Lazerus, Hailey Salvian and Sean Gentille — headed for the trustiest well of offseason content available to us, as NHL media: a draft.

The rules were simple — deceptively so, perhaps:

• Select a starting lineup (three forwards, two defensemen, one goaltender) with the goal of winning as many Cup titles as possible in the next five years. We couldn’t draft more than two centers.

• Do not exceed our $45 million cap. For reference, right now the Lightning’s top 6 highest paid players are due $53.375 million.

• How much we worried about the future was our own business. For simplicity’s sake, though, we were assuming the cap would rise in our world, too. Projecting contracts is tough business.

Also, for the sake of the podcast listeners — and entertainment — we all made (most of) our picks in 10 seconds or so. Pretty much. Usually. Should we have taken more time? That’s up to you to decide.


Round 1

Pick Team Player Age Cap hit

1.1

Lazerus

Connor Bedard, Blackhawks C

18

$950,000

1.2

Salvian

Connor McDavid, Oilers C

26

$12.5 million

1.3

Bultman

Cale Makar, Avalanche RD

24

$9 million

1.4

Gentille

Matthew Tkachuk, Panthers RW

25

$9.5 million

Lazerus: You’re never supposed to pick by need at first; you take the best player available. But productive players on entry-level deals are the lifeblood of most Stanley Cup champions, and Connor Bedard could be a 70-point player as a rookie, and by the end of this five-year window, should be a superstar. For me, it was down to Bedard or Cale Makar. Do I have regrets? Perhaps.

Bultman: Who better to build around than the best defenseman, and maybe the best contract, in the sport? Makar’s $9 million bargain covers all but one year of our five-year window, so I’ve got great cost certainty, but more than that, I have the most dynamic blueliner in the sport, someone I can count on for big goals, and who’s already won a Conn Smythe. Thrilled to get him.

Salvian: I planned my draft strategy around getting Cale Makar with the second pick and a 1C in Round 2 like Jack Hughes. But the best player in the world available with the No. 2 pick? What a lovely surprise. I don’t even care about the cap hit. He’s not due a raise until 2026, and how much more is he realistically going to get? Unless NHL superstars start taking what they’re actually worth, I can probably get away with paying him $13 million.

Gentille: Truly elite players are still undervalued by NHL economics. Matthew Tkachuk’s contract was good was he signed last summer; now, it’s closer to unbelievable. He’s one of one in the league. Every on-ice box is checked. Lots are off-ice, as well. Also, my guy is still only 25. No-brainer.


Round 2

Pick Team Player Age Cap hit

2.1

Gentille

Jason Robertson, Stars LW

24

$7.75 million

2.2

Bultman

Miro Heiskanen, Stars RD/LD

24

$8.45 million

2.3

Salvian

Leon Draisaitl, Oilers C/LW

27

$8.5 million

2.4

Lazerus

Adam Fox, Rangers RD

25

$9.5 million

Gentille: Ah, the benefits of drafting at the turn. My initial plan was to score these two Hart-caliber wingers on below-market deals, and wow, how about that? (Jason) Robertson added a playmaking element to his game last season that raised him a couple of tiers in my book. Now, did I almost call a late audible? Of course. I want an $8 million franchise center, like everyone else. But I’m going to have to save money somewhere, and I’m thinking I can do it down the middle.

Salvian: I wanted to go with a natural winger here, but Sean had already taken my top two choices in Tkachuk and Jason Robertson at the turn. I almost went with Hughes here because he’s young, fun and cost controlled until 2030. But why galaxy brain it? (Leon) Draisaitl had 128 points last season — 537 points in the last five seasons (369 games). And we know he can play well with (Connor) McDavid. How hard could it be to roster build around those two?

Bultman: Looks like we’re building from the back end, because the chance to pair Makar with Miro Heiskanen is too good to pass up. That would have been true even when the big draw was his dominant rush defending and transition game and is even truer now that he’s putting up near point-per-game numbers, too. I did consider trying to grab my No. 1 center here, but I’ll give it a beat or two.

Lazerus: I thought taking Bedard would prevent me from landing any of the big three (McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon and Makar), yet here we are.


Round 3

Pick Team Player Age Cap hit

3.1

Lazerus

Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche C

27

$12.6 million

3.2

Salvian

Rasmus Dahlin, Sabres LD/RD

23

$6 million

3.3

Bultman

Brady Tkachuk, Senators LW

23

$8.2 million

3.4

Gentille

Matty Beniers, Kraken C

20

$897,500

Lazerus: Adam Fox is the second-best defenseman in the world after Makar, and his cap hit is a bargain. Now I’ve got my No. 1 center in MacKinnon, my No. 1 defenseman in Fox, and my bargain-basement wunderkind in Bedard. Feeling pretty good right about now. I’ll blow it later, though, don’t worry.

Bultman: I really wanted Matthew Tkachuk coming into this draft, both because he has one of the league’s best contracts — the best, according to Dom (Luszczyszyn) — and because there are just so few players like him in the game. Sean sniping him early was a blow. But, while there aren’t many who can blend Tkachuk’s offense with his feisty DNA, there is someone who shares his literal DNA and actually brings a bit more size to the table. So let’s take Brady (Tkachuk), coming off a 35-goal, 83-point season, and clocking it at more than a million dollars cheaper than Matthew too. That’ll play.

Brady Tkachuk and Matthew Tkachuk at the 2023 NHL All-Star Game. (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

Salvian: With Makar, Fox and Heiskanen all gone and $21 million spent on my first two picks, I wanted to go for someone a little cheaper than the available Charlie McAvoy. That meant dipping into the next yet still elite franchise defender tier. Between Quinn Hughes and Rasmus Dahlin, I picked Dahlin. He showed his game-breaking talent this season in Buffalo and his ability to make creative plays with the puck at a high rate. His $6 million bridge deal expires next summer, which, in hindsight, makes me feel like I should have gone with Quinn Hughes ($7.85 million until 2027). But the cap is going up, so it’s fine.

Gentille: Part of the reason I felt good about my double-winger run in the first two rounds: Laz drafted Bedard. There aren’t a ton of other win-now, building-block players on ELCs in the league — and even fewer centers. Matty Beniers, though, qualifies. He produced at a 60-point pace as a rookie and, more importantly, showed the two-way ability we’d all heard about during his amateur career … as a 19-year-old NHL player. Pairing him with two players as diverse offensively as Tkachuk and Robertson? Yep, that’ll do.


Round 4

Pick

Team

Player

Age

Cap hit

4.1

Gentille

Charlie McAvoy, Bruins RD

25

$9.5 million

4.2

Bultman

Jack Hughes, Devils C

22

$8 million

4.3

Salvian

Jeremy Swayman, Bruins G

24

$3.475 million

4.4

Lazerus

David Pastrnak, Bruins RW

27

$11.25 million

Gentille: Whether he wins a Norris or not over the next few years, McAvoy is a no-doubt elite No. 1 defenseman. I want a guy who can succeed in huge, tough minutes in all situations, move the needle at both ends at five-on-five and run a power play — and I want a right shot. This is where going cheap on Beniers really pays off.

Salvian: My goal heading into this was to save a goalie for last, knowing there would be value available at the end no matter what. But, this is the moment I realized that I’d spent $27 million on my first three picks, everyone started yelling at me to hurry up — and I panicked. In my mind, getting a goalie under $4 million would let me spend some more on an elite winger in the next round. But, in hindsight (and we’ll get there) I could have waited and only spent a bit more money on, say, Juuse Saros, and been under the $45 million cap we set. It’s fine. I am fine. I like Jeremy Swayman!

Bultman: I was considering taking Jack Hughes at every single pick I made in this draft, so to get him in the fourth round is fantastic. He’s an elite center, racked up 99 points last year, and has become a better goal scorer than I would have even envisioned. He was fourth on my Hart Trophy ballot this year, so I’ll gladly build around him and that bargain of a cap number for the entirety of his prime.

Lazerus: A top line of (David) Pastrnak, MacKinnon and Bedard? Yes, please.


Round 5

Pick Team Player Age Cap hit

5.1

Lazerus

Luke Hughes, Devils LD

19

$975,000

5.2

Salvian

Kirill Kaprizov, Wild LW

26

$9 million

5.3

Bultman

Tage Thompson, Bruins C

25

$7.14 million

5.4

Gentille

Igor Shesterkin, Rangers G

27

$5.66 million

Lazerus: Here’s where I outsmarted myself (which, let’s face it, isn’t hard). I like Hughes a lot, and I think he’ll be a great player. But I didn’t need a second entry-level deal. In my head, having two sub-million-dollar players would allow me to draft four eight-figure players to complement them, but it was just unnecessary. Bad math. I could have taken a more established defenseman such as Devon Toews or even Quinn Hughes here, but went for the high risk, high reward.

Bultman: This was the first pick where I felt boxed in. I entered the draft not planning to threaten our $45 million salary cap for the top six players, believing depth ends up mattering a ton in the playoffs. So a cheaper contract here would have been my preference. But I just kept finding the star power too hard to pass on, and after drafting Hughes, I really wanted a dead-eye shooter to pair with him. It was really down to three players, for me: (Tage) Thompson, Matt Boldy and Joel Eriksson Ek, the latter of whom has an incredible contract ($5.25 million through 2029), is elite defensively and, when paired with Tkachuk, would be miserable to play against.

I went with Thompson, swayed by the offensive dynamism and his missile of a shot, but if my team gets knocked out of the playoffs before the conference final, my biggest regret might be passing over Eriksson Ek’s defensive game — and those nearly $2 million in cap savings.

Salvian: A top line of McDavid, Draisaitl and (Kirill) Kaprizov makes me feel better.

Gentille: Once I picked Beniers, I knew I’d have the opportunity for a luxury spend at either left defense or goal — and I went with (Igor) Shesterkin, despite a small step back last season. I still wanted some wiggle room, though, so Andrei Vasilevskiy and his $9.5 million AAV were off the table. Ilya Sorokin is cost controlled but more expensive. Jake Oettinger only has one more year left at $4 million. It felt like Shesterkin ($5.66 million for two more seasons) split the difference.

Igor Shesterkin (Rich Graessle / Getty Images)

Round 6

Pick Team Player Age Cap hit

6.1

Gentille

Devon Toews, Avalanche LD

29

$4.1 million

6.2

Bultman

Jake Oettinger, Stars G

24

$4 million

6.3

Salvian

Moritz Seider, Red Wings RD

22

$863,333

6.4

Lazerus

Ilya Sorokin, Islanders G

28

$4 million

Gentille: Last spot on the board was left defense. Toews would be a No. 1 on a lot of other teams, and we know he works well with an elite partner. He’s due a major raise after 2023-24, but I have some money to spend. He’s my only guy on an expiring deal.

Salvian: Moritz Seider had an outstanding rookie season and a slight dip in his second season, which doesn’t worry me at all. He’s mobile, a right shot and still on his entry-level contract for one more year. This move keeps me well under the cap — with a relatively young core group — to deal with all the contracts expiring for my star players, including Seider himself.

Bultman: With Shesterkin off the board and my budget fully destroyed, I was down to two great goalies with identical cap hits: Oettinger and Sorokin. I went with Oettinger for one simple reason: He has one extra year at his $4 million cap number, whereas Sorokin will be due a raise after this season — and one I may not be able to afford, even with an expected rise in the cap. Getting the extra year at $4 million from Oettinger buys me time for the cap to raise twice before I have to extend him, and I’m still getting an elite workhorse just entering his prime and fresh off a top-five Vezina finish. Lock it in.

Lazerus: Three legitimate MVP candidates last year on my roster (I had Sorokin second on my ballot, because imagine that Islanders team without him), plus the guy who should have won the Norris, plus two of the most exciting young talents in the game. I like it.


Final arguments

Lazerus: My entire philosophy going into this draft was that goalies are the new running backs, largely interchangeable and inexplicable and not worth spending a ton of money on. That, plus Bedard, was how I was going to build a super team. But as we drafted, my mind changed a bit, because there ARE four or five true stud goalies that ARE difference-makers — Sorokin, Igor Shesterkin, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Connor Hellebuyck and Juuse Saros — and with only four people drafting here, barring a staggering break with sanity (cough HAILEY cough), we were all guaranteed one of those studs.

Now, had I done my homework instead of completely winging this, I would have remembered that Sorokin’s extension doesn’t kick in until 2024, meaning he carries just a $4 million cap hit for this exercise. Which means I didn’t have to take Luke Hughes on defense. But there’s nothing wrong with leaving $5.775 million on the table. Bedard and Hughes are going to need monster raises in a few years, and Sorokin’s cap hit doubles in a year. Flexibility will be key to truly putting together a deep enough team to win not just one Stanley Cup, but multiple Cups in a five-year span. Not only will I take my six guys against the other six-man groups in this draft, but I know I’d be able to assemble a deeper, less top-heavy team than they will.

Team Lazerus

Player Age Cap hit

Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche C

27

$12.6 million

David Pastrnak, Bruins RW

27

$11.25 million

Connor Bedard, Blackhawks C

18

$950,000

Adam Fox, Rangers RD

25

$9.5 million

Luke Hughes, Devils LD

19

$975,000

Ilya Sorokin, Islanders G

28

$4 million

Bultman: On the whole, I feel very good about this core. All of my top players are either in, or entering, their prime, and four of them are locked up at great cap numbers for the entirety of our five-year window. We’re going to be exceptionally fun to watch, with three of the biggest human highlight reels in the league — Makar, Hughes and Thompson — all on one team. The power play will be lethal.

But, and it’s a big but, we don’t have a whole lot of money left. In 2023-24, we’d enter opening night with just $38.5 million to spread between our other 17 players, relying heavily on ELCs and league minimum players to fill out a roster. For that reason, I’m growing to regret the Thompson pick, because I’m not even sure I can pair him with Hughes anyway. I likely have to deploy him to center my second line — and while he’d be a terrifying No. 2 center, that defeats the idea of giving Hughes a sniper to play with.

I do wonder if I should have been less greedy with the superstars, and gone for, say, Jake Sanderson rather than Heiskanen, betting a bit that his elite skating will lead to similar rush defense and transition results, but saving significant money for this coming year (and likely some money beyond that on his next deal, too).

Still, I feel great about each of these contracts individually, and the age range of my players is tailor-made to get the most out of this window. It’s just a matter of whether so little remaining money will be enough to build enough depth around them.

Team Bultman

Player Age Cap hit

Cale Makar, Avalanche RD

24

$9 million

Miro Heiskanen, Stars RD/LD

24

$8.45 million

Brady Tkachuk, Senators LW

23

$8.2 million

Jack Hughes, Devils C

22

$8 million

Tage Thompson, Bruins C

25

$7.14 million

Jake Oettinger, Stars G

24

$4 million

Gentille: I got exactly what I wanted: two franchise forwards on two of the best contracts in the sport and an elite No. 1 defenseman on a long-term deal. Everything else is gravy.

I also left some space to play with; next summer, I’d be able to lock Toews in for the entirety of the window along with Tkachuk and McAvoy. After two seasons, I may have to find a cheaper solution in net — or I could just bridge Beniers to save some money in the short term (which has never blown up in any GM’s face). Worst case, I’m going to get a full five seasons with five of these six players. Doesn’t matter, really, This is all fake.

Team Gentille

Player Age Cap hit

Matthew Tkachuk, Panthers RW

25

$9.5 million

Jason Robertson, Stars LW

24

$7.75 million

Matty Beniers, Kraken C

20

$897,500

Charlie McAvoy, Bruins RD

25

$9.5 million

Igor Shesterkin, Rangers G

27

$5.66 million

Devon Toews, Avalanche LD

29

$4.1 million

Salvian: I should feel better about my roster than I do right now. I have three of the top forwards in the league, after all. But my biggest mistake came with saving money on a goalie, then not properly spending it. I didn’t have enough after Kaprizov to get a big-ticket defender, so I would have been better off taking Saros ($5 million through 2025) and still making the round 5 and 6 selections as is — or spending a bit more on Quinn Hughes. I didn’t get any of the superstar defenders I wanted, but I’m not upset about Dahlin and Seider, either. I’m mostly upset that Laz keeps making fun of my Swayman pick when he took Luke Hughes in the fourth round for no reason. Next time we do this, I’d like to have two minutes to make each pick, thanks.

Team Salvian

Player Age Cap hit

Connor McDavid, Oilers C

26

$12.5 million

Leon Draisaitl, Oilers C/LW

27

$8.5 million

Rasmus Dahlin, Sabres LD/RD

23

$6 million

Jeremy Swayman, Bruins G

24

$3.475 million

Kirill Kaprizov, Wild LW

26

$9 million

Moritz Seider, Red Wings RD

22

$863,333


(Top photo of Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon: Isaiah J. Downing / USA Today)

[ad_2]

https://theathletic.com/4749228/2023/08/08/nhl-starting-lineups-bedard-mcdavid-mackinnon/?amp=1