NHL plans to hold draft remotely next year

Some execs say they’re in favour, while others say it’s a lost memory for new athletes
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The stage and video screens are seen during the first round of the NHL hockey draft Friday, June 28, 2024, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

So long, Sphere. And say goodbye to the NHL’s centralized draft — for now, at least.

The league is planning to shift from its current setup, in which team executives and scouts are all gathered on the floor of a venue to make their selections, to doing so remotely from their headquarters next year.

Though plans are not complete, the expectation is the league will still hold some type of draft celebration in one of its markets for television purposes and to draw fans, and featuring its top prospects, much like the NFL draft is conducted.

Several team executives shared the pros and cons of making the switch during the two-day, seven-round draft held in Las Vegas this weekend.

“From a club standpoint, it’s excellent, because you can talk freely … and there’s a lot more room to spread out,” Columbus Blue Jackets GM Don Waddell said in favor of holding the draft remotely.

“The negatives are, there’s always a lot more trades made in person,” he added.

Waddell’s biggest concern in going remotely is having fewer prospects — especially those projected to go in the later rounds — in attendance.

“We drafted a kid in the sixth round, and he’s here with his parents. And they’re excited,” Waddell said of selecting defenseman Luke Ashton, who is from North Vancouver, British Columbia. “You’re only going to get drafted once. And that’s probably the most disappointing thing for me, is the kids will lose out on that opportunity.”

Toronto GM Brad Treliving said there’s nothing like having the entire NHL community together under one roof. Treliving, however, voted in favor of going remote because of scheduling constraints with the start of the free agency period almost immediately following the draft.

“Everything being jammed up,” Treliving said. “I love the draft. I’d love to do it every year. It’s just scheduling more than anything else.”

Treliving and his staff as well as the Washington Capitals are among teams staying in Las Vegas so not to lose time traveling home with free agency signing opening on Monday.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said there are no expectation of the league changing its decision for next year, after teams favored the decision to go to a remote draft.

Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon said the Golden Knights were one of the few teams to vote in keeping the status quo.

“I went to 27 NHL drafts in a row before I ever worked at an NHL draft,” McCrimmon said. “And I just loved going to the draft. I was always fascinated by everything about it.”

The shift in going to a remote draft represents a split between teams’ hockey departments, who favor the status quo, and the business side focusing on saving on travel and hotel expenses.

Vancouver Canucks president Jim Rutherford is taking a wait-and-see approach.

“I don’t have an opinion until we try the other way,” Rutherford said. “And once we try that for a year, I think everybody will be able to make a good decision as how we go forward.”

Global game

Kevin He, who was selected 109th by Winnipeg, became just the second Chinese-born player chosen in the draft, following Andong Song, who went 172nd to the New York Islanders in 2015. Both are from Beijing.

Harrison Brunicke, who is from Johannesburg and grew up in western Canada, was the second South African-born player drafted, going 44th to Pittsburgh. He joins goalie Olie Kolzig, who was also born in Johannesburg, and went No. 19 to Washington in 1989.

Three players from Latvia were drafted, matching a draft record for the eastern European nation. Eriks Mateiko went 90th to Washington, followed by Mikus Vecvanags (No. 134 to Montreal) and Darels Uljanskis (No. 214 to Anaheim).

Michkov update

Flyers general manager Daniel Briere said progress is being made on forward Matvei Michkov finally arriving in Philadelphia, but ruled out the Russian being in attendance for the team’s development camp next week. Briere added there’s also been progress on signing the 2023 first-round draft pick to a contract.

“There’s a lot of logistics that have to go in. Immigration, visa, and all that stuff,” Briere said. “I don’t have a timeline as far as when we expect him in Philadelphia, but it’s looking good. It’s moving in the right direction.”

Michkov was cleared to join the Flyers after being released by his club in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

Columbus coaching search

With the draft over and the Blue Jackets not anticipating to be too active once the free agency period opens on Monday, Waddell can begin focusing on hiring a coach in Columbus.

“I officially haven’t interviewed anybody yet. I’ve talked to some people,” said Waddell, who took over the Blue Jackets in late May, and fired Pascal Vincent in mid-June.

There’s no rush, Waddell said, noting Columbus is the NHL’s only team without a coach. Waddell previously said he planned on having a list of 12 candidates, before narrowing it to four before starting the interview process.

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Freelance writer W.G. Ramirez contributed to this report.

John Wawrow, The Associated Press