Something that, to me, has always felt practically exclusive to the NHL among the four major US sports, is the overwhelming tendency for a star player to remain with the team that drafted and developed them until they retire. Think about the other leagues in North America. Tom Brady left New England, Lebron left Cleveland (twice), Peyton Manning left Indianapolis. I’m not saying this doesn’t happen in hockey, look no further than the great one, Wayne Gretzky, leaving Edmonton. There’s just something about hockey that gives me the feeling that the star players are generally more loyal in the NHL. I thought it would be a fun exercise to do some speculation on some current stars I could never see leaving their current homes, and others that I have no problem visualizing in a different jersey.
Kuch was a second round pick of the Tampa Bay Lighting back in 2011, and every other GM in the league has been kicking themselves for passing on him ever since. The Russian forward has had two 100+ point seasons, including a 128 point campaign in 2018-19 which saw him bring home the Hart, Art Ross, and Ted Lindsay trophies. His name is already on the cup twice following back to back cup wins, and you’d be silly to think he won’t get a chance to put it on there again. When he does get that next chance, it will be with Tampa. Aside from the fact that it’s a beautiful city with great weather and an outrageous night life (if you didn’t know, Kuch likes his beers), he has become a sports icon in the city that has had so much success across all sports in recent years. Kucherov and Tampa feels like a match made in Heaven, and I can’t see them ever splitting up.
You might remember when Chucky was drafted by Boston, an old tweet surfaced revealing the Long Island, NY native’s disdain for the Bruins. I’d say that changed as soon as he put on the black and yellow and skated out onto TD Garden ice for the first time. There’s nothing like having success with an original six team, and that’s pretty much all he’s done since going 14th overall in 2016. He’s an offensively gifted D man playing in the same team Bobby Orr made his legacy with, and he has a chance to carve out a legacy of his own in Orr’s footsteps. Don’t be surprised if there’s a Norris trophy or two in his future, maybe even a ring by the end of this year.
A year prior to striking gold in the draft with McAvoy, the Bruins had one of the biggest draft flubs of all time. They had picks number 13, 14, and 15 and came away with Jakub Zboril, Zach Senyshyn, and Jake DeBrusk. While DeBrusk has seemingly rounded a corner in his career, Zboril and Senyshyn are, at best, fringe NHLers. You wanna know who isn’t a fringe NHLer? The guy from British Colombia selected one pick later who ended up with the New York Islanders. Mat Barzal had a tough time standing out as a top 10 worthy talent as a center in a draft class that included Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel (ever heard of them?), and the Islanders hit pay dirt when he slid to number 16. Barzal will always remember the Islanders as the organization that took a (low risk) chance on him, allowed him to play with elite talent in John Tavares right off the bat, and fostered his talent as one of the league’s fastest skaters, and most lethal playmakers. He proved that sentiment by inking an eight year extension prior to this season. He clearly loves living in New York, loves the Islanders rabid fandom, and he’d love even more to get them back to their 80s glory. Barzy isn’t going anywhere.
When Kaprizov was breaking out as a star rookie (at 25 years old), I wrote a blog about how important it would be for Minnesota to kee him surrounded with talent if they wanted him to remain engaged in the franchise. Sure, Minnesota has some incredible fans, but it’s not really the most flashy place to live. Zuccarello has been the perfect liney for the Russian star, but he’s in the back nine of his career and that duo’s time might be limited. Once Zucc retires, Kirill will pack his shit and leave the land of a thousand lakes for a bigger market, warmer weather, and a real chance at a cup. Minnesota’s playoff history has been less than impressive, and it looks to stay that way due to a cap crunch following the buy outs of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
Sorry Leafs fans. We can only go through this so many times. If AM34 is going to remain a Leaf beyond this contract, you need to win a playoff round. It’s that simple. Matthews is an Arizona kid and one of the proudest products of the US National Team Development Program. He never belonged in Canada, and you can only convince him he does with playoff success. If he requests a trade, it will be one of the most prolific trades in sports history. If he hits the open market, there isn’t a single team in the National that won’t be making space to bring him in. I’m not a Leaf’s hater and I can’t neglect to notice the level of talent they have been able to inject into their lineup from the blue line out, but the goaltending has always been lackluster compared to other contending teams, and the glaring lack of a playoff series win will drive Matthews out of the city. By the end of the decade, he will be public enemy number one in Toronto.
Edmonton isn’t exactly a sexy place to live. They love their hockey more than just about any other city, but it’s always been hard to attract star players to… oil country. Remember I mentioned earlier that Wayne Gretzky left the Oilers? He won four cups with them. McDavid is in his eighth season with the club. Three playoff series wins to show for it. If they can’t surround him with talent capable of contending soon, he’s going to get tired of chasing the cup with nothing but Leon Draisaitl at his side. McDavid will go the way of the great one and leave town if things don’t change fast. Someone’s gonna make space for that massive contract, and they’ll do everything they can to not make the same mistakes that were made in Edmonton. It doesn’t have to be a huge market, but it’ll be a team with winning pedigree. McDavid likes his peace and quiet, but I don’t think anyone with a lick of sanity can live in Edmonton for ten plus years.