By Jason Menard
John Tavares is an exceptional player, but he shouldn’t be made an exception to the rule.
The 16-year-old Oshawa General has proven wise beyond his years on the ice. He’s approaching – and in some cases surpassing – Gretzkyesque proportions in many ways. And in trying to get the NHL to allow Tavares an exception into next year’s draft they’re doing the wrong thing, albeit for some of the right reasons.
Agents are around to look out for the best interests of their clients, but sometimes the financial best interests run counter to what may be the right thing socially and developmentally.
And this idea that this is a matter of principle and that a Sept. 15 th cut-off date – with Tavares’ birthday falling on the 20 th – is antiquated is duplicitous at best. What this is about is long-term money, free agency, and trying to squeeze an extra contract out of this player’s future.
The NHL has some odd rules about player rights. If a team takes a player out of the U.S. high school or minor league ranks, who then attends college, the NHL club has their rights for up to five years – or until their collegiate eligibility runs out. However, CHLers, like Tavares, have to be signed within two years of being drafted – if not, it’s back into the pool they go.
So by having Tavares drafted as a 17-year-old, his agents are ensuring that their client will have to have an entry-level contract signed by 19 at the latest. That is unless he’s called up to the NHL ranks – à la Sidney Crosby – at 18. Which means that the NHL club has six years before their player is eligible for free agency. Even if he says until 19, he’ll still potentially be a free agent by 25 – which means a shot at at least two, if not three big-time paydays.
That’s great financially, but is it right developmentally? The line has to be drawn somewhere, and Sept. 15 th seems to work.
It can be argued that Tavares is a superlative talent who is above and beyond the rest of his OHL class. However, he’s not the first wunderkind to come through the OHL, nor will he be the last. For every Gretzky, there’s a handful of Brian Fogertys, Eric Lindroses, and Corey Lockes who have torn up the junior ranks only to find a place on the failure spectrum ranging from disappointment to spectacular flame out. A superlative junior career is no absolute promise of long-term greatness.
There’s enough pressure on these athletes to perform as is, so why not give them the time to mature, develop, and refine their abilities so that they can maximize their long-term opportunities in the professional ranks, not just capitalize on the white-hot potential of their junior days? Why accelerate his development and force teams to make decisions earlier than otherwise needed? Sure, it’s only five days, but over the long term, an extra year of junior, an extra year at the World Championships, an extra year of playing in all situations could serve to improve all aspects of his game and cement the foundation upon which an outstanding career can be built.
Or maybe there’s a hint of fear here. Last year at this time Quebec’s Angelo Esposito and Ottawa’s Logan Couture were one-two on most people’s list as to whom would go number-one overall. In the end, both players dropped in the rankings due to illness and inconsistency respectively. At-the-time unheralded players like London’s own Pat Kane and Sam Gagner rocketed up the charts, and millions of potential dollars were lost in one season.
So maybe that’s why there’s such a rush to get Tavares drafted next year. After all, the longer a player is in the spotlight, the harsher the glare gets to be. Once the bloom is off the rose, the thorns start getting scrutinized and scouts and general managers have a horrible habit of talking themselves out of a player.
We saw that with Couture, Esposito, and Cherepanov this season – after so much time in the limelight, scouts got tired of writing raves and minor deficiencies in their games were magnified. It’s not that they weren’t there, but eventually they were blown out of proportion and overshadowed the positives. Is Tavares’ representation afraid of the same scenario playing out for their prize prospect?
There’s enough time to milk that cash cow – and as any steak aficionado knows, aged beef tastes so much better.
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