Tag Archives: draft

Taking Exception to John Tavares’ Agents

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.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

NHL Draft Serves Up Hope

By Jason Menard

Columbus Ohio. Tonight and tomorrow, this is the place where dreams are made.

In less than a couple of hours, the first young man – maybe even London’s own Pat Kane – will stride to the podium and don the colours of the National Hockey League franchise that selected him. He will shake hands with the commissioner, embrace his new general manager, and flash a toothy grin – well, at least what teeth remain – to the assembled media masses and fans.

And then he may not don that jersey for years to come, if ever again.

So much fuss, so much hype for players who – in large part — won’t make a significant impact for their NHL clubs for at least three or four years down the road. And why? One word: hope.

The NHL entry draft is all about selling the promise of hope to thousands of fans throughout the planet. It is about catching a glimpse of the future and embracing the promise that’s represented by these talented youth. It’s a day where every pick is the right one and success is a foregone conclusion.

Tonight the first round of the draft takes place and shortly thereafter, from the comfort of their La-Z-Boys and barstools, instant armchair general managers will debate the merits of their club’s selections while denigrating the draft prowess of their competitors. People who have never seen these players lace up will suddenly be experts in the field of player projection and their opinion will carry more weight than that of the NHL scouts who toil night after night in cramped press boxes in arenas from Chibougamou to the Czech Republic.

And, in all honesty, it’s a wonderful thing to behold.

Only one other day carries as much weight – and suffers from as much instant analysis – as the NHL entry draft and that’s trade deadline day. And in both cases the catalyst for the excitement remains the same – hope.

In the end, only one team skates away with the Stanley Cup. And by late season, the field of legitimate contenders has been winnowed to just a handful of clubs. So only a few lucky fans get to embrace the idea that their club could end its season on a winning note.

But the future is a constantly changing landscape. Every draft choice, every free agent signing, every trade adds another brushstroke to the canvas. And although every work of art takes its time to come to completion, the hope is always there that those in trust of your favoured franchise will be painting a masterpiece.

Like buying a lottery ticket, the NHL entry draft enables fans to access a dream – one wherein their club becomes the only one to win its final game and hoist Lord Stanley’s grail high aloft.

The players, who in large part have toiled in relative obscurity, are suddenly thrust into the national spotlight. A seventh-round project selection is scrutinized by the masses and everyone dreams that their club has chosen the next Dominik Hasek, whose impact on the game has far outstretched his projected worth when 198 other players were selected before him in 1983.

Alas, for every late-round gem like Henrik Zetterberg and Luc Robitaille, there’s a Brian Lawton or – and what would a list of draft busts be without him? – Alexandre Daigle. At best, drafting is an inexact science. At worst, it’s a crapshoot. Scouting staffs do their best to assess players for talent, character, drive, and heart. However, there are so many other factors that go into successfully transitioning to the NHL – and if even one goes off the rails, your express ride to success can quickly be derailed.

Fans should enjoy this weekend’s festivities for what they are. Like a lottery ticket, it’s great to dream of the millions. But you’d also be pretty happy if you won $20 right? And if none of your numbers come up, you just shrug your shoulders and move on. After all, there’s always next year.

In the end, today’s a day for hope. This weekend, fans of all 30 franchises – even Leafs’ fans — can dream that they’re on the right path to the Stanley Cup.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

CFL Entry Draft? Woe Canada

By Jason Menard

If the National Football League entry draft is a two-day information orgy, then the Canadian Football League’s version is more akin to a teenager’s first time in the back of a car – unmemorable and over before you know it. But, in both cases, it’s all about passion – a fact that the CFL’s brass and TV executives should take into strong consideration.

Sure, it’s not fair to compare leagues. It’s not even a matter of comparing apples and oranges. They’re both potatoes – just one league is known as small potatoes and another is the province of Prince Edward Island . Unfortunately, when you decide to run your draft in the same week as your south-of-the-border brethren, then you’re inviting those comparisons. And, in this case, the CFL gets mashed.

It’s too bad, really, because there are a significant number of people out there – at least those north of the 49 th – that consider the CFL game superior to that played in the United States . Sure, the quality and size of athletes may differ, but 12-man football, played on a wider field has more than its share of converts.

And ask CBC how much they love the Grey Cup! They’re consistently amongst the top-rated broadcasts on Canadian television. The interest, albeit intermittently, is there. So why does the league feel the need to scrimp when it comes to promoting its future.

NFL fans pore over Web page after Web page, searching out the most obscure facts about a player their team may pick in the seventh round. Major sports news outlets dedicate copious resources and staff to not just cover the event, but build it up into the orgiastic frenzy it becomes. Overhyped? Probably. But it’s an event that sells hope, promise, and potential for a brighter future for all of the league’s clubs.

The CFL’s draft? Well, fans will have to head to the Web to catch it, because there’s no TV. Not that there’s anything to see. While the NFL brings its decision-makers to a central location and ensures that most of the potential top prospects come along for the ride, CFL franchises participate in a conference call to select their future crop of Canadian stars.

Efficient? Yes. Compelling viewing? Only for those who like to watch paint dry.

There is interest in the CFL in this country. A former football wasteland like Montreal now is one of the league’s model franchises and the game is a hot ticket in a city that, arguably, has significantly more entertainment options at its disposal than any other Canadian metropolis. Toronto , under the amiable Pinball Clemons, has begun to make a comeback – no doubt buoyed by the club’s recent successes. And TSN’s Friday Night Football broadcasts are a staple of the network that offers a visual representation of the potential that exists league-wide.

So why not take a chance and highlight some of our young Canadian talent on a day where the future of the league is being decided? In the short-term, you may lose money – but this is an investment in the future of the league. The seeds of interest sewn today will grow into a passion for anyone who loves the game of football.

One of the problems is the CFL draft is about Canadians. These players form the backbone of the league, due to its import cap, but are often chosen from less-sexy positions like offensive and defensive line and linebackers. In large part, the marquee talent – especially quarterbacks and running backs – is culled from U.S.-bred players who weren’t able to crack an NFL franchise.

Yet, these very players who are being drafted are the same players that many future fans go to school with, or live in the same community as. There’s an innate interest for fans of a university’s football program or members of a community in watching one of their own succeed. And when that affinity is set up right from the outset, then a reason to watch the games themselves becomes vested in these people, who very quickly will become fans.

And there’s a chance to sell the storied history of our great game. Players play, but people sell, and getting to know the faces behind the mask and the innovators behind the game will enable people to grow more attached to the game.

We’re seeing what the seeds of interest have sewn in Quebec . Their minor league football program – in large part prompted and supported by interest in the Montreal Alouettes – is one of the finest in the country and has produced a university powerhouse in Laval . That same passion could be stoked across this great land of ours.

Expansion is a wonderful thought, and there are many reasons why there should be a team in Halifax , Quebec City, or even London or Kitchener . But the foundation for that future growth must be cemented in passion. If there’s a hunger throughout the country for the game, then delivering the product gets that much easier.

It’s all about stoking passion — so how about letting fans be voyeurs on the future?

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved