If there's one thing I've learned in all the years I've been writing columns both here and for Foxsports, it's that there's just no pleasing some people.
By that, I mean accusations of bias.
I get hit with these every few months or so. Somebody takes offence over something I've written about their favourite player or team, and accuse me of bias.
Now I have no problem with folks disagreeing with my opinions. In fact, I encourage those with differing viewpoints to e-mail me so that I can post those to my "Fans Speak Out" section.
There's nothing wrong with debate or discussion and I believe those who disagree with me should be allowed an outlet on this site to have their say.
There are limits, of course. E-mails filled with insults and profanity rarely see the light of day on this site.
Still, differing opinions are encouraged.
But it's the e-mail accusing me of bias that prompt my eyes to roll skyward whenever I read them.
It's all part of the hockey writing game, of course, but after all these years I still can't help but shake my head over it.
These accusations tend to come from fans who brook absolutely no criticism of their teams even if it's warranted.
I was very critical of the way NY Rangers ownership and management ran their team during the last CBA, both for driving up the prices of UFA contracts and attempting to buy their way back into the playoffs.
The results spoke for themselves, but that didn't stop a couple of Rangers fans spending months accusing me of anti-American, anti-Rangers bias.
Four years ago I spent half a season fending off bias accusations from an Anaheim Mighty Ducks fan because I dared to rate the Los Angeles Kings about his team in my season preview.
I've been critical at times of the Toronto Maple Leafs sacrificing promising young talent for expensive veterans, and for the Toronto media overhyping the Leafs as "Canada's team" earlier in this decade.
Predictably that provoked accusations of "anti-Leafs" bias, especially when I revealed that my favourite team was the Leafs arch-rival, the Montreal Canadiens.
For years I've pointed out that the ownership and management of the Boston Bruins did little over the last ten years to prove to their fans that they're serious in building and maintaining a legitimate Cup contender, and risked losing fan support if they continued down that path.
I'm not the only pundit or blogger to note this, but because of my admission of being a Canadiens fan, that sparked recent criticism of "anti-Bruins" bias.
When the Canadiens leapt to a 2-0 series lead against the Carolina Hurricanes in last year's playoffs, I noted it was because then-Hurricanes goalie Martin Gerber had played poorly.
Sure enough, a Hurricanes fan wrote in and accused me of being "anti-Hurricanes" and of having "my head up my ass" about Gerber.
Oh, and my devotion to the Canadiens has cut me no slack amongst some Habs fans. My criticisms of the club in recent years has generated angry accusations of not only being "anti-Canadien", but "anti-French" and "anti-Quebec".
During the lockout I was accused of "pro-player, anti-owner" bias because I dared to take the unpopular stance of siding with the NHLPA's position, even to the point where a couple of readers accused me of being on the PA's payroll.
Again, I don't expect people to agree with every column I write and expect some reaction from those who do.
But know this, folks: I may be a Canadiens fan, but I have no bias toward them in my columns, nor am I biased against any NHL team.
I understand how the devotion of some fans toward their teams can run so deep that their initial reaction to criticism is to lash out, but if I write a critique about your club, it's because I see legitimate problems that need to be addressed if the team is to improve, and I make sure I buttress my claims with facts.
So for the tiny number of my readers with overly sensitive dispositions, if what I write offends you to the point of accusing me of bias, or worse, lashing out with threats and profanity, I think you really need to take stock of your life, because that much devotion to a sports team isn't healthy.
Otherwise, I suggest those kind of fans refrain from e-mailing me or reading my work.
As for the rest of you, who are sensible, well-adjusted hockey fans, I continue to welcome and encourage both your support and your comments, pro and con.
I don't expect to please everybody and I have no problem with intelligent criticism, but please, enough of the empty accusations of bias.
Criticism isn't bias.
It's been thirteen years since a Canadian NHL franchise last won the Stanley Cup. The 2004 Calgary Flames and the 2006 Edmonton Oilers each came to within a period of winning hockey's greatest prize but came up short.
Here's a look, from West to East, at how those six teams stack up this season and which in my humble opinion has the best chance to win the Cup and become "Canada's team" in the 2007 playoffs.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS: Made major shakeups during the summer of 2006, the biggest being the acqusition of superstar goalie Roberto Luongo and defensive blueliner Willie Mitchell, both of whom should help reduce the Canucks shots-against and goals-against this coming season. There's also a new head coach, Alain Vigneault, who is known as a defence-first coach. They will miss the departed Ed Jovanovski's wheels on the blueline and will look to Mattias Ohlund and Sami Salo to both stay healthy and chip in more offensively.
Defensively the Canucks should be in good shape, but it's the offense that'll be the question mark. Markus Naslund and the Sedin twins remain major scoring threat and Brendan Morrison should regain his form this season after hip surgery. It remains to be seen, however, if Matt Cooke can replace Todd Bertuzzi on the Naslund line and if Jan Bulis will be a good replacement for the departed Anson Carter on the Sedin line. They'll also need youngster Ryan Kesler to step up his game this season.
EDMONTON OILERS: Saw a mass exodus of several key players to free agency over the summer, especially from their defence corps. They should be set in goal, having re-signed playoff hero Dwayne Roloson with Jussi Markkanen returning as his backup. Their forward lines are also in good shape, with two strong scoring lines (Smyth-Horcoff-Hemsky & Torres-Stoll-Lupul) and a very good two-way checking line (Moreau-Reasoner-Pisani).
The major problem area, however, is the blueline, where the Oilers were unable to adequately replace the departed Chris Pronger (trade for Lupul), Dick Tarnstrom (Europe) and Jaroslav Spacek (free agency). They're lacking a puckmoving defenceman to anchor the powerplay, unless Marc-Andre Bergeron can make significant improvement this season.
CALGARY FLAMES: The NHL's best defensive team last season will likely continue to be in 2006-07, even though GM Darryl Sutter handed over the coaching reins to Jim Playfair. Expect goalie Miikka Kiprusoff to continue his Vezina-winning ways and their blueline depth (anchored by the tandems of Regehr-Hamrlik and Warrener-Phaneuf) to remain the envy of the league.
Sutter picked up some much-needed offensive help for team captain Jarome Iginla with his draft weekend acquisition of Alex Tanguay, but beyond the first line the Flames are still thin offensively. The Anaheim Ducks exploited that lack of offensive depth in last year's playoffs and it should remain the Flames achilles heel this season.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: Out with the old, in with the new as GM John Ferguson brought in younger talent during the off-season. Still, big questions hang over this roster. New starting goalie Andrew Raycroft must return to his Calder-winning form of 2003-04. Adding another puckmoving defenceman in Pavel Kubina and slow-footed Hal Gill fails to address the Leafs lack of quality defensive blueliners to make life miserable for opposition forwards in front of the Leafs net.
Up front, captain Mats Sundin will once again carry the offensive burden and will need Jeff O'Neill to return to his former 30-goal form if Ferguson is unable to find another scoring winger. Bringing in an aging Mike Peca won't help in that regard. The Leafs hope up front is with promising youngsters like Alex Steen, Kyle Wellwood, Matt Stajan and Alexei Ponikarovsky. They're the future of this franchise but it might expecting too much too soon from them at this point.
OTTAWA SENATORS: Every year, the Sens look poised to win it all, and every year, they find another way to blow it. Heading into this season, the Senators aren't as strong as they were last year. Ray Emery and Martin Gerber should provide solid goaltending but neither has a reputation as a money goalie. The blueline corps remains deep (Redden-Phillips, Volchenkov-Meszaros and new additions Preissing-Corvo), which should continue to make the Senators a tough team to get scoring chances upon.
Like most of the Canadian teams, however, it's the depth at forward that's a concern. The first line of Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson should remain one of the most lethal in the league, but after that the depth drops noticeably. The second line (Schaefer-Fisher-Eaves) are good for 20-25 goals each and also are responsible defensively, but they definitely lack the punch of the first line, and that could become a real problem for the Senators in the post-season.
MONTREAL CANADIENS: After a rollercoaster 2005-06 season, the Habs will probably be a more stable, improved team this season. They appear to have good depth in goal with Cristobal Huet and former Avs starter David Aebischer. The first line got a major boost with the signing of Sergei Samsonov and the checking lines with the acquisition of utility forward Mike Johnson. If promising youngsters Chris Higgins, Tomas Plekanec and Alexander Perezhogin have strong sophomore seasons and if Mike Ribeiro can regain his '03-'04 scoring form the Canadiens offence could be at its most productive since the late-1990s.
The blueline corps showed marked improvement in the second half after GM Bob Gainey and assistant (now current head coach) Guy Carbonneau took over behind the bench, but there remains concern over the quality of the defensive depth. The Canadiens still lack a big scoring center or a superstar forward for the offence to rally around. There's also questions about Huet's ability to repeat last season's surprisingly strong performance.
So which club has the best chance to become "Canada's Team"? Truthfully, none really leaps out as being a dominant club, given the obvious weaknesses previously noted.
Yet, as the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning have demonstrated in the last two NHL seasons, teams with seemingly obvious weaknesses can rise above them to win the Stanley Cup.
Ideally, the best Canadian team would be one made up of a hybrid from several of the aforementioned clubs.
Give me either Vancouver or Calgary's starting goaltender, the Flames blueline corps, the Senators first line, the Oilers second and third lines, and the fourth line of either team, and I'd have a club that could march to the Stanley Cup.
However, reality is that the Canadian teams are what they are.
The Oilers lack of blueline depth, the questions regarding the Canucks change from an offensive to a defensive team, and the rebuilding process of the Leafs eliminates them as potential Cup winners.
The Senators and Canadiens lack proven playoff goaltending, the Sens lack offensive depth beyond their first line and the Habs lack defensive depth. The Sens also have that reputation as post-season choke artists, a burden that grows heavier with each passing season. The Canadiens have promising young talent but they're a couple of years away at least before being considered serious contenders.
The Flames are unquestionably the best defensive team and many members of their current roster know what it takes to get to the Finals, however, like last spring their efforts could be hamstrung by a lack of quality scoring depth.
Still, it may be easier for Sutter to land a scoring forward late in the season to bolster that offence than for the Habs and Sens to overcome their problem areas.
Thus, the Calgary Flames are Canada's best chance to win the Stanley Cup.
Reader Brian Wilcox recently e-mailed me the following:
"How about an article about the injured players and when/how the teams can recover the cap room....the Flyers with Primeau, the Bruins with Zhamnov...and who else?"
Good idea. And with the assistance of this site, here's a look at the teams heading into the season with players on long-term injury status and the potential savings to each team.
BOSTON BRUINS: Forward Alexei Zhamnov ($4.1 million) is still recovering from a badly broken ankle suffered last season and isn't expected to return to action next season. He's not expected to retire but he'll be on the long-term injury list, freeing up considerable coin for the Bruins this season.
CAROLINA HURRICANES: Forward Cory Stillman ($1.75 million) had shoulder surgery on August 18th and could be sidelined between 3-4 months, which could free up almost 1/3 of his salary if he's out until mid-December.
COLORADO AVALANCHE: Defenceman Jordan Leopold ($1.15 million) had hernia surgery on August 1st and will be sidelined up to three months. He'll miss the first month of the 2006-07 season, so the savings aren't likely to be significant.
DETROIT RED WINGS: Defenceman Jiri Fischer ($1.387 million) remains sidelined because of a heart condition that led to his collapse during a game last November. Sadly it appears his playing career may be over, which would mean the full amount of his contract for next season won't count against the Wings' cap.
MONTREAL CANADIENS: Defenceman Francis Bouillon ($1.875 million) underwent surgery August 3rd on his left knee and will be out of action under mid-November, so those savings to the Habs might be over $150K.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS: Defenceman Richard Matvichuk ($1.368 million) had surgery back in June to repair a herniated disc but might be ready for training camp. Forward Jason Wiemer ($950K), however, had major reconstructive surgery on his knee and could miss the entire season. One player to keep an eye on when training camp opens is forward Alexander Mogilny ($3.5 million), who has a history of hip problems. If he fails the training camp medical, he could end up on the long-term injury list, which would save considerable salary for the Devils.
NEW YORK RANGERS: Forward Jed Ortmeyer ($552K) has been sidelined indefinitely with a pulmonary embolism. Happily it appears he'll be able to treat this condition with medication and should return to action, although it's uncertain when that may occur.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: Forward Keith Primeau ($3.167 million) remains plagued by post-concussion symptoms and his future unfortunately remains uncertain. While the Flyers are willing to give him all the time he needs to recover, it's believed he could soon make a decision on whether or not he'll return to action. That may account for the delay in re-signing Simon Gagne, as the Flyers could use the savings from Primeau's salary if he's out for the season to put toward re-upping Gagne.
Evgeny Malkin's recent adventures have dominated the hockey news for most of this month. I've commented on this in my trade rumours page and my Foxsports.com column, but I felt I'd elaborate a little further here.
- First, it must be remembered that he's only twenty years old. How many of us out there had to face serious decisions that could affect our future and potentially those of our peers at that age and do so in a mature, decisive manner? Not many.
- As for Malkin's contract with Mettalurg Magnitogorsk, it's quite apparent he was pressured into signing that contract, and on that basis I doubt any effort by Mettalurg or of the Russian Super League to force him into honouring that contract via litigation will be successful.
I think the Russians will try to take Malkin, his agents, the Penguins and the NHL to court in hopes of either forcing Malkin to honour his contract with Mettalurg or to receive millions of dollars in compensation.
However, because Malkin was pressured into signing that contract against his will by Mettalurg officials, who also controlled his passport to prevent him leaving Russia, and the Russian labour law allowing contracted employees to give fourteen-days written notice to get out of their contract, I don't believe the Russians case would stand up in court.
About the best they can hope for is delaying Malkin's NHL debut by perhaps a few weeks.
- What Malkin did isn't a "defection". As ESPN's Scott Burnside pointed out, this isn't the Statsny brothers, Sergei Federov or Petr Klima risking their lives or possibly never seeing their family again. as they did during the days of Communist rule in Eastern Europe.
Rather, this is a case of a young player wanting to play in the NHL and trying to get away from a situation where he's being pressured into playing in a league he no longer wants to perform in.
Still, I don't agree with Burnside's assessment that Malkin was "running and hiding", and I have a feeling he'll probably change his opinion in the wake of Malkin's explanations as to why he had to go into hiding.
Russia may be a democratic country with open borders, but according to Malkin and his agents, Mettalurg Magnitogorsk controlled his passport, which led to his disappearance from the club in Finland and going into hiding until he received an entry visa from the American embassy.
It would seem Russia's borders are only open to those who aren't star hockey players.
- I understand why Metallurg Magnitogorsk's general director Gennady Vilichkin was upset over Malkin's disappearance. Accusing the NHL and Malkin's NHLPA agents JP Barry and Pat Brisson of "sports terrorism", of "stealing" Malkin (a "national treasure", according to Vilichkin) and claiming Malkin's faxed fourteen-day notice was a "forgery", however, makes him sound like Boris Badenov plotting big trouble for Moose and Squirrel.
For all Vilichkin's bluster, I think he realizes that he's not going to get Malkin back and his dreams of forcing the Pittsburgh Penguins and the NHL into paying big bucks for the talented youngster have gone up in smoke.
- One of my readers wrote in a few days ago (when Malkin was still in hiding and full details of his story had yet to emerge) with the following questions regarding my take on this situation.
NHL is all about money. The IIHF is all about money. The AHL?
I'm all for the Russians, indeed, all European teams, getting better compensation in their transfer agreements with the NHL, but I'm not for bargaining on a case-by-case basis as the Russians (or rather, some of the Russian team owners) want, nor do I believe they should restrict their players' movements outside their country, nor do I think they're justified to try to use their best players as leverage in negotiating a new transfer agreement.
"If the two-week clause that is so often bandied about as a valid reason for Malkin's release is so valid, why did Ovechkin get an NHL out-clause in his contract with Omsk/Moscow Dynamo? Wouldn't that indicate that the two-week clause did carry any weight?"
I'll turn to The Fourth Period's Greg Wyshynski to provide the detailed answer. In a nutshell, Ovechkin's case had no similarity to the Malkin situation, as Ovechkin had no binding contract with Moscow Dynamo.
"The rhetoric is something, but frankly, someone needs to explain to me why a completely and totally valid contract is completely null and void all of a sudden. The rhetoric (and lack of logic) being put forth by the North American media is just as bad. The sense of "Well, he wants to come over here, legality be damned" sets a very scary precedent - what's to stop an NHL player from dropping his contract and heading over to the RSL for more money? It's just like the Malkin situation, but reversed. Would you be fine with that? Would you tell Bettman "tough luck"?"
Now, to be fair to the reader, he wrote this in earlier in the week before the full details of Malkin's situation came to light and legitimate questions raised over the legitimacy of that contract.
Still, I don't think the point of asking how I'd react to a hypothetical scenario in this case is a valid one.
First, there are no "out clauses" in NHL contracts that would allow a player to do what Malkin did, other than requesting a buyout. Any player attempting that would lose big time in court.
Second, there is no loophole in North American labour laws big enough to drive a truck through like the one in Russia which allows contracted employees to get out of their contracts with a fourteen-day written notice.
Finally, perhaps the biggest reason why we won't see that scenario is because the NHL is the premiere hockey league in the world, and as such pays the kind of salaries European teams cannot match, which was something that was painfully apparent during the lockout, when all but a handful of NHL players earned far less playing for European teams than they were used to earning in the NHL.
When it comes time for the NHL and NHLPA to hammer out another collective bargaining agreement, don't be surprised if the owners try to eliminate salary arbitration.
The owners tried to do away with it during the last lockout, but grudgingly gave in as a concession to the players, who'd accepted a salary cap, a 24% salary rollback, escrow and restrictions on bonuses and entry level contracts.
Arbitration was a powerful tool for the players under the last CBA, as big a reason for the increase in salaries as unrestricted free agency and management incompetence.
Under this CBA, it remains one of the players most powerful weapons, as witnessed by this summer's arbitration awards.
Naturally this has caused some critics to blame the arbiters, but as the Toronto Sun's Al Strachan recently pointed out, they're merely crunching numbers based on existing comparables:
"They look at the Chicago Blackhawks giving Martin Havlat $18 million for six years, for example, and they say, "Well if hockey professionals think Havlat's numbers are worth $6 million, then Briere's must be worth $5 million. And Dumont, a 60-point player if he'd played a full 82-game season, is worth $2.9 million."
Strachan goes on in his article to suggest that arbitration could affect team-building over the course of this CBA, possibly affecting a team's ability to build through the draft.
Maybe, maybe not, it's still too early to determine if that's to become a trend. Regardless of the low opinion many hockey fans have of Strachan, his article raises an interesting possibility.
But that's a topic for another day. The focus here is on the real possibility that arbitration could become a contentious issue during the next round of labour talks between the league and the PA.
It's unlikely that the lowered age for unrestricted free agency will become a serious issue, as it affects all teams equally. Every club runs the risk of losing and gaining talent players in their prime via this process, and judging by the bidding frenzy from this summer, it's something that the owners probably won't try to eliminate in the next round of collective bargaining.
Tying the cap to revenue fluctuations, especially if revenues steadily increase over the next five years, could pit the big market owners against the small market ones, especially those ineligible for revenue sharing if they're not in a major market.
There could be other, unforeseen issues that could come up between now and 2011 that could put another NHL season in jeopardy and launch another bitter fight between the owners and players.
But the one that already seems apparent to be a serious issue is arbitration.
When this CBA was signed it was reported before the deal was finalized and publicized that an arbiter had to decide between the player's salary request and the team's offer, no settling for the middle ground.
However, the arbitration awards for Scott Gomez and Ladislav Nagy make it apparent that isn't the case.
The owners could push for the "no middle ground" arbitration award, but even so, that's no guarantee they'll get more favourable settlements.
If a team signs a player for a certain amount, a comparable player going to arbitration will more likely than not successfully make the case that he's worth the same money.
Changing the arbiters won't change things either, since the CBA stipulates that any hirings or firings of arbiters are a joint decision between the NHL and NHLPA. Even by changing arbiters, they're still as likely to make the same decisions as their predecessors.
Even winning the right for teams to take players to arbitration hasn't worked out in the owners favour.
Last year, only one team, the Florida Panthers, took a player - in this case, Roberto Luongo - to arbitration.
The end result was a bitter falling out between Luongo and Panthers management, resulting in the club trading him to the Vancouver Canucks. Common sense dictated that the Panthers should've treated Luongo more fairly, but in their desire to play hardball by taking him to arbitration, they ultimately wound up trading away one of the NHL's best goalies, a move that could have a serious impact on their future improvement.
This summer, not a single team took a player to arbitration, undoubtedly because the owners and general managers saw the Panthers-Luongo situation and wanted to avoid recreating that poisonous experience on their own clubs.
That doesn't mean we won't ever see a team take a player to arbitration, but any team that does pretty much guarantees driving that player away via free agency within one or two years, thus forcing them into trading that player away or risk losing them to free agency for nothing.
Players who go to arbitration in the coming years are likely to continue getting favourable raises, even if they're middle ground ones, and in turn that's going to drive up salaries despite the hard cap.
That in turn is going to make it harder for teams with limited cap space to retain those players, which could result in more walkaways, something else that Strachan noted in his aforementioned article.
Much was made of the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins walking away from the arbitration awards of JP Dumont and David Tanabe, that this could result in more walkaways down the road.
For average players, yes. For big name stars, no.
Remember, the Devils' Scott Gomez and the Sabres' Daniel Briere both got hefty one-year, $5 million awards, which initially sparked rumours that both players would be traded, but no serious suggestions that those two clubs would actually walk away for those arbitration awards.
There may be occurances of teams walking away from salary awards for their top players, but I think those instances will be rare.
No team wants to just cut loose one of their top players and lose him for nothing to the unrestricted free agent market.
They might accept the arbitration award and then try to trade that player, although it'll be a tougher deal to swing since most teams will have their payrolls already planned and set by that time.
But they won't risk losing that player for nothing. If they can't trade that star, they'll dump salary elsewhere to squeeze that new salary under the cap.
Thus, it's easy to see why the owners will try to either eliminate arbitration altogether, or impose serious limitations upon it.
It's also easy to see why the players won't be willing to give it up or allow the owners to lace it with restrictions.
Hopefully the next round of labour talks between the two sides will avoid the bitter battles that cost the league a season and a half in the past as well as risking more damage to the NHL's already battered image in the eyes of American sports fans and media.
But if it doesn't, it's a good bet that arbitration will be one of the issues around which another labour war between the two side could be based upon.
As we're still stuck in the midst of the slowest period for hockey news of the year, I decided to take a look back ten years ago to the 1996 entry draft and share my findings.
The following comes courtesy of HockeyDB.com:
- The first overall pick of the 1996 entry draft was defenceman Chris Phillips, selected by the Ottawa Senators. Ten years later, he's one of the Senators' top four defencemen.
- The 1996 draft was not considered a deep one. The top players selected in the first round who went on to lengthy NHL careers include Phillips, Andrei Zyuzin, JP Dumont, Boyd Devereaux, Erik Rasmussen, Ruslan Salei, Derek Morris, Dainius Zubrus, Marcus Nilson, Marco Sturm and Daniel Briere.
- This draft was a good one for defencemen. Along with Phillips, Zyuzin, Salei, and Morris, Zdeno Chara, Cory Sarich, Colin White, Tom Poti, Toni Lydman, Pavel Kubina, Tomas Kaberle, Willie Mitchell, and Sami Salo also were selected in this draft.
- The NY Rangers first round pick (23rd overall) was defenceman Jeff Brown. The Pittsburgh Penguins first rounder (24th overall) was goaltender Craig Hillier. Neither made it to the NHL.
- The Washington Capitals had two picks in the first round (4th and 17th overall), used to select RW Alexandre Volchkov and LW Jaroslav Svejkovsky. Volchkov only played three games in the NHL, Svejkovsky 113.
- The Edmonton Oilers also had two selections in the first round, choosing forward Boyd Devereaux (6th overall) and defenceman Matthieu Descoteaux (19th overall). The former has played 509 games split between Edmonton, Detroit and Phoenix. The latter played only 5 NHL games.
- The Oilers may not have done well in the first round, but the 1996 draft wasn't a total loss. They selected defenceman Tom Poti 59th overall and 2006 playoff hero Fernando Pisani 195th overall.
- The San Jose Sharks were another club with two picks in the first round, used to select defenceman Andrei Zyuzin (second overall) and winger Marco Sturm (21st overall). Both have gone on to long NHL careers with varying degrees of success.
- The best player in the 1996 draft wasn't selected in the first round. Defenceman Zdeno Chara was picked 56th overall in the third round by the NY Islanders.
- The top offensive player selected was Sturm (current NHL point total: 316). The next highest is RW Mark Parrish (303 points, selected 79th overall by the Colorado Avalanche) and RW Dainius Zubrus (300 points, selected 15th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers).
- Vancouver Canucks defenceman Sami Salo, a seven year NHL veteran and considered one of the Canucks top four blueliners, was selected 239th in the 9th round by the Ottawa Senators. He was the third-last player chosen in the 1996 draft.
- Long time Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Tomas Kaberle was selected 204th overall by the Leafs.
- Defenceman Willie Mitchell, who was one of the most pursued unrestricted free agents in 2006, was selected 199th by the New Jersey Devils.
- Former long time Tampa Bay Lightning blueliner Pavel Kubina was selected 179th by the Lightning. Kubina went on to become an integral part of the Lightning's 2004 Stanley Cup championship and signed a multi-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2006 for $5 million per season.
- The 1996 draft was not a good one for goaltenders. The top active goalie from that draft is Philadelphia Flyers netminder Robert Esche (168 games) and the LA Kings' Mathieu Garon (106 games). Interestingly, Garon went higher in the draft (44th by Montreal) than Esche (139th by Phoenix).
- The New Jersey Devils had the best draft record that year, selecting five players (Colin White, Willie Mitchell, Lance Ward, Pierre Dagenais and Scott Parker) who went on to play more than 100 games in the NHL. White and Mitchell would go on to have respectable NHL careers. Of the five, only White is still with the Devils.
- The Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche and Phoenix Coyotes each had four players selected in the 1996 draft who went on to play more than 100 NHL games.
The Flames four were Derek Morris, Toni Lydman, Steve Begin and Ronald Petrovicky; the Avs foursome included Mark Parrish, Dan Hinote, Sami Pahlsson and Brian Willsie; and the Coyotes were Daniel Briere, Robert Esche, Trevor Letowski and Richard Lintner, who now plays overseas.
Ten years later, none of these players remain with the teams that drafted them.
- The Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks all came up snake-eyes in the '96 draft. Not one of the players they selected played more than 100 NHL games.
- Runners-up for futility at the 1996 draft table include the Boston Bruins, Hartford Whalers (now Carolina Hurricanes), Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Toronto Maple Leafs all of whom only had one player each that played more than 100 NHL games.
At least for the Lightning and Maple Leafs, their single players turned out to be good ones - Pavel Kubina and Tomas Kaberle.
Only Kaberle remains with the club that drafted him ten years ago.
- Of all the teams that drafted that year, almost all the players who did go on to have lengthy NHL careers are no longer with the teams that drafted them.
Some, like Sturm and Kubina, did have long careers with the clubs that picked them, but moved on to other teams over the past year via trade or free agency.
With the dog days of summer and hockey coverage now well upon us, I've decided this is as good a time as any to provide my readers with a brief background about myself and history of this website.
It's not like this is a big mystery or anything, nor was I ever trying for the past eight years to be an anonymous commentator. In the early days my anonymity wasn't a factor because of a small viewership, but as this site has grown in popularity I've noticed a growing interest from some of you as to my background and how this site began and grew.
My name is Lyle Richardson, and I've been a fan of NHL hockey since 1970, when I was but a wee lad of 7. I started out following the Boston Bruins because Bobby Orr played for the Bruins, and back in 1970, Orr was a hockey god to youngsters like me across Canada.
In 1971, however, an unknown goalie named Ken Dryden, playing for the Montreal Canadiens, upset Orr and his Big, Bad Bruins enroute to the Stanley Cup. To my then-eight year old eyes, any team that could beat Orr and the Bruins had to be a great team, and any goalie that could stone the great Number Four had to be a bigger hockey god. I became a fan of the Canadiens from that day forward, and Dryden supplanted Orr as my hockey hero.
I grew up in two small villages (Pleasant Valley and Carleton) in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, spending my teen years in the latter. I didn't play in minor hockey as my parents didn't like the way kids were being coached back then. I wouldn't play my first organized hockey in an arena until I was fifteen.
Thus, I learned to skate on a frozen ditch in Pleasant Valley and play the game on the lakes and ponds in Carleton. One of the farmers who lived in the centre of Carleton used to dam the drainage ditch of his field every fall, which would flood the field and then freeze in winter into a near-perfect natural rink. My favourite memories from childhood were the countless hours playing hockey with my friends and cousins on "Otis's Pond".
I remained a devoted hockey fan until I left home in 1982 at 19 to join the Canadian Forces. I still played the game in military rec leagues in my first posting (the now-closed base at Cornwallis, Nova Scotia), but as I moved into my twenties my love for the game waned throughout the 1980's.
I still followed the playoffs to see who'd win the Stanley Cup, and didn't miss a single game of the Canadiens 1986 Cinderella Cup run, but my job and social life took more precedence as it usually does for most folks in their twenties.
My love for the game was rekindled following a posting to St. John's, Newfoundland, in the early 1990s. The old Memorial Arena was just a five minute walk down my street, and at that time, the AHL's St. John's Maple Leafs were in their heyday.
Hockey was king in St. John's and the "Baby Leafs" were the talk of the town. By this time, I had a family of my own, was heading toward my thirties and life was starting to settle down somewhat, so it was only natural that I'd get swept up in the excitement of hockey again.
In 1995, my family and I were now living in Calgary, one of Canada's biggest hockey hotbeds and home of course of the NHL's Flames. With the opportunity for the first time to regularly follow the NHL from the viewpoint of one of its cities where the sport is wildly popular, I was now following the sport fanatically again.
It was around this time I discovered the internet, or in this case, America Online, where I quickly discovered AOL's hockey message boards.
That led to my discussing/debating/arguing hockey with the denizens of those boards, particularly the Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning, New Jersey Devils and the Trade Rumors boards.
It was from my time on AOL that the nickname of "Spector" originated. At the time, my wife and I considered ourselves "Double Spectres", surfing through AOL like ghosts, or at least that's how we saw ourselves. When it came time to choose a screen name, it became "DblSpector".
Over time the folks on the AOL hockey boards started calling me "Spector" and the nickname stuck.
It also led to the creation of this website and launching me on my current career as a free lance hockey commentator.
In 1998 I was debating someone (I've long forgotten his name) on the trade rumour board over the Devils. The chap was losing the debate, or at least I believe he was, since he was trying to claim the Devils had no talent left in their system and would never win another Stanley Cup.
Anyway, in frustration he retorted, "Since you think you know so much, why don't you have your own website. For stupid opinions about hockey, go to www.spectorshockey.com".
Unwittingly, this fellow planted the seed of an idea, and several months later,in September 1998, Spector's Hockey was launched. I like to think there's no stupid opinions about hockey on it, although occasionally over the years some folks have begged to differ.
Back then I was only doing the website as a hobby. I still enjoyed the message boards, but the website was for me the next natural step, to have a venue to post my thoughts about the NHL game and share them with hockey fans outside the confines of AOL.
The most popular part of the site became my trade rumour page. The decision to post rumours as they appeared in the media came about as a result of my frustration with some troublemakers on the AOL Trade Rumors board posting bogus rumors.
I quickly discovered that this bothered more than just me and that there was a real interest from those good folks on the AOL boards for a site where rumours from legit media sources could be found.
Still, back then it was just a hobby, something I did for fun. I remember the first time my site actually had fifty unique visitors in a day and being so excited about it.
The first inkling I had that this could blossom into something bigger than just a hobby came during my summer vacation in 1999. My family and I by this time were posted to Anchorage, Alaska, and were heading back to visit our parents for the first time in years.
We were on vacation for three weeks and prior to departing I'd posted to the site that I'd be away for that time so there would be no updates until late July.
I honestly believed there would be no traffic to my site, but about two weeks into my vacation I decided to check and see if there'd been any visitors to my site.
To my shock, not only had there been visitors to my site but the numbers had actually increased. Seems word was getting around that my site was a good source for trade and free agent rumours, and since my vacation that year came during the June Entry draft and the start of Unrestricted Free Agency, hockey fans were hungry for information and coming back to my site in anticipation of my return.
As time went on, the site's popularity constantly grew. I distinctly remember one fall evening in 2000 lying in bed talking with my wife and telling her that I had a strong feeling this site was going to lead to something big.
I know that may sound like something out of a bad TV movie, but I swear it's the truth. At the time, I didn't have a free-lance writing gig, I wasn't being contacted for radio interviews and I wasn't making a single dime from my website. All I had to go on was the numbers from my site tracker but that was enough to convince me that bigger things may be ahead.
Over time as my comments on trade and free agent rumours and other commentary from my Soapbox page generated responses from readers I started up the "Fans Speak Out" page to give those readers the opportunity to share those opinions with others. Literally thousands of fans have written in over the years to have their views posted to that page.
I've also had dozens of fans contribute regular articles to this site, all for no compensation other than the opportunity to have an internet column of their own and to voice their own opinion. Some only contributed a couple of articles, some were and still are regular contributors for years.
In the fall of 1999, I started my first trade rumour column for America Online, weekly recapping the top rumours posted to my website. In return, I got free AOL. Since the online service back then cost around $25 bucks per month, I considered it my first paid writing job. It would continue until the fall of 2001 when my association with AOL came to an end.
In the summer of 2001, my family and I were posted to Charlottetown, PEI. In August of that year, I was contacted by the good folks at Foxsports.com.
They'd followed my work, especially during the 2001 trade deadline, and offered me the opportunity to write a weekly trade rumor column, which two years later became the thrice-weekly column I currently write for them.
Since 2003, the popularity of this site and my Foxsports.com columns continues to grow, but so too had the work required to maintain the site and write those columns.
The lockout of 2004-05 saw the numbers for my website decline dramatically, as they did for most hockey sites, but although I wasn't covering trade and free agent rumours by that point, I was as busy as ever maintaining daily coverage of the lockout on this site as well as thrice-weekly coverage for Foxsports.com.
By the fall of 2005, I realized that, in addition to the forty hours per week I was contributing to my "day job" with the Canadian Forces, I was also working 30-35 hours per week covering hockey. After five years of this pace, I was burning out.
Thus, I retired from the Canadian Forces this past May after over 25 years of service to devote myself full time to my budding career as a hockey commentator.
There's a misconception amongst some of my readers that I'm a hockey reporter. I'm not, I'm a commentator on the latest hockey news. A hockey reporter reports the news, while I have offer my opinion of that news.
I've been told at times how lucky I am to be able to comment on NHL hockey for a living. Luck had nothing to do with it, folks. I worked hard to get to this point and will have to continue doing so if I'm to build on, or even to maintain, the small modicum of success I currently enjoy.
Still, it's because of that effort that there are a growing number of hockey fans following my work, and for that, I offer my heartfelt thanks to all of you for giving me the opportunity to pursue this exciting new career.
I hope you'll all continue to follow my site and my columns, and will let your friends know about it, too. All of you have made my hard work worth it.
In the coming months, I'm planning to re-design this site and add one or two new features. More news on that soon.
Finally, here's some other information about me that you may have wanted to know but were afraid to ask:
Born: March 24, 1963 (yes, I'm that old).
Hometown: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, the same city where Tampa Bay Lightning star Brad Richards summers. No, I've never met him but have occasionally seen him around town.
Favourite Team: Montreal Canadiens, but I show them no favoritism in my coverage, although I've been accused of it more than once.
Favourite Player: I've had several faves. As a kid, Ken Dryden was the man, but he would eventually share the stage with Bobby Orr and Guy Lafleur. I was a huge fan of Mario Lemieux, and I truly believe Sidney Crosby will become "The Next One".
Family: Married to my wonderful wife Tina since 1993. We have a teenage son named Kiefer and a cocker spaniel named A.J.
Hockey Career: mainly rec league and military tournaments. Retired in 1999, one year after suffering a serious injury in a military hockey tournament in Alaska (left leg broken in two places, left ankle broken and dislocated). I've got a plate in my leg and three screws in my ankle as permanent souvenirs of that tournament. I came back and played one more season (more as a "get on the bike after you've fallen off" move) and then packed it in.
Miltary Career: Started off at 17 in the Artillery Reserve in 1980, joined the Regular Force as a clerk in 1982. Doesn't sound sexy, but clerks in the Canadian Forces serve anywhere with almost any unit, including in ships and infantry battalions, at times doing the same work as sailors and soldiers.
Highlights included service in two destroyers (HMCS TERRA NOVA & HMCS HURON), the 1991 Persian Gulf War, service with the First Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry as a rifle company clerk, a peacekeeping mission in the former Yugoslavia and a posting to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska.
I've also sailed around the world, visited 23 countries, driven across Canada from sea to sea three times, lived in 8 provinces and one state and visited five other states. Retired May 2006.
Sports: No more since my hockey injury, in fact, I can't even run anymore. I'm limited now to working out at a local gym (Atlantic Fitness Centre) in what seems now to be a constant struggle against middle-age spread. Lately, though, I've been getting into golf, although I haven't played as much as I'd like to. At this point, my game is my handicap.
Hobbies and stuff: Reading, primarily non-fiction, usually 20th Century history. I'm currently reading a biography of Nikita Khruschev, and no, he wasn't a goalie for Central Red Army. The only fiction author I enjoy is Stephen King, although not his Dark Tower series. His book, "On Writing", was a great inspiration for me.
I'm also fascinated by Canadian and American politics. I love to travel but the rising price of gas has put a damper on that recently.
I'm a huge fan of British comedy, but only certain types. The Goon Show, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Blackadder and Red Dwarf are my favourites, with Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, John Cleese, Rowan Atkinson and Eddie Izzard my favourite British comedians/actors.
I'm also a big fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, owning almost every episode on tape and DVD. I usually watch an episode a day. For the life of me, I can't understand why this show was never syndicated in Canada. It would be a huge hit!
The Simpsons remains a favourite but I find the quality of the show has declined over the past five years. I also love Trailer Park Boys, in part because I grew up with guys who were kinda like Ricky and Julian.
I used to watch a lot of television but find myself drawn to it less and less nowadays (other than watching hockey or the aforementioned shows & videos). I usually watch documentaries now, although Mythbusters is also a favourite show.
My musical tastes incorporate just about anything, but I really enjoy hard rock/heavy metal. Favourite groups include The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, The Clash, Depeche Mode, Guns 'n Roses, Metallica, Nirvana, Radiohead, Korn, Green Day and System of a Down.
I almost never drink bottled beer anymore, instead I get it fresh from the Gahan House here in Charlottetown. Scotch is also a favourite tipple, particularly The Glenlivet, the older the better, but only in moderation.
As things have grown quiet in the NHL right now I've decided to do it again, only this time, going back five years, to 2001, courtesy of THN's 2001-02 Hockey Yearbook (as I said, I can't bring myself to throw anything away!).
If anything, these lists prove how few of those top prospects actually make it to the NHL, let alone enjoy a long, successful pro career, no matter how carefully most teams draft or acquire and develop them.
ANAHEIM MIGHTY DUCKS.
1. Ilya Bryzgalov.
2. Alexei Smirnov.
3. Gregg Naumenko.
4. Alexei Tezikov.
5. Andy McDonald.
6. Maxim Balmochnykh.
7. Mikael Holmqvist.
8. Peter Podhradsky
9. Johnathan Hedstrom.
10. Jay Legault.
2001 First Round Pick: Stanislav Chistov (5th overall).
Spector's Note: Two key components of the current Ducks came out of this crop in Bryzgalov and McDonald. Chistov has just returned to the franchise after skipping last season to play in Russia. He showed a lot of promise in the 2003 playoffs and if he's matured over the last two years he could still become a key player for the Ducks.
1. Dany Heatley.
2. Libor Ustrnul.
3. Zdenek Blatny.
4. Daniel Tjarnqvist.
5. Brad Tapper.
6. Kamil Piros
7. Derek Mackenzie.
8. Ilya Nikulin.
9. Darcy Hordichuk.
10. Jeff Dwyer.
2001 First Round Pick: Ilya Kovalchuk (1st overall).
Spector's Note: Being one of the league's worst teams five years ago had its long term advantages, drafting Heatley in 2000 (later dealt to Ottawa for Marian Hossa) and landing the franchise player in Kovalchuk in 2001. A handful of others (Tjarnqvist, Tapper, Hordichuk) have gone on to become role players on other clubs.
1. Lars Jonsson
2. Lee Goren.
3. Andy Hilbert.
4. Richard Jackman.
5. Martin Samuelsson.
6. Nick Boynton.
7. Andrew Raycroft.
8. Bobby Allen.
9. Brett Nowak.
10. Pavel Kolarik.
2001 First Round Pick: Shaone Morrissonn (19th overall).
Spector's Note: Say what you will about the Bruins, but the one area they've always done consistently well is the acquisition of young talent. Boynton, Raycroft and Morrissonn turned out to be the best of the bunch, but like most Bruins they're now playing elsewhere. The Bruins problem is not picking 'em, but keeping 'em!
1. Mika Noronen.
2. Ryan Miller.
3. Brian Campbell.
4. Henrik Tallinder.
5. Artem Kryukov.
6. Norm Milley.
7. Gerard DiCaire.
8. Jaroslav Kristek.
9. Milan Bartovic.
10. Doug Janik.
2001 First Round Pick: Jiri Novotny (22nd overall).
Spector's Note: The Sabres are another club that does well acquiring good prospects, but unlike the Bruins they have the good sense to retain most of them, at least until budget constraints force them to move them. Miller, Campbell and Tallinder all played important roles in the Sabres march to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2006.
1. Jordan Leopold.
2. Brent Krahn.
3. Chris Clark.
4. Rico Fata.
5. Jukka Hentunen.
6. Blair Betts.
7. Steve Begin.
8. Jarret Stoll.
9. Burke Henry.
10. Levente Szuper.
2001 First Round Pick: Chuck Kobesaw (14th overall).
Spector's Note: All the best talent (except Kobesaw) in this group are now playing elsewhere. Stoll is now a big star in Edmonton as he went back into the draft in 2002 when the Flames were unable to sign him to a contract, and the Oilers snapped him up. Leopold is with the Avalanche now. Kobesaw continues to show promise, potting 20 goals last season, and could still develop into a good first or second line forward.
1. Erik Cole.
2. Jean-Marc Pelletier.
3. Jaroslav Svoboda.
4. Brett Lysak.
5. Brad DeFauw.
6. Tomas Kurka.
7. Jeff Heerema.
8. Brad Fast.
9. Nikos Tselios.
10. Ryan Murphy.
2001 First Round Pick: Igor Knyazev (15th overall).
Spector's Note: The depth in quality talent drops off significantly after Cole. Svoboda was a key role player for the 'Canes in their 2002 run to the Cup Finals but is now an unsigned UFA and likely to return to Europe. Fortunately for the 'Canes, GM Jim Rutherford had much better success at the draft table in subsequent years (Staal, Ward, Ladd and Johnson).
1. Pavel Vorobiev.
2. Mark Bell.
3. Mikhail Yakubov.
4. Jonas Nordqvist.
5. Alexander Barkunov.
6. Michael Leighton.
7. Mattias Wennerberg.
8. Igor Radulov.
9. Olli Malmivaara.
10. Jonas Elofsson.
2001 First Round Pick: Tuomo Ruutu (9th overall).
Spector's Note: Of this group, only Bell has shown he can stick in the NHL and play well. Unfortunately, he's now with the Sharks, where he could reach his full potential as a power winger on Joe Thornton's line. Ruutu has plenty of talent to be a superstar but injuries have hampered his development and even has him considering retirement or playing in Europe, only adding to the funk hanging over this franchise.
1. Vaclav Nedorost.
2. Jordan Krestanovich.
3. Rick Berry.
4. Radim Vrbata.
5. Brad Larsen.
6. Mikhail Kulesov.
7. Sergei Soin.
8. Phillipe Sauve.
9. Alex Riazantsev.
10. Steve Moore.
2001 First Round Pick: Peter Budaj (63rd overall).
Spector's Note: Former Avs GM Pierre Lacroix gained a reputation as one of the best general managers in the game but he was also able to do alright at the draft table. By this point, however, there wasn't really much there in terms of prospects, although he also selected future 32-goal scorer Marek Svatos in the same draft as Budaj.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS.
1. Rostislav Klesla
2. Chris Nielsen.
3. Radim Bicanek.
4. Mathieu Darche.
5. Brad Moran.
6. Martin Spanhel.
7. Martin Paroulek.
8. Andrej Nedorost.
9. Jeremy Reich.
10. Paul Manning.
2001 First Round Pick: Pascal Leclaire (8th overall).
Spector's Note: The Blue Jackets have been patiently waiting for Klesla to blossom into a top defenceman, and Leclaire appears finally ready to realize his potential as a starting goalie. GM Doug MacLean would have better success in subsequent years, selecting Rick Nash, Nikolai Zherdev and the promising Gilbert Brule.
1. Steve Ott.
2. John Erskine.
3. Mathias Tjarnqvist.
4. Niko Kapanen.
5. Steve Gainey.
6. Dan Ellis.
7. Marcus Kristofferson.
8. Dan Jancevski.
9. Michael Ryder
10. Joel Lundqvist.
2001 First Round Pick: Jason Bacashishua (26th overall).
Spector's Note: Bob Gainey is one of the most respected GMs in hockey but at this point in his tenure with the Stars he didn't have a lot of quality depth in his system as a result of three years of poor drafting. What's interesting is that Michael Ryder was listed by THN as having been "picked up from Montreal" and thus considered a Stars prospect. Fortunately for Habs fans, they got him back soon thereafter!
DETROIT RED WINGS.
1. Niklas Kronwall.
2. Henrik Zetterberg.
3. Yuri Butsayev.
4. Jason Williams.
5. Tomas Kopecky.
6. Par Backer.
7. Jesse Wallin.
8. Pavel Datsyuk.
9. Stefan Liv.
10. Paul Ballantyne.
2001 First Round Pick: Igor Grigorenko (62nd overall).
Spector's Note: The myth about the Wings during the last CBA was that they bought their championship clubs. As this list clearly shows, a big reason for their success was their success at the draft table. Zetterberg and Datsyuk are already big stars, Williams (an AHL farm club walk-on in 2000) is coming into his own and there's high expectations for Kronwall. As long as they continue to draft and develop young talent well, the Wings will continue to be a perennial playoff team.
1. Jani Rita.
2. Alexei Semenov.
3. Jason Chimera.
4. Tony Salmelainen.
5. Jan Horacek.
6. Brad Winchester.
7. Alexei Mikhnov.
8. Alexander Lyubimov.
9. Kristian Antila.
10. Alex Henry.
2001 First Round Pick: Ales Hemsky (13th overall).
Spector's Note: Not a lot of quality depth in the Oilers system five years ago, the result of former GM Glen Sather's years of poor drafting. Fortunately, current GM Kevin Lowe set about correcting that problem in 2000 and in subsequent years, but in 2001, it was the selection of Hemsky, he of the recently signed six-year, $4 million per season contract, that helped to put the Oilers back on the right path.
1. Kristian Huselius.
2. Brad Ference.
3. Ivan Novoseltsev.
4. Niklas Hagman.
5. Kyle Rossiter.
6. David Morisset.
7. Vladimir Sapozhnikov.
8. Sean O'Connor.
9. Davlid Parley.
10. Eric Beaudoin.
2001 First Round Pick: Stephen Weiss (4th overall).
Spector's Note: I recall Panthers fans on the AOL message board back in 2001 were boasting about the quality depth in their system that was to burst forth and lead the team to glory. Unfortunately, none of these players panned out as hoped. Of the best of them, Huselius, Hagman and Ference all playe elsewhere as role players. Weiss still has plenty of promise but there's concerns about his durability.
LOS ANGELES KINGS.
1. Alexander Frolov.
2. Jared Aulin.
3. Yanick Lehoux.
4. Adam Mair.
5. Andreas Lilja.
6. Joe Corvo.
7. Brett Hauer.
8. Michael Pudlick.
9. Tomas Zizka
10. Richard Seeley.
2001 First Round Pick: Jens Karlsson (18th overall).
Spector's Note: The best of the bunch is Frolov, who's proven to be a promising (if brittle) scorer. Corvo had a big year offensively last season but under new management he was lost to free agency to the Senators. Mair and Lilja now play elsewhere as role players.
1. Willie Mitchell.
2. Nick Schultz.
3. Marc Cavosie.
4. Dan Cavanaugh.
5. Rickard Wallin.
6. Pascal Dupuis.
7. Erik Reitz.
8. Steve Aronson.
9. Derek Gustafson.
10. Lawrence Nycholat.
2001 First Round Pick: Mikko Koivu (6th overall).
Spector's Note: Mitchell was acquired from the Devils, developed into a under-rated defensive stalwart and was dealt away to Dallas. Schultz is still developing into what the Wild hope will be a top four blueliner. Dupuis showed promise as a twenty goal scorer in 2003 but has struggled since to regain that form. Koivu continues to be developed slowly but thus far he's shown little of the talent that his older, smaller brother Saku possesses.
1. Ron Hainsey.
2. Mathieu Garon.
3. Marcel Hossa.
4. Eric Chouinard.
5. Mike Ribeiro.
6. Josef Balej.
7. Timo Vertala.
8. Alexander Burturlin.
9. Christian Larrivee.
10. Chris Dyment.
2001 First Round Pick: Mike Komisarek (7th overall).
Spector's Note: After years of poor drafting the Canadiens started to get it right in 2001, selecting Komisarek who's already a developing top four blueliner for the Habs. Hainsey, Garon and Hossa are all playing elsewhere with varying degrees of success. Ribeiro had a breakthrough season in 2003-04 but a so-so '05-'06.
1. Brian Finley.
2. Jan Lasak.
3. Jonas Andersson.
4. Martin Erat.
5. Pavel Skrbek.
6. Andrew Hutchison.
7. Petr Sykora.
8. Daniel Widing.
9. Libor Pivko.
10. Bubb Berenzweig.
2001 First Round Pick: Dan Hamhuis (12th overall).
Spector's Note: For a team renowned for building with youth, the Preds really didn't have a lot of quality talent in their system by 2001, Erat being a notable exception, although 2000 first round pick Scott Hartnell played his first NHL season in 2000-01. The selection of Hamhuis, however, would prove to be an excellent one, as he's become one of the Preds top blueliners.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS.
1. Ari Ahonen.
2. Christian Berglund.
3. David Hale.
4. Brian Gionta.
5. Mike Commodore.
6. Anton But.
7. Teemu Laine.
8. Pierre Dagenais.
9. Paul Martin.
10. Josef Boumedienne.
2001 First Round Pick: Adrian Foster (28th overall).
Spector's Note: The Devils have long been known as one of the best teams at finding and developing young talent that blossoms into stars either on their club or elsewhere. Gionta was a 48 goal man in 2005-06, Martin became a key member of the blueline the same season, and Hale is likely to do the same this season. Commodore went on to star with the Flames and the 2006 Cup champion Hurricanes. There's been talk in recent years that the Devils are losing their touch at the draft table, but if I've learned anything, it's not to discount their ability to find and develop quality players.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS.
1. Raffi Torres.
2. Juraj Kolnik.
3. Mattias Weinhandl
4. Evgeny Korolev.
5. Justin Mapletoft.
6. Ray Giroux.
7. Kristofer Ottoson.
8. Arto Tukio
9. Jason Krog.
10. Peter Mika
2001 First Pick: Cory Stillman (101st overall).
Spector's Note: No, that's not the Cory Stillman who's won back-to-back Stanley Cups. Mike Milbury was still GM back then, and had that year dealt away his first round pick (2nd overall which became Jason Spezza) along with Zdeno Chara for Alexei Yashin in one of the most lopsided deals in NHL history. This came on the heels of the insane decision to trade Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen to Florida for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha. Milbury also used the first overall pick in 2000 to bypass Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa to draft Rick DiPietro. Oh, yeah, he also traded Torres to the Oilers as part of the deal for Janne Niinimaa, who's no longer with the Islanders. All I can say is I really feel for Islanders fans, for they could've had a great team if someone other than Mad Mike had been GM!
NEW YORK RANGERS.
1. Jamie Lundmark.
2. Pavel Brendl.
3. Peter Smrek.
4. Mike Mottau.
5. Barrett Heisten.
6. Filip Novak.
7. Johan Holmqvist.
8. Dominic Moore.
9. Jason Labarbera.
10. Layne Ulmer.
2001 First Round Pick: Dan Blackburn (10th overall).
Spector's Note: It was around the turn of the century that the Rangers got their reputation for lousy drafting, and it certainly showed here, especially in Lundmark and Brendl. Bad luck also dogged them, for Blackburn had a promising career prematurely ended by shoulder injuries. Fortunately, the Blueshirts have done a better job of drafting since 2000 (Lundqvist, Tyutin, Prucha and the promising Marc Staal).
1. Anton Volchenkov.
2. Petr Schastlivy.
3. Antoine Vermette.
4. Mathieu Chouinard.
5. Alexandre Giroux.
6. Chris Neil.
7. Ivan Ciemik.
8. Simon Lajeunesse.
9. Jeff Ulmer.
10. Chris Kelly.
2001 First Round Pick: Jason Spezza (2nd overall).
Spector's Note: The Senators are yet another of the NHL's top franchises that continually has varying degrees of success at the draft table. Volchenkov, Vermette and Neil have gone on to become key players on the Senators. It also helped that year that the Sens fleeced then-Isles GM Mike Milbury to secure the second overall pick that turned into future franchise player Spezza.
1. Maxime Ouellet.
2. Jiri Dopita.
3. Antero Niittymaki.
4. Vaclav Pletka.
5. Tomas Divisek.
6. Alexander Drosdetsky.
7. Bruno St. Jacques.
8. Joe Dipenta.
9. Francis Lessard.
10. Jim Vandermeer.
2001 First Round Pick: Jeff Woywitka (27th overall).
Spector's Note: Flyers GM Bob Clarke has a reputation as one of the better drafting general managers in the league, but the cupboard seemed a little bare back in 2001. Still, Niittymaki has proven to be the saving grace out of this group for Clarke, as he could become their starting goalie in the near future. Clarke would do better at the draft table in subsequent years, selecting Joni Pitkanen in 2002 (after acquiring his draft rights from Tampa Bay for Ruslan Fedotenko) and the promising duo of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards in 2003.
1. Krys Kolanos.
2. Kirill Safronov.
3. Jeff Taffe.
4. Ruslan Zainullin.
5. Ramzi Abid.
6. Jason Jaspers.
7. Patrick DesRochers.
8. Goran Bezina.
9. Brad Ralph.
10. Alexander Tatarinov.
2001 First Round Pick: Fredrik Sjostrom (11th overall).
Spectors' Note: In a word: ugh. One reason why the Coyotes have struggled since moving to Phoenix from Winnipeg is their draft record over that time. Only one bona fide star, Daniel Briere (1996) has emerged, and the 'Yotes stupidly dealt him away. The Coyotes have had mixed success with trades, but if this club is ever to rise above mediocrity, it must do a better job of drafting and developing its young talent.
1. Milan Kraft.
2. Kris Beech.
3. Brooks Orpik.
4. Konstantin Koltsov.
5. Michal Sivek.
6. Josef Melichar.
7. Sebastien Caron.
8. Matt Murley.
9. Ross Lupaschuk.
10. Toby Petersen.
2001 First Round Pick: Colby Armstrong. (21st overall).
Spector's Note: Then-Penguins GM Craig Patrick had a reputation for drafting well, but that touch seemed to desert him by 2001. Of this group, only Orpik and Armstron have managed to stick with the club, with Armstrong showing the most promise. Four successive seasons as one of the NHL's worst teams was good enough to land high draft picks for top young talent like Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. While the Pens were forced for budget reasons to trade away their best players in the late-90s and early in this decade, the club may not have foundered so badly had it drafted better during that time.
ST. LOUIS BLUES.
1. Barret Jackman.
2. Mike Van Ryn.
3. Daniel Tkaczuk.
4. Dale Clarke.
5. Matt Walker.
6. Justin Papineau.
7. Cody Rudkowsky.
8. Christian Backman.
9. Andrei Trochinsky.
10. Michel Riesen.
2001 First Draft Pick: Jay McClement (57th overall).
Spector's Note: The Blues didn't really do that well drafting forwards and goalies around this time period, but GM Larry Pleau had a keen eye for defencemen as proven in Jackman and Backman, as well as Van Ryn, although he was later dealt to the Florida Panthers for Valeri Bure in a move Pleau undoubtedly would love to have back.
SAN JOSE SHARKS.
1. Jeff Jillson
2. Mikka Kiprusoff.
3. Jonathan Cheechoo.
4. Tero Maatta.
5. Matt Bradley.
6. Vesa Toskala.
7. Nolan Schaefer.
8. Miroslav Zalesak.
9. Willie Levesque.
10. Jon DiSalvatore.
2001 First Round Pick: Marcel Goc (20th overall).
Spector's Note: The Sharks are another of those teams that consistently does well in finding and developing talent. Kiprusoff went on to become a Vezina winner and hero in Calgary. Toskala is either the club's future number one or someone else's by season's end. Cheechoo turned into a 57-goal man thanks to the arrival of Joe Thornton last season and won't be leaving San Jose anytime soon.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING.
1. Nikita Alexeev.
2. Kirstian Kudroc.
3. Mathieu Biron.
4. Dmitry Afanasenkov.
5. Martin Cibak.
6. Jimmie Olvestad.
7. Johan Hagglund.
8. Evgeny Konstantinov.
9. Mike Jones.
10. Tomas Zeigler.
2001 First Round Pick: Alexander Svitov (3rd overall).
Spector's Note: Much is made of the fact that two of the Lightning's three top players (Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards) were drafted by the club in 1998, but since then the Bolts have not had a strong draft record, nor have their prospects been very good. 2001 is a good example, with only Afanasenkov ultimately becoming a regular on the club, and then only as a role player. Oh, he was also selected in 1998. The Lightning must improve at the draft table and development of prospective talent if they hope to have continued long-term success.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS.
1. Mikael Tellqvist.
2. Brad Boyes.
3. Petr Svoboda.
4. Jeff Farkas.
5. Alexei Ponikarovsky.
6. Luca Cereda.
7. Regan Kelly.
8. Jonathan Zion.
9. Markus Seikola.
10. Kris Vernarsky.
2001 First Round Pick: Carlo Colaiacovo (17th overall).
Spector's Note: The Leafs have justifiably received plenty of criticism for their woeful draft record over the years. Even when they'd find a good prospect like Brad Boyes, they foolishly dealt him away as part of the Owen Nolan deal. Still, the Leafs future does look bright thanks to subseqnuent draft picks (Stajan, Wellwood, Steen, White, Kronwall), Colaiacovo could blossom if he can avoid injury, and Ponikarovsky has shown promise over his last two NHL seasons. For the sake of long-suffering Leafs fans, here's hoping management finally has the good sense to retain those kids and let them develop as stars with the Leafs instead of with other clubs because of stupid, short-sighted trades.
1. Bryan Allen.
2. Artem Chubarov.
3. Alex Auld.
4. Rene Vydareny.
5. Nathan Smith.
6. Jarkko Ruutu.
7. Josh Holden.
8. Brandon Reid.
9. Mike Brown.
10. Justin Morrison.
2001 First Round Pick: R.J. Umberger (16th overall).
Spector's Note: Former Canucks GM Brian Burke had some decent talent in his system around this time. Chubarov, Auld and Ruutu would all make the Canucks with varying degrees of success. Unfortunatley, they along with Umberger are now playing elsewhere. Fortunately Burke drafted the Sedin Twins in 1999, who remain with the club to this day thanks to current GM Dave Nonis re-signing them this summer, and could become the future of the franchise. Unfortunately, Burke then went three straight draft years without drafting or retaining quality young talent. The jury's still out on the quality of his draft picks in the final two years of his tenure as Canucks GM.
1. Brian Sutherby.
2. Jakub Cutta.
3. Matt Pettinger.
4. Nolan Yonkman.
5. Roman Tvrdon.
6. Chris Corrinet.
7. Michael Farrell.
8. Stephen Peat.
9. Rasislav Stana.
10. Maxim Orlov.
2001 First Pick: Nathan Paetsch (58th overall).
Spector's Note: A couple of years ago this list might've been considered a complete write-off, but Sutherby and Pettinger showed considerable promise last season, joining a core of other youngsters centered around young superstar Alexander Ovechkin that could form the basis of a resurgent Capitals team in a few years time.