Stay-at-home players are a vanishing breed
Sitting there at the Garden Monday afternoon, watching the Bruins and Avalanche go back and forth, my eye went to Gabriel Landeskog, the slick right winger whom Colorado selected second in this year’s amateur entry draft. He is an intriguing talent, as is last year’s No. 2 pick, Tyler Seguin, who shared the sheet for that matinee. A fun exercise, trying to project the twists and turns in their respective career paths.
Build through the draft, right? As a general manager, the idea is to define your team’s style, find a coach to preach it and groom it, and then year after year, draft after draft, ferret out the kids around the world who fit that style and develop into true franchise mainstays that become the faces of the franchise, determine its success.
Nice idea. But just not true. Not in today’s 30-team NHL, especially not in the new NHL’s era as defined by the collective bargaining agreement that was crafted out of the 2004-05 lockout. It was that new deal, one that expires Sept. 15 of next year, that saw the owners win their much-sought salary cap, essentially in a quid pro quo for a drastic reduction in the age threshold for players to reach free agency, from 31 to as early as 25 or 26 (based on years of service). Free agency went from the over-the-hill gang to the prime-of-career bunch.
My examination of all 30 team rosters this past week found that only some 13.5 percent of players, a total of 89 individuals, were drafted by their current clubs and began this season with a minimum of 300 regular-season games (a tick below the 328 that would equal four full seasons). Actually, that number would drop to 85 if we eliminate Alex Burrows (Vancouver), Chad Larose (Carolina), Dan Girardi (Rangers), and Jeff Halpern (Washington), none of whom was drafted, but joined their teams as amateur or minor-pro free agents. (See chart at left for team-by-team breakdown.)
Granted, numbers can be dry as stale toast (apologies here to Moneyball geeks), but such a low number of veteran “home-growns’’ has changed the dynamics and look of the league.
Consider, just in Boston’s case, the Bruins today have only one roster player, Patrice Bergeron, who meets the parameters. He was drafted by the Bruins, remains with the club, and entered the season with a minimum of 300 games (456).
Rolling the calendar back to the start of the 2003-04 season, the last before the lockout, the Bruins had six players who met the standard: Glen Murray (767), Ted Donato (751), P.J. Axelsson (465), Hal Gill (464), Sergei Samsonov (459), and Joe Thornton (432).
Telling, isn’t it? Six then, one today. Although, it should be noted, by that time in their careers, Murray and Donato were refried B’s, having started in Boston as drafted players, only to be dealt and then return as prodigal sons.
On this year’s list of 89 home-growns, you’ll see a handful of players who fall into that Murray-Donato subset, players who are back with the clubs that drafted them after spending time elsewhere in the Original 30: Pavel Kubina (Tampa Bay), Ed Jovanovski (Florida), Ryan Smyth (Edmonton), Petr Sykora (New Jersey), and Halpern (Washington).
Jovanovski and Smyth specifically were brought back this season because their clubs were desperate to call home face-of-the-franchise players. Both were drafted in the 1990s, back when clubs cherished keeping productive, identifiable players in the fold and those players likewise valued that identity, viewed their uniforms as part of their DNA rather than just laundry.
Detroit, Buffalo, Vancouver, Washington, Nashville, and San Jose have done the best job of keeping their guys in the fold. Those six clubs have 36 (40.4 percent) of the 89 players. Let it be duly noted, though, only Detroit has won a Cup with any of those players and Vancouver is the only one in the rest of the bunch to have reached the Cup Final.
To add some context to that 300-game standard, NHL.com lists 339 “active’’ players who began this season with at least 300 regular-season games. That number is slightly high, because it includes a number of guys who have been ditched to the minors and might not play again in the NHL. Just as an example: Wade Redden and Sean Avery with the Rangers and Ales Kotalik and ex-Bruin draftee Shaone Morrisonn with the Sabres.
If we use 660 as the number of “roster’’ players to be used regularly in the league this year (30 rosters/22 players each), then about half of them banked 300 regular-season games prior to opening night, and again, only 13.5 percent (about 1 in 8) continue to make a living with the clubs that originally identified them as their own. So much for “parent’’ club.
Combing through the names, I found one of the most interesting comparisons to be between the No. 1 picks still with their original clubs and the number of throwaway picks (selected 205th or later) and amateur/minor-pro free agents who also remain on the “home’’ team. Surprisingly, the latter group is larger.
There are a total of nine No. 1 picks: Alexander Ovechkin (Washington), Patrick Kane (Chicago), Chris Phillips (Ottawa), Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh), Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh), Jovanovski (Florida), Vincent Lecavalier (Tampa), Rick Nash (Columbus), and Rick DiPietro (NY Islanders).
And there are 11 who fall into that group selected No. 205 or later or signed as free agents: Tomas Holmstrom (257, Detroit), Henrik Zetterberg (210, Detroit), Paul Gaustad (220, Buffalo), Doug Murray (241, San Jose), Joe Pavelski (205, San Jose), Henrik Lundqvist (205, NY Rangers), Tobias Enstrom (239, Winnipeg), Burrows (FA, Vancouver), Halpern (FA, Washington), Chad Larose (FA, Carolina), and Girardi (FA, NY Rangers).
No telling where all of this leads for Messrs. Landeskog and Seguin. Both appear to be in for long, fruitful NHL runs, and they should have 300 games logged by their early 20s. If the CBA doesn’t change in the next negotiation, they will be UFA-eligible by their mid 20s. Will they also be among those who stay at the dance with the one that brung them? The odds say no.
Youngster opens eyes
Unless the pace and grind suddenly get beyond his reach, it looks as though Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will stick well beyond the CBA-allowed nine-game appetizer with the Oilers. He is small (176 pounds) by NHL standards, but the 18-year-old, picked No. 1 in the June draft, arrived in camp with dazzling passing skills (think: Adam Oates, Craig Janney), especially in traffic, and he should be able to team up for years with Taylor Hall, the top pick in 2010.
Ex-Boston University defenseman Ryan Whitney, still hobbled by a balky ankle in Edmonton, was especially impressed by a dash Nugent-Hopkins made during an exhibition game against Vancouver when he knifed through veteran defensemen Alex Edler and Sami Salo with the puck.
“Two pretty good defensemen,’’ noted Whitney. “He went through them like his feet weren’t even moving.’’
And the bigger Hall (200 pounds) is impressed by the strength of the other new kid on the block.
“Everybody talks about Nuge’s weight,’’ said Hall, who wears No. 4 in honor of a certain ex-Boston defenseman. “But in camp, he bench-pressed 185 pounds five times. I only did it four times.’’
AS THE ESCROW FLIES
Fehr sends a message
All NHL players received an interesting note late last week from Don Fehr, the executive director of the Players Association and the guy currently designated (because one never knows . . .) to represent them at the next CBA talks in the spring. Fehr apprised the rank-and-file that their much-anticipated cash distribution - the overage from their 2010-11 escrow money - would not be sent to them in the near future. Typically, the “overage’’ dough comes their way in mid-October.
To quote Fehr’s missive:
“As you know, Players are entitled to receive their portion of the escrow deducted during the previous year after the NHL Commissioner’s Office and the NHLPA have completed their calculation of Hockey Related Revenue (HRR) and Player Compensation.
“The reconciliation process is normally completed in October. This year, however, we have a number of unresolved disputes with the owners concerning the proper calculation of HRR which potentially amount to many millions of dollars.
“In short, we do not agree that HRR as currently calculated captures all revenue from which players are entitled to share. These disputes must be resolved before a final reconciliation and a calculation of the escrow return can made. If we are unable to reach agreement with the NHL on any open items, the System Arbitrator will decide them.’’
Fehr went on to tell his troops that the NHLPA proposed a partial distribution of the funds, but the league balked, leaving the dough in limbo.
Ever since the sides crafted the existing CBA in the summer of 2005, the NHLPA has monitored HRR but has never formally raised an objection to its calculation. To have it happen now, less than 11 months before the CBA expires, could be notice that the strains of “It Don’t Come Easy’’ will be the background music for the next round of money talks.
Raise your hand if you are already bored beyond words. Does it have to be this way? Probably not. But it always is, year after year, sport after sport. And it will be forever thus, unless one time the fan base lives up to its meek threat to leave the building empty and the TV off.
Fish & game department
Minnesota, still in a makeover from its Trappist Wonk days under Friar Jacques Lemaire, looks to have the makings of a potent line with ex-San Jose wingers Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi flanking the vastly underappreciated Mikko Koivu. In St. Paul, they are calling it the Fish Line - two Sharks and a Finn. I’m hooked.
Why do I get the feeling that Mark Messier, even at 50 years old, will lap the field when he runs the New York City Marathon Nov. 6? A frightening specimen, the Moose, and right there with Ray Bourque as my favorite players of their era. I bet Messier’s old pal Wayne Gretzky tackles the 26.2 miles one of these days, too. Obviously, the Great One will just have to convince Dave Semenko to run it with him.
Quite a run of Bruins “exes’’ will be seen in the Hub of Hockey over the next few days. Tomas Kaberle is on Causeway Street with the Hurricanes Tuesday night, followed by Phil Kessel and the Maple Leafs Thursday and Jumbo Joe Thornton Saturday night with the Sharks. And then Hal Gill and the Habs the following Thursday. Out of that bunch, Gill (Pittsburgh, 2009) and Kaberle own Cup rings.
Sidney Crosby, who missed half of last season because of concussion issues, was cleared for contact Thursday and took a few light hits in practice, the first one courtesy of assistant coach Tony Granato. No one is projecting a return date. But provided Sid the Kid keeps a clear head after 3-5 days of knocks, it’s conceivable he would be back by the end of the month. Even without Crosby, and with Evgeni Malkin in and out of the lineup, the Penguins are keeping up a strong pace. Why? A big part is their top-notch penalty killing, which led the league last year and is right there again this time. Strong coaching and a buy-in by the stick carriers.
Good start for stopper
After three games in Broad Street clothes, goalie Ilya Bryzgalov had three wins, a miserly 1.67 goals-against mark, and a beefy .940 save percentage. Every amateur general manager in North America knew for years what the Flyers needed most was a top stopper. Hard to believe that Brian Burke, when he was Bryzgalov’s GM in Anaheim, essentially had to beg the Coyotes to take him off his hands (via waivers) in November 2007. But let’s not forget, any team in the league could have scooped Tim Thomas for a total price of $125,000 when he had to clear waivers to join Boston from Providence midway through the 2005-06 season.
Not only are the Canadiens without their best defenseman, Andrei Markov (knee woes), they are also without the reliable Jaroslav Spacek (tender ribs). That’s making for fright night behind the Habs blue line . . . Through their first four games combined, the Bruins and Canucks stood a wobbly 2-5-1, fair indication that both squads still have heavy legs and tired brains from last year’s Cup run. Which team gets out of it first? No telling, but Thomas looks sharper out of the gate than Roberto Luongo, and that could prove to be a big difference . . . By the way, former Bruin Marco Sturm stood 0-0-0 and a minus-3 in his first four games with the Canucks. Either it’s going to take time for Sturm, or time has run out . . . Chris Nilan, Jim Thomson, and Stu Grimson, labeled “pukes’’ and “hypocrites’’ and “turncoats’’ by Don Cherry in one of his “Coach’s Corner’’ rants, have threatened “further recourse.’’ Don’t bet on it. Too hard to get the legal system to buy in, especially when Cherry, 77, has been spewing that kind of bile for decades. That’s not considered an offense up there in Canada, where they interpret such claptrap as terms of endearment. And oddly, the CBC is OK with that . . . It looks like former Amherst stick carrier and captain Matt Hulsizer, who has made a fortune in the financial world in Chicago, soon will take ownership of the St. Louis Blues (a rumored sale price of $190 million). Hulsizer attempted to buy the Coyotes and keep them in Glendale, Ariz., but a local tax watchdog group scared Hulsizer into dropping his bid.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.