Jack Todd: Draft Expectations are Generous to a Fault
During that interminable Friday evening NHL draft, we were still getting used to pronouncing “Mikhail Sergachev” when a Sportsnet analyst (I didn’t get the licence plate but apparently it was Damien Cox) declared that the Canadiens could now trade P.K. Subban because they had Sergachev waiting in the wings.
The ninth pick in the first round has yet to attend his first NHL training camp and he’s ready to replace a Norris Trophy winner? Holy flying crumpets.
Unfortunately, that brand of wretched excess is the norm on draft night. To hear the TV analysts, every player in the first round is either the next Bobby Orr or the next Wayne Gretzky or the next Mark Messier. Never mind that some, like Nail Yakupov, are a waste of a draft pick while others (Stefan Matteau comes to mind) are a waste, period.
The current NHL draft format, broadcasting the first round in prime time Friday evening while consigning the rest to that bleary Saturday-morning slot, plays into the myth that the first rounders are a breed apart. Try telling that to Brendan Gallagher (drafted in the fifth round, 147th overall in 2010) or Johnny Gaudreau (fourth round, 104th overall, 2011) or Andrei Markov (sixth round, 162nd, 1998).
The format, aided and abetted by breathless commentators trying to top each other with superlatives, puts the burden of absurd expectations on the first rounders while treating the rest like talent-free party crashers.
Few players, even at the top of the draft, are ready to step in and play in the NHL immediately. Still fewer can make an impact, and defencemen in particular take time to develop. For every Aaron Ekblad out there, there are a dozen elite defencemen who didn’t hit their stride until they were 25.
Even P.K. Subban wasn’t P.K. fresh out of the draft. Taken 43rd overall in the second round in 2007, he was brash and confident from the start — but Subban didn’t even crack the Canadiens lineup until three years later, when he played two regular-season games and then 14 games during that extended playoff run in the spring of 2010.
If the form holds, even if Sergachev is destined to be as effective as Subban (already a stretch), it’s unlikely he’ll be ready to assume a significant role with the big club before the 2018-2019 season. Trading Subban because you just drafted Sergachev? As my mother-in-law would say: “Oy!”
The Vegas Vultures
Confronted with the endless parade of Bettman Blunders, it’s hard to pick a favourite. Signing a U.S TV contract with the Outdoor Life Network? Sacrifice an entire hockey season to one man’s ego? Moving the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix?
But expansion to Las Vegas when your other desert venture is still a mess and you have Quebec City as a can’t-miss alternative with a state-of-the-art arena ready and waiting? Even for Gary Bettman, this one is a blunder for the ages.
Beware the man in the spectacles
Anthony Calvillo had a number of strengths as a quarterback. A rocket arm, good athleticism, durability, a will to win. But Calvillo’s name is at the top of the record books because he was one of the smartest quarterbacks in the game.
Now, having taken time to learn the job, Calvillo is applying those smarts to the difficult position of offensive coordinator for the Alouettes. If the Als’ debut against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was any indication, Calvillo is ready to roll.
They could have put up more points, but the Alouettes offence, for once, was effective, versatile and (especially) unpredictable. OK, it was Winnipeg — but if Calvillo and veteran quarterback Kevin Glenn can keep this up, the Als might be a force in the CFL East once again.
Time for the Bobby Orr Award
So Erik Karlsson didn’t win the Norris Trophy this season, despite all those gaudy stats?
Well and good. I wouldn’t vote for Karlsson for the simple reason that he doesn’t play defence. Instead, he plays a position all his own, something you might call “blue-line forward.” When your own coaches don’t trust you on the penalty kill, you shouldn’t be in the conversation for a Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenceman. It ‘s like Carey Price winning the Art Ross.
But you’d have to be as blind and deaf as Donald Trump not to see that Karlsson is a superb player — even a unique force in the league. No defenceman in this era has consistently put up points the way he does. Karlsson deserves an award almost every season — but what award?
The solution is achingly simple: it’s time for the Bobby Orr Trophy, honouring the defenceman who puts up the most points each season. As things stand, it’s only the forwards most seasons who get a crack at the Hart, the Art Ross, the Maurice Richard, the Ted Lindsay and the Frank J. Selke Trophy, while defencemen are confined to the Norris. (You aren’t going to see many of them in line for the Lady Byng.)
True, Orr was a more complete defenceman than Karlsson — but Orr was a force like no other in the history of the NHL. Orr deserves to have an award named after him and Karlsson deserves a crack at an award that accurately reflects his unique talents.
The last word
We can’t decide whether the coolest thing about Euro 2016 is Team Iceland or Hungarian goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly’s baggy grey sweatpants. As they say in Eastern Europe: “full cool.”
Heroes: Anthony Calvillo, Kevin Glenn, Chip Cox, Iceland, Gabor Kiraly’s sweatpants, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Gareth Bale, Jérôme Boateng &&&& last but not least (in the fervent hope that he appears often in this space) Mikhail Sergachev.
Zeros: Gary Bettman, the NHL to Las Vegas, Patrick Kane, Evander Kane, Cristiano Ronaldo, Jim Benning, Tyson Fury, Alex Rodriguez, Jose Bautista, Donald Trump, Claude Brochu, David Samson &&&& last but not least, Jeffrey Loria.