Down Goes Brown Grab Bag: Draft Lottery, Rule Changes and the Gaffe That Cost the Oilers Patrick Kane
Patrik Stefan's infamous missed empty-netter in 2007 played a part in Edmonton missing out on Hawks star Patrick Kane in the draft.
Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Three stars of comedy
The third star: Kelly Chase—The former enforcer drops some cash-saving tips on Dennis Wideman.
The second star: James Hinchcliffe—I don't follow racing so I didn't know who this IndyCar driver was, but I have to admit I like his attitude.
The first star: Don Cherry—We haven't done the "What has Don Cherry gone and done now?" section in a while, and I just wanted you all to know that he's still on his game.
What can you say, he's a trend-setter.
Outrage of the week
The issue: At the league's annual GM meetings this week in Florida, there was a push to amend the draft lottery rules to prevent teams from hoarding first overall picks.
The outrage: I don't like this change because I'm a hockey fan and I don't like any change.
Is it justified: No. Not remotely. This should be the one change that everyone can agree on.
Which isn't to say that it's necessarily a good idea, because I'm not sure it is. High draft picks are gold in today's NHL, and it doesn't seem fair to keep letting the same teams have them year after year. But there's also a solid case to be made that if you're going to use the draft to pump up bad teams—a big "if"—you should go all the way. If you don't have the stomach for more radical change, then you just have to accept that one team might be really bad or really lucky or both for a long time, and that's just how your system works.
But the beauty of this issue is that nobody should actually think that way. Everyone is looking out for their own best interests here. Sure, we pretend to be impartial, but all of us—fans, front-office execs, local media homers—just want whatever system will work best for our team. And that's why we should all want to screw the really bad teams. None of us think that will be us.
Any changes wouldn't come into effect until next season at the earliest, and no NHL GM should already be thinking ahead to finishing dead last a year from now. That goes for fans, too. And yes, that even applies to the Maple Leafs—sure, you're the one team that's well and truly in mid-rebuild and a sure thing to be terrible next year, but you'll never win the draft lottery in the first place because your franchise is cursed by the icy gaze of zombie Harold Ballard and always will be. So who could possibly object to this idea?
Oh, right. Oilers fans.
Look, I know from experience that Oilers fans get very sensitive about this topic. They take it personally, and rightfully so—we all know what team we're talking about here. Edmonton fans will point out that the team has never actually won the lottery twice in a row (the Devils won in 2011, but the Oilers kept the first pick), and they get extremely whiny about all of this. It's the only time you'll ever see anyone wearing an Oilers jersey being defensive.
But putting aside the hurt feelings, Oilers fans should be 100 percent behind this idea. You've already had four first overall picks in six years. You're going to make it five out of seven in a few weeks when we get to the Auston Matthews lottery that we all know you're going to win. You've already raided the vault. Now's the time to slam the door shut behind you and lock it, so that nobody else can get in on any of this action.
Think about it, Oiler fans. Nobody is trying to take away the picks you already had. This is about the future. And the only thing better than collecting all those first overall picks is screwing over the next rebuilding team to come along. You really want the Jets or Canucks or even—shudder—the Flames to be able to load up the way you did? Hell no. Change the rule now, then drive off in the getaway car waving your middle finger through the sunroof.
So make the change, NHL. It may not be fair, and you'll be screwing somebody. But none of us should complain, because none of us think it will be us.
Obscure former player of the week
Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day. NHL history is surprisingly full of successful Patricks, and more than a few obscure ones, too. Today, let's split the different and celebrate a successfully obscure one: longtime defenceman James Patrick.
Patrick was a college standout taken by the Rangers in the first round of the 1981 draft, and debuted two seasons later. That would be the start of a 20-year NHL career, one that took him from New York to Buffalo to Calgary to Hartford. He put up decent offensive numbers in the high-scoring 80s and early-90s, peaking with a 71-point season in 1991-92. He was never considered a star, and never played in an NHL All-Star Game. But he was a dependable player who could do just about everything reasonably well, and that reputation led to plenty of international experience for Team Canada—most notably as part of the 1987 Canada Cup team that's often mentioned as one of the nation's best ever.
Patrick was traded twice in his career, and both were reasonably big ones. In 1993, he went to Hartford as part of the Steve Larmer three-way trade, and a year later went to Calgary as part of the Gary Suter deal. But the biggest trade he was ever involved in was one that never happened—in 1992, he was reportedly part of the Rangers' deal for Eric Lindros, before an arbitrator forced the Nordiques to take the Flyers' offer instead.
After his career ended, Patrick went into coaching, and has been an assistant on Lindy Ruff's staff in both Buffalo and Dallas. He served as Sabres head coach for one game in 2012 after Ruff was injured in practice.
He may not have had the same success as Roy or Kane or LaFontaine, but hey, the bar for NHL Patricks has been set pretty high. Patriks, on the other hand... well, we'll get to that down below.
Trivial annoyance of the week
When they weren't making Oiler fans cranky with their draft lottery discussions, NHL GMs spent some time this week talking about new rules they may want to enact. All of those discussions were dedicated to finding solutions for the critical issues that are plaguing today's game, like concussions and a lack of scoring.
No, just kidding, they talked about stuff like this:
Stop doing this, NHL. Nobody is complaining about the few seconds a defenceman spends behind the net. Sure, a handful of fans may half-heartedly boo when the moment drags too long, but then it's immediately forgotten. You are solving problems that do not exist.
You could argue that this stuff doesn't matter. The league probably won't actually pass a new rule, and even if it does, it's not like it will actually hurt anything. So if some GM has decided that this is his personal pet peeve and he wants to do something about, then let him go ahead, right?
But this kind of stuff is infuriating for fans, because it does come with a cost. Put aside the confusion that the league causes by constantly tinkering with its rulebook, forcing fans to learn new rules every year even though none of them ever seem to actually change anything. The bigger issue here is opportunity cost. The NHL only has so much time to get everyone together in one room to talk about improving the game. We all know that it's virtually impossible to get a group of hockey people to agree on anything, and there's only so much bandwidth available to even try.
So when the NHL uses that time on stuff like this, or like last year's minor tweak to faceoffs that only added a handful of goals, it makes it less likely that something meaningful will actually happen. Even if the conversation only lasted half an hour, that's a half hour that could have been spent moving toward the sort of changes fans actually want to see.
And yes, there was progress on bigger issues, the most notable being the apparent decision to move forward with smaller goaltending equipment. That's great. Fans should want to see more of that. But we won't, at least as long as the GMs aren't willing to say "No, sorry pal, that's not even worth discussing, because we've got more important things to worry about."
Classic YouTube clip breakdown
Earlier this week, I wrote a piece over The Hockey News that outlined five forgettable NHL games that directly determined the winner of the draft lottery. They included moments like Luke Richardson's only goal of the season costing the Blue Jackets the chance to draft Alexander Ovechkin, or how a promotional game in Tokyo cost the Canucks the services of Vincent Lecavalier. And I looked back at a Mike Modano goal that ended up sending Patrick Kane to the Chicago Blackhawks, instead of to the Edmonton Oilers.
But as Oilers fans pointed out, there were other moments from that 2006-07 season that also helped cost them Kane. For example, there was the meaningless win over the Flames on the season's final night, which Oiler fans are still furious about even though it didn't technically cost them the lottery. And then there was another moment, one that wasn't forgettable at all—it's one of the most infamous NHL moments of the last decade. But until this week, it had never occurred to me that it directly cost the Oilers the Patrick Kane pick.
I've been saving it for a special occasion, and it feels like this is it. So let's do it. Let's finally do the Patrik Stefan play.
- It's Jan. 4, 2007, and the Oilers are hosting the Dallas Stars. It's got a bit of a big game feel—remember, the Oilers went to last year's Cup final, and they're only a few years removed from having faced the Stars in the playoffs six times in seven years. It's still a rivalry.
- It's been a pretty good game, too, with the Oilers jumping out to a 4-1 lead before the Stars stormed back to go ahead 5-4. We pick up the action with 15 seconds left, and the Oilers pushing for the tie with the goalie out.
- You just catch the tail end of it, but Edmonton's Marc-Andre Bergeron fans on a pass and turns the puck over at his own blueline. Stefan picks it up, and is all alone with nobody standing between him and an open net and/or the worst moment of his hockey career.
- Oh no.
- (The wipeout into the corner is a nice touch.)
- Anyway, that little gaffe is embarrassing, but at least there's only eight seconds left so it's not the like the Oilers are going to suddenly go down the ice and...
- Oh no.
- On top of being completely ridiculous and also hilarious, this sequence has to rank as one of the all-time great crowd responses ever. They go from "Crap, that's it, we lost" to "Hey let's laugh at this guy" to "Wait a second" to "OH MY GOD" in eight seconds flat. The fact that it's probably the last thing Oilers fans have actually had to cheer about just adds to the gravity.
- We fade out as the Oilers celebrate because the YouTube video, like everyone who was watching this live, blacked out and regained consciousness a few minutes later. When we do, we hear the local Stars broadcast dropping just about the worst insult in Dallas sports by calling Stefan's move "shades of Leon Lett."
- Some context here. Stefan, of course, was picked by the Thrashers as the first overall choice of the 1999 draft, and may go down in history as the biggest bust to ever go first overall. The top of the 1999 draft was terrible, featuring the Sedin twins and not much else, but Stefan's career was almost incomprehensibly bad for a first overall pick—he made Alexandre Daigle look like a Hall of Famer. Injuries cut his career short and he was out of hockey at 27, meaning this is pretty much his only NHL legacy. That hurts.
- Maybe it's the post-career sympathy talking, but when you watch the replay you can see that Stefan really was the victim of an almost inexplicably unlucky bounce, as the puck just randomly hops three inches in the air at the very moment he goes to tap it in. What really killed him was the attempt to play the puck back into the slot afterward—if he just falls on it, the game ends, we all have a good laugh and the play is forgotten. So he's not blameless here. But good lord, that bounce.
- If you think the Leon Lett bomb was bad, here comes the Canadian broadcast, in which analyst (and former one-time Stefan teammate) Ray Ferraro sounds like he wants to sprint down to the ice surface and physically assault the poor guy.
- An underrated aspect of this play: Notice how the referee has his arm up to call a penalty. That's on the Stars' defenceman who hooks at Ales Hemsky as he bears in on Marty Turco. If Hemsky doesn't score on the play, is that going to be a penalty shot with no time left on the clock? Has that ever happened? I kind of wish Turco had stopped him, just to find out.
- "They may show it a million times for years to come," said Stefan after the game. Based on the YouTube view counts for the various versions out there, he came in way low.
- Hemsky's goal sent the game to overtime. Not many even remember that Dallas ultimately won the game in a shootout, meaning Stefan's gaffe didn't actually cost the Stars anything.
- The Oilers, on the other hand, earned an extra point... and that cost them plenty. Take that point away, and Edmonton finishes the season with 70 points, one behind the Blackhawks and tied with the Capitals for 26th overall. The first tie-breaker was total wins, which the Oilers held, meaning they'd have earned that fifth overall draft slot that ended up winning the lottery. Stefan's blooper, hilarious as it was, made the difference between Patrick Kane going to Chicago or ending up as an Edmonton Oiler.
- Hey, look on the bright side—at least the words "Patrik Stefan" and "successful first overall pick" can finally be used in the same sentence.
Have a question, suggestion, old YouTube clip, or anything else you'd like to see included in this column? Email Sean at email@example.com.