Saturday, May 02, 2009

OHL fans outside the GTA hold these truths to be self-evident

Let the name-calling begin: The London Knights took a quote, unquote flier on college hockey-bound Scott Harrington from the Kingston Kimco Voyageurs in today's OHL priority selection (or as it's called in English, "draft").

Harrington and his advisers have to do what is best for Harrington, who will only be 16 years old once. The real beef is:
  • People have fib to get what's best for a player's future;

  • A boy who's still only Grade 10 is put in such a predicament;

  • The OHL maintains the fa├žade that the draft is a fair fight;

  • A loaded London team just happened to take a top-5 talent with the 19th overall selection at no risk to them.
It is an eye-roller when Harrington and his agent tell the hometown paper, "Our plan right now is to go NCAA," and then boom, he gets drafted by London.

Who knows how this plays out. One scenario is that the Knights will say they had a different "vibe" when they spoke to Harrington. He'll say that after thinking it over, the OHL is really the best place to play. It's easy to predict since this has happened so many times before.

It doesn't take too long, about three minutes over MSN with a fellow junior hockey devotee, to come up with with five players in the past few years who have said they were going to play college hockey and then changed their mind after being drafted by London. The Knights got future No. 1 overall NHL draft pick Patrick Kane, now starring for the Chicago Blackhawks, that way. The same went for current Edmonton Oilers center Sam Gagner. John Carlson, London's best defenceman and Phil McRae, a superb forward, were each committed to the the U.S. national team development program before mysteriously breaking that to go to the Knights. (And you wonder why each was left off the U.S. world junior team last season.) London is hardly the only team. Others remember how Brampton Battalion standouts Cody Hodgson and Matt Duchene, who have the same agent, gamed the system in order to play together.

One should be happy for Scott Harrington. All he said was, "Our plan right now is to go NCAA, so we're going to focus on that route right now and we'll see what happens on draft day." That's not even a lie. His concept of right now just happened to very ephemeral.

The kicker is that Harrington has to make this choice. There is no political will in hockey to work for a reasonable solution, like letting someone play in any amateur league he wants until he finishes high school and has a better idea of whether he has a shot at the NHL, or should parlay his puck skills into getting an education.

Harrington deserves to write his own ticket, like anyone who's graduated at the top of the class, so to speak. The machinations are completely understandable on his end, but try telling that to the fans who support the league with their discretionary income, venturing out on cold winter nights to watch the hometown team. People who follow the OHL support it as a business because they want to see teams win more than they want to see individual players develop, although that is a big part of the sell.

Fans have had it up to here with the league insisting all teams are created equal when season after season, top-end talents just happen to fall to certain teams, often those located in Ontario's Golden Horseshoe such as Brampton, Kitchener and London.

The real kicker is that London is not out anything if Harrington actually pursues college hockey, which we all know he's not doing (although he would conceivably play two full seasons with his hometown Vees). Ontario Hockey League teams can get a compensatory second-round draft choice if the first-rounder doesn't report. That makes taking him less of a risk to London, which is usually drafting near the end of the first round. The trade-off is much, much greater for a team picking in the top 10. Talk about an unintended consequence.

It's not clear how much sympathy there should be for the small-city teams out in the hinterlands. Franchises such as the Kingston Frontenacs should look in the mirror first if agents and parents try to steer top-end players to other teams.

At the same time, they can't do anything about geography. Many of the league's faithful customers are upset, and nothing gets done. What a way to run a business.


Anonymous said...

You could see this coming a mile away when Hunter just started showing up at every Vees playoff game once Harrington started playing. And then just two days before the draft, "out of nowwhere," Harrington's camp says it's going the U.S. college route.

I predicted this would happen a couple of weeks ago. It was funny being in the Fronts draft room this morning. They were all holding their breath as the first round went on. Then when it was getting close to London, one of them, might have been Springer, clued in: "London will take him." Ya think? They have only been scouting him and likely leaning on him for the last two months.

I guess you're right, the player has the right to choose what's best for him. I just don't like that they can play teams and pick where they want to go.

kinger said...

I've spent the past 15 minutes trying to guess at anonymous's identity. Who gets to be in the draft room beyond the Mavesty, Springsy, the coaches, Jeff Stilwell, and I assume the people who claim to be scouts?

You're right to be outraged, though, but as long as media sources like Sportsnet and the community guys at Rogers and Cogeco don't start raising hell over clear tampering there's no impetus to change. Since the media sources aren't allowed to criticize the OHL, that impetus isn't forthcoming.

It was sad to see Gilmour so confident at the city council meeting earlier that this sort of thing would never happen again because the OHL had implemented a fine for it. Unless you tap Dale Hunter's phone you can't prove this sort of thing. They'd never be stupid enough to put it in writing.

sager said...

There's no political will, as Kinger indicated, to change that.

It's a more-power-to-him for Harrington, really. You only go around once as a hockey player.

The real kicker is how draft manipulation is perceived. Eric Lindros' name is still mud because he wouldn't go to Sault Ste. Marie 20 years ago and Quebec two years after that. However, in the OHL, every year there are players and agents who are perceived as doing the same thing, undermining the draft for their own ends. No one looks at them cross-eyed.

Perhaps no one should, they have to get theirs and this is business.

It's on the league to figure out what to do about players having that "nuclear option" of saying 3 day before the draft that they're going to the NCAA and then looky, looky, they get drafted by London and change their mind.

One of the good points on the NOOF was that you really build the guts of a championship team from the third round onward. Still, I can see why it doesn't sit right with fans that the rich will get richer if Harrington does go to London (and why wouldn't he, no disrespect to the Voyageurs).

I don't know how this gets resolved. Fans are right to be upset with the league and maybe with individual owners.

Anonymous said...

The first clue is that the kid has an agent. You can't have One of those if you take the NCAA route... You can have an "advisor" but not an agent.

sager said...

Adviser, agent, comes down to semantics. If you're calling someone your agent, yeah, your intentions are clear.

Incidentally, while we're here, congratulations to the twins who got drafted from Kingston, Keli and Kris Grant. Is it "Kris and Keli" or "Keli or Kris?"

Keli Grant, the righty-shooting right wing, went in the third round to Kitchener. Kris Grant, the lefty-shooting defenceman (he's in my mom's history class!), went in the 11th round to Erie.

The amusing part is the league has a headshot for Keli but doesn't have one for his twin.