Draft Day 2008
By Liam Casey
I was lucky enough to secure a press pass to the 2008 NHL draft in Ottawa. What follows is an insider's guide to the NHL from a fan's perspective.
Emotions run the gamut prior to the draft, with fresh-faced teenagers waiting nervously in the stands while sports scribes complain furiously about the spotty internet connection. Check that – no internet connection. Ten minutes before the draft begins a roll call commences for each team to test out their set up. The biggest cheer goes out to the Ottawa Senators microphone check, obviously, while the Maple Leafs' check is met with derision.
TSN's coverage of the draft begins on the jumbotron with a shot of Toronto GM Cliff Fletcher, which is followed by a chorus of boos.
Technical issues still abound. Chatter amongst the scribes is that they are scrambling to fix the internet problems.
It takes nearly half an hour from the start of the draft until Steven Stamkos' name is called by new Tampa Bay Lightning owner Oren Koules, a Hollywood film producer and former Blackhawk draft pick.
The Kings get the one minute warning from Gary Bettman – they seem to be working on a deal. Perhaps they'll make the pick then trade it. Quick fact on the jumbotron: Los Angeles picked Tom Glavine in the 1984 draft. Rumor has it they wanted him for their summer softball squad.
They go with offensive defenseman Drew Doughty
, whom I spoke to at Thursday's media luncheon. When asked who he would take with the first overall fantasy draft pick for the 2008-09 season, he said, "Ovechkin, without a doubt.
Prior to Atlanta's pick, TSN briefly announces that Mike Cammalleri has been dealt to Buffalo as their 13th overall pick. Bettman then announces two trades: one, Cammalleri has been dealt to Calgary for draft picks, and, two, the Anaheim has dealt its 12th overall pick to the Kings for their 17th and 28th pick.
Atlanta takes hulking defenseman Zach Bogosian
with the third overall pick.
Cheers erupt from the Montreal contingent when Bettman announces they have traded for Quebec-born playmaker, Alex Tanguay
St. Louis selects defenseman Alex Pietrangelo
with the fourth pick.
Bettman gives the Islanders the one minute warning. I'm not sure what happens if they violate it, which I think they already have.
It looks like they're working on something. Five minutes later Bettman announces a trade. The Islanders trade their fifth overall pick to the Maple Leafs for their seventh overall pick and a choice of conditional draft picks in 2008 and 2009. More boos cascade from the nose bleed seats. A brief but passionate "Leafs suck" chant occurs when they walk up to the podium.
Toronto takes Luke Schenn
with the fifth overall pick, the fourth defenseman to go in the top five. This is somewhat reminiscent of the year defender Bryan Berard
went first overall in 1995. The next two picks were also blueliners in Wade Redden
and Aki Berg
. Who will be this year's version of Berg?
I find out from the nice folks at New England Sports Net that the players are available – off to find them. Rookie mistake. By the time I get down there, Stamkos is nowhere in sight.
I miss about eight picks as I hang out in the bowels of the Scotiabank Place. The first man I see is Florida GM Jacques Martin with one reporter. At the back of the "interview room" there must be at least 20 reporters surrounding Montreal GM Bob Gainey, quizzing him on his acquisition of Tanguay.
Then there are a bevy of reporters around new Leaf Luke Schenn
. It's like piranhas to fresh fish. Then it's over to Columbus' top pick, Nikita Filatov
. This kid looks like a kid – there's no way he's ever slid a razor over his face. He will need to bulk up. Otherwise, he'll have trouble outmuscling the popcorn vendor.
I am drawn back to the draft floor from the media room because of a large ovation. Fans are standing up cheering, which is when I realize who's at the podium: Wayne Gretzky
. Back in the media room I notice a large photo of Gretzky waving to the fans in a Ranger uniform with the signed message, "To all the staff at Aramark: Thanks for the great food – April 15, 1999." This was Gretzky's last game in Canada before he retired – a game that I blew off a university genetics exam to watch. I still don't regret it. Strolling back to the arena, I spot Gretzky in the flesh – a mere five feet away from me – he is chatting with former Senator Craig Billington
There is a great divide at the draft between the NHL employees and the media. All the reporters are contained to a "media riser" at one end of the arena. It presents a great view of the proceedings, but it is akin to watching a concert from 200 feet away. The action is down on the floor. Fortunately there is a route to the interview room that is adjacent to the draft floor.
Hovering near this no-fly zone, one thing strikes me about NHL management: they're buddies – nearly every one of them. Many of them have played either with or against each other. Bryan Murray chats with Nashville GM Ray Shero. I wonder if they are talking trade – it seems intense. Two writers from the Tampa Tribune, one of whom is Erik Erlendsson, plead with the NHL's PR woman for an interview with the new Lightning owner, Koules. They are denied and instructed to go through the Lightning's PR man. The response was clearly not what they had in mind.
The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch talks to Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman, whose Stanley Cup ring blinds me. I wonder where his eight others are…
Beside him is Steve Yzerman
, another man with ties to Ottawa, who is chatting with TV analyst and former Ottawa 67, Darren Pang.
New Senator coach Craig Hartsburg is talking intensely with captain Daniel Alfredsson
, who is there to announce Ottawa's first round pick.
It turns out Murray was talking trade, just not with the Pens – Ottawa grabbed Nashville's 15th pick for their 18th pick and a third round selection. As the Senator contingent strolls up to the podium, a heavy "Alfie, Alfie, Alfie" chant erupts. He has become a saint, not only for his play on the ice, but for his community work as well – he recently announced a partnership with a local group to promote mental health awareness. He then proceeds to take defenseman and fellow Swede, Erik Karlsson
. A hush descends upon the crowd – they have no idea who he is, but he did win the Best Defenseman award at the World Junior Championships this past winter.
Another round of cheers erupts when they announce that Senators forward Chris Kelly
was extended for four years – apparently at $2.1 million per season.
Boos filter down for Anaheim GM Brian Burke – the architect of the team that beat Ottawa in the Stanley Cup Finals just over a year ago, who selects Jake Gardiner
from Minnetonka High.
Time to head back to the media room. As I stroll down, a fan yells down to Detroit coach Mike Babcock, "Hey Babcock, what are you doing with the cup?"
"Drinking out of it!" Babcock says.
Upon re-entering the media room, I am struck by the height of Sabres' draft pick Tyler Myers
. Look up, look way up. He is a 6-foot-7 bean pole. Scribes liken him to Zdeno Chara
in height and shutdown ability, but not in demeanor. While Chara will drop the mitts with anyone in the league, Myers got into his first fight just this past season.
I poke around the room and eavesdrop on the newest Duck, Jake Gardiner
. Unfortunately, most of the kids have been coached re: the dull interview: avoid controversial statements at all cost. There is a similar interview with Boston's Joe Colborne
. The NESN guys are hard at work. Time to head back to the draft floor.
As I head back, another huge cheer rings through the building. When I poke my head through, the Minnesota Wild are up on the stage. The big board behind shows T. Cuma. Hmm. Oh yeah – the Ottawa 67. Plenty of family and friends made the short trip to the fringes of the city for support.
I only realize now that the ice surface area I've been moving back and forth from is where the players retreat to between periods – but I do not see any dressing rooms. I do see, however, Sens GM Bryan Murray chatting with his nephew, and assistant GM, Tim Murray and owner Eugene Melnyk. I cannot get close enough to eavesdrop, but Melnyk is animated about something. The man is a real fireball; he seems like he can get excited about watching paint dry.
Yawns begin. I look up in the stands to find a different scene – many fans have already left. Even the media contingent looks a little thin. I scan the various draft tables on the floor and notice Dallas co-GM Brett Hull
schmoozing with Flyer legend Bobby Clarke.
Only a few tables from my spot is the Rangers table. It was only a few moments ago I heard other journalists talking about the ridiculous ownership situation in Gotham. They discuss a power struggle between owner James Dolan and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. The journos think Bettman just wants Dolan out as owner. This situation will get uglier before it gets prettier.
At the Rangers table, General Manager Glen Sather has a cigar in his mouth – unlit. I keep tabs on him to see if he does light up, since smoking is not allowed indoors. In the next five minutes he never does. Maybe he's just really satisfied about drafting Michael Del Zotto
– or maybe he just adores tobacco.
The last couple of picks seem to fly off the board. Then the Red Wings are on the clock. A mixture of boos and applause fills the arena before morphing into great cheers when Steve Yzerman
approaches the podium. The local product could still be the mayor of the city tomorrow if he wanted to be. On behalf of the Wings he selects goalie Thomas McCollum
. Sadly, as soon as his name is announced, the entire draft floor stands up to leave. The fans are heading in droves for the aisles, but this kid hasn't even made it through hugging his family yet.
It is finally time to go. My watch says it's near midnight. The first round has taken nearly five hours to complete. I don't know how these guys are going to go through another six rounds on Saturday.
A quick check on Rotoworld.com. Nothing. I'm sure the site is going strong, but the internet is harder to find than Bigfoot.
It's time to leave the madness.