Friday, 22 November 2013

The NHL Stole My Team!

Sportsnet has turned me into a hater of the NHL. This new-found ire has nothing to do with Nick Kypreos and Doug MacLean's tendency to accost each about everything from predicting which teams will make the playoffs to debating whether peanut butter or jam should be spread on the bread first.

No, Sportsnet has revealed just how awful it is for major junior teams to be beholden to the NHL.

In Quest for the Cup, Sportsnet is covering the lead-up to the 2014 Mastercard Memorial Cup. I was ecstatic about this season of the behind-the-scenes program as it's covering my favourite OHL team: the London Knights.

That enthusiasm, however, quickly turned into despair as the first episodes have revealed just how much the Knights have struggled due to the professional league's priority over players. London began its 2013-14 campaign with 17 regulars absent from the lineup because they had been summoned by their pro-hockey overlords. If an NHL club lost 17 regulars, it would be seen as a tragedy, but for London, it has to be treated like business as usual.

So the majority of London's team has been decimated not by injury but talent. They've been plucked from the environs of the CHL due to their worthiness to be considered for a promotion. The irony is that the team and its management--headlined by Dale and Marc Hunter--has become the victim of their own success. Their ability to put together a team that won back-to-back OHL championships (in 2011-12 and 2012-13) has become a liability for the team's current campaign.

Dale Hunter offers a very well-reasoned take on this situation. He reflects on the fact that, while his journeymen played pond hockey as children, they dreamed of being in the NHL one day, not of making names for themselves in the CHL. Thus he can't fault the players for seeking nor the NHL for offering the opportunity to realize this dream. The apprentice-players, of course, have earned this opportunity by excelling under the Hunters' tutelage.

Those supportive and understanding remarks are all well and good from the point of view of a mentor, but, as a fan, I feel that my entire team has been poached by a bunch of greedy execs. Go plunder some other development league, jerks!

Proposed "anti-poaching emblem" for use in CHL markets. 

Some teams can be excused based on needs. The Pittsburgh Penguins have had a little bit of trouble keeping pucks out of their net over the past few seasons, so I can see why they would give Olli Maatta a long look in camp and the preseason. The Penguins have been a contender for years, so Maatta can benefit from mingling with their elite personnel.

There are reasons for the Penguins to audition Olli Maatta and for the Vancouver Canucks to give Bo Horvat a chance to join their playoff team, but can anyone justify Buffalo's decision to keep Nikita Zadorov with the slumping Sabres for one quarter of the NHL season?

Buffalo let Zadorov's talent wilt by icing him in only 7 games over the last two months. If being relegated to the press box wasn't bad enough, Buffalo hindered Zadorov's development even further by making him occasionally sit in a room with Steve Ott, Ryan Miller, and a bunch of other notoriously negative players on a team that's slowly going nowhere this season. How does it help a young player to keep him from playing most nights and subjecting him to a losing atmosphere on others?

More importantly, how is THIS good for player development, Buffalo? 

I know that, as the host of the tournament, the Knights are guaranteed a bye into the last round of the CHL playoffs, so it doesn't strictly matter if they have a mediocre regular season. Still, London prides itself on cultivating a winning culture, so it will be detrimental to team morale if the Knights sneak into the final round due to the dubious structure of the tournament.

Moreover, I'd hate to see London flounder in the regular season, fail to make the playoffs, and then snatch the Memorial Cup away from an a contender who earned a playoff berth. (Your ears should be burning by now, Shawinigan Cataractes.)

As of today, most of London's veterans are back in the lineup, and the team is one of the middling squads in the OHL standings. Hopefully Zadorov's return will set the stage for the Knights to clinch back-to-back-to-back OHL championships!


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