JUST DESERTS

NO, EDMONTON OILERS MANAGEMENT DIDN’T DESERVE CONNOR MCDAVID LAST YEAR. BUT THE LONG SUFFERING, OFTEN INSULTED OILERS FAN BASE DID

(This is a revised edition of a story that appeared on Hautnews.com last September)

In the days leading up to 2015’s NHL Draft Lottery, I’d abandoned any notion that my Edmonton Oilers had any chance (or business) winning it’s fourth first overall pick in the span of six years, let alone landing teenage phenom Connor McDavid. I assumed that Buffalo or Arizona or Toronto would win that honour and my Oilers would be drafting third or fourth. Around the time I was wondering if highly touted defenseman Noah Hanifin would be ready to step directly onto the Oilers woeful blue line the following season (and what the odds were that our inept management would rush him if he wasn’t anyway) I checked my phone to see who had won the McDavid sweepstakes.

Forget a double take, I had to do a triple one because I couldn’t believe my eyes the first two times. Somehow the Edmonton Oilers, the team I’d adored since childhood and who had spent the past nine years unapologetically wiping their feet on my exhausted loyalty, had won the biggest hockey lottery in recent memory.

Before I knew it, my social media was filled with complaints and howls of outrage (because I was somehow responsible for the way the lottery balls fell). The Oilers didn’t deserve another first overall pick! they screamed. Edmonton would ruin him, they whined. McDavid needed to pull a Lindros and refuse to play for the Oilers. And while the Oilers improbable victory should have laid the multiple conspiracy theories that the NHL’s draft lottery was fixed to rest, it sparked absurd new ones that the draft was fixed in Edmonton’s favour.

It was a sweet river of salty tears.

video via Jordan Love

It prompted a buffet of jokes, indignation and genuine fear that Edmonton would win the first overall pick in 2016 as well, earning the right to draft Auston Matthews this year (check out the comments to the video above). And I get it. I may be a die-hard fan but I’m also a pragmatist and few were more critical of this team’s horrible management then I was. I could go on for pages listing the Oilers numerous faults and failures, but Craig MacTavish summed it up during his end of season post mortem press conference last April. He predicted that the 2015-2016 season would be another “transitional” season. Translation: another season where the team spun its wheels at the bottom of the standings and were eliminated from the playoff conversation by Halloween (Christmas at the latest). This was virtually two years to the day that he promised bold moves to get the team back to respectability as the team’s new General Manager. In two brief years he had gone from selling long suffering Oilers fans hope to stealing it away.

And all of that after a nine-year playoff drought. It was a rotten time to be an Oilers fan. Until the evening of April 18th 2015, when the lottery balls blessed us with McDavid.

I was initially ecstatic, but that excitement soon gave way to dread. If there was any organization on Earth that could ruin a guaranteed shot at a generational talent, it was Edmonton. But even if they got it right (a rarity for Oilers brass), I was afraid that getting McDavid could hurt the franchise in the long run.

When Craig MacTavish replaced Steve Tambellini in April of 2013, Tambellini was widely considered the worst GM in the NHL. MacTavish (who had zero management experience on his resume) somehow made the team worse. And when team president Kevin Lowe wasn’t insulting Oilers fans, he was presiding over the entire train wreck. Lowe was the one constant during the Oilers nine year playoff drought; different players, coaches, GMs and even different owners came and went, but Kevin Lowe was there for all of it and was allowed to keep making decisions. The problem with the Oilers wasn’t their players, it was their management.

But it seemed like the franchise had finally reached a turning point where fan frustration and relentless on ice humiliation had reached critical mass. Fans who had defended management with their dying breath were now the minority as most of the fan base had turned on the front office. Fans bought billboards and full-page newspaper ads urging the team to fire Lowe and eventually MacTavish. Jerseys were being thrown on the ice, seats were left empty and scalpers couldn’t sell five-dollar tickets to see a team that once sold out night after night. Management had all but lost everyone in the local and national media and some Edmonton sports writers admitted that players were quietly urging them to keep the heat on the faltering management team. But McDavid could have been a get out of jail free card for the Gruesome Twosome, his arrival in Oil town possibly buying Lowe and MacTavish an extra few years where they could continue to harm the team through incompetence and neglect.

When people talk about McDavid saving this franchise in the years to come, they won’t just be talking about the miraculous things he’ll be doing on the ice. Less then 48 hours after winning McDavid, a hurricane of change was sweeping through Oil country with a vengeance.

Bob Nicholson, who built Hockey Canada into the powerhouse it is today, was appointed CEO of hockey operations. One of his first orders of business was to push aside Lowe and demote MacTavish, installing Peter Chiarelli, the architect behind the Boston Bruins (who won the Stanley Cup in 2011, returned to the finals in 2013 and won the Presidents Trophy in 2014) as GM and President. Chiarelli then brought in Todd McLellan, one of the best coaching free agents on the market, to tend the bench and the team continued to revamp its coaching and scouting staff through the summer. Would any of those dominoes have fallen without McDavid? Probably not.

As excited as I was last summer, I still tempered my expectations. There was just too much ground for this team to make up in a single year to return to the playoffs and the non stop parade of severe injuries to big names (which started as early as training camp) not only sabotaged Edmonton’s chances to compete for a playoff berth, but at times felt like karma’s way of punishing the Oilers for winning McDavid (who wasn’t immune to the injury jinx, missing three months to a shattered collar bone). But last September was the first time in years I was looking forward to the beginning of the season, the first time in years I had genuine hope. I even dug out the Oilers jersey that had been exiled in shame to the back of my closet.

So yes, the old regime didn’t deserve McDavid, and I absolutely understood the frustration of other fans. But Oilers fans deserved McDavid, not just for our loyalty or for enduring the years of jokes and insults, but for our faith that one day our beloved copper and blue would be free of the clutches of the incompetent and the reckless. It turns out McDavid was the key to that freedom.

Now let’s see what’s in store for McDavid: Year Two.

Shayne Kempton

Photo Connor Mah Standard Flikr License

 

DRAFT PROOF

There Are Plenty of Ideas on How To Fix The NhL’s Entry Draft To Prevent Awarding Losers-Why Not Try Rewarding Winners?

When the NHL held it’s lottery last weekend to determine which team would own the coveted first overall pick, millions of hockey fans and pundits had their fingers crossed that any team other than the Edmonton Oilers, who had won the first overall selection four times in the past six seasons, would have their name announced as the winner. Once upon a time the NHL awarded a year’s first selection in the entry draft to the team that finished last that season. It eventually changed the process to a lottery system to discourage teams from tanking the season with visions of drafting the next future super star dancing in their heads. The system was still weighted to favour the league’s bottom feeders as the teams that finished at the bottom of the standings had a greater chance of landing the cherished first overall pick, which still attracts criticism that the NHL rewards teams that lose.

The lottery system still hasn’t exorcised the possibility of teams deliberately losing to land the top pick. Last season the Buffalo Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes traded away just about every marketable player they could in an effort to lose as many games as possible and increase their odds of landing generational phenom Connor McDavid. Neither team got their wish though, and they had to settle for the second and third overall picks respectively (still not too shabby).

And while you could say that last year’s lottery proved the system worked, Mr. McDavid fell into the arguably undeserving lap of the perpetually failing and criminally mismanaged Edmonton Oilers (see above). And while the NHL tweaked the rules so that the team that finished dead last had less of a chance at the top pick in 2016, the Oilers were once again in the running for the top prize last weekend and they had a better shot at it this year then they did last spring. The Oilers wound up drawing the fourth pick, but if they had won number one the calls for the NHL to burn the current system to the ground would have been deafening.

Everyone seems to have an opinion on how to improve the NHL’s lottery system and to prevent teams like Edmonton from constantly feeding at the loser’s trough. And everyone agrees that the current lottery system rewards losing teams (under the current system, the team that finishes last not only has the highest odds of landing the top pick but can also draft no lower than fourth). So what if the NHL changed the system to reward its winning franchises?

Currently, the team that wins the Stanley Cup is rewarded for their victory by drafting last in every round. The team that they defeated in the Stanley Cup final drafts 29th while the two teams that made it to the Conference semi-finals wind up drafting in the bottom four as well. So in essence, the NHL’s most successful teams and its eventual champion are actually punished at the draft. Why not reverse that?

What if, when the NHL’s two top teams battle for the Stanley Cup at the end of an exhaustive, brutal playoff campaign, they were playing for more then the right to hoist Lord Stanley’s chalice, but the right to drape their jersey over the League’s next superstar as well?

What if instead of having to host a fire sale of players while the confetti was still falling from their Stanley Cup parades, the Chicago Blackhawks were rewarded with Taylor Hall, Nate Mackinnon and McDavid? What if the Boston Bruins were the ones to agonize over making Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Gabriel Landeskog the top pick in 2011? What if L.A. was rewarded with the number one selection in 2012 and again in 2014 for their brilliant Cup runs? If the Washington Capitals or Pittsburgh Penguins or St. Louis Blues are the top dog this year, why not reward them for their herculean effort by allowing them to call out Auston Matthews name? The entire landscape of the League would be vastly different.

And why stop there? Award the Stanley Cup runner up the second overall pick. Call it a consolation prize if you like, but coming up a victory or two short of winning it all should also have it’s own reward. Could you imagine Jack Eichel in a Lightning jersey or Alexander Barkov wearing Bruins black and gold? And give the Stanley Cup semi-finalists the third and fourth picks based on their regular season point totals. Then assign the remaining picks to teams based on their regular season performance. That would mean that this year the Toronto Maple Leafs would draft fifth overall, followed by the Oilers at sixth, the Vancouver Canucks at seventh and so on.

Would it hurt teams rebuilding? Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Morgan Reilly, Mark Scheifele, Doug Hamilton, Jacob Trouba and 2011 Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner are just a handful of impressive names that have been drafted between slots five and ten in recent years. Ottawa Senators super star Erik Karlsson was drafted 15th in 2008, Vladimir Tarasenko and Evengi Kuznetsov, a pair of young talents that had huge breakout seasons this year, were drafted 16th and 26th respectively in 2010, Jamie Benn, who lead the league in scoring in 2015 and finished second in 2016, was a third round pick in 2007 while goalie Braden Holtby, who will likely win the Vezina trophy this June, was picked up by the Washington Capitals in the fourth round in 2008. Franchise defensemen Duncan Keith, P.K. Subban and Shea Weber were all second round picks and the Detroit Red Wings have made the NHL post season 25 consecutive seasons because they became experts at drafting (and patiently developing) excellent players in later rounds (Pavel Datsyuk was drafted a jaw dropping 171st in 1998). There are plenty of elite, even franchise players available after the top four picks.

This would force teams to be smarter in their drafting, investing more time and resources into scouting and development. Would the Edmonton Oilers be in the sad state they are today if they weren’t allowed to depend on so many first overall picks, but instead had to approach the draft more carefully (that may be a moot point given how horribly mismanaged they were until last May when they finally fired just about everyone)?

It would also make the trade deadline more exciting. The NHL’s deadline has turned into a final opportunity for the teams who think they have a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup to scavenge useful parts from the basement dwellers to address any outstanding needs headed into the two month war that is the Stanley Cup playoffs. Contending teams don’t blink twice at parting with their first round pick (the Rangers haven’t had a first round pick since 2012 and won’t until 2017 at the earliest), but what if Chicago or New York or Washington think they have an actual shot at the Cup, would they be willing to part with a pick that could end up in the top four or even first overall? And if so, how much more valuable is that pick and how much more could they get for it? How much of a gamble would the selling team be taking? What if you send a decent player to a contending team in return for their first round pick and nothing else, only to see that team upset in the first round and watch said pick’s value plummet? It would add a dozen more layers of intrigue to last minute deals.

Until the NHL called out the Toronto Maple Leafs name last week, there was a genuine fear that the Oilers would land their fifth first overall pick in seven seasons (Calgary President Brian Burke even promised to beat someone up if that happened). This would end the trend of rewarding mismanaged franchises and force them to improve themselves more efficiently while rewarding the League’s top teams.

And it would change everything.

Shayne Kempton

Photo www.hockeysfuture.com

 

 

 

 

NORTHERN DRAFT 2015

AFTER THE OILERS SELECT CONNOR MCDAVID FIRST OVERALL, WHICH NAMES DO THE OTHER SIX CANADIAN TEAMS CALL AT THIS YEAR’S NHL ENTRY DRAFT?

As an Edmonton Oilers fan, the only date I’ve had circled on my NHL calendar for the past nine years is the NHL’s annual entry draft. It’s the price you pay for following a team that has innovated new and exciting ways to suck year in and year out. That annual anticipation went through the roof this year though when the Oilers won last April’s draft lottery and the right to drape a copper and blue jersey on phenom Connor McDavid, whose been anointed The Next One by none other then the Great Wayne Gretzky himself. But what about the other six Canadian teams? The 2015 draft is being heralded as possibly the best since the legendary 2003 draft (which is considered the best draft in NHL history), with a pair of generational talents topping the rankings. So here are my armchair predictions for which names Canada’s seven NHL teams should call out at the draft in Tampa Bay this Friday. I went two for seven with my predictions for 2014, and while people may scoff at a success rate of .286, you pull that number off as a batter in baseball and you’ll be pulling down a salary around twenty million a year. Or whatever Donald Trump spends on toupees.   Either way, without further adieu, I present my totally unscientific and unfounded suggestions, recommendations and demands.

Edmonton Oilers: With the 1st overall the pick in this year’s draft, Edmonton will select Connor McDavid. Stop. End of story. TSN analyst (and former Calgary Flames GM) Craig Button perfectly described McDavid’s potential as a player, saying he combines the brilliance of Gretzky, the smooth hands of Mario Lemieux and the speed of Pavel Bure into a player never seen before. McDavid thinks the game at a higher level while skating at Mach speed. He’s been dominating highlight reels since he was 16 and his humility and sportsmanship off the ice has impressed scouts nearly as much as his sublime skills on it. Edmonton hasn’t even drafted McDavid yet and he’s already transformed the franchise, motivating desperately needed change in the most incompetent management and coaching departments in the NHL, and most importantly, getting emotionally exhausted fans excited again. Even Oilers players, who had given up on next season and were secretly hoping to be traded, are happy to be in Edmonton again. A cloud has literally lifted from this organization and its fan base. There is no other choice.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs kick off their picks by choosing 4th overall, and the Buds have plenty of holes in their roster to address. But the one need they’ve been trying unsuccessfully to solve the past few years is their lack of a top pivot. Dylan Strome may be the answer. Big (6’3), defensively capable and good on face offs, the younger brother of New Islanders forward Ryan Strome won the OHL scoring championship last year. And while many people will dismiss his scoring championship, claiming he benefitted from Erie Otters team mate and super prospect Connor McDavid (of course he did, who wouldn’t?), the same critics fail to point out that while McDavid missed twenty games with injury and representing Canada at the 2015 World Junior Championships, Strome was still producing at a one hundred point pace. If the Leafs can grab him (there are rumblings that Arizona may select him 3rd overall), they may be advised to give him a nine game taste of the pros next October before sending him back to junior, where he can dominate the OHL and represent Canada at the 2016 WJC. After next season, the sky may be the limit. Strome and 2014 8th overall pick William Nylander could form a dynamic duo down Toronto’s middle for years to come.

Calgary Flames: The Flames were one of the most surprising teams this year, making the playoffs and even advancing to the second round in a season where most people thought they’d be competing for the first overall pick. And the secret of this seasons’ success lied with a handful of young players they drafted and developed. The Flames attack boasted the likes of 2015 Calder Trophy nominee Johnny Gaudrea, Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett, as well as a handful of other rising young players. The Flames can also take pride in a cupboard full of promising young forward prospects as well, so with the 15th pick in this year’s draft they could do worse then select a defenseman to begin stockpiling a blue line to compliment their forward corps. And Jakub Zboril just might be the perfect defenceman to begin that process. A fiercely competitive, smooth skating, offensively skilled blue liner, Zboril’s skills in his own end are underrated and while he may not be big, he isn’t small and can be physically aggressive when he needs to be. He could be the first step in building a blue line formidable enough to handle the offensive juggernaut that’s taking shape just a few hours north in Edmonton.

Winnipeg Jets: Winnipeg is another club that’s managed to build a strong core of young players that was instrumental in their first playoff appearance since moving to Winnipeg from Atlanta in 2011. And adding center Colin White to that mix with the 17th pick would be another step in the right direction. A smart and hard working two-way center with decent offensive instincts and natural leadership abilities, White could well be this teams third line center and top penalty killing forward for years to come. But he also has second line potential and he could be the perfect compliment to Winnipeg’s eventual number one center, Mark Scheifele, for the better part of the next decade. White could be one of the safest, most efficient picks in the first round.

Ottawa Senators: The NHL entry draft has been very good to the Ottawa Senators over their modern history. The Sens have succeeded in finding and developing a wide range of players over the years. They struck gold with current team captain and two time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson (2008), blue liner Codi Ceci (2012) and forward Curtis Lazar (2013) in the mid to high teens of the first round, while uncovering 2015 Calder trophy nominee Mark Stone and forward Mike Hoffman in later rounds. The Sens are more then set for young forwards, both now and in the future, and have a crowded crease, so they should use this deep draft as an opportunity to began improving a middling blue line. Taking Swedish prospect Oliver Kylington with the 18th pick would be an excellent start. The super talented young Swede was originally projected to be a top ten pick (some scouts even had him as high as the top five) coming into this season, but a rough couple of months saw his stock drop. But he remains a smooth skating offensive defenceman with no shortage of speed, skill or confidence. Ottawa didn’t do too bad the last time they drafted an offensive minded Swedish defenceman and could you imagine having two Erik Karlssons quarterbacking their power play? Scary.

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks roster is getting old fast. The core they’ve relied on for time out of mind is all on the wrong side of thirty (the Sedins will be 35 when the puck drops next October) and Vancouver may have to move out a veteran or two to become cap compliant this summer. While they have a few promising young forwards currently on the roster (Bo Horvat) and a few intriguing ones in the system (Jake Virtanen, Hunter Shinkaruk), their defensive prospects are underwhelming to say the least. That’s why they should take a good long look at Swedish blue liner Gabriel Carlsson when their turn to comes at 23rd. A stay at home behemoth, Carlsson plays with smarts and poise in his own end. Remember that offensive juggernaut we were talking about in Edmonton? Vancouver will be seeing a lot of Connor McDavid and the Oilers over the years and Carlsson could be one of the Canucks best weapons of mass defence. He may be a bit of a project, but Carlsson could one day be a blue line beast that spends thirty minutes a night devouring opposing forwards while anchoring Vancouver’s penalty kill.

Montreal Canadiens: The biggest flaw in the Canadiens roster was exposed during the playoffs when it became painfully apparent that the Habs need a big strong number one center to compete with the likes of Tampa Bay and the New York Rangers in the post season. The problem is that one of those won’t be available when the Canadiens step up to the podium to make the 26th pick. What will be available will be a promising young right winger named Daniel Sprong, who could one day allow the Habs to move promising young forward Alex Galchenyuk back to his natural center position, where he could become the big franchise pivot the Canadiens desperately need to compete in the East. Sprong isn’t big but protects the puck like a villain, is shifty when evading opposing defenders and is downright lethal on the power play. Sprong probably won’t be a first line sniper, but he will provide valuable secondary scoring and could be a fixture on Montreal’s power play for years.

Player To Watch: There is little doubt in the minds of most scouts that Russian goaltender Ilya Samsonov is the best goalie available in this draft. While a goaltender hasn’t been taken in the first round of the draft since 2012 (when Tampa Bay selected Andrei Vasilevskiy 19th overall and Boston selected Malcolm Subban 24th), there are plenty who believe that Samsonov is worthy of a first round pick, especially for teams with multiple picks in the first round and those squads looking for help between the pipes (and wouldn’t you know it, Edmonton fits both bills). But the “Russian Factor” is strong with this one, who is signed at least for the next two seasons with his KHL team. And while there are those who think that may be good for his development, spending the next two years playing against men in the world’s second best professional hockey league, the fact that he skipped the draft combine raised as many red flags as it did eyebrows. Samsonov is easily the biggest gamble in this draft.

Shayne Kempton

IS THERE A DRAFT IN HERE

IF YOU STILL THINK THE NHL DRAFT LOTTERY IS FIXED AFTER EDMONTON WON THE CONNOR McDAVID SWEEPSTAKES LAST SATURDAY, YOU MAY NEED SURGERY TO REMOVE YOUR TIN FOIL HAT

NHL Headquarter, New York City. Some Time Last March;

            Gary Bettman: Gentlemen. It’s time we figured out who we’re gonna give this McDavid kid to. We better make sure we don’t mess this up because this kid looks like a real keeper, a face we can slap on hats and toys and deodorant and sell for years. Anyone got any ideas where we should stick him?

            Nefarious Conspirator 1: Well how about Toronto? We all know they’re the capital of Hockey and besides, we owe them for not having Hockey Night in Canada talk about them for precisely 8,319 hours this year. And have you seen the standings? They’re doing so bad we could totally fake and make it look like they actually won the lottery.

            Nefarious Conspirator 2: Well what about L.A.? We’ll talk to the refs and make sure they don’t make the playoffs (wink wink, nudge nudge) and then make sure their ball comes up in the lottery. We can market the hell out of him in LA LA land and haven’t done anything for them since we made Canada trade Wayne Gretzky to the Kings back in the 80’s.

            Nefarious Conspirator 3: Hey, y’know, speaking of Gretzky, what about Edmonton?

            Gary Bettman: Edmonton? You might be on to something there . . .

            Nefarious Conspirator 3: Yeah, think about it, we could make a total fortune by giving him to Katz and boys. I mean think of all the money we could make from a small Canadian city that ‘s practically Santa Claus’s neighbor. And you know this team is so well managed it’s practically on the verge of ending one of the longest playoff droughts in modern history! This is the last piece that could make them average!   Mediocre at the very least! You gotta hand it to the Oilers, those guys really know what they’re doing up there.

            Gary Bettman (banging his fist on his desk in a Eureka moment): Sold! Edmonton it is. How did we not see that earlier? It’s obvious he belongs with such an efficient organization. Nefarious Conspirator 3, you get a raise. You other two punch yourselves in the penis really hard. Right now. Now let’s go, we have a draft lottery to fix.

It’s funny, I was originally preparing to whip something up to dispute the inevitable screams of “conspiracy!” following last Saturday’s NHL draft lottery. For months, as the regular season wound down and a number of teams began positioning themselves for a chance to land Erie Otters super prospect and Next Big Thing Connor McDavid, murmurs that the NHL’s draft lottery to see who would snare the young phenom was rigged began getting louder and louder. The whole thing was a hoax, they said, the NHL was planning on awarding the top pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs because everyone knows Gary Bettman’s leash is held firmly by the Centre of the Hockey Universe (explaining why Toronto has never had a first overall pick and why they’ve gone nearly half a century without an appearance in the Stanley Cup final). They were going to hand McDavid to the Arizona Coyotes to sell tickets in the desert (because that was a strategy the NHL used to perfection during the nearly four years it ran the Coyotes while searching for an owner who wouldn’t move the money losing franchise to an actual hockey market). No, they were going to give him to the last place Buffalo Sabres because they wanted him playing in an American market, because as anyone who’s been paying attention can tell you Gary Bettman hates Canada and wants all the best players on American rosters (which explains why the sad sack Edmonton Oilers had the first overall pick from 2010-2012).

It was conspiracy roulette. Every day there seemed to be a new theory making the rounds. My father recently shared one he heard on his local all sports radio station, stating that the Leafs were going to get the pick as a reward for the boat loads of money Rogers (who owns half the Leafs and their other assorted affiliates) gave the NHL for the rights to Hockey Night in Canada. His proof? He’d “talked” to some “people,” people he of course couldn’t name (and isn’t that always the way?). On a recent story that appeared on The Hockey News website regarding the NHL’s decision to make video of the lottery public on its website, a poster was jumping at every opportunity to make ludicrous allegations that the draft was so obviously fixed that anyone who couldn’t see it was blind and stupid and when I and a few others politely challenged him on his desperately flawed logic (because he was missing a little thing called facts), he resorted to thumping his chest, calling us “pencil necked geeks” who he could beat up and not only were we all gay (something only considered an insult by a bigoted ass hat) but we were also performing sex acts on one another while we ganged up on him. Other then being your typical unintelligent, most likely inbred troll, he summed up what most conspiracy theorists, hockey or otherwise, truly are; stupid children who concoct things in the absence of actual knowledge to conform to their bigotry and prejudice in an effort to transform their ignorance into a comfort blanket.

But all that aside, if the Edmonton Oilers winning the right to draft first in next June’s entry draft proved anything beyond a single shadow of a single doubt, it’s that the NHL draft lottery is the furthest thing on Earth from being fixed. Because Edmonton is the very last place on Earth the NHL wants to see McDavid calling home for the foreseeable future.

As an Oilers fan, I totally appreciate, agree and sympathize with the fallout and outrage that has followed the Oilers landing their fourth first overall pick in the past six seasons, particularly for a generational talent like McDavid, whose been likened to Sidney Crosby and received a ringing endorsement from none other then the Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky. I agree with a lot of what’s been said about this turn of events (I had accepted that Edmonton would be picking third or fourth in this year’s draft and was wondering if blue liner Noah Hannifin would be able to step in make an impact on our beleaguered defence next season), and I sympathize with McDavid, who looked about as thrilled as a six year old in a dentist’s waiting room when it was announced the Oilers won the first pick. A number of NHL executives are reportedly irate that the Oilers, easily the most mismanaged franchise in the NHL, have had their continued incompetence rewarded with the NHL’s next superstar. But all the gnashing of teeth serves only to prove my point further, that the draft, in its current form, is a complete crap shoot and free from any meddling or interference from Gary Bettman or NHL brass.

Because while I may not agree with some that the NHL just lost millions of dollars by allowing McDavid to fall into the Oilers inept clutches (and remember, I’m an Oilers fan), the NHL gains absolutely nothing by seeing McDavid don a copper and blue jersey for the next few years.

Nothing.

I have to admit, up until last Saturday the conversations around a rigged draft were a refreshing breath of fresh air from the usual springtime temper tantrums. Usually around this time of year we’re treated to endless accusations that NHL referees are either selling playoff victories to the highest bidder or deciding games based on Gary Bettman’s explicit orders (because no one’s favourite team ever loses in the playoffs because their opponent is better). And it has been truly hilarious to see some of the logic acrobatics the really stubborn conspiracy nuts have been performing to try and twist McDavid’s inevitable arrival in the City of Champions into a 911-was-an-inside-job, Obama-is-a-secret-Muslim-Terrorist, the-moon-landing-was-faked, Elvis-still-lives level conspiracy. But while the playoffs usually separate the elite from the contenders, I hope last Saturday’s draft lottery managed to separate the simply foolish from the truly delusional.

Shayne Kempton

THE NHL’S 2014 CHRISTMAS WISH LIST

WHAT TEAMS AND FANS SHOULD PROBABLY ASK JOLLY OLD SANTA FOR THIS CHRISTMAS SEASON

 Well hello Santa. So good to see you again. How is Mrs. Claus doing? Well I hope (because let’s be honest Big Man, we both know the whole operation comes tumbling down without the Missus). And the elves? The reindeer? Rudolph still getting up to his regular hijinks? That polar scamp. Totally incorrigible.

Y’know Santa, it’s not just Christmas we celebrate at this time of year, but we’re also at the point on the calendar where just about every team in the NHL has played at least a third or more of their current regular season, and there are a few franchises (and in the case of number two, a long suffering and oft ignored fan base) who are probably counting on a goodie or two in your sack to salvage the rest of the campaign. Or at least make life a little more bearable until the mercy of the balmy summer months.   But just in case any have forgotten amidst the hectic hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, I’ve taken the liberty of assembling a list of ten things that teams or fans should ask you for this Yuletide.

10.  Another Hart trophy, scoring championship and First Team All-Star berth for Sidney Crosby. I’m not a Pens fan Santa, or a Crosby one, but Sid the Kid’s critics (and he has many) act like a pack of rabid, ravenous wolves that pounce on any chance to diss or put him down. A Stanley Cup champion and two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, Sid’s got more personal hardware then any other player currently skating. In the world. But still, there are millions of “fans” who love to hate on him with savage abandon.   He could discover a cure for cancer tomorrow and they’d all flock to Facebook to bash him for not devoting every waking second to hockey and defying nature. A bunch of new awards won’t really silence Sid’s haters, but it will make their absurd, petty rhetoric look even more foolish.

9.  If you could Santa, you might want to consider wrapping super-prospect Connor McDavid in an Ottawa Senators jersey this year, and gifting him, not to Sens fans in general, but the ones who didn’t throw Jason Spezza under the bus last year. Now the Sens don’t have to finish last in in the NHL in order to draft Connor first overall this June (the Oilers had all but wrapped up dead last by Halloween) but the Sens playoff chances this season are looking a little less then 50/50 (far smarter people than yours truly have crunched the numbers using a decade’s worth of data and have determined that Ottawa, who was several spots removed from a playoff spot in early December, has around a twenty-five percent chance to make the post season next spring). Any team that misses the playoffs this season will have at least a 13.5% chance to land The Next Big Thing. Bigger gambles have paid off.

8.  Glasses for the people who apparently didn’t see the Montreal Canadiens 2014 playoff run and refuse to accept that Habs blue liner P.K. Subban is one of the game’s elite defencemen. The 2013 Norris Trophy winner and member of Canada’s Gold Medal winning 2014 Olympic team, Subban was a dominant one man force who, combined with Carey Price’s heroics in net, dragged the Habs to victory over their much bigger, deeper, more skilled and much more favoured Beantown rivals during their second round matchup last spring. Subban got in the Bruins’ face, he never let up and when he wasn’t getting in Boston’s head or under their skin, he was putting pucks in their net. Even after the Big Bad Bruins took a 3-2 series lead and everyone wrote Montreal off, Subban refused to throw in the towel and somehow stepped it up a notch, leading the Bleu et Blanc to victory in seven.  If after all that people weren’t ready to acknowledge P.K.’s place among the game’s current best, there’s something desperately wrong with their eyes. Of course, for a few of these rotten apples (and I’ve tangled with one or two online), their hatred really only runs skin deep. And speaking of skins . . .

7.  A thick one for current Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson. The slick young Swede is superbly skilled, his awesome skill set leans towards the offensive side of the game, he isn’t overly physical and he’s European. In short Big Red, he’s everything Canadian “purists” hate in a hockey player. If the Sens struggle the rest of the way and fail to qualify for the post season, it won’t take long for the Sens Army to turn on Karlsson the way it turned on then captain Jason Spezza last season. Sports fans eat their own like no one else, and Ottawa’s hockey community has proven just as eager to chow down on anyone in a Sens jersey if things don’t go as well as they planned at season’s end.  Karlson will prove no exception.

6.  A huge lump of coal for the pretentious ass hats who run the Hockey Hall of Fame. The late Pat Burns was finally inducted into the Hall this year Santa, four years after he died from cancer. The kicker is he was eligible for admission before his unfortunate death and his wife confided after his passing that he secretly hoped he would be alive to see the day when he’d be inducted. It would have been such a little thing for the brains at the HHoF to bend a rule here or there and induct him while he was alive to see and enjoy it. But no, the walking, talking vials of syphilis that run the Hall couldn’t lower themselves to be actual feeling human beings. And Santa, that coal you put in their stockings? Could you make it the exploding kind? Pretty please?

5.  A lifetime ban from the Canadian Tire Centre for the Sens and Leafs fans that got into a flying brawl last November (during the game where both teams observed a moment of silence for the recently slain Cpl. Cirillo, no less). I don’t know how it started but everyone saw how it ended, with a member of each tribe hugging each other as they hurtled down the concrete stairs. In the days following the video’s Mach speed tour of the Internet, everyone was picking sides. IT WAS THE SENS FAN’S FAULT!  IT WAS THE LEAFS FAN’S FAULT! The truth is Big Red, it was the fault of everyone involved; everyone wearing a jersey during that scuffle was a douchebag, regardless of the logo. And while odds are the idiots who went down the stairs are still feeling it (good), justice will only truly be served if the two of them, Sen and Leafs fan alike, are prevented entry into the CTC (or any other Ottawa arena). For the rest of their lives.

4.  For Martin Brodeur to retire as a New Jersey Devil. The legendary Brodeur is currently doing a fine job holding down the fort in St. Louis crease, but his contract ends in June and once Blues starter Brian Elliot recovers from injury or future franchise goalie Jake Allen is ready to assume the reigns full time, Brodeur will be a 42 year old goalie on the outside looking in. So Santa, I think it only fair (and reasonable), that next September the New Jersey Devils sign Brodeur, who wrote an entire record book during his time manning New Jersey’s net, to a one game contract. Give him a start him against Edmonton or Carolina so he can grab one final win and then retire wearing the Devils jersey on a victorious note.

3.  A case of finger leprosy for the Leafs fans who took to Twitter to criticize, insult and berate Toronto goalie James Reimer’s wife, April. When Reimer struggled last spring (during a meltdown that affected every member of the roster and spelled the end of Toronto’s post season chances) and had a few lack luster games this past fall, some Leafs “fans” thought it would be a good idea to use Twitter to go after the man’s wife. Cause y’know, that’s the bravest and most reasonable thing of all to do. It should be mentioned that Mrs. Reimer handled the situation with grace and there were no shortage of other Leafs fans who rallied to her defense, but the idea they’ll get away with it still ticks in my craw. I made a tweet criticizing the Twidiots who targeted her (and I was completely civilized-I swear!) and found myself in the cross hairs of one or two malicious malcontents. And not only that Santa, even you have to admit that the mental image of a bunch of enraged fans racing to Twitter to voice their angry venom but have to resort to pecking the keyboard with their noses because they shed their diseased fingers is hysterical.

2.  A playoff berth for the Edmonton Oilers. I’m gonna be frank with you on this one Big Red, I, like millions of other Oilers fans, have abandoned hope that we’re ever going to see another meaningful game of hockey played in the month of April without divine intervention. Our coach is a one man blunder factory who ESPN recently named the worst bench boss in the NHL, our current GM doesn’t seem to have a long term plan or know what he’s doing (an affliction also suffered by his two predecessors), we’re saddled with the worst team president in the history of, well, ever, and an owner whose indifference to the strained loyalty of the team’s suffering fans is bordering on being criminally reckless. Even the most hardcore fan and the loudest team apologists have given up. It’s isn’t like we haven’t had opportunities to right the ship that’s been sinking for nine consecutive years Santa, but we seem to have gone out of our way to squander each and every one of them. I fear if you can’t fit a small miracle under Oiler Nation’s collective Christmas tree, the playoffs will become a permanent pipe dream and we’ll be forced to sustain ourselves on the memories of our long distant glory years.

1.  This might be the biggest one of all to ask for Santa, but if you can swing it, how about a few comfortable years of remission for Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray? Things aren’t looking too bright for Mr. Murray as he battles stage four cancer and both he and his doctors have admitted that at this point the best anyone can do is manage the situation. There are few guys out there in professional sports as classy as Mr. Murray, and if anyone in the NHL currently deserves a miracle of this size, it’s him. If you can only pull off one thing on this list Santa, it should be this one and I’ll make you a deal; if you can swing this particular stocking stuffer, I’ll leave out an extra large plate of double stuff Oreos.

Shayne Kempton