When it comes to work stoppages in professional sports, every sports league in the world bows and kneels before the altar of the NHL. After never having interrupted a single season in the first 74 years of its existence, the World Premier Hockey League closed four times between 1992 and 2013 due to labor disputes, including the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season.
Of course, the current suspension of the game in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has nothing to do with a collapse in employer-employee relations. The NHL made the right call on cease operations until the time is right. But once again it begs the question for hockey fans: "Why does this always happen to us?"
Regardless of the decision made regarding the regular season, the only thing fans can count on is the NHL draft, which was scheduled for the last weekend of June in Montreal, but has since been postponed . The league may never resume play, but history tells us it is more than willing to go ahead with the draft, even if it means breaking with tradition and standard operating procedure.
As in 2005.
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It was in late July of that summer, one that followed the canceled 2004-05 campaign, when the owners and the players' association, led by Bob Goodenow, finally reached an agreement to end the most infamous work stoppage in history of sport. One of the key tasks that required immediate attention was the entry draft. The blockade officially ended on the morning of July 22, and just a few hours later, the NHL held an official press conference to outline the way forward for the draw and the draft itself.
Based on the club's comments and recommendations, and in accordance with the guidelines outlined in the NHL's new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the drawing for the renewed drawing would take place immediately. In fact, both the official lottery announcement and league commissioner Gary Bettman took place simultaneously in different areas of the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers. There was simply no free moment.
It was during Bettman's presser that he described the details of the draft, which would take place in Ottawa on July 30, but had limited scope, scale, and coverage compared to previous events. However, the biggest difference was that the summer of 2005 was more than a watershed moment due to the end of the blockade. It also marked the long-awaited opportunity for NHL clubs to recruit Sidney Crosby, who at the time was considered the most coveted prospect since Eric Lindros in 1991.
“The fact is that (the 2005 draft) is a unique circumstance. The draft and draft order traditionally reflect how teams ended a particular season. We already had that draft in 2003-04. But we also wanted to consider how some teams have performed over time and need help. But considering also that nobody knows exactly what the new world will be like, so half of the league probably wanted everyone to have the same chance and the other half wanted all the teams that didn't make the playoffs to have only chances: weighted or unweighted. And if we look at the statistical probabilities of both scenarios, what we did is in the middle. No one was particularly excited, but everyone understood that, taken as a whole, it was probably the fairest way to approach it. ”
– Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner (July 22, 2005)
Now that the administrative formalities surrounding the 2005 draft were addressed, the next step was for general managers and their explorers to implement the draft strategies they had cultivated in the previous 12 months. Unlike in other years when only teams that didn't play in the playoffs had a first-choice shot, the 2005 draw was designed to give all 30 teams a shot at Crosby, with the highest odds for four. teams: the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Rangers, the Buffalo Sabers and the Columbus Blue Jackets. All four compared to the rest of the league were considered to have unmatched levels of ineptitude for the previous three seasons. The Penguins had the worst record in the league in the 2003-04 season.
They had no illusions about who was going to be the top overall pick in 2005. Crosby not only won the Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year Award in each of his two pre-draft seasons, but also outperformed his most Close competitors in the Quebec Junior Junior Hockey League by a massive margin: His average of 2.71 points per game in 2004-05 was the highest for a 17-year-old prospect since Mario Lemieux in 1982-83.
While all organizations, including perennial powers like Detroit Red Wings, Colorado Avalanche, New Jersey Devils and even 2004 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, would welcome the addition of a generational star like Crosby, several teams in the NHL were in desperate need of a financial boost.
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In the early 2000s, it was no secret that the Penguins were a struggling franchise with an uncertain future long before the cancellation of the 2004-05 season. The team was purchased by Lemieux in 1999 from the federal bankruptcy court, but it was a colossal failure on ice and he was already forced to swap expensive stars like Jaromir Jagr, Alexei Kovalev and Ron Francis.
The penguins were not only struggling to generate fan interest, but were also in danger of being relocated. The Mellon Arena lease expired in 2007, and rumors were circulating that the penguins would eventually be sold and moved elsewhere, with Houston, Portland and Kansas City as the top candidates.
As for odds, the Penguins had a 6.25 percent chance of winning the lottery and recruiting Crosby, who at 18 was not only ready for the NHL, but was also capable of resurrecting the franchise from the bottom. of the classification. If the city of Pittsburgh wanted to keep its hockey team, the quickest way to convince investors and season ticket holders to stay on board was to have a franchise player not only to market but also to help make of the city an attraction for possible free agents.
The even bigger piece was getting a new arena, which would have been nearly impossible without the power of Crosby's star as a selling point.
As in today's NHL, the 2005 lottery draw was held in a private room with representation from the league and all 30 teams. The setup back then was no different than what we've seen in recent years. Lots of ping pong balls are drawn from an air blow hopper to determine the order of the eraser, with the results delivered by opening 30 envelopes, each with a card that reveals the team's logo. The team card in the last remaining envelope would be the winner of the first choice.
However, the biggest difference was the lack of national television coverage in the United States. The closure and subsequent decline in interest, along with the decline in ratings during the end of the "Age of the Dead Puck,quot; convinced the ESPN mega sports provider to turn down a $ 60 million option that would have seen it in games. during the 2005-06 season. As famous as Crosby was becoming, ESPN had already lost interest not only in the NHL, but also in the NHL draft. Thus, only a handful of US regional cable networks. USA They will broadcast the event live.
However, when the draw concluded, it was the penguins who took home the grand prize.
Within minutes of being awarded the first overall pick, the franchise once trampled on became a popular item again. Season ticket subscriptions were renewed and individual game sales more than doubled from the previous season, all before the official selection was made eight days later in Ottawa.
"The fact that we have the first team overall and have a good chance to rebuild the franchise with a great young player like Sidney is something special and we look forward to rebuilding the team."
– The owner of the Penguins team, Mario Lemieux (July 22, 2005)
Draft Day & # 39; 05
The NHL already had agreements with the Ottawa senators to organize the 2005 draft in what was then known as the Corel Center from June 25 to 26, before the league postponed the event on March 24 of that year. The NHL's initial response was to draft the final draft via conference call, but then switched to a live event at an Ottawa hotel with full representation from the NHL team along with 20 of the best prospects agree with the final rankings of Central Scouting.
The lottery draw and multiple statements in the GM Craig Patrick and Lemieux de Penguins record that they were drafting Crosby may have decreased the level of intrigue that normally surrounds the top pick of most drafts, but that did not prevent the teams will try to land the phenomenon the hard way.
“All the teams have called and asked (about the exchange of the first team) but they knew the answer. But they have to go back to their owners and tell them they tried. There were no offers, only interest, and we told them there was no interest. "
– GM Craig Patrick of Pittsburgh (July 30, 2005)
To no one's surprise, Crosby was the first player off the board, followed by winger Bobby Ryan to the Anaheim Ducks and defender Jack Johnson to the Carolina Hurricanes. Other notables of that class in 2005 include star goalkeepers Carey Price (fifth general) and Tuukka Rask (21st general); Two-time Stanley Cup winner (11th overall), plus center Paul Stastny (44th overall), Anze Kopitar. The surprising thing is that the top three defenders in that draft – Marc-Edouard Vlasic (35th overall), Kris Letang (62nd overall) and Keith Yandle (105th overall) – were chosen outside of the first round.
Thanks to a new CBA, the number of rounds in 2005 was reduced from nine to seven; a standard that exists to this day. The 230 players selected in 2005 also included 18 compensatory picks, and both totals represent the most in a draft year since the CBA was signed 2005-06. He was also one of the last drafts to have all seven rounds in one day. The league tried again in 2007 before switching to the current Round 1 format on Friday and Rounds 2-7 the following day.
As for the penguins, the blueprint boasts of forecasters who praised Crosby as the savior of a desperate franchise, they were validated almost immediately. And while Crosby's impressive 102-point rookie season was not enough to prevent another losing campaign in Pittsburgh in 2006, the buzz it generated was felt throughout the league and in North America in general.
In 2007, Crosby was a league scoring champion and MVP, while leading the penguins to the playoffs. The following season, the Penguins were in the Stanley Cup Final, and in August 2008, they started a new arena. Since joining the league, Crosby has captained the Penguins in three Stanley Cup championships and 13 consecutive playoff appearances while winning two Hart Trophies; two Ross trophies; and consecutive Conn Smythe trophies in 2016 and 2017.