The Minnesota Wild have been known to rush their prospects to the NHL, like Brent Burns, Colton Gillies and James Sheppard, but expect that to change. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
Some musings for your dining and dancing pleasure on the first Monday of The Summer of ’09:
• It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall when the revamped competition committee meets for the first time Thursday in Montreal.
There was a time when the committee had some incredibly heavy hitters on the players’ side. Just two years ago, the players’ contingent consisted of Brendan Shanahan, Rob Blake, Jarome Iginla, Martin Brodeur and Trevor Linden. Going into this meeting, the player reps are Jason Spezza, Ryan Miller, Mathieu Schneider, Jeff Halpern and Brian Campbell.
The league’s side, meanwhile, got even stronger with the addition of New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello replacing Kevin Lowe. Also on the committee from the league side are GMs Bob Gainey, Don Waddell, David Poile and Philadelphia Flyers chairman Ed Snider.
A potential sticking point for the committee will be head shots. The players want a clearly defined head shot rule and the GMs are adamant any rule of that nature would reduce the physicality in the league. Whether you agree with them or not, GMs steadfastly maintain that if you mandate an automatic penalty against head shots the way the Ontario League did this season, it would give players the ability to skate with their heads down, while carrying the puck all the time with impunity.
Again, you might disagree with them, but the GMs believe much of the responsibility for avoiding a head shot has to go to the player being hit.
The players are just as vocal and passionate that looking out for the safety of vulnerable puck-carriers will not make the game less physical.
Will the players be able to make a case against some of the most experienced GMs in the league? Perhaps, but you’d probably like their chances a lot more with the previous regime in place. Brodeur quit the committee two years ago out of frustration that his concerns were not being heard, so it could be a tall order for players with a lot less clout to make their voices count.
• Look for the Minnesota Wild’s philosophy of rushing its best young prospects into the NHL to end with the arrival of new GM Chuck Fletcher.
Fletcher comes from a solid scouting background and believes, in most cases, player development is best served by taking a more balanced approach. Under Doug Risebrough, the Wild believed its best young players would develop better in the NHL, whether they merited playing time or not, than they would going the traditional route through junior, college or Europe before graduating to fine-tune their skills in the American League.
It worked with Brent Burns and, to a lesser extent, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, but both those players were forced to play in the minors the year of the NHL lockout.
Meanwhile, James Sheppard has scored nine goals in two full seasons after coming to the NHL a year before his junior eligibility was up and Colton Gillies had just two goals in 45 games after playing most of the season as a 19-year-old.
Clearly, neither one of those players has developed into full-time capable NHL players yet and Fletcher will now be faced with the prospect of sending them to the minors next season to give them valuable experience playing in all situations. Had they developed in a more conventional manner, both of them might have been ready to step into the Wild’s lineup and contribute next season.
No player has ever been ruined by being brought along slowly, but there is an enormous scrap heap of them whose careers were crippled by being rushed.
• Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is the leading candidate to coach Canada’s Olympic team in Vancouver – an announcement that could be made sometime this week. Remember when that job all but belonged to Brent Sutter? Funny how two first round playoff exits can take you off the radar in a hurry.
And speaking of the Olympics, is there any way American coach Ron Wilson can keep Dan Bylsma off his staff? There are a number of qualified people out there, but none of them has a Stanley Cup ring. Had voting for the Jack Adams Trophy been held after the playoffs, as it should be, Bylsma would have been a slam-dunk for the award.
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Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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