Tavares too good for OHL?
Teen may force NHL rule change
Ryan Pyette Sun Media
The agents for hockey phenom John Tavares still want their client declared eligible for next year’s NHL entry draft.
London’s Brian MacDonald, a former Colorado Avalanche assistant GM, said the Siskinds Sports Management (SSM) team will forge ahead despite the NHL declaring that the 16-year-old Oshawa Generals scoring star must wait until 2009 to be selected by a big league team.
“It’s not (a setback that the NHL stands by the rule) and it’s only the beginning of the process,” MacDonald said yesterday at the Western Fair Sports Centre where Tavares and a host of other clients are skating in an SSM-led summer camp this week. “We still have an interest in pursuing this issue.”
The NHL has been asked to change its rules on draft eligible players in the past, usually in the face of legal challenge over age of majority or a unique situation such as the advent of the rival World Hockey Association.
But the Siskinds group sees Tavares’ case as falling in the language of the collective bargaining agreement and will ask the union to support the argument that the would-be 17-year-old should become eligible for the 2008 draft.
“We’re talking to the NHL player’s association about it because we believe the Sept. 15 cutoff date (Tavares was born on Sept. 20) is antiquated and doesn’t fit in with the present day player,” SSM director of sports Bryan Deasley said. “We’re not looking at this as a league vs. PA situation.”
The aim will be to push through an exception clause much like the OHL example in 2005 when the league granted Tavares the right to enter the priority selection early.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league is open to listening to an argument for exceptional status but the difficulty would be in having the member teams agree to altering the current agreement.
“We have told the Tavares group that if they have a specific proposal to make we would of course consider it as a league, but that I wasn’t overly optimistic that the clubs would be receptive to making a change to our existing rules,” Daly wrote in an e-mail. “The CBA has very specific rules on standard player contracts and the type of contract you need to be eligible to play in the league.”
Tavares, who followed up a 45-goal OHL rookie campaign by breaking Wayne Gretzky’s league record for goals by a 16-year-old with 72 while winning player of the year honours, will be the favourite to be the No. 1 pick in whatever draft he becomes available. He is focused on his third OHL campaign this fall and another crack at making the Canadian world junior hockey team after being one of the final cuts last year.
“I’m not worried about that (the NHL draft) right now — I’m just going to try to improve my game and become the best player I can and everything else should fall into place,” he said. “I’m looking forward to my third year in Oshawa because it looks like we should have one of the better teams in the league . . . and to play in the (upcoming eight-game) Canada-Russia Summit Series this summer.”
The biggest argument in favour of Tavares’ eligibility isn’t whether or not he is good enough to play in the NHL shortly after his 18th birthday but rather if it’s fair to deny a player a chance to improve and develop while his peer group gets drafted, attends an NHL camp and returns to the OHL with skills learned from those experiences.
Belleville Bulls forward Bryan Cameron, who just returned from Los Angeles Kings development camp and took part in the SSM skate yesterday, has competed against Tavares for two years and had a first-hand look of his talent.
“When he gets a handle on the puck, it’s like it’s stuck to his stick and there’s really nothing you can do about it,” he said. “At that point, he pretty much does what he wants out there.”
Though Tavares is an attractive pro prospect, he is clearly not the first to challenge the current hockey system.
In 1979, agent Art Kaminsky threatened to sue the NHL if they didn’t allow under-age client Tom McCarthy of Oshawa to be eligible for the draft. But the league avoided trouble by holding the draft two months late in August — shortly after McCarthy’s 19th birthday — and adding 18-year-olds to the mix in 1980.