TORONTO - It was the tweet heard ’round the hockey world.
And it spoke volumes about the modern game.
In case you may have missed it, the author of this, uh, insightful message was injured Edmonton Oilers defenceman Ryan Whitney, who wasted little time reacting to the news that rookie teammate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was not going to be sent back to junior this past week.
“The Nuge is staying in NHL, huh?” Whitney tweeted. “What a shocker. In other news, the sky is blue, grass is green and it’s going to (be cold) in Edmonton in January.”
In other words, in the minds of his fellow Oilers, Nugent-Hopkins was a slam dunk to stay.
Who cares if he’s just a teenager? Didn’t Taylor Hall show the Oilers a year earlier that 18- and 19-year-olds do have a place in the NHL?
According to budding New York Islanders star John Tavares, the answer is yes.
In fact, Tavares, the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, figures more and more teens could be making the jump straight from junior into the NHL in coming years.
“I could see that being a trend,” Tavares said during a phone interview from Long Island. “I think you’ll see that trend continue.
“There are guys coming out of junior now who are just so prepared, both mentally and physically. Time is spent over the summer following workout programs specifically designed on getting you prepared for life in the NHL.
“I think it was Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin who really showed the impact a rookie can have stepping in right from the draft to an NHL lineup.”
Nugent-Hopkins, Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog, Tampa Bay’s Brett Connolly and Philly’s Sean Couturier all are among those rookies whose respective teams in the past few days opted to keep these terrific teens on the roster instead of sending them back to junior.
Here’s how the decision process works regarding these rookies.
Teams have nine regular season games to give draft picks a so-called “NHL tryout.” If such a player participates in a 10th game, the organization is on the hook for the first year of his three-year entry level contract, even if he doesn’t play an 11th contest for the remainder of the season.
Of course, keeping a Nugent-Hopkins or a Landeskog means those players are one year closer to landing a financial windfall when their entry deal is up.
In the case of Tavares, he didn’t even get to his third year before landing that lucrative long-term extension. After posting seasons of 54 and 67 points, he was rewarded with a six-year, $33-million US during the off-season.
The moment Tavares put pen to paper, it ended much of the out-of-control speculation late last season that he would bolt from the Island for greener pastures once his entry level contract had expired.
The insinuation was that a player of Tavares’ talents and selling power would be champing at the bit to find a more stable organization than the Islanders, the one-time sad sack franchise that has been the butt of many a hockey joke for years.
Even when Tavares told the Toronto Sun last March that he was not actively seeking a change of scenery, sceptics did not believe his alleged loyalty to the Islanders.
They do now.
“Maybe some people didn’t buy into it, but I see things differently from them,” Tavares said. “I am grateful to the New York Islanders for picking me first overall in 2009. They showed confidence and faith in me, and I want to repay them for that.
“Negative things get said about the organization because it seems to be an easy target. The building is older. The team has struggled for a while. But I like the direction they are headed in. And I have confidence in the people here.
“If this was about the money, who knows? But this wasn’t about greed. This was about staying somewhere where I was comfortable.”
With 10 points in eight games heading into play on Saturday, Tavares appears quite comfy in Uniondale.
Much like Crosby, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Landeskog, Patrick Kane, Drew Doughty, Steven Stamkos and Matt Duchene, just to name a few, Tavares was a teenager when he first came to the NHL. And, from that standpoint, he’s encouraged by what he sees.
“I think in a few years, you’ll see this league even better than it is now,” Tavares said. “Just look at those names you mentioned.”
A list the name John Tavares belongs on too.
WILL YOUTH BE SERVED IN SOCHI?
If NHLers do participate in the 2014 Olympics, it could be a very young Canadian team that takes to the ice. With an eye on all the young guns in mind, here is one ink-stained wretch’s attempt to predict Canada’s potential 23-man roster. Note that 14 players are 25 or under.
*Sidney Crosby PIT
*Steven Stamkos TB
*John Tavares NYI
*Jonathan Toews CHI
*Claude Giroux PHIL
*Matt Duchene COL
*James Neal PIT
*Jeff Skinner CAR
Corey Perry ANA
Ryan Getzlaf ANA
Rick Nash CLB
Eric Staal CAR
Mike Richards LA
*Drew Doughty LA
*Shea Weber NASH
*Alex Pietrangelo STL
*P.K. Subban MON
*Kris Letang PIT
Brent Seabrook CHI
Duncan Keith CHI
*Carey Price MON
Cam Ward CAR
Marc-Andre Fleury PIT
* — 25 or younger
MARKING THE OCCASION IN T.O.
Richard Peddie won’t be around to preside over the occasion.
But the outgoing president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment would love to see the Leafs get either the draft or all-star game in 2016-17, marking the 100th anniversary of both the NHL and the Toronto franchise, which was born as the Arenas at the time.
While it became common knowledge over the summer that the Leafs are gunning to host a draft, all-star game and outdoor game in the years leading up to 2016-17, team officials now confirm they would like at least one of those events to take place in the actual anniversary season.
“We’ve talked about it,” Peddie confirmed. “In theory, hosting an event like that during the actual (anniversary) season would be ideal.
“It won’t be under my watch. But I can say the relationship between the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs is as good as I can ever remember.”
To that end, the Leafs privately hosted commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commish Bill Daly during a recent game in which the Toronto orgaization honoured Hall of Famer Jim Gregory.
“When they heard we were doing it, they both wanted to come,” Peddie said. “They flew in just for that.”
1. To The New York Rangers
A Charitable Handout to Improve Ice Conditions
Pass around the collection plate, hockey fans. Madison Square Garden needs your funds to update their horrific ice conditions, which made the puck bounce like a tennis ball during the Rangers season opener against the Maple Leafs on Thursday. After all, you didn’t expect there to be any $$$ to be left over for a better playing surface as part of MSG’s $850 million US renovation, did you? Sarcasm aside, it’s brutal that the ice isn’t better there, no matter how many events are held at the World’s self-proclaimed Most Famous Arena. With all that money being shelled out, find a few bucks for the ice.
2. To the Montreal Canadiens
Kudos For Adjusting The Glass in Your Rink, Finally
There was a lot of hype surrounding Saturday night’s game between the Habs and Bruins at the Bell Centre, primarily because it was Zdeno Chara’s first game in that building since his controversial hit on Max Pacioretty into the divider partition bordering the bench last March. Look past all the boos and the smack talk, however, and the most important aspect here is that the Canadiens installed curved, more forgiving glass in several areas including the one where Pacioretty made impact. Just one question: As one of the last NHL arenas to switch over to the new glass, what took so long?
3. To Mats Sundin
A Well-Deserved Banner in the ACC Rafters
As the leading scorer in franchise history as well as being a class act, Sundin deserves to see his banner raised at the Air Canada Centre, an event that reportedly will take place prior to a game against the Habs on Feb. 11. Keeping that in mind, we ask the same question once again: What took so long?