Monday, June 11, 2007

The Tavares Question

The Oshawa Generals John Tavares had a great season last year. He led the Ontario Hockey League in goal-scoring by 10 goals with 72 goals(a CHL record for a player of his age), and his 134 points trailed only Pat Kane, who may be the first overall pick in this year's draft. Tavares' only problem? He was born on a Thursday, instead of the previous Sunday. Tavares was born on September 20, 1990, meaning that he is five days too young to qualify for the 2008 NHL Draft, and will instead have to wait until 2009 before he can suit up in the NHL.

There isn't a way around that rule, either. The Florida Panthers once tried, selecting Alexander Ovechkin in the 6th round of the 2003 draft, and arguing that Ovechkin, born September 17th 1985, had lived for 18 years, due to leap years. The NHL disagreed and Ovechkin had to wait until 2004 to be drafted.

But should there be a way around that rule? After all, Tavares would seem to be ready for next year's draft. Tavares would likely be a shoe-in for the top pick in the 2008 draft. Steven Stamkos, who is currently considered the top prospect for next year's draft, scored 92 points in the OHL last season, which is exceptional, but still 42 points behind what Tavares did.

If the NHL made an exception for Tavares, it wouldn't be the first time an exception was made for him. The OHL, who had seen Tavares dominate against players a year older than him, and fearing Tavares might seek a league outside of Canada to play, decided to grant him an "exceptional player" exemption, which allowed him to be taken in the draft a year earlier.

The NHL doesn't really have to worry about losing Tavares, since he'll end up in the NHL eventually, but they do have to worry about losing fans. The NHL's biggest problems are all of the negative publicity they receive in the media and a lack of TV ratings. A 17 year-old phenom could bring some good publicity and interest back into the game. If nothing else, the sports world would have to pay attention to see how the young kid would do.

There is one small caveat though. I think it's absolutely essential that Tavares ends up in the Western Conference. The NHL has done a great job marketing Sidney Crosby, and to a lesser extent, Alexander Ovechkin. The problem is that both of those players play in the east, meaning Western Conference teams only get to see those players maybe once a year. Sidney Crosby helped draw a sellout in Phoenix when Pittsburgh came to town earlier this year. But Pittsburgh only played once in Phoenix, and with so many teams in the league, there's only so much Sidney to go around. Meanwhile, the West lacks a true young star. Joe Sakic is great, but on his way out. Joe Thornton scores a lot of points, but last year he had 4 assists for every goal he scored. And Jarome Iginla plays in Canada. Someone young like Tavares that can score a lot of goals would draw a lot of attention in the West.

Of course the NHL can't rig their draft order so a western team gets the first pick. It's not like this is professional wrestling or the NBA. I'm just saying that it would be really nice if it worked out that way.

It's really in the NHL's best interest to let Tavares into the draft a year early. It would be easy to do, as well. They'd just have to do the same thing that the OHL did. Create an "exceptional player exemption" that players must apply for, and allow the NHL to make the final decision. They could even call it the "Tavares Rule".

John Tavares will be ready for the NHL in 2008, and the NHL is more than ready for another superstar like Tavares. It only makes sense to not force him to wait just because of when he was born.