By Ken Bungay
With the 2012 NHL Draft just days away, I started thinking about past draft picks and sports phenoms. With today's salaries, teams can't afford to make too many mistakes drafting and signing players. It can take a team years to recover if players don't work out. Salary cap rules and contract terms can make it difficult for teams to trade away mistakes. Every sports fan has their favourite boom or bust story. Here are a few names that come to mind:
Pitcher Stephen Strasburg seems to be working out for the Washington Nationals. Called the "most-hyped pick in draft history" by ESPN when he was selected number one overall in the 2009 MLB draft, the Nats signed him to a 4 year $15 million contract. He is 8-1 this year with a 2.45 ERA and 100 strike outs - second only in the majors to Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers. Strasburg's MLB record to date is 14-5 over 2+ seasons. Maybe it will work out, who knows. But the Nats are currently leading their division and home attendance is up, maybe that's all that matters.
Guy Lafleur definitely lived up to expectations. Lafleur was a highly touted junior star with the Quebec Remparts. Montreal Canadiens GM Sam Pollock had previously obtained the 1971 first overall pick from the California Golden Seals in one of the more lopsided deals in NHL history. Lafleur is the Habs' all-time leading scorer with 1,246 points in his 14 seasons with the Canadiens, winning 5 Stanley Cups in the process. A superstar. Nice trade Sam.
Gilbert Perreault and Dale Tallon - 1970 was an interesting NHL draft year, with the league expanding by adding Buffalo and Vancouver. The expansion franchises had the first 2 picks and the selection order was determined by spinning a giant roulette wheel.
Both teams wanted Perreault and Buffalo won the pick. Perreault played his entire 17 year career with the Sabres, totalling 1326 points, much of the time centering the fabulous French Connection line, with Rick Martin and Rene Robert. Defenseman Dale Tallon was selected 2nd by the Canucks. He had a solid career (he was also a terrific golfer, winning the 1969 Canadian Junior Golf Championship). Tallon played 10 years in the NHL and has become a first rate NHL executive. He has been nominated for the NHL's 2012 General Manager of the Year following the success of the Florida Panthers this past season. I hope he wins. But the clear winner of the 1970 NHL draft was Buffalo.
Alexander Daigle - perhaps one of the most famous Ottawa Senator draft picks. Sorry Sens fans, but here are the facts. Daigle was selected first overall in the 1993 NHL draft. He was selected before Chris Pronger, Paul Kariya, Rob Niedermayer, Viktor Kozlov, Jason Allison, Saku Koivu, etc. (Wow. There were some great players available in 1993.) He managed 74 goals in 4 plus seasons in Ottawa. There were some off-ice issues apparently. Off-ice issues seem to get ignored when you are winning scoring titles and championships.
Wayne Gretzky - definitely walked the walk. What can you say? Growing up in Southern Ontario in the 1960's, it was common to read stories out of Brantford about some 10 year old kid scoring 400 goals a season. No one on my Peewee hockey team was doing that. I figured they must have some special kind of Astro-Ice in Brantford, or their nets were 12 feet wide. Apparently not.
Which brings me to Joe - Super Joe Charboneau of the 1980 Cleveland Indians. He was the 1980 American League Rookie of the Year - batting .289 with 23 home runs and 87 RBI's. Super Joe ended his MLB career with 29 total home runs, which pretty much tells you what happened after his rookie season. Not much. They wrote a song about Joe - a punk rock song.
He was the King of Cleveland in 1980. He was featured in Sports Illustrated and People magazine. He was the third player in baseball history to hit a home run into the third deck in left field at Yankee Stadium. Joe was a man of the people - he ate raw eggs and drank beer through his nose. He won a chicken wing eating contest against the San Diego Chicken mascot. Joe was injured in spring training in 1981 and released by the Indians in 1983. But to this day he is still known in Cleveland as Super Joe Charboneau.
Postscript: The draft order for next week's NHL Draft has Edmonton picking first (again). The Oilers have had the first pick 3 years in a row. You would think a team that has had so many good draft picks could make the playoffs. Maybe this is their year. Canada's beloved Toronto Maple Leafs select 5th overall this year. In 2009 they selected Nazem Kadri with the 7th pick. An optimist would say he is still young and he has some upside. Maybe, but after trading away their 2010 and 2011 first round pick picks to Boston in the Phil Kessel deal, Leaf fans are weary of hearing "wait until next year". Toronto's 2012 selection needs to be a winner.
Note: Stanley Cup winning LA Kings Captain Dustin Brown was selected 13th overall in the 2003 NHL draft. Good pick. MVP Goalie Jonathan Quick was selected by the Kings in the 3rd round of the 2005 draft, the 72nd player chosen. Great pick. He was the 8th goaltender picked that year, behind Tyler Plante, Jeff Frazee and Kristopher Westblom. Who?