IS IT OVER YET?
The Stanley Cup Final is finally over! Not that the hockey season and playoffs weren’t exciting, but let’s face it, June 15th is late for the average fan to be thinking about hockey. But wait, it’s not over yet. The NHL Entry Draft is coming up on Friday, June 24th and 25th in St-Paul Minnesota.
The two day event is hosted by a different NHL city every year and attracts thousands of hockey staff, media, fans, players, their families and agents. The NHL draft has evolved over the years and seems to grow in exposure and popularity as each city wants to be the best host.
Here are a few facts about the NHL Draft that a good hockey fan should know and a personal story:
The first draft was held in Montreal, June 5, 1963 and has been held every year since. Once it was known as the “NHL Amateur Draft” until 1979 when the name was changed to “NHL Entry Draft”. Why the name change, you ask? The reason for the change was because the NHL was drafting players who had played Professional in the World Hockey Association and were no longer “amateur” players.
The two day format was introduced in 1993. The first round which takes about 3-4 hours is held on the first day and the remaining 6 rounds the next day.
Toronto was the first city to hold the draft other than Montreal in 1985 and the first NHL Draft held outside of Canada was at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit in 1987.
For the players, it’s much more exciting today than it was when I played Jr. Hockey in the Quebec Jr. Hockey League. I was drafted in the first round, 5th overall, by the Montreal Canadiens in 1966. The draft system was in its infancy then. Prior to the development of the “Amateur Draft”, NHL teams sponsored junior teams, and signed prospects through them. Players were signed to one of three forms: the “A” form, which committed a player to a tryout; a “B” form, which gave the team an option to sign a player in return for a bonus; and the “C” form, which committed a player’s professional rights. The first drafts only included players who had not signed with an NHL organization except for the Montreal Canadiens.
A rule that favored the Canadiens, allowed them to draft two French Canadiens every year whether they had signed a form or not. The Habs drafted me away from the Boston Bruins with their #1 choice and 5th overall in 1966.
Being drafted was much different than the “BIG SHOW” they put on today. I learned of my fate in the newspaper and nobody from the Canadiens contacted me until it was time to report to training camp. Being drafted was a total surprise for me as I knew nothing about this rule allowing the Canadiens to swipe players away from the other teams. Former Bruins General Manager Milt Schmidt told me later that they contested my French Canadian status because my father was born in Hawkesbury, Ontario. But I was born in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec and although Hawkesbury is in Ontario, it is a French town and the Bruins checked my dad’s birth certificate which was written in French.
This rule was applied until 1970 when other NHL teams realized that a young “star” named Gilbert Perreault was coming through the Quebec league and was eligible for that draft. With expansion looming, the rule was abolished. The last two players to be selected by Montreal under that “French Canadian” rule were my former teammates, Marc Tardif and Rejean Houle.
So anybody who is somebody in the Hockey Circles will be in St-Paul Minnesota this week-end to participate in the NHL Entry Draft and, in some way, celebrate the conclusion of another NHL season…BUT WAIT! The official Free Agent List comes out July 1st which will open the 2011-12 season. Here we go again…! It never seems to end…!
HAVE A GREAT HOCKEY DAY!
In memory of my good friend E.J. Macguire who loved draft day.