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Monday, June 29, 2009

The "Non-Traditional" Invasion Begins

Well, well, well...The 2009 NHL Entry Draft took place last weekend, and Big Tex feels like doing a little victory dance. Some of you may remember a blog post from early May, in which I stated that non-traditional market teams were helping to grow the NHL's talent pool. Others may remember me making the same argument in comments on one of my favorite sites, Illegal Curve. Naturally, as I watched the draft, I was particularly cognizant of draftees from "Non-Traditional" markets. Here's the breakdown, by state of birth:

Utah: 1 (Dylan Olsen - 28th - CHI)
Texas: 1 (Chris Brown - 36th - PHX)
Colorado: 2 (Matt Clark - 37th - ANA & Drew Shore - 44th - FLA)
California: 3 (Kyle Bigos - 99th - EDM, Brandon Kozun - 179th - LAK & Mitchell Callahan - 180th - DET)
Florida: 1 (Brandon Maxwell - 154th - COL)
Arizona: 1 (Anthony Hamburg - 193rd - MIN)(NOTE: Hamburg gets DOUBLE non-traditional points because he was drafted out of the Dallas Stars' AAA Midget team)
Alabama: 1 (Nic Dowd - 198th - LAK)

That's a total of TEN draftees from non-traditional markets. According to nhl.com, that makes the 2009 Non-Traditional Market Draft Class roughly 43% larger than the 2009 Russian Draft Class. Yes, I'm well aware of the reasons (KHL) behind the NHL's reluctance (no transfer agreement) to draft Russians these days (KHL, cough, cough), but it is heartening to see the development of a new talent pool to help offset the rapidly dwindling Russian pipeline. The question all you makeitseven folks should ask yourselves is this: Without the Stars, Avalanche, Coyotes, Panthers and KingsDucksSharks (among others), would these kids have been drafted into the NHL, NFL or MLB?

I'll say it again, both because I believe it and because I like to repeat myself: Non-traditional market franchises, while an affront to Canadian and East Coast hockey purists, are helping grow the NHL talent pool. In the long-term, the growth of the talent pool will allow for expansion without a significant drop-off in quality of the on-ice product, and will gradually raise the level of play throughout the league. So, in regards to the so-called "Southern Strategy", I'm going to say something I've never directly stated before now, and may never say again: Gary Bettman was right.

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Mark said...

Agree with your assessment of the value of the so-called nontraditional hockey markets. Having grown up in the West, I see a big difference in what the hockey situation was like back in the 70s and today. No question that having NHL teams in the South and West will eventually grab more top athletes in these areas

Justin said...

I wouldn't go so far as to say Gary Bettman was right.

I will agree that this is the underrated benefit to the "southern strategy."

But clearly the expansion was too much too quick, and couple markets were clearly researched poorly (Phoenix, Nashvile for sure).

Still I'd like to continue to see players from these places as that will be the key to sustaining the league, especially if the influx from Russia is going to slow down while the NHL and KHL fight it out.

JoshC said...

Chris Brown took a USHL detour, but he's also a Dallas Stars youth program product.

Mark said...

I ignored that Bettman was right comment. Once you say it, you cannot take it back. I don't think the markets were poorly researched. Rather I blame the owners with big hats and no cattle. The situation reminds me of the WHA, which would storm into the western US, poison a market with fly-by-night management, and then flee. San Diego, Denver, Phoenix and Houston were hurt by this.

Denver failed once as a WHA town and endured several poor management groups with the Rockies before they were taken to the Swamp.

The Nords have succeeded as the Avs in Colorado because management made some smart decisions early and spent some money to ensure the fans there had a competitive team. And they did this without trying to have a mall or an office park (and the debts related to such land speculation) tied to the fortunes of the team.

Big Tex said...

Justin, I agree that the expansion from 21 to 30 teams happened too quickly for the talent pool to keep up (thus was born the 'dead puck' era of the late 90's-early 00's). While I'm not sold on the idea that the markets were poorly researched prior to expansion, the decision to build the Coyotes' new arena on the opposide side of town from their fan base was appalling, and it's the primary reason for their current predicament.

JoshC, I thought about awarding double non-traditional points to Chris Brown, too, but decided to draw the line at last team of record. It's true, though, that Brown came up through the ranks of the Dallas Stars youth program. As a Native Texan and a Stars fan, I'm hoping for the best for both Brown and Hamburg.

Mark, I think you're on target: The owners wanted the expansion fees, consequences be damned. If you haven't read 'The Rebel League', about the WHA, I highly recommend it.

Dave said...

I will agree that hockey is now semi-popular in non traditional markets, but some of the players you listed are bad examples. Dylan olsen- lists hometown as calgary. Born in utah because dad was playing in minors. Nationality is canadian. Chris Brown- Played in dallas until 15, then movid to detroit to play. Matt Clark- Playing in Canadian Juniors and team Canada invite. Drew Shore- I'll give you that, but plays for USNDP in Ann Arbor, MI. Kyle Bigos- Plays in BCHL, left Cali before soph. high school year to play in Canada. Brandon Kozun- Played High School Hockey for Shattuck St. Mary in Minnesota and now in AJHL. Mitchell Callahan- Plays for Kelowna B.C. also dad is from Toronto so would have played hockey even if he lived in Mexico. Brandon Maxwell- Born in Fl. but raised in Canada. Anthony Hamburg- OK. Nic Dowd- Ok.

R. Shaw said...

Dave is right, most of the US picks have a Canadian connection and these propects still won't get football and basketball fans to attend hockey games. Make it Seven wants to have hockey where the interest is. Professional golf would not be a big draw in the North Pole!!!

Anonymous said...

"Professional golf would not be a big draw in the North Pole!!!"

Actually, that'd be f'n hilarious, as long as I could watch it televised.

Big Tex said...

Dave - It's true that not all of the prospects I mentioned are good examples, but you also helped me make my point: To mention just two examples, Chris Brown played in Dallas until the age of 15 and Kyle Bigos played in California until the age of 15. Were it not for the Dallas Stars and the West Coast NHL teams, odds are these kids wouldn't have grown up playing hockey, because the local interest wouldn't be there, and the local youth hockey programs would be much smaller (if they existed at all).

RShaw: As I've said previously, I'm all for striking a balance between growing the game and rewarding hockey's birthplace. MakeItSeven? Hell, MakeItEight - I'm all for putting a 2nd franchise in Toronto and returning the NHL to Winnipeg. What I'm opposed to, however, is adding Canadian clubs through relocation of American clubs. Growing the NHL talent pool will help make expansion possible, and I believe sustaining the non-traditional market teams is key to that end.