July 22, 2005.
I was sitting in my car, stuck in traffic on the bridge entering Carolina Beach, waiting to finally reach the surf with my family. My wife and I were eagerly anticipating our 2-year-old daughter’s first trip to the coast, to see what she'd think of the gritty sand between her toes, the crashing waves, and the pelicans, with their broad wings and oversized beaks.
But that Friday — the beginning to a long, memorable summer weekend for us, along with countless others in the Carolinas and beyond — was also a pivotal day in hockey history: the Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes.
It still is remembered that way. But for a lot of other players and teams, the 2005 NHL Entry Draft is about something else: loss and failure, untapped potential and wanton trades. The latest of which happened yesterday.
But back to that fateful day. Sitting on that bridge, I listened closely as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman read the results to the one-of-a-kind NHL Draft Lottery, an event different from any before. The names of each team were read in reverse order.
Tampa Bay at 30.
Calgary at 26.
Division foe Washington was 14th.
With each team and their corresponding selection, the stakes got higher. Vancouver at 10. Columbus — one of four teams with a high of three balls in the machine — went off the board at six. That left only Pittsburgh as a remaining favorite, with Anaheim, Minnesota, Montreal and, yes, Carolina with a shot at nabbing the top overall pick and the rights to select sure-fire star Crosby.
The Habs — a long shot with just one sphere rattling among 45 others — went next. Then the Wild. Final three. I gripped the wheel, and explained to my wife the significance of the moment. I knew that, regardless of the remaining results, the Hurricanes were in position to land a big-time prospect. But this was Sidney Crosby: The Next One.
By landing the third pick, the Canes fell shy of getting Crosby, and even prized Michigan defenseman Jack Johnson seemed out of reach. That left Benoit Pouliot as the top-rated player likely to be on the board, along with the likes of Bobby Ryan, Gilbert Brule and Anze Kopitar. Personally, I was leaning toward Pouliot; a big, skilled forward out of Sudbury in the OHL.
Nine days after the lottery, the teams gathered for the draft. The Pens, of course, took Crosby. I waited for Anaheim to take Johnson so I could finally see who Carolina GM Jim Rutherford would select at No. 3. But Brian Burke, then the Ducks GM, threw the league a curveball and chose Ryan second overall. Rutherford — who has been reluctant to use his first-round picks on defensemen — had no choice but to choose Johnson, whose physical play coupled with offensive instincts had many penciling him in as a No. 1 blueliner for years to come.
Just 14 months and one day later, the Carolina Hurricanes — having stunningly won the Stanley Cup in 2006 — dealt Johnson, along with salary burden Oleg Tverdovsky, to Los Angeles for defenseman Tim Gleason and center Eric Belanger.
Yesterday, the Wild gave up on the fourth overall pick, Pouliot, sending him to Montreal for a second-rounder from the same year, Guillame Latendresse. Johnson was the second of the 30 first-round picks traded from that year's draft — Tuukka Rask was traded by Toronto to Boston on draft day 2006 for fellow goalie Andrew Raycroft — and Pouliot is the latest to find himself moving on to a new city.
Looking down the list of the first round picks from 2005, the Johnson trade still stands out as the blockbuster — and one that, despite early expert analysis suggesting Carolina was ripped off, leans toward Carolina's favor given Johnson’s struggles and Gleason’s growth.
Crosby and Ryan — the top two picks — have emerged as a superstar and emerging star respectively. Johnson, at No. 3, is with the Kings and, despite playing on a very good, young team, is a team-worst minus-11 with just two goals and four assists in 24 games (Gleason, on the other hand, is 4-2-6 and minus-1 in 18 games on the last place team in the league, plus a team leader). The teams who picked first, second and third are probably happy with how things panned out for them (though surely Johnson’s antics in not turning pro infuriated Rutherford at the time).
The rest of the league? Well, most probably aren't all that happy.
Here are the other players who are either no longer with the team that chose them in the first round in 2005:
- No. 4 — Benoit Pouliot, Minnesota: Traded yesterday (Nov. 23, 2009) to Montreal for Guillame Latendresse. Career stats: 65 GP, 9-9-18
- No. 6 — Gilbert Brule, Columbus: Traded July 1, 2008, to Edmonton for Raffi Torres. Career stats: 178 GP, 20-28-48
- No. 10 — Luc Bourdon, Vancouver: Killed in a motorcycle accident May 29, 2008. Career stats: 36 GP, 2-0-2
- No. 13 — Marek Zagrapan, Buffalo: Signed with Severstal of the KHL May 9, 2009. No NHL games played.
- No. 14 — Sasha Pokulok, Washington: Was not tendered a qualifying offer June 29, 2009. Currently in the ECHL. No NHL games played.
- No. 15 — Ryan O’Marra, Islanders: Traded Feb. 27, 2007, to Edmonton along with Robert Nilsson and a first-round pick for Ryan Smyth. Career stats: 1 GP, 0-0-0
- No. 16 — Alex Bourret, Atlanta: Traded Feb. 7, 2007, to Rangers for Pascal Dupuis and a third-round pick. Then traded June 21, 2008, to Phoenix for a third-round pick. Was not tendered a qualifying offer June 30, 2009. Currently playing for Brno in the Czech league.
- No. 18 — Ryan Parent, Nashville: Traded Feb. 15, 2007, to Philadelphia along with Scottie Upshall, a first-round pick and third-round pick for Peter Forsberg. Career stats: 67 GP, 0-6-0
- No. 21 — Tuukka Rask, Toronto: Traded June 24, 2006, to Boston for Andrew Raycroft. Career stats: 14 GP, 9-3-2-2 record, .919 S%, 2.33 GAA
- No. 22 — Matt Lashoff, Boston: Traded March 4, 2009, to Tampa Bay along with Martins Karsums for Mark Recchi and a second-round pick. Career stats: 58 GP, 1-14-15
- No. 30 — Steve Downie, Philadelphia: Traded Nov. 7, 2008, to Tampa Bay along with Steve Eminger and a fourth-round pick for Matt Carle and a third-round pick. Career stats: 82 GP, 11-14-25
(Note: Andrew Cogliano, the No. 25 pick by Edmonton, was part of a package that would've sent Ottawa’s Dany Heatley to the Oilers. Heatley nixed the deal by refusing to waive his no-trade clause. He was later dealt to San Jose, while Cogliano — still mentioned in trade rumors frequently — remains in Edmonton.)
That's 12 of 30 players drafted just four years ago who are no longer with the team who originally held their rights. Only two players from the 2006 draft (Phil Kessel and Ty Wishart) have been moved. The 2004 draft was also volatile (13 players traded or not with their original team for another reason), but 2003 has just nine even though we're six years removed from that draft.
The Rask and Johnson deals were the first of many involving this group. The Hurricanes and their fans have embraced Gleason, a throwback blueliner whose toughness, blunt honesty, defensive acumen and emerging offensive skill make him one of the franchise cornerstones. Johnson — who was, once upon a time, supposed to be that player — is overshadowed by 2008 second overall pick Drew Doughty, arguably the best young defenseman in the game.
Sure, the 2005 draft will always be remembered as the year Crosby — the youngest captain to hoist the Stanley Cup — went No. 1 overall. But for several other first-round picks that year, the path to NHL stardom has been more like my car stuck on that bridge: the headlights pointed at the distant sea, the inhabitants of the vehicle wishing, hoping to make memories that will last a lifetime.
For some, the bridge will eventually be crossed. For others ...