Friday, March 24, 2006

The NHL And The Next Group Of Young Stars

One of the biggest stories repeated in the media this year is how great the class of rookies are. How the future is now and how the future is bright. While there are some good rookies in Alexander Ovechkin, Henrik Lundqvist and Sidney Crosby, this story is overblown.

One look at the potential award winners this year shows this. If the season ended now, I would give the Hart trophy (as well as the Art Ross and Richard) to Jaromir Jagr. I would give the Norris trophy to Nicklas Lidstrom. Both of these guys have won these trophies in the past. Even the awards likely to get new winners are looking at veteran winners. I think 29 year old Tomas Vokoun is the Vezina trophy leader. I think 35 year old Rod Brind'Amour is the Selke trophy leader. The only major award likely to go to a hot young player is the rookie of the year - an award which by definition must go to a rookie.

Is this the final year that the "old guard" will win their awards? I wouldn't count on that either. I see no good reason why Jaromir Jagr or Joe Thornton or Peter Forsberg or Roberto Luongo or other well established NHL players cannot win major awards in the future. I imagine that other younger players who were well established before the lockout like Ilya Kovalchuk or Marian Hossa could win some awards. Likely some of the rookies (and other young guns - Eric Staal, Jason Spezza etc) could win some awards - and maybe as soon as next season, but there is no changing of the guard underway right now. There is a good (double) rookie class, but in the "historic rebirth of the NHL" story that the NHL wants written, this class is getting overhyped. They will be good. They will likely win some individual awards. Likely they will not dominate the league for years to come.

Ummm, I guess I don't understand why we should judge a rookie class on the lack of Hart or Norris candidates. By this logic, then we can write off movies that don't have a Best Actor nominee, or something stupid like that.
The point is that this rookie class is overhyped. Some NHL hacks want to make it THE STORY of the season - it isn't.

For a historical perspective, I would liken this year's rookie class (which is really two years rookies) to the 91/92 and 92/93 rookie classes if they came along together (this is a group far enough in the past that we can put them into historical perspective - but recent enough that most people are quite familiar with what they did). Over the course of two seasons, the rookies included Pavel Bure, Eric Lindros, Nicklas Lidstrom, Teemu Selanne (and a couple others who looked like they might become stars but didn't like Joe Juneau and Felix Potvin). It was a good couple years for NHL rookies, but it was not nearly as hyped as the story in the NHL as the rookie class has been this season.

I expect that this year's rookie class might be about as accomplished over the course of their careers.

The major stories of the season should be the year that Jagr, Thornton, Lidstrom etc are having but they are being overlooked for stories about the rookies. The most dominant players this season have been the old guard. I think they are getting shortchanged on what is getting written about them in the media.
More hype in 2005-6 vs. 1991-3 probably has more to do with the evolution of hockey coverage than with the quality of rookies within each class.
There is some truth that it has to do with changes in the way hockey is covered but I think the biggest reason for the more hype is that after a lockout the NHL needed the story that they were rising out of the ashes with some hot young stars to be written. The Sidney Crosby vs. Alexander Ovechkin hype began before the first puck was dropped this season.
Enjoyed a lot!
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