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Wednesday, November 8, 2000
Were the Islanders losers in the draft?

Some things defy explanation.

The lyrics to McArthur's Park, for instance. Regis Philbin's salary. Why anyone would shell out actual money to see Deuce Bigelow, Male Gigolo.

And just how Mike Milbury manages to keep his job on Long Island.

Geez, if they they stuck Islanders general manager Milbury out on that CBS island with all those city-slickers turned Swiss Family Robinson clones, he'd be the one who winds up winning the million bucks.

Mad Mike, as he seems to have no aversion to being called, certainly commanded the spotlight during the two-day draft festivities at the Saddledome over the weekend.

Yet another "new era" dawns on the Island, as Milbury went to work with a frenzy the last 48 hours. His flurry of activity commanded all the attention.

Pavel Bure
Pavel Bure's Panthers benefited from the Isles' moves.

Surely this latest change in direction must be Milbury's last stand. For longer than anyone cares to remember, the Islanders organization has shown all the cohesion of the Marx Brothers at full anarchy.

Let's see, they've paraded this list of "anointed" goaltenders through the hallowed (and unsafe) halls of Nassau County Coliseum these past few years: Eric Fichaud, Felix Potvin, Kevin Weekes, Roberto Luongo.

And now, there's 18-year-old Rick DiPietro, who certainly doesn't lack for confidence, and, if you listen to Milbury, could wind up being the next Tom Barrasso (uh, clarification, please ... this is a GOOD thing?).

Still, they got through another draft, picked up some publicity along the way and made a lot of kids (most of whom will never see the light of NHL day) happy, at least for a while.

Among the weekend winners were:
  • Josh Green and Eric Brewer. Released from their holding cell on Long Island prison.

  • Roberto Luongo. There are easier ways to make a living than trying to tend goal for the Isles. Florida is a ways from being a Cup contender, granted, but at least Pavel Bure gives a puck-stopper something to work with.

  • The Panthers. OK, Mark Parrish is a loss. But Oleg Kvasha never seemed ready to fulfill his potential. In exchange, Florida general manager Brian Murray pries a goalie on the verge of being a legitimate star in this league AND the underachieving but still full of talent Olli Jokinen out of Milbury.

  • The Calgary economy. With rough estimates of 4,000 people spilling into the city, the draft was estimated to pour $5 million, minimum, into local businesses.

  • Finnish defenseman Lauri Kinos, QMJHL Montreal Rocket defenseman. Kinos was the 293rd (and last) player chosen at the draft. Hey, last is better than not at all. There were quite a few young hopefuls sitting in the stands who came to Calgary loaded down with optimism, and left saddled with dashed dreams.

  • Former Jack Adams winner Ted Nolan. Vilified for his public feuding with Dominik Hasek and then-Sabre coach John Muckler, Nolan has been basically blackballed in the NHL. Until now. Calgary GM Craig Button admits he's going to speak to Nolan about the vacant Flames job.

  • Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford. He pulled off a coup, landing the admittedly enigmatic but undoubtedly gifted Sandis Ozolinsh from Colorado to replace unrestricted Paul Coffey as the powerplay quarterback on the point. Ozo isn't exactly Rod Langway behind his own blue line, but the 4,000 people in the seats in Carolina won't notice.

  • Oilers scouting guru Barry Fraser, who retires to Mexico amidst much fanfare without anyone so much as mentioning that Edmonton's draft record the last 10 years hasn't exactly been exemplary.

  • The Detroit Red Wings. Not that it was in the least unexpected, but Scotty Bowman's decision to return behind the bench is welcome news to both GM Ken Holland and hockey in general. Like some of his methods or not, Bowman's still at the top of the dodge, even 30 years after starting out.

    Among the losers:
  • John Vanbiesbrouck. OK, OK, he won't be asked to play a ton behind that leaky Islander team. Even so, from a purely aesthetic point of view, wouldn't you rather watch the Flyers from the end of the bench?

  • The Chicago Blackhawks. General manager Mike Smith, whose history in Winnipeg was to draft Europeans (say, how many playoff series did the Jets win when Inspector Colombo was in charge?), opted for nine more in his 15 picks. Hooo, talk about knowing your marketplace? Chicago ain't exactly an Ice Capades kinda town.

  • Rangers general manager Glen Sather, who wasn't able to hoodwink anyone and pawn off some of the overpaid stiffs on his roster. There's still plenty of time before camp opens, however.

  • The Rangers, Kings and Leafs, all of whom have been granted permission to talk to Eric Lindros. Dishing off players and/or picks and forking over $8 million to $10 million a season for someone who's a half-hit away from another Tylenol 3 headache and major career change isn't a smart way to do business, but you know one of these well-heeled franchises won't be able to resist taking the big gamble on the Big E.

    ("These teams have the same concerns we do," said Flyers GM Bob Clarke, unable to resist getting in another dig at his idea of a live-action Addams Family, "his parents and his head").

  • Anyone who showed up at the 'Dome expecting a modicum of drama. Sure it's free, and uh huh, it only comes to your town once a lifetime, but there's a reason for that. Nobody would come a second time. As a spectator sport, the NHL entry draft rates right up there with fly fishing or the world darts championships. These things are strictly for the kids, teams and media. Fans beware!

    George Johnson covers the NHL for the Calgary Sun. His Western Conference column appears every week during the season on

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