Rough Day For The Gold Market
By Elliot Olshansky - December 21, 2007
I knew that we would hear more about Kyle Okposo's decision to leave the University of Minnesota, but I didn't think we'd hear it this fast.
Basically, where we stand now, Don Lucia isn't happy with the Islanders, Islanders GM Garth Snow isn't happy with Don Lucia, and there's a fair bit of wondering - including some by me - about how this is going to affect the U.S. team at the World Junior Championship.
Is anybody happy right now?
I'm really surprised at the comments made by Garth Snow in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, less than 48 hours after Tim Whitehead described him to me as "a great man." That kind of public ripping is certainly stunning, and it raises questions about what was going on here.
I haven't always been the most complimentary of Don Lucia in my comments on him. He's a bit more guarded than most in his comments to the media, generally speaking. He'll posture every now and then, and certainly will go to bat for his players and his program. He certainly did that at the Ice Breaker in September, when he essentially shrugged of the notion that there could be questions about Jeff Frazee's performance in goal over the course of his Gopher career to that point.
Of course, Lucia's comments on Frazee in September were commendable to a large degree, in the sense that it showd how much he cares about his program and his players. In addition, I think that he's an excellent coach, and while he certainly has an advantage in the kind of talent that he can bring to Mariucci Arena, no one wins national championships on talent alone, so he deserves a large share of credit for the Gophers' national championship wins in 2002 and 2003. I also don't think you'd find too many NHL executives around the country who would question his ability to develop talent as Snow did.
Oh, and while we're on the subject of Lucia's talent at Minnesota, can we please divorce ourselves from the idea that all the best players in Minnesota go on to play for the Gophers? Sorry, but T.J. Oshie, Brian Lee, and Mike Lundin, just for starters, strike me as players hailing from Minnesota who didn't play their college hockey for Lucia, and I think it's safe to say that he would have been glad to have them. I'd also point out that the two best Minnesota-born goaltenders in the country last year played for Boston University (John Curry) and Vermont (Joe Fallon).
I think that what we have here are multiple people saying things that they rather wouldn't say, but they feel they need to.
I don't think that the Islanders put much pressure on Okposo to leave mid-season. I think Okposo was ready, in his mind, to leave, and that's why this happened. I think that if Okposo wanted to be at Minnesota, then he'd be going back there after the World Junior Championship. In my conversations with NHL team executives over the last couple of years, one thing I've heard on multiple occasions is that pushing a player to do something that he doesn't want to do, whether it be play major junior rather than college (or vice versa), or sign when they're not ready, rarely works out as well as a team may hope. I am fairly certain that Kyle had to want to leave for this to happen.
Now, exactly why Okposo didn't want to be at Minnesota...well, the rumors and innuendo are out there. I think that there was a measure of posturing that went into Don Lucia's comments about Okposo and his signing with the Islanders. I also think that those comments required a response from the Islanders, because it called the character of their front office into question. However, I don't think anyone comes out of this exchange looking particularly good.
What does it mean for the future? Well, for starters, I don't think this is going to have a long-term affect on Minnesota. While I think that Minnesota's massive recruiting advanatge over everyone else when it comes to Minnesota kids, I do think that there are certainly many very talented players in the state of Minnesota who want to play for the Gophers. I think that in the long term, both Don Lucia and the Minnesota program will be just fine, even if this season does go down the tubes (by Minnesota standards).
The other question is what this may mean for New York Islander draft picks in college hockey. I'm with Tim Whitehead on this one: every situation is going to be different, and I don't think the Islanders are going to be "repeat offenders" with this sort of thing. One other thing that Tim Whitehead told me when we spoke earlier in the week - and yes, I realize that he's the coach at Garth Snow's alma mater - was that last season, there were a number of teams after Teddy Purcell to sign with them as a free agent. According to Whitehead, the majority of the teams pursuing Purcell never made contact with Whitehead on the subject, but the Islanders and Flyers were two teams that did.
The more I think about this, the more I'm inclined to think that it's not a New York Islanders thing, even if they do need some offensive help and have a roster spot open. I also don't think it's a Don Lucia thing, although I do suspect that if everything were hunky dory at Minnesota right now, Okposo wouldn't be signing. I think that this is a Kyle Okposo thing.
Unfortunately, it's also turning into an ugly thing.
Posted by Elliot Olshansky at 02:17 AM on December 21, 2007