Crystal Ball

I remember well the 1974 NHL Amateur Draft. The Hockey News told me Chipperfield was the number one overall prospect in the entire draft and on the strength of a 90-goal season in the Western Junior League it seemed reasonable.

Back then, you didn’t get a lot of television coverage on the draft, the radio would tell you who went number one and the guys Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto had taken with their first picks but after that you had to wait for the July Hockey News.

Why? Well the NHL was in a war with the WHA over players, so conducted the draft by phone (which took forever) and tried to sign players before the list was released. Crazy stuff. Here’s an example of the kind of story you’d find in your local newspaper.

Eventually enough information would be made available, but I was always curious about why Chipperfield fell so far in that draft. Was it because he’d already told everyone he was going to sign with a WHA club? That would make sense, as Mark Howe didn’t go until the middle of round two because of the rival league (where he was playing by 1974).

Eventually Chipperfield did play in the NHL and of course is a part of Edmonton Oiler history (Chipperfield was named captain of the team October 1, 1979). Had the NHL drafted straight up–without the WHA, without the underage eligbility rule that allowed one selection of an underage player per team in the first two rounds–it’s still very likely Chipperfield would have been drafted outside the top 10 in 1974.

There was no one who would tell me why in 1974 summer.

Fast forward to today and we can track the entry draft extremely well. The attention paid to the sport of hockey, the business and procurement side along with the actual game itself is mind boggling to 1974. Everything is sped up, information is readily available and comes in waves; I’m certain a rabid hockey fan today could produce a better draft list than the California Seals did in 1974.

How did that happen? Al Gore, more leisure time, the news cycle needing more and more to keep its audience, money. In 1974, the Seals GM was Garry Young and their scouting director was Ed Reigle. I knew that because of a man named Jim Proudfoot who should have his own wing of the HHOF but that’s for another day. Suffice to say he was the patron saint of nerdy kids on the Canadian prairies.

Today, we have so much access to the draft it’s ridiculous. We can reasonably assume that the Edmonton Oilers will take Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at number one overall at the draft this year. The top 30 is covered nicely by Bob McKenzie and other sources are out there in the ether and waiting for Mr. Google to take you there.

I am sometimes struck by how fortunate we all are in some ways, and how cursed in others. I know that July 1974 Hockey News must seem unsatisfying based on all of the information available now, but it’s also true that something else was lost along the way. Anticipation, mystery and certainly youth. I don’t miss 1974 often, but am glad for the memories.

Nation Radio hits the air again today. Among the scheduled guests:

  • James Mirtle, brilliant writer for the Globe and Mail.
  • Derek Zona, whose work at Copper and Blue is a must-read and an education.
  • Norm Lacombe, former Oiler and a first round pick in 1983.
  • Cam Moon, Red Deer Rebels pbp man and a WHL icon.
  • Jim Byers, OKC pbp man and a guy we enjoy talking to about Oiler prospects.

Your questions and comments are welcome. The email address is and you can send emails any time this morning. I promise to read as many as possible.

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