Long ago and far away, the Edmonton Oilers had a General Manager who looked for other people’s problems. He’d buy the used/damaged talent at a low price, nurse them back to heath/scare them straight, and then let them loose with 250 at-bats to see how they could shine.
- 1979-80: D Pat Price, R Don Murdoch, C Jim Harrison, L Wayne Bianchin
- 1980-81: G Gary Edwards, D Tom Bladon
And on it went. Now, some of these guys were at the end of the line and some were mid-career with health issues (Bianchin health issues, Murdoch different health issues) but Price was a fine bet (who worked out for awhile, then fetched Pat Hughes, who was a good NHL player) and Sather was just trying to add useful players. Get good players, keep good players.
The Oilers had Mikhail Grigorenko high on their draft list if you believe the Oilers and despite a couple of tough seasons there’s still a talent there, still a player who could help Edmonton if everything works out right. Mikhail Grigorenko is still a teenager, and things are not going well. Why? Well, the Buffalo Sabres are a troubled team, with management changing and ownership learning (sound familiar?) and sometimes brilliant young hockey players fall through the cracks.
Now, that isn’t to say Grigorenko is an innocent bystander. The have been issues before, even before draft day:
- Red Line Report: “As talented as Grigorenko is, he simply does not work hard AT ALL when he doesn’t have the puck, even at crucial moments in a game. One shift he had about four minutes left to go in a game his team was only losing by one goal perfectly illustrated the point. After attempting an individualistic play, Grigorenko lost the puck behind the net in the attacking zone, it squirted free to a defenseman about two feet to his right, and he just stood there watching as the defender skated the puck out of trouble without even a hint of trying to track him down or even put mild pressure on him. It would have been a real eye-opener for us – if we hadn’t been seeing the exact same thing from him for three years now.”
- Corey Pronman: I’m not exactly sure when this issue started to take off, but it snowballed pretty quickly from the start of the spring to now. This was not news to me, as I had been well aware that Grigorenko’s on-ice work ethic was a hole in his skill set. When I polled scouts at various points as I mentioned in this column, whenever I asked them to talk about his skill set, they would mention he’s not the kind of player to go 100% every shift; yet despite that, they still talked about him in a glowing fashion. One head scout who had him as a top-three prospect said, “He may only be going at 75%, but he’s still clearly the best player on the ice.”
And now we are here. The Sabres have optioned him to junior (as is their right). The young man has balked.
- Mike Harrington, Sabres Edge: Coach Ted Nolan told me today after practice at Riverside’s Bud Bakewell Arena that Grigorenko was upset when told he was going back to junior but that this was a “non-negotiable” decision.
About an hour ago, Grigorenko’s facebook statement appeared on twitter, and gives us an idea about where things are from the player perspective.
I have no idea if he wrote it, or even if it’s him, but the author of this piece is an expert at framing the issue, be he a pro or gifted amateur. That is just about the best prose you can produce in this situation—reasoned, intelligent, even generous considering the idiocy of the moment—and yet you will see and hear some very vicious things about this Russian teenager in the next hours and days.
If we can pause for a moment in our little corner of the world, I’d like to ask three questions:
- Why is the NHL-CHL rule still in place? Why does Mikhail Grigorenko have to go back to junior, where he will labor for little pay for very rich men? And what does it say about us as Canadians that we allow this to happen?
- Why do NHL teams do this kind of thing, knowing the result will sour their organization to a large part of the labor force (players)? If the AHL is an option that is available, why punish and humiliate? If that option isn’t available, perhaps find another option that doesn’t involve going back to junior?
- Should the Oilers inquire about this young man?
Thanks for your input.