Friday, August 24, 2007

A vote against the Super Series
Juniors are overtaxed and underserved

I've really only written fleetingly about the Super Series between Canada and Russia to this point, enough to point out the who, why, what and when. But the more I think about it, and the closer to the actual games we get, the more the whole notion of this tournament bothers me.

And here's why:

John Tavares, Oshawa Generals
2007-08 schedule of affairs

Aug. 27 to Sept. 9: 2007 Super Series in Ufa and Omsk, Russia, and Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Red Deer and Vancouver (eight games)

Sept. 3 to Sept. 16: OHL preseason (six games — Tavares will miss four)

Sept. 28 to March 16: OHL regular season (72 games)

Dec. 23 to Jan. 6: 2008 world junior tournament in Pardubice and Liberec, Czech Republic (six or seven games)

March 16 to end of May: OHL playoffs (four to 28 games) and 2008 Memorial Cup in Kitchener (three to six games)

And somewhere in there, the kid who turns 17 during preseason finishes his final year of high school.

That's an absurd schedule for anyone, one which could see Tavares (and many other members of Canada's Super Series squad) play as many as 116 hockey games in nine months.

Eric Duhatschek has a nice piece on the series for Saturday's paper, and in it, it's revealed that the various heads of the junior leagues expressed concern over even playing the silly thing.

Which is good. These are the sort of things Dave Branch, Ron Robison and Gilles Courteau should have their eye out for, including ways to both shorten their leagues' schedule and improve compensation and scholarships for junior hockey graduates.

The system as it stands now reeks to high heaven, and there's absolutely only one reason a kid like Tavares has to drag himself through close to 120 games in a season.

It's all about the payoff.

What other reason could there possibly be for a 72-game schedule that sees junior players live out of a Greyhound bus for much of the year? Given these are the top developmental leagues this country has to offer, shouldn't there be more focus on, you know, development? And to me, that includes more than playing to packed houses throughout the land three times a week.

People in and around hockey — and sportswriters are particularly guilty of this — like to rip on NHLers for being blasé, boring and not having anything to say, but we've been doing a huge disservice to our top athletes by tossing them into the Hockey Canada machine at a young age and never letting them develop as people — nevermind hockey players. It's any wonder CHLers manage to finish high school, let alone go on to get a college education, and while a degree may not be the be all when it comes to producing articulate, well-rounded human beings, it surely can't hurt.

When it comes down to it, what more is there to know about Tavares than what we see on the ice? He's still just 16, and that's where he's spent his entire life.

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At 10:06 p.m., August 24, 2007, Anonymous Kate said...

Great post. I couldn't agree more.

At 10:53 p.m., August 24, 2007, Blogger steveb said...

Right on.

At 10:55 p.m., August 24, 2007, Blogger Shane Giroux said...

I started off thinking "James, you're way too cranky for a Friday" But you won me over in the end. That doesn't mean I'm not going to the game in Saskatoon...but I'll feel conflicted.

At 11:03 p.m., August 24, 2007, Blogger Lowetide said...

Great post, James. I hope he gets some rest before Brian Burke calls his name at the 2008 draft with the pick EDM gave up for Penner.

Is there any word on a challenge by the Tavares camp?

At 11:25 p.m., August 24, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Is there any word on a challenge by the Tavares camp?

I honestly don't think it's going to happen; it hardly seems fair that the landscape for the 2008 draft is changed so dramatically with such a short amount of time until then.

Tavares will have to wait, although I wouldn't rule out seeing him go overseas to play after this season.

At 12:15 a.m., August 25, 2007, Anonymous Frank said...

James I both disagree and agree with you.

First off I don't think the Super Series is a major burden on these young kids. It comes at the beginning of the season and all of the junior teams are opening their training camps this week anyways. So instead of having to do two a day practices, they are having the adventure of their lives for the next three weeks.

Where I do agree with you is that there are way too many games during the regular season and playoffs - especially in the WHL where the long travel distances by bus is brutal and dangerous -particularily during the bad winter months.

This is nothing more than greed by the owners to make big money. The fact that the Kamloops franchise was just sold for a record $7 million - and the WHL has at least 30 other investors interested in purchasing franchises - should tell us that junior hockey is producing big profits on the backs of these young kids.

The owners should voluntarily reduce the schedule to 50 games with best of 5 playoff series. If they don't the provincial governments should step in and regulate the leagues under their labour standards legislation!

At 12:18 a.m., August 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Tavares goes overseas it would be a huge mistake. He could end up being third line player and how would that help?

He should play junior like Crosby did and tell his agent not to ride on his back.

Agents do get their time in media when their client(s) do well but Tavares has unknown guy taking care of him and there's always a risk that agent wants to make himself more "useful" than needed.

Pump himself up so to speak.

At 1:19 a.m., August 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

James I couldn't agree more with you about junior hockey being insane, although I agree with your commenter who says that it should be regulated by government.

As for Tavares, I think that you're missing the point. The question isn't whether it's fair to the landscape of the draft to include him; it's whether the league and the NHLPA are allowed to conspire to prevent him from earning a living.

At 1:22 a.m., August 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Off topic:

What do you think about The Hockey News TOP 50 list?

Ovechkin ahead of Lidstrom (top 5 D ever)?

Elias ahead of Jagr in the battle of Czechs?

Sedin ahead of Nash?

DiPietro ahead of Lundqvist?

Parise ahead of Kovalchuk?

Ok, Tavares not on this list, yet.

At 2:53 a.m., August 25, 2007, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

First off I don't think the Super Series is a major burden on these young kids. It comes at the beginning of the season and all of the junior teams are opening their training camps this week anyways. So instead of having to do two a day practices, they are having the adventure of their lives for the next three weeks.

Have you ever been to Omsk? Okay, I haven't, either, but I've talked to someone (my father) who taught in Ekaterinburg for a semester, which is not quite as far from Omsk as either is from anyplace anyone would ever want to be. By comparison, Kamloops is the center of Western civilization. The "adventure of their lives" will consist of spending time in some hotel rooms, and playing some hockey games.

While I agree that the Super Series isn't the problem, it sure as hell isn't the solution.

At 4:08 a.m., August 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The NHL and PA can prevent him from earning a living because he isn't 18. And if people think hockey's fooked right now, wait till government starts regulating it.

At 11:24 a.m., August 25, 2007, Blogger Bradley said...

Interesting article, and I agree with the sentiment; Jr. hockey and the things associated with it shouldn't get to the point where it becomes a burden on real life. My only contention would be that that sentiment doesn't have to be a vote "against" the Super Series; merely would be a vote against kids as young as Tavares playing in it. There are plenty of older players on both teams, already drafted or draft eligible, for whom this event becomes more than just a fun event before the season and school start. For them, this could probably be looked at as an important point in their career, and as long as they're old enough for that to become a more tangible truth, the decision really should be up to them.

At 12:55 p.m., August 25, 2007, Blogger Knotwurth Mentioning said...

All this being why people like Gretzky and Crosby are all the more valuable, of course. When you get a person who is incredibly intelligent and able to charismatically work his way to the top of the league's PR, it's pretty hard to believe they came from a world revolving around sport.

As for Tavares, though, I have to say that as a university student myself, I almost envy the fact that he can be carefree with his life knowing that he will be able to make a ton of money without ever worrying too much about forking out the dough in the first place. I regret that I have to put myself into debt to have an improved source of income later in life. That being said, outside of finances I relish the university experience entirely, although whether a less academically-inclined person would agree with that is debatable.

At 4:36 p.m., August 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you get a person who is incredibly intelligent and able to charismatically work his way to the top of the league's PR...

Strangely, I don't think that this applies to either Gretzky or Crosby. They're both boring guys and I've seen nothing to suggest that either one of them is a rocket surgeon.

At 12:17 p.m., August 26, 2007, Blogger sager said...

There are multiple intelligences, and Gretzky and Crosby, while bland, have to have high intelligences in some areas to see the ice and anticipate plays they way each did and does.

Great, great post James...


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