In a world of takers, Darren Haydar has been a giver and we're not just talking about his deft playmaking ability.
The accomplished Chicago Wolves right wing has piled up points, accolades and championships wherever he has played. Yet, the native of Milton, Ont. does not harbour a fleck of bitterness that he never received a decent shot at a full-time NHL gig.
"I'm not bitter at all," the 32-year-old Haydar said. "I'm still playing hockey for a living and you can't beat that as far as I'm concerned.
"I still get so much joy playing this game. I'm competitive and that's what keeps me going. But I also get quite a kick seeing my teammates score or set up a goal. In fact, I probably get more enjoyment out of seeing them score a goal than when I score."
Last December, Haydar became the 22nd player in AHL history to reach the 700-point summit. In 768 combined regular season and playoff AHL games, the skilled Haydar has a whopping 322 goals and 848 points. So why isn't this kid in the NHL?
Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach John Anderson remarked that Haydar was the smartest player he has ever coached, when the two were with the Wolves. Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel had similar sentiments.
"Darren Haydar was great when I had him," said Noel, who won a Calder Cup championship with Haydar in 2003-04. "He is a smart player. Not a great skater, but he could really manoeuvre around the game and around the ice. He provided good leadership and was a quality person.
"He's older now, but I always thought he would get a chance in the NHL. He got a chance with Atlanta, but he had to be a top-six player. He's a clever player. He would go into the corner with three players and come out with the puck."
Noel feels that Haydar's skating was the reason he was held back. But the coach added that in the right situation, it probably could have worked out for Haydar in the NHL.
Bobby Holik played with Haydar in 2007-08, when he stuck with the Atlanta Thrashers for the first two months of the season. But Haydar, who scored his first and only NHL goal in the second game of the season on New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur on Oct. 13, 2007, saw limited ice time.
"It's a very interesting question," Holik said, when asked why he felt 5-foot-9, 170-pound Haydar never found a full-time spot on an NHL roster. "There could be a couple reasons why -- his size and opportunity.
"He is a first or second line player. The times he got called up they would not give him enough of a chance to play in those situations. It happens quite often with other players, too. As you know the traditional way is to call up a player from the minors and put him on the fourth line maybe third at best. Then take a player who's already on the team and move him up.
"This does not always make sense. I believe there are players who will never make first or second line and there are players who will only be successful playing on first or second line. Darren is one of those players. He never got the proper opportunity to display his skill and talent. He has great feel for the game, his touch around the net was great to watch even in practice. It's unfortunate for Darren."
Haydar began playing hockey as soon as he could stand up on a pair twin bladed skates. He called them cheese cutters. His zeal for the game only strengthened when he would accompany his parents Frank and Pauline to watch his older brothers Jeff and Ryan play.
Darren wound up playing with Jeff at the University of New Hampshire, but not until after the younger brother set a league scoring record with 71 goals and 140 points with the Milton Merchants (Tier II junior) in 1997-98.
After his freshman season with New Hampshire, the Nashville Predators selected Haydar in the ninth round (248th overall) of the 1999 NHL entry draft. He was the final of 15 selections the Predators made that draft and only Adam Hall, Andrew Hutchinson and Martin Erat have played more NHL games than Haydar's 23.
After winning AHL rookie of the year honours in 2002-03 and that aforementioned Calder Cup championship the next spring, the Predators promised to give Haydar a shot the following season. But the NHL lockout snuffed out that possibility.
In 2006-07, Haydar was at his most productive. He set a league record with an incredible 39-game point streak and was named the winner of the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL MVP. But after his brief shot with the Thrashers the next fall, he was returned to the Wolves in mid-December and won another AHL title.
Behind all the goals and points and wins on the way to the title that spring, Haydar and his then girlfriend Sara -- now his wife -- were engaged in another battle. In April 2008, Sara was diagnosed with throat cancer. But she persevered and won. This was a life experience that helped him deal with his hockey plight.
"I still take the game seriously, but not as seriously," said Haydar, whose last NHL game was for the Colorado Avalanche on Feb. 10, 2010. "It's is, after all, just a game. What Sara went through has taught me to take things as they come and not get too frustrated."
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