As the 2012 NHL entry draft nears, we need to remember that sometimes the best player you get isn't the one that you coveted. Here are the stories of two instances where teams were bitterly disappointed not to be able to draft the player that they coveted and instead ended up "settling" for a Hall of Famer.
The 1979 draft was held by conference call and was later than usual as the NHL put the finishing touches on the merger with the WHA which would see Edmonton, Quebec, Hartford and Winnipeg begin their first seasons in the NHL.
Though they had a strong season, the Boston Bruins held the eighth-overall selection in the draft by virtue of an earlier trade of goaltender Ron Grahame to the Los Angeles Kings for that first-round selection.
They had a particular player targeted with that eighth-overall pick, a "can't miss" defenceman. He hadn't been picked in the first six selections and now only the Chicago Blackhawks selecting seventh overall stood in their way of their future NHL star. Bruins management and scouts held their collective breath in their Boston-area hotel suite.
Then, on the telephone conference line that included all NHL teams and NHL offices, they heard the distinctive drone of Blackhawks general manager announcing the selection of Keith Brown from the Portland Winterhawks.
After a few seconds of disbelief, the Bruin room erupted in groans, disappointment and anger. A few fists pounded the table loudly and one scout threw his binder against the wall. They had been one pick away from their greatly coveted player.
The Bruins had to regain their focus and make the next selection. After a short debate, they decided to stick with drafting a defenceman. Their runner-up selection was Raymond Bourque from the Verdun Black Hawks!
Two years later, the modern-day NHL draft had taken form. It was held at the Montreal Forum to a crowd of a few thousand that wandered in from the streets. It began at 9:00 a.m. on a weekday morning and had no television coverage.
The old adage is to never advertise who you will be selecting and this is why. One year after the Miracle on Ice victory at Lake Placid, there was a new American hockey story. Bobby Carpenter of St. John's Prep School in Danvers, Massachusetts was that story. He was a phenomenon, a high-school kid who was expected to be the highest American-born player drafted. Today, he still remains the first U.S. high-school hockey player to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
The Hartford Whalers were selecting fourth overall and they made it very clear that they were going to use that pick on the home town boy to help their struggling team on the ice and provide a marketing boost off the ice.
On draft day, Whalers management and scouts sat at their draft table waiting to make their much publicized selection. Their scouting staff included Bob Carpenter Sr., who looked forward to formally welcoming his son to the NHL in a few minutes time.
The three teams drafting ahead of Hartford were Winnipeg, Los Angeles and Colorado. While the Whalers knew there was interest by some teams in drafting Bobby Carpenter, these three teams weren't among those. Winnipeg opened the draft by selecting Dale Hawerchuk of Cornwall and Los Angeles took Doug Smith from Ottawa. So far, so good for the Whalers.
Now it was the Colorado Rockies turn who quickly called "time." Not uncommon for teams to want a few extra minutes to discuss their selection or even discuss a possible trade. Nothing that caused any angst at the Hartford table situated beside Colorado's table.
That changed when the Rockies announced that they had made a trade that included flipping their first-round pick with the Washington Capitals, who were selecting fifth overall. Ironically, there were also seated beside the Whalers table.
Before they could fully absorb the implications of the Washington Capitals moving up two draft spots, the Capitals had announced the selection of Bobby Carpenter. An angry and emotional Whalers entourage sat in stunned silence. Carpenter's father bolted away from the table for a few minutes to regain his composure.
As with the Boston Bruins two years earlier, when they had missed out on Keith Brown, the Whalers had to get back to business and figure out who they were going to draft. They decided to stick with drafting a centre like Carpenter, but there were no other high-school All-American kids to be had.
They settled on a centre from the Ontario Hockey League. Their runner-up selection was Ron Francis from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds!
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?