Sunday, January 3, 2010
As you may know, I love CBC’s coverage of hockey every Saturday night. The one aspect of the show that needs to be changed is Mike Milbury’s presence. I understand they have him there to say stupid things and create fodder for the rest of the pundits, but enough. This man is colossally stupid. Even worse, when Al Strachan is on the hot stove, it’s like watching two infants debate the feasibility of time-travel. There’s a reason Milbury beat a man with his loafers, he’s certifiably bat-shit crazy.
First, how a man can ever get a job speaking to millions after going into the crowd during a game and beating a man with his shoe is beyond me. Amazingly, that isn’t even how he acquired the nickname “Mad Mike”. Yes, beating someone with their own shoe isn’t the craziest thing this man has done.
In 1998, Milbury thought the woeful Islanders needed a good solid veteran on the decline, rather than promising youngsters, so he traded both Bryan McCabe and Todd Bertuzzi (plus a 3rd round pick) to the Canucks for Trevor Linden.
He is also the man who not only drafted Rick DiPietro first overall in 2000 ahead of both Dany Heatley and Marian Gaborik, but decided after one good year that Rick was worthy of a 15-year extension. DiPietro isn’t necessarily a horrible pick, but it prompted Milbury to trade Roberto Luongo to the Panthers. Mad Mike decided Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha were worth so much that not only did he trade Roberto Luongo to the Panthers for them, but he decided to throw in Olli Jokinen as well.
This whole scenario is nonsensical. Why draft a goalie number 1 when you already posses a franchise goalie? Luongo was drafted fourth overall in 1997, played one more year in junior and then joined the Islanders AHL affiliate in 1999. He played 26 games in the AHL, posting a .906 save percentage and 2.93 GAA. He was promoted to the Islanders later that year and played 24 games with a .904 save percentage and 3.25 goals against on a brutal Islanders team whose leading scorer was the Polish Prince, Mariusz Czerkawski. Then they draft DiPietro and trade Luongo! It's not like Luongo toiled in the minors making absolutely not progress. He made the NHL at 20 years old! Why not use the first overall pick to grab a sniper like Heatley, which would actually complement the areas the team is already set in (like goal). This obviously made too much sense. Milbury defended the move by saying, “as dangerous as this may be, we think Mad Mike maybe has something going for him.” You know you’re crazy when you refer to yourself by your crazy nickname in the third person. Then, almost as baffling, he says, “Roberto Luongo is going to be an excellent goaltender in this league. He is a class act and a kid I know we would have been happy to ride with. But hell, I've gotta send him off." I don’t really understand, but then I wouldn't beat someone with my shoe.
Islanders’ fans can weep now because at this point in time, without Milbury’s stupidity, the Islanders would have employed an impressive core consisting of Roberto Luongo, Tim Connolly, Kenny Jonsson, Olli Jokinen, Zdeno Chara, Eric Brewer, plus whoever they drafted with the number 1 pick in 2000 (either Heatley or Gaborik, the consensus top picks). Unfortunately, only Kenny Jonsson would start the 2001 season with the Islanders as Milbury sacrificed the team’s future for brief short-term success.
To build off the success of the 2000 draft, Milbury decided his draft luck couldn’t be any better, so why bother even selecting. He traded the number two pick (Jason Spezza) along with Zdeno Chara for team-cancer Alexei Yashin. This is the same Alexei Yashin who demanded a new contract three separate times during his brief five-year stint in Ottawa; the same Yashin who the Senators rather allow sit out an entire season than damage the team anymore; the same Alexei Yashin who promised to donate a million dollars to a Ottawa art museum, only to renege after they wouldn't pay his parents a $400,000 consulting fee. This is the player Milbury thought would turn his team around? Instead of resting on his mad ways, Mike thought it’d be better to up the insanity by signing Yashin to a 10-year, $87.5 million deal. Why assure a player with major commitment and effort issues such a monstrous deal? Well, because your name is Mad Mike and your reputation is at stake (only one mad move in one whole year!). Yashin was bought out in 2007 and will not be off the Islander’s cap until 2015.
Amazingly, the deals Milbury made actually worked (for one brief year). Yashin, Mike Peca (acquired for Tim Connolly), and Roman Hamrlik (acquired for Eric Brewer) propelled the Islanders to an amazing 44 point turnaround that placed the Isles 5th in the Eastern conference. Unfortunately, the Islanders faced the Leafs in the first round and lost in 7 tough games (it was basically a street fight). Looking back the Islanders probably win the series if Gary Roberts doesn’t run Kenny Jonsson from behind, injuring him, and if Darcy Tucker doesn’t take out Mike Peca’s legs in a hit that becomes dirtier with time. As a Leafs fan I was happy those things happened. When your team hasn’t won in 40+ years you’ll accept advancing a round by any means.
Obviously the success didn’t last (because we’re talking about Alexei freakin’ Yashin here) and the Islanders went back to their losing ways.
Somehow after all these horrendous moves Milbury kept his role as GM until 2006, even as Luongo and Jokinen became stars; even as Bertuzzi developed into a dominant power-forward in Vancouver; even as Eric Brewer played for Team Canada at the Salt Lake Olympics; even as the Alexei Yashin trade single-handedly turned the Senators into a powerhouse.
How can a man make so many stupid decisions in his hockey career and actually be allowed to voice his opinions on hockey? Mike Milbury makes JFJ look like a mutant hybrid of Ken Holland and Lou Lamoriello.
We should end this cautionary tale with the man's own words. "It’s unbelievable that after more than 30 years in the game, pummeling a guy with his loafer will be my legacy. But I guess it's better than having no legacy at all." Or maybe we can just check google.