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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

NHL's Biggest Busts: Part I

Yes, reaching the NHL is not an easy task. There's so many levels you have to pass, that when you finally get drafted, it's a dream come true. But, for some players, this dream turn into a nightmare; especially when you've been drafted at the #1 spot. There's lots of stories regarding how sad and spectacular those #1 have crashed their careers. I will write a series of column regarding the best NHL busts in recent memory. I will start this series with a spectacular one: Alexandre Daigle.

Drafted by Ottawa in 1993 at the #1 spot, Daigle was the "Sidney Crosby" of his time. He played for the Victoriaville Tigers in the Quebec major league hockey and terrorized league's goaltenders game after game. He was spotted very fast by scouts.

The context was crystal clear in Ottawa. The franchise need to return, after a few horendous years, and they needed someone to sell tickets. Like every expension team, the team would have to go through some tough seasons before being able to compete. It was the Mel Bridgeman (Mel who?) era and the front office was full of incompetent people (sounds like last's B's front office). The first season of the team (92-93) was horrible since they managed to win only ten times (10-70-4). After that horrible season, everything was set to draft Daigle. In his first season, Daigle did good for a rookie, managing a total of 51 points but was down the abyss with an incredible +/- of -45 ! In fact those 51 points will be the higher amount of points he will ever get in his career. When you look after that season, Daigle produced respectively 37-17=51. For a guy that signed, at the time, the richest contract (5 years/12.25 millions) for a rookie, it was not enough. The Sens traded him to Philadelphia in 97-98. The overall result: a waste of money and the fact that they passed on players such as Pronger and Kariya.

Daigle's results were puzzeling. For a guy who, basically, burned his major junior league, his NHL production was less then impressive. Lots of times, his work ethic and motivation were questionned and there is no doubt that Daigle liked the spotlight more then the red light. He made probably one of the most stupidest comment ever, when he said, "Nobody remembers the second draft pick." For sure, but everyone will remember the incredible failure he was.

The key of Daigle's mystery was revealed during an extended interview he gave to RDS (sports french network). The interviewer askedim about his "little secret". Daigle smiled, waited, a couples of seconds, and drop the bomb,"Well before I got drafted, I didn't have any passion for the game anymore". In fact, Daigle said, at the times, that he was pushed so hard to make it, that he lost the fun of playing the game. Of course, in his last year, just before the NHL draft, everything was buzzing around him (media, agents, spotlights, sponsorships) and he suffered a tremedous pressure to produce. He talked to his coach about his doubts regarding his career but the perspective to deceive his father (who had the dream to play in the NHL) and the fact that he could assured his future with a lucrative contract finally rush him to the NHL draft. From there, eveything was clear. His lack of motivation and work ethic, The fact that he was more interested in off ice activites then hockey, his evident taste for "famous people" like actors and so on.

The story of Daigle is sad. It's an history of an immature boy who decided to live a life that he didn't want to. He got paid and never delivered and that's why he tried a comeback. After all those years, he probably, at some point, would have tought it was time to look at him the mirror. Did he screwed the system? No! Did he screw with the Sens and the fans? I think he did. But, at his own discharge, the situation in Ottawa was ugly. There was no competent people in place; the front office was more then willing to give him the money he wanted because they saw him as their franchise player and finally, Daigle had no veterans (Randy "the thrill" Cunneyworth) to turn to and, at this age, it's important to be surrounded by experienced people. Especially, when you are immature like he was. Luckily for him, Yashin came a year later and people could talk more about Yashin and less about him. But history will retain that Daigle signed the richest contract for a rookie at the time and that he failed tremedously to rise to the occasion. Finally, people will remember the 2nd drafted player. He's in Anaheim and he will be a future Hall of Famer...Chris Pronger.


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