1998 Draft Board – San Jose

The draft board pages include every player who was left unprotected in the 1998 Expansion Draft. The overwhelming majority of players who do not carry over are either old, unproductive, injured, primarily used for fighting, marginal players, minor league veterans, or unsigned European prospects. The majority of pending UFAs (Group III, Group V, and Group VI) will not carry over. Exceptions to these rules are provided if the incumbent team left almost nothing of value available to choose from, in which case everyone gets at least a closer look.

As we are capped by league restrictions to selecting no more than six pending free agents, we must be judicious with our choices.

SAN JOSE

The Sharks finished four games under .500, which in the inept West is good enough to make the playoffs.  And they went six tough games against Dallas in the first round before the more powerful Stars proved to be too much.

Available players:

Goalies: Jonas Forsberg(UE), Kelly Hrudey(Gr.III – UFA), Jason Muzzatti

Defensemen: Peter Allen, Al Iafrate(Gr.III – UFA), Marty McSorley(Gr.III – UFA), Angel Nikolov(UE), Fredrik Oduya(Gr.II – RFA), David Shaw, Ken Sutton, Jason Widmer(Gr.II – RFA)

Forwards: Niklas Andersson(Gr.II – RFA), Jan Caloun, Murray Craven(Gr.III – UFA), Todd Ewen, Anatoli Filatov(UE), Tony Granato, Dave Lowry(Gr.III – UFA), Bernie Nicholls(Gr.III – UFA), Jarrod Skalde, Ron Sutter, Markus Thuresson(UE), Alexei Yegorov(Gr.II – RFA)

Assessment:

The 23 unprotected Sharks net us only two to consider: forwards Niklas Andersson and Murray Craven.

Player reports

F Niklas Andersson – 27-year-old forward, originally a 4th-round pick of Quebec (1989)

The case for taking Andersson – A veteran of seven pro seasons in North America, Andersson is sublimely skilled in the offensive zone.  He’s been very productive in the AHL and IHL, and has developed more of an all-around game recently.  His small stature hasn’t prevented him from being able to hold his own in all zones, even in the extremely physical minor leagues.

In the last three seasons, he’s played in two World Championships for Sweden and also suited up for them in the 1996 World Cup.

The case against taking Andersson– In 17 games in the World Championships, Andersson had one goal and three assists total.  He played one game in the 1996 World Cup, failing to score.  He has more years next to his age than he does NHL goals (27 compared to 26), and he’s had 20 goals anywhere just one time since 1993.  This past year he had 16 total goals.

Andersson may be more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, which doesn’t really help his case.  We’re trying to assemble a team out of the scraps of the rest of the league, and most teams aren’t really giving us a chance to take perennial 30-goal guys.  And as scoring is going down anyway, where does a 5’8″ guy who’s maybe 170 pounds fit in with a tight-checking game anyway?  He can’t drive to the net, he’s not going to create goals, he’s not going to do anything that we can’t find with other players elsewhere.

F Murray Craven – 34-year-old forward, originally a 1st-round pick of Detroit (1982)

(Rather than follow the same type of format as most of these potential picks on draft boards, I’m taking a different tack with Craven because considering him would cover multiple different subjects.  I’m also writing it in the third person rather than the first.)

Murray Craven was a first-round pick of Detroit, and his brief career as a Red Wing sums up the second Dead Things era of Detroit hockey pretty well.  The first such era was in the 1970s, coming to a brief end in Bobby Kromm’s first year as coach.  After that lone season back in the playoffs, they sank right back to the depths of the NHL.

In 1981, Detroit decided to flip 1982 1st-round picks with Minnesota and pick up Don Murdoch and Greg Smith in the process.  It was incredibly foolish at the time; Minnesota had just appeared in the Stanley Cup Final, and Detroit had finished dead last in their division and conference, and second from the bottom of the league (ahead only of hapless Winnipeg).  Greg Smith was a solid defensive defenseman, but Murdoch had battled substance abuse problems and hadn’t touched the career highs set in his rookie year five seasons prior.

It goes without saying that the trade did nothing for Detroit in the end.  They’d finish second from the bottom again, and Minnesota would win the division and place second in the Campbell Conference.  Minnesota took Brian Bellows with the acquired 2nd overall pick, passing on Scott Stevens and Phil Housley (among others).  Detroit, sitting 17th, watched Dave Andreychuk go to Buffalo before they picked Murray Craven.  All things considered, it was a terrific pick for Detroit in that spot.

But this was Detroit, and they would promptly do something really stupid.  They would give the 18-year-old Craven 31 games in the 1982-83 season, and then 15 more in 1983-84.  This isn’t the stupid part, as I’m not a proponent of the theory that exposing a young player to the NHL will automatically ruin him.  The stupid part is where Detroit, which finished with 57 points in 1982-83 and 69 in 1983-84, decided that they were just one player away from being a serious contender.  And so they traded Craven and Joe Paterson to Philadelphia for a 34-year-old Darryl Sittler.  Sittler was still productive, and there was a huge issue when the trade was made because of reports that Sittler was about to be named Flyers’ captain.  Sittler would last just one season in Detroit before retiring, while Craven would put up 26 goals and 61 points as a 20-year-old in Philadelphia.  Detroit was worse in 1984-85 than they had been in 1983-84, while Philadelphia would increase their point total by 15 and end up in the Stanley Cup Final under rookie coach Mike Keenan.

Craven had bulked up from a gangly 165 pounds to around 190 in the two seasons since being drafted, and his versatility and skill kept him in the lineup.  In 1987-88, he would set career highs with 30 goals and 76 points.  He had 11 points in his first 14 games in 1988-89, when one of the worst incidents in NHL history took place.

In a hard-fought game against Detroit on November 4, 1988, the Red Wings came back from a 3-1 third period deficit to tie the game with under a minute to play.  But with less than 20 seconds to go, Craven got free on a breakaway.  Determined to prevent Craven from scoring in the most decisive way that he could possibly think of on such short notice, Miroslav Frycer swung his stick across Craven’s face, cutting both Craven’s cheek and left eye as a result.  Craven scored anyway, and would miss five games while his eye damage healed.  (Let that sink in for a second.  Murray Craven scored a goal immediately after having his eye sliced by a stick, and then came back after missing just five games.)  In his second game back, he suffered either a knee sprain or hyperextension; the original sources report both.  He suffered a deep bone bruise in his foot in January, and a broken left wrist in February.  Then after coming back in time for the playoffs, he’d break his right wrist and miss the remainder of the season.  Limited to just 51 regular season games, he’d still score 37 points.

This was basically the beginning of Murray Craven that’s most remembered.  He would spend the remainder of his career dealing with nagging injuries, and yet being productive in spite of it.  He was productive in Philadelphia until they traded him to Hartford, he was productive there until he was traded to Vancouver, he was productive there until he was traded to Chicago, he was productive there until he was traded to San Jose.  But along the way, the injuries piled up.  Back spasms, groin pulls, bruised shoulder, rotator cuff damage, neck strain, broken fingers, and two herniated discs in his neck.  And through it all, he still played and he still produced.  After being traded from Philadelphia, he’d play another 648 games in the NHL and put up 335 points.

In 1998, Craven was just finishing up his 14th full season in the NHL (plus the two partial ones before that).  He had just played his 1,000th NHL game, he had just hit 250 goals, and he was just short of 750 points.  Injuries had taken a major toll, and there was a question of what interest there would be when he hit free agency a week after the expansion draft.

Normally, this is the type of player that you stay as far away from as possible because the chances of getting any real return is low.  But there is another factor to consider, which is a huge wild card.

Nashville’s concession for the 1998 entry draft was that they would simply be in the second spot for the draft lottery draw.  San Jose won the lottery, pushing Nashville down to 3rd overall in what was generally regarded as a draft with a very clear top two (Lecavalier at #1, David Legwand at #2).  After them was a big cluster of defensemen: Bryan Allen, Brad Stuart, Dmitri Kalinin, Martin Skoula, and Vitaly Vishnevski.  All we know in hindsight is that Nashville had one of two goals for the draft: get Legwand, or get the most value possible out of the pick.  They would eventually move up the morning of the draft to #2 and take Legwand.

Now, you’re probably wondering where Murray Craven comes into all of this, or how Legwand relates.  If Nashville thought that they were going to be able to move up to #2 to take Legwand, then it makes perfect sense to consider picking up Craven in the expansion draft.  Craven had been drafted as a scoring center, and remade himself over time into a versatile left wing who could do everything.  And he was tough; guys don’t come back from a cut eyeball in five games or play with neck strains or abdominal injuries (or, as time would show just one year later, repeatedly trying to play through a severe nerve injury in his leg) without being absolutely tough as hell.  And the mind never went away; he was a smart and instinctive player who was able to compensate even as the body started to go.

If Nashville were thinking that they could move up and get Legwand, it would make sense to try to get Craven through the expansion draft.  A young forward would need dedicated veteran guidance from someone who had been in a similar position.  Legwand, 18 years old and coming in as a highly-touted scoring center from Detroit, would be right there with someone else who had entered the NHL at age 18 as a highly-touted scoring center with Detroit.

I believe that it’s possible to overstate the idea of “veteran leadership”, since the media likes to use it as a catch-all to describe an aging player whose skills are gone but is still occupying a roster spot.  In this case, it wouldn’t be a wasted pick if Craven were picked and then signed with Nashville; he could still kill penalties, he could still work the power play, and he could slot in on the second line on half the teams in the league at that point.

Of course, all of this is conditional on a lot of things.  Craven was a pending Group III free agent and could be lost for nothing except a low compensatory pick the next year, it might prove to be impossible to move up to #2 to get Legwand, and it’s possible Craven would want nothing to do with an expansion team at all.

But I think the gamble would be worthwhile.

 

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