Don Waddell and the Curious Case of Ray Whitney

I’ve sometimes wondered about what it would be like to be a genie, partially because I can be annoying and partially because I can be overly pedantic.  The result would be that someone would free me from a lamp and wish for something, not realizing that I would find more ways than thought possible to mess with that person.  Wish for a million bucks?  Here you go, one million male deer.  Or one million Zimbabwean dollars.  Or one million American dollars, all in pennies and stacked in a pile the size of a mansion.  Or one million American dollars, all in large bills in a briefcase in the back seat of your car…which happens to be unlocked and in plain sight.

Or maybe you don’t want money, maybe you’d just prefer to fly.  In that case, you can only fly at 1 MPH.  And if you want to fly at a normal speed, you have to be in a fully reclined position like on a luge.  And you’re still subject to whatever the temperature is at the altitude that you’re flying, as well as the oxygen content of the air.  No sir, no homeostatic bubbles for your flying pleasure.

By the time that my hapless lamp-finder had thought of all contingency plans for how I could mess with them, a single wish would be a contract 50 pages long and single-spaced.  And I’d still find a loophole to continue to annoy them with.

When it comes to a contract, it’s as much about what’s in there as what’s not in there.  And this brings us to the unique and strange case of Ray Whitney and Don Waddell, which featured a creative “little guy” taking on the much larger and much more powerful interests.

Ray Whitney was a 2nd-round pick of the San Jose Sharks (#23 overall) in the 1991 Entry Draft, which was his second year of draft eligibility.  In the preceding two seasons with Spokane of the WHL, he’d scored 114 goals and 298 points, and in the most recent WHL playoffs had added 13 goals and 31 points in 15 games.  Then in the Memorial Cup, he added another 5 goals and 11 points in the four games of the tournament, en route to a Spokane championship.

Whitney also stood approximately 5’8″ at the time and was of slight build, which is how he’d drawn so little NHL attention to that point.  There was also a thought that he was simply riding shotgun with his Spokane linemate Pat Falloon, and that his point totals could be inflated based on that.  That’s why Whitney was the #95-ranked North American skater going into the 1991 draft, and the Sharks took him about four rounds earlier than expected.

The two sides could not agree on a contract, possibly over whether Whitney would be starting 1991-92 in the NHL or back in Spokane.  At the time, there was a strict deadline that if a junior player was not signed by October 2, he could not be signed during that season at all.  And if he still had junior eligibility remaining when he signed an NHL contract, his only options were the NHL or his junior team.  Whitney signed with the Cologne Sharks of the German League rather than with San Jose, allowing him to make six figures rather than a few hundred dollars in the WHL.  He had 9 points in 10 games with Cologne, but a dispute over payments – in which Whitney said that he hadn’t been paid at all after two full months – led him back to North America.  And the firestorm was about to begin.

The International Hockey League was a 10-team league in 1991-92, with eight of those teams being direct affiliates with an NHL team and two being independent.  Of the major players in this saga, the Kansas City Blades were affiliates of San Jose, and the San Diego Gulls were independent.

I’ve seen differing accounts of who made first contact.  All that is known for certain is that around November 10, 1991, there was a discussion between Gulls’ GM/coach Don Waddell and Whitney’s agent (Mike Barnett) over the possibility of Whitney playing the remainder of that season with the Gulls.  This was despite the fact that it would mean competing directly against the affiliate of the team that had drafted him just five months prior.

Whitney played his first game with the Gulls on November 15, and had a goal and an assist.

Whitney couldn’t sign with San Jose because the NHL has a rule that no players eligible to play Junior Hockey may sign with an NHL team after the NHL season begins. That also precluded Whitney from signing with any IHL team affiliated with an NHL team.

Since San Diego is an independent, Whitney was eligible to sign here.

“We own his contract,” Waddell said. “San Jose has his NHL rights.”

Zieralski, Ed. “Infusion of young talent helps Gulls skate circles around Roadrunners.” Evening Tribune (San Diego, CA) 16 Nov. 1991, Sports: C-3

If Whitney’s arrival in San Diego was under the radar when he first came back over from Germany, it was about to get a lot bigger.

Gulling situation: The San Diego Gulls have caused an uproar between the National Hockey League and junior hockey leagues and put the IHL on the spot with the surprise signing of junior hockey prospect Ray Whitney.

Whitney scored 67 goals and 118 assists in 72 games for Spokane of the Western Hockey League last season. Whitney, San Jose’s No. 2 pick, was sent back to his junior team last fall. NHL sources say he didn’t want to go, so he forced a release from that team and went to Europe. But when his European team defaulted on its contract, Whitney signed with the Gulls.

That is an unprecedented move. It violates an agreement between the NHL and junior hockey, by which a player with junior eligibility must play with his NHL team or be returned to the junior team. The Gulls are not bound by the mandate because they are one of the IHL’s two independent teams.

“I think the IHL should not allow Whitney to play,” Blues general manager Ron Caron said. “It’s a violation, and I would think the IHL would want to obey our rules, considering how many NHL parent clubs operate in it.”

Further, San Jose now must watch Whitney play all season against its own IHL farm team, Kansas City. The Sharks can’t sign Whitney for the NHL roster, either – the NHL deadline for signing junior players passed in October.

“Whitney is for real – he’s an NHLer,” Philadelphia Flyers scout Glen Sonmor said. “In the IHL, he’ll probably be Rookie of the Year.”

Eminian, Dave. “Rivermen Get Lavoie From Blues –  More Help May Arrive Soon.” Journal Star (Peoria, IL) 19 Nov. 1991, Sports: D1.

The obvious solution would be for Kansas City to acquire Whitney in a trade, despite the fact that the Blades were the affiliate of the Sharks and the NHL guidelines (possibly) forbade it.  At the heart of this matter was whether this meant that Whitney could not play for the Blades at all that season, or whether it meant that he could not sign and be assigned there.  If the former was the case, no trade could be made.  If the latter, then it meant that another team could sign him and then trade him to Kansas City.

(As a side note, I really don’t have a hell of a lot of tolerance for Ron Caron’s bitching in this case.  The Blues were trying to force their way into the status of NHL contenders by throwing around money in free agency like it was candy, they’d been hit hard in the Shanahan/Stevens arbitration case, and Caron whined to the media about it for the better part of a year.  He was referred to as a “renegade” and a “maverick” within the media for trying to find unconventional ways to bolster his team, he was unapologetic about his aggression and willingness to be creative, and here he is in this case raising hell about someone else doing exactly the same thing that he couldn’t have done even if he’d tried.  Spare me, Professor.)

The Blades appear near a trade that would bring former Canadian juniors star and controversial center Ray Whitney to Kansas City, a source close to the negotiations said Wednesday.

The source, who requested anonymity because of his closeness to the situation, said the trade involving Whitney, who recently signed with the IHL’s independent San Diego Gulls, could happen within the next two weeks.

Flanagan, Jeffrey. “Blades want to trade for San Jose draftee. Second-round pick spurned Sharks, is with San Diego team in IHL..” The Kansas City Star 21 Nov. 1991,  Sports: D1

Check the date on that.  In less than seven days, Whitney had gone from not playing an IHL game at all to playing two and being the subject of controversy and trade talks.

Later on in the same article:

Spokane officials, meanwhile, have indicated to Whitney’s agent, Michael Barnett, that they believe they retain rights to Whitney, who is 19 and has one year of juniors eligibility remaining.

But the IHL does not have restrictions regarding the signing of Canadian juniors with eligibility remaining, a loophole that led Barnett and Whitney to sign a minor-league deal with the Gulls.

It is possible Spokane may contest Whitney’s signing with San Diego in the form of litigation.

To contest the signing would require Spokane seeking injunctive relief against San Diego and Whitney.  In very brief terms, an injunction is a court order to do or not do “something”.  What exactly “something” is can take on a limitless number of forms.  If Spokane sought an injunction against Whitney playing for San Diego and it was granted, it would mean that a court was issuing an order that Whitney was not allowed to play for San Diego until the matter was formally resolved in a court case.

In this case, Whitney continuing to play for San Diego would mean that both he and the team would be in violation of a court order, which is a really bad idea.  That’s if Spokane sought and obtained an injunction.

While this threat was being bandied about, trade talks between San Diego and Kansas City were reportedly building.

The proposed trade that would bring former Canadian juniors star Ray Whitney to the Blades has been blocked momentarily by the NHL.

The issue will be addressed Dec. 16 at an NHL’s Board of Governors meeting in Florida.

The Blades have a deal worked out with the Gulls for Whitney, pending the NHL’s ruling.

Flanagan, Jeffrey. “Blades waiting for word on deal – Whitney trade has been temporarily stopped by league.” The Kansas City Star 5 Dec. 1991, Sports: D6

At this point, the report is clearly that a trade had been reached between the two sides, which would resolve the saga once the NHL ruled on the application of the rule.

Signing with the NHL was out because NHL teams are prohibited from signing young players who have Canadian juniors eligibility remaining once the NHL season begins.

That rule, as it stands now, also extends to the NHL affiliates in the minors, so if Whitney wanted to play minor league hockey this season, it had to be with an independent.

Enter Don Waddell, general manager and head coach of the independent Gulls. While Kansas City general manager Doug Soetaert was trying to figure out a way to sign Whitney, Waddell slipped the promising youngster into a Gulls uniform.

“Kansas City was waiting for a ruling, but I decided to move and sign him,” Waddell said. “I didn’t do anything illegal or immoral.”

Soetaert and the Blades still are waiting for that ruling from the NHL. But Soetaert said the Blades aren’t sore about Waddell taking Whitney.

“We’re sitting in first place without him,” Soettart [sic] said. “It’s just that I was talking to his agent prior to his signing with San Diego. I was trying to negotiate with him. But then he pulled the pin, and Ray signed with San Diego.

“As everyone is well aware of, he is the draft choice of the San Jose Sharks organization. It would be kind of nice to have him here in Kansas City.”

If Soetaert gets NHL approval, Whitney still may play in Kansas City this year. He and Waddell have discussed trade possibilities, but they have not been able to agree on terms.

Zieralski, Ed. “Does he know way to San Jose?.” Evening Tribune (San Diego, CA) 6 Dec. 1991, Sports: D-9.

A week later, it was still going on, although the days waiting for an NHL ruling were ticking down.

But after contract talks with the Sharks stalled, Whitney fled to play in Europe, then joined the Canadian Olympic team. After that he signed with San Diego, where he has been stuck in the middle of a controversial, legal-rights taffy pull.

Spokane still believes it has the rights to Whitney, and while the Sharks still own the NHL rights to him, they can’t sign him because it is long past the Oct. 5 deadline NHL teams can sign junior players with eligibility remaining.

Enter the Blades, who’ve had a deal pending with the Gulls for Whitney for weeks, while waiting for the NHL owners to meet and decide whether the trade can be made.

Flanagan, Jeffrey.  “Blades see star up close Gulls’ Whitney – still waiting to find out if he’ll join KC..” The Kansas City Star 13 Dec. 1991, Sports: D3.

As things continued to build, Waddell, probably tired of hearing about it, denied that trade talks had taken place at all.

Because of rules concerning Canadian juniors, no NHL team or NHL affiliate could sign Whitney once the season began — leaving the door open for the independent Gulls. But the Blades, the Sharks’ affiliate, continue to give paper chase.

“Whitney belongs to the Gulls, period,” Gulls Coach/General Manager Don Waddell said last night. “There have been no trade talks.”

“Whitney scores 3 as Gulls win, 5-1.” San Diego Union, The (CA) 15 Dec. 1991, Sports: H-8.

At the same time, Blades center Ron Handy publicly said that he was part of the trade discussions that may or may not have been taking place at all.  Handy had previously played with the Peoria Rivermen, also of the IHL, and the article that detailed this also underscored more issues with the Whitney signing from Peoria’s parent team (the St. Louis Blues).

Whitney, the second player chosen in the draft by the NHL expansion San Jose Sharks, is a player still eligible for junior programs. But he left his junior team this fall, played briefly in Germany and then signed with the Gulls.

The Gulls’ signing sparked some protest in NHL circles because, by rule, Whitney should have to return to his junior program, play for an amateur team or sit out the season.

But the Gulls, who are one of three independent pro teams, can operate as outlaws because they are not owned by or affiliated with an NHL team.

But Whitney’s presence on Kansas City’s roster – the Blades are the farm team of San Jose – would be viewed as a break in the NHL ranks.

“It would be a mockery of the system, a defiance of the rules,” St. Louis Blues director of minor league operations Bob Plager said. “What’s to stop a mass raid on junior programs then? The Blues could – and maybe will – go out and sign a big-time junior kid and put him in Peoria. I would be inclined to recommend that.

“We should go after Eric Lindros. What’s to stop us from offering him a large sum of money to play under an IHL contract in Peoria?”

Handy, who came out of retirement to sign with Kansas City on Nov. 27, says he figures he was obtained to be offered as trade bait.

Eminian, Dave. “Handy May Be Center of IHL Debate -Ex-Rivermen Star Says KC May Trade Him For Junior-Eligible Player.” Journal Star (Peoria, IL) 17 Dec. 1991, Sports: D5

An interesting side note is that Plager’s mocking suggestion of offering a huge contract for Eric Lindros was in fact something that could be done by an IHL team.  Would anyone consider such a drastic move?

As time ticked on, what reporter Jeffrey Flanagan referred to as a “legal-rights taffy pull” continued on.  But through it all, Whitney kept producing.  He was named to the IHL All-Star Game, which in itself had a minor controversy.  Waddell was named coach of the Western team, which gave him the right to fill out the roster.  To do so, he polled the various coaches to see who should be named to the team.  He called Peoria coach Harold Snepsts, who suggested three different players from his team as viable options for the All-Star team.

Waddell ignored the suggestions completely and went with Peoria defenseman Dominic Lavoie, who had played only 16 games in the IHL that year out of a possible 38.  Whether this was done, as Waddell said, because Lavoie would be an All-Star if not for injury, or because Waddell felt like giving a bit of annoyance back to Peoria after their outspoken opposition to him having signed Ray Whitney, is unknown.

In the same article about Lavoie’s selection, this bit was included:

Gulls coach Don Waddell, on whether he’s talked with Kansas City about trading to the Blades junior-eligible all- star center Ray Whitney (14 goals, 13 assists, 19 games): “I admit there has been some trade talk with Kansas City about Whitney. But I have not talked to them – well, what I mean is I haven’t called them, they’ve called me. There are some holes on my team I’d like to fill, and I’ve made it clear that there isn’t a player on my team I wouldn’t trade.”

Eminian, Dave.  “Lavoie Counts His Lucky Stars – Rivermen Defenseman Happy IHL All-Star.”  Journal Star (Peoria, IL) 7 Jan. 1992, Sports: D1.

If you’re paying extremely close attention to the dates on the articles, you’ll notice that this is now three weeks after the NHL’s board meeting on December 16 that was supposed to include a ruling on Whitney’s case.

But San Jose and Kansas City weren’t forsaking improving the Blades while waiting on the Whitney ruling.

The prospects are diminishing that center Ray Whitney will play in a Blades uniform this season, but the Blades have at least one more trick up their sleeve.

The Blades on Monday signed former San Jose draft pick Sandis Ozolinch to an International Hockey League contract.

Flanagan, Jeffrey. “Blades sign Sharks draftee; Blades notebook.” The Kansas City Star 21 Jan. 1992, Sports: C7.

I am not certain at what point Sandis Ozolinsh began to have his name spelled as such; I can verify that at least through the entirety of the 1991-92 season, it was spelled “Ozolinch”.

However, there is an interesting tidbit at the very end of the same article.

San Jose officials recently petitioned the NHL to allow the Blades to make the trade for Whitney. The Sharks have not yet heard back from the NHL’s legal office.

This was written on January 21.  By now, over a month had passed since the NHL was supposed to issue a ruling on the Whitney case, and it had not been done.

Perhaps the Sharks weren’t as displeased as they initially were.  After all, Whitney was playing against several NHL-caliber players and several others who had played in the NHL previously.  He was teammates with players like Ron Duguay and Dmitri Kvartalnov.

And perhaps as important, he was performing at an extremely high level.  He played in the IHL’s All-Star Game and was named MVP after a two-goal, three-assist game.  And the national media was taking notice.

In the sunshine of San Diego, the San Jose Sharks are getting a clearer picture of Ray Whitney as an NHL prospect.

Whitney, 5-8, playing for the San Diego Gulls, has wowed the International Hockey League with 22 goals and 23 assists in 32 games.

“Even on bad nights, he does little things that show you he can do something at the NHL level,” Sharks assistant general manager Dean Lombardi said.

The Sharks, convinced Whitney’s development would be stunted, weren’t pleased when he signed with the German League last fall. When Cologne didn’t fulfill contract promises, Whitney jumped to San Diego.

“Some people thought we were behind all that,” Lombardi said. “Right, we put together a deal to put him in Germany, have him break the contract, make him come back, have him cut by the Canadian Olympic team and then have him sign with San Diego. That would be some engineering.”

Allen, Kevin. “Sharks attracted by IHL’s Whitney.” USA Today 4 Feb. 1992, Sports: 4C.

Time dragged on with still no ruling from the NHL.  In the meantime, San Diego changed hands at the top with a sale of the team to Fred Comrie.  And he was determined to make a splash and boost his team in a monumental way.  Perhaps he was taking Peoria’s and St. Louis’ mocking advice.

Would Eric Lindros consider playing in the International Hockey League for the remainder of the season?

The owners of the San Diego Gulls, who intend to make it worth his while, think he might.

On Friday, they transmitted a firm offer to France, where Lindros was playing for the Canadian Olympic team. The deal is this: If Lindros plays out the season for the Gulls – approximately 30 games – he will be paid $500,000, considerably more than he would get if he returns to the Ontario Hockey League’s Oshawa Generals.

Because the Gulls are not affiliated with any NHL team, there are no restrictions to prevent Lindros from accepting the offer.

Already on the team is Ray Whitney, the second-round draft pick of the San Jose Sharks who starred for the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs last season, as well as former NHL players Ron Duguay and Charlie Simmer, and Keith Gretzky, Wayne’s brother.

Both parties would probably do well financially. Lindros would get his half-million and the Gulls would have a good chance of boosting their average attendance to 14,000 from 11,000. Lindros, en route to Canada from France, will reveal his decision this week.

“$500,000 Offer For Lindros – IHL’S San Diego Gulls Bid For Canadian Star.” The Seattle Times 25 Feb. 1992, Sports: D5.

At some point around this time, Whitney did in fact sign with San Jose for the 1992-93 season.  Or maybe not.  I’ve only found a passing mention of this so far, and other sources that indicate a later time.

Around the same time, San Diego signed goalie Sean Burke, who played to that point in 1991-92 with the Canadian National Team after a lengthy contract dispute with the New Jersey Devils.  Once the Olympics concluded, it was expected that Burke would go back to New Jersey.  Instead, he ended up in San Diego, which drew the ire of Devils’ GM Lou Lamoriello.

When Burke returned from the Olympics, [new Gulls owner Fred] Comrie made his move. Burke could continue to wait for a trade. Or he could come to San Diego and play hockey for a decidedly unminor-league sum of money.

Burke came. Those screams you hear originate in New Jersey.

“Did we take a risk?” wondered Waddell. “Yes and no. The first phone call I got Monday was from Lou Lamoriello, the New Jersey general manager, which I predicted would happen when we signed Burke Sunday night. He wanted to know if there was an escape clause in the contract. I said no. They offered us money for the contract (reportedly $500,000). We said no.”

Is Waddell concerned his franchise may come to be regarded as some sort of maverick as a result of its daring?

It started with Whitney gamble

“I think we get credit for going out on a limb,” he said. “We’ve done that a number of times this year, starting right with Ray Whitney, early in the year, when nobody else would sign him and we withstood all the (threats) of lawsuits and all that by turning him pro as a player.

“This is just another step, an example of this organization trying to do what it can to put the best team on the ice. We haven’t broken any rules. We’ve done everything above board. I think most people look at it as we’re just trying to win hockey games.”

Waddell always has had the savvy for such maneuvering. Now, with Comrie, he has a willing conspirator.

Lockwood, Wayne. “There’s nothing average about Gulls, whose ambition is strictly big-league.” San Diego Union-Tribune, The  12 Mar. 1992, Sports: C-2.

One ruling that the NHL could get done in a hurry that involved the Sharks was one involving a trade deadline deal involving Kelly Kisio, who was sent to Chicago.  But the league’s phone number and fax machine rang busy for over an hour as the deadline came and went.  Two days later…

Both teams had said they completed the deal before the deadline but couldn’t get through to the fax machine at the league’s Central Registry in Montreal. The governors ruled the trade invalid during a meeting in Chicago, where the board had gathered to discuss the league’s stalled collective bargaining negotiations.

”It was ruled that the trade was not completed as required by league by-laws,” NHL spokesman Gary Meagher said. “It came in after the deadline.”

Sharks General Manager Jack Ferreira was on a plane when word got out that the deal had been canceled and couldn’t be reached for comment. Kisio couldn’t be reached either and Assistant G.M. Dean Lombardi said he didn’t have enough details about the decision to evaluate it.

”I don’t blame anybody for trying to apply the rules,” Lombardi said. “If they determined that it was after the deadline, then that’s it.”

Weaver, Mike. “Kisio Deal Is Ruled Invalid By NHL – He’ll Stay With Sharks For Rest Of Season.” San Jose Mercury News (CA) 13 Mar. 1992, Sports: 1D.

This ruling came less than 36 hours after the trade deadline.

Meanwhile, the trade winds may have still been blowing.

The Kansas City Blades, the farm team for the San Jose Sharks, reportedly are trying to work a deal with the San Diego Gulls to get Ray Whitney, who is under contract with the Sharks. Whitney has 72 points in just 52 games.

Schutte, Mark. “Komets gearing for preview of playoffs 03/12.” Journal Gazette, The (Fort Wayne, IN) 13 Mar. 1992, A Section: 1B

I’m not 100% certain that this was still the case.  It seems that in the aftermath of the IHL All-Star Game, the Sharks cooled off on either forcing Whitney into their system or just getting him out of San Diego.

Meanwhile, turmoil was hitting the NHL.  Long-boiling labor issues were finally reaching a critical point, and the NHLPA went on strike on April 1.  During the strike, the IHL playoffs began with a first-round series pitting San Diego against defending champion Peoria.  And in the WHL, Spokane was facing the Seattle Thunderbirds in a second-round playoff series.

To make a long story short, the NHL strike that threatened the playoffs lasted ten days.  The Gulls were shockingly hammered out of the playoffs by Peoria.  And Spokane lost their playoff series.

In other words, Whitney’s IHL season had ended and the WHL team that held his rights had their season ended as well.  And that meant…

The Sharks will be able to take a glimpse into the future at the Cow Palace tonight.

A piece of that future arrived Tuesday when center Ray Whitney — the second player chosen by the Sharks in last year’s NHL entry draft — joined the team in time to play tonight against Calgary and in Thursday’s season finale against Winnipeg.

Thanks to the 10-day strike that interrupted the NHL season and the quick elimination of the San Diego Gulls from the International Hockey League playoffs, the Sharks were able to put Whitney on their roster this season instead of having to wait for training camp in September.

Whitney is expected to play at least occasionally on a line with Pat Falloon, his former teammate in juniors.

“This was a great surprise,” said Whitney, who had been playing for the Gulls and signed with the Sharks late Monday. “I’m a little nervous, but I’m happy to be here.”

The road to San Jose has been a long one for Whitney, who played in Germany before joining the Gulls in November. He was unable to sign with the Sharks after the start of the season because he still had juniors eligibility with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League. That prohibition disappeared with the conclusion of Spokane’s season last week. And when the Gulls were eliminated from the IHL playoffs Monday, Sharks assistant general manager Dean Lombardi was in San Diego to sign Whitney.

“I’ve been all over the world to get to San Jose,” Whitney said after practicing with the Sharks for the first time. “It was a long haul, but everything has worked out great for me.”

Weaver, Mike. “With Whitney In Lineup, Sharks’ Future Is Now.” San Jose Mercury News (CA) 15 Apr. 1992, Morning Final, Sports: 1E

How did he look in his debut?

The latest Sharks signee, center Ray Whitney, made his NHL debut last night against the Calgary Flames.

Whitney, signed Tuesday to a multiyear contract, played sparingly but assisted on the Sharks’ third goal, which tied the game almost halfway through the third period.

Whitney and Sharks right wing Pat Falloon are best friends and played together last season at Spokane (Wash.) of the Western Hockey League, leading the team to the championship of major junior hockey.

“(Whitney) earned his opportunity to come up here,” Sharks assistant general manager Dean Lombardi said last night. “It wasn’t just because he was Falloon’s teammate.”

Whitney played this season for the San Diego Gulls of the International Hockey League, accumulating 36 goals and 54 assists, and his 90 points were sixth in the league in scoring. Whitney was the IHL All-Star Game’s Most Valuable Player.

“What he accomplished in the minors as a 19-year-old is phenomenal,” Lombardi said.

Curiel, Jonathan. “SHARKS REPORT – Whitney Makes His NHL Debut.” San Francisco Chronicle 16 Apr. 1992, Sports: C2.

It was a whirlwind six months, one that involved a staredown involving numerous teams, people, and leagues.  It established Waddell as a maverick of a GM (despite his objections to such a label), and certainly didn’t do much for the positive perception of Whitney.

What’s interesting is that over the years, this episode and this perception has been largely forgotten.  Waddell’s legacy took a beating over the years with the Atlanta Thrashers, and Whitney became a widely-respected player known as much for quiet leadership as for his on-ice production.

This writing may be especially timely, since the most recent #1 overall draft pick (Auston Matthews) spent his draft year in Europe rather than play junior hockey.  Whether this negatively impacts his career or legacy in time is unknown.  But one thing is for certain: it sure didn’t affect Ray Whitney.

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