Eleven years is an eternity in sports.
It was only 11 years ago that at 18-year-old Sam Gagner scored 49 points to be third in scoring on the Edmonton Oilers and now earlier this week, the Vancouver Canucks, who were so far away from the playoff race they needed the Hubble telescope to see it, have released Gagner and he won’t be on the team’s roster at the start of the upcoming NHL season.
With 11 seasons of hockey in the biggest league in the world, he’s not even 30 and he’s considered expendable in a 31-team NHL.
A friend of mine was getting involved in her first NHL fantasy pool draft last weekend and messaged me and a bunch of our mutual friends to see how much knowledge we could present about rookie NHL goaltenders because apparently she’ll need one for the draft. Not the best draft rule I’ve ever heard of but whatever. It’s not like I could help her out anyway since my knowledge of the NHL has fallen by the wayside in the last few years.
But both of these things made me stop to think for a bit about how quickly things can change in the world of sports. So many things are radically different since the beginning of the 2007-08 season.
Coaches are notoriously hired to be fired, to be sure, but I have a hard time picturing Guy Carbonneau behind the bench of the Montreal Canadiens, and my belief that Joel Quenneville was born behind the bench of the Chicago Blackhawks with a giant moustache is apparently unfounded.
Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin led the league with 65 goals, which seems unlikely given that he’s a Russian and those guys can’t be counted on to win anything in the playoffs. Better to be a player like Brad Boyes, a Don Cherry salt-of-the-earth type who was 25 at the time he tied for fifth in league scoring with 43 goals. Except that Boyes hasn’t played in the NHL since a mediocre eight-goal season with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2015-16.
A beard-less Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks led the league in assists with 67, one ahead of Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk and four ahead of oft-concussed Marc Savard of Boston.
The Blackhawks had a dynasty and lost it since then. In the last 11 years, they’ve won three Stanley Cups. But their salary cap woes finally took a toll on them and they stumbled all last year. Players named Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz were second and third on the team in scoring, ahead of former Olympians Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith.
Those Canucks? They were on the rise and a few years away from a Stanley Cup final apperance. They had a lot to look forward to with their talented team that had an enviable mix of youth and experience and with new head coach Alain Vigneault they were ready to take the next step.
Their 2007-08 media guide was a reflection of that. Basically every picture they had of players involved in the community, or players getting ready for a game, or players hanging out with Canucks alumni, featured captain and then-franchise-face Markus Naslund.
Oh hold on, that wasn’t an alumnus of the Canucks in that one picture; that was aging Trevor Linden. He’s already retired, been named president of hockey operations for the Canucks for four years and has since quit that job.
The Canucks drafted Patrick White that July but he never played a game in North American pro hockey, which may be some kind of record for a Minnesota-born player with six years as a pro, all in European leagues.
Now? There’s a team in Las Vegas that made the Stanley Cup final in their first season, Ovechkin has a Stanley Cup win on his resume and there’s rookie goaltenders everywhere. The Detroit Red Wings have gone from making the playoffs every year since the Sharks got in the league in 1991 to two straight years away.
Clayton Keller led the Arizona Coyotes in scoring last year, which is a sentence that almost would have made sense 11 years ago when Peter Mueller and Kyle Turris were considered the future stars of the franchise, which was then coached by Wayne Gretzky.
Locally, Payden Benning led the Bruins in scoring with 57 points in his last season, dangling through the Civic Auditorium before moving on to a four-year stint at Curry College.
And even if we still have Cherry over-hyping Toronto-born and raised players today, it’s a far cry from the world of 11 years ago.