Tale of Two Draft Picks

Spezza and Kobasew Sent Home

Rick Charlton

October 3rd, 2001

Two players, on the cusp of entering their NHL careers, were sent back to junior yesterday.

One kicking and screaming and the other, inexplicably, by his own choice.

While Jason Spezza returns a dejected player from Ottawa's camp to the embrace of the OHL Windsor Spitfires, Calgary's Chuck Kobasew has left many shaking their heads in wonderment.

Also see ... The Skinny On Chuck's Status

The Senators determined Spezza wasn't good enough to crack their roster but Kobasew had been beating all odds and had already been accepted into the Flames fold for the coming season.

All that was needed was a quick swipe of a pen across a piece of paper and Kobasew, as a raw 19 year-old, would have been riding charter jets to LAX instead of the iron lung between Kelowna and Spokane.

He made his choice.

It's a bad one.

Yet, in the long run, it's probably just as well for Calgary Flames as an organization.

When the Flames called Kobasew's name in Miami at the NHL draft this summer, the assumption was that he would never attend Calgary's training camp in the first place. As a college player, he would have to wash his hands of anything related to the pro game. In fact, in an interview on draft day, Kobasew confirmed he'd be going back to Boston College.

Within a month, that scenario had changed. Suddenly the Kelowna Rockets had acquired his rights. In another breath, Kobasew announced he would be leaving Boston in favour of long bus rides in the Western Hockey League.

As a newly drafted 19 year-old at his first pro camp, it was assumed Kobasew would get a quick look in Calgary before being sent off for a year in Kelowna.

Instead, he shot the lights out with five pre-season goals, looking unusually positionally sound, quick on his skates and generally defiant of the conventional wisdom that players just out of diapers can play in the NHL.

The Flames made personnel decisions based on the premise he would be here - prematurely perhaps.

We should dispel one notion, however. Signing a deal, even with a base salary and bonuses that might have pushed him to $1.5 million per year in the NHL, was no guarantee of instant financial largesse.

Kobasew would certainly have received a significant mid-six figure signing bonus - which is a nice place to start if you're 19 - but the rest of his deal would be contingent on him playing in the NHL. Any demotion back to Kelowna or to Calgary's minor league affiliate in St. John would have ended the ongoing financial gravy train instantly.

The full value of a Kobasew deal, hitting all the bonuses, had he signed, might have been in the $3.5 million to $5 million range over three years.

Or ... it could have been the signing bonus and three years in the minors at $75,000 a year.

Just ask Rico Fata.

That's the downside. Or the upside, depending upon how you want to look at it.

Kobasew has every right to refuse to put his signature to any deal put in front of him. Just as the Flames have every right to reject any warped bonus structure Kobasew's agent might have been asking for.

The NHLPA sacrificed their young in signing the last CBA, giving the NHL a salary cap on entry-level players. But the players association has been pushing hard in recent years to lower previously unattainable bonuses within range of all but the seriously crippled.

Kobasew is a pawn in that game. Or he made an informed choice.

For the Flames, they give up the five goals that helped them to a 3-2-2 pre-season record but, as noted in Calgarypuck.com's Pre-season Prognostications yesterday, no one really felt that Kobasew was going to last a full NHL season anyway.

Some of our prognosticators didn't think Kobasew would last a full NHL month.

Sending him back to junior isn't a big deal - just a big distraction. And, let's face it, a bit of a disappointment for fans starved for good news the last few years.

Is it an impact on the hockey club this season? Some have postulated the Flames risked losing Rico Fata for no reason but Fata failed to start the final two pre-season games and was probably out of the picture anyway. Kobasew may have impacted the all important first month of this season but the tougher grind of a full NHL schedule - compared to the lightweight college schedule Kobasew was used to - meant the wheels were probably going to fall off sooner rather than later anyway.

Kobasew was set to start the year in Calgary but probably wasn't going to finish here.

Still, Spezza would have loved to have been in Kobasew's shoes, having the opportunity to make a choice.

And he would have chosen differently.