There will likely never be as chaotic an NHL Draft draft week as there was here in 1991.
That draft is most remembered for the Eric Lindros Affair, where the 18-year-old superstar of the Oshawa Generals made it clear he wasn’t interested in playing for the Quebec Nordiques and wanted to pursue his options elsewhere. It was the NHL’s version of John Elway saying no-thanks to the Baltimore Colts and it’s something that hasn’t happened in the league before or since. Things were much tamer and more routine when the draft returned to Buffalo in ’98 for its first run at then-Marine Midland Arena.
The day before the ’91 selection party in Memorial Auditorium, Lindros and agent Rick Curran staged one of the biggest circuses the league has ever seen in the Buffalo Convention Center. The late Jim Kelley, the Hall of Fame hockey columnist from The News, termed it “an occasionally feisty” 40-minute news conference, with the French-Canadian media so outraged Lindros was likely to snub the Nordiques that they pounced.
Wrote Kelley: “Most of the questions were civil, some were poorly thought out and a few were downright hostile, but Lindros never wavered.”
Lindros compared his situation to Rocket Ismail, who had bypassed the NFL a few weeks earlier to sign with the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL. After being continually pushed about Quebec and the Nordiques, Lindros lashed out and said, “I don’t like being dictated to. I dictate to myself. I did not ask for all this. You guys wanted this. I don’t think of myself as bigger than the game. All I want is what’s best for myself.”
On draft morning however, Lindros was bigger than the game. The Nordiques made the top pick but Lindros did not take the podium or don his jersey and the crowd in the building booed. The fans followed with thunderous cheers a few minutes later as forward Pat Falloon was taken No. 2 as the first selection of the expansion San Jose Sharks -- and donned the team’s new teal jersey.
Negotiations also went on throughout draft day for the Sabres to lure John Muckler away from Edmonton and the future Buffalo coach and general manager signed a deal to become director of hockey operations. Just 28 games into the next season, Rick Dudley was fired as coach and replaced by Muckler.
The NHL’s All-Rookie team was introduced prior to the Lindros session and it was a star-studded class that included Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Fedorov, Rob Blake, Ed Belfour and Eric Weinrich. The only flop of the group was Boston forward Ken Hodge. Jr. Legendary Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster Danny Gallivan was on hand for a conference call to announce the new members of the Hall of Fame, with Islanders teammates Mike Bossy and Denis Potvin getting the nod.
(Those kind of events aren’t part of the draft meeting anymore, as the league has split awards, Hall of Fame announcements and the like.)
As for the selection party itself, the real winner turned out to be the New Jersey Devils, picking at No. 3 after Quebec and San Jose. They chose Kamloops defenseman Scott Niedermayer − and he went on to become the only player to capture the Stanley Cup, World Cup and Memorial Cup, as well as gold medals at the Olympics, World Championships and World Juniors. Pretty heady resume.
Philadelphia selected Swedish star Peter Forsberg at No. 6, a pick that was widely criticized as a reach. The Flyers, of course, were right as Forsberg became a Hall of Famer. But he never played for Philly until signing as a free agent with the Flyers in 2005. Instead, Philly used him as one of its trade pieces with Quebec to get Lindros and Forsberg went on to win two Stanley Cups with Colorado after the Nordiques moved there in 1995.
The Sabres were surprised that Granby defenseman Philippe Boucher slipped to them at No. 13 but he become more known in team history as the player they sent to Los Angeles for Alexei Zhitnik, who became one of the key members of the 1999 Cup finalists.
Zhitnik was taken at No. 81 in the fourth round that same year by the Kings. He played at least 70 games in eight straight years for the Sabres after being acquired in 1994. Also bound for the Cup final in Buffalo eight years later was sixth-round choice Brian Holzinger of the Detroit Junior Red Wings.
By comparison, the 1998 draft here was not very memorable. In the rear-view mirror, it’s considered a low one for top talent. Tampa Bay’s selection of Vincent Lecavalier at No. 1 overall and Brad Richards in the third round set the stage for its Cup victory in 2004 but the draft is most remembered for Detroit’s thievery of Pavel Datsyuk in the sixth round at No. 171. If you re-did the draft today, obviously, Datsyuk would probably go No. 1.
Colorado drafted defenseman Robyn Regher at No. 19 and shipped him to Calgary, where he played for 10 seasons. Regher played two in Buffalo before landing in Los Angeles and winning a Stanley Cup in 2014.
Two players with the Sabres last season, David Legwand and Brian Gionta, were taken in ‘98. Legwand went No. 2 overall to Nashville and owns just about every Predators team record.
“My agent looked at me and said, ‘You’re going to Nashville’ and I said, ‘Whoa,’ ” Legwand recalled last season to The News. “Other than that, it was pretty much a whirlwind day. It was exciting, obviously. It’s like it comes full circle to get the chance to play where you’re drafted.”
Legwand joked that he asked Jack Eichel during the season and the Sabres’ No. 2 overall pick from 2015 told him he was born in 1996.
Said Legwand: “I said I was drafted in ’98. That makes me really old.”
Gionta went to New Jersey in the fourth round at 82nd overall and has put together seven 20-goal seasons with the Devils and Montreal Canadiens before coming to Buffalo to serve as captain the last two years.
The Sabres’ top pick in ‘98 was Dmitri Kalinin, a serviceable defenseman who played on both of their Eastern Conference finalist teams. So did No. 2 pick Andrew Peters and No. 6 Ales Kotalik, taken seven spots before Datysuk. Other than them, however, it was a thin crop.