Thinking locally (cont.)
Posted: Wednesday December 12, 2007 1:34PM; Updated: Wednesday December 12, 2007 2:16PM
The Stars are a perfect example of how to make this work. Although the franchise has slipped on the Dallas sporting scene since the glory days of a decade ago, there's no denying the remarkable success story of its efforts to expand the appeal of the game at the grassroots level. The team has created the blueprint, expending considerable capital to build rinks around the Metroplex and filling that ice time by making it affordable for parents to get their kids on hockey skates along with -- or instead of -- sneakers or cleats. Once they've got them on the ice, the Stars have developed a well-honed system that funnels the most promising talent into high-end streams bolstered by elite coaching.
Though the prominence of football suggests the area is unlikely to generate the sheer numbers of participants you'll see in more traditional northern settings, Dallas already has begun to develop players who've experienced significant success. Among them is goalie David McKee, who set a number of NCAA records while attending Cornell and had a cup of coffee with the Ducks after signing as a free agent. Several Dallas-born or trained players have been drafted, including defenseman Trevor Ludwig, son of former Stars defenseman Craig Ludwig, and right winger Austin Smith, who was selected just this past summer.
It's unlikely that any those players will become a star in the NHL, but they're proof that a local hothouse can, over time, develop prospects. With a little luck, a real star (and maybe, a real Star) will emerge in short order.
There are a couple of possible scenarios for implementing a homegrown prerogative. Probably the most simple would be a claim system. By a certain date, a team would put in a claim on the local player of its choosing. In exchange, it would forfeit its first-round pick in that year's draft. Most years, the at-large pool would be more promising for the majority of teams, but the potential for a local hero to emerge would generate ink and airtime during the development period -- something the league always could use a little more of. And when a real star was cultivated, then you've got a marketing opportunity.
This works out well for the players, too. After all, what kid doesn't grow up dreaming of playing for the hometown team?
There are snags that would have to be ironed out, including how to define a team's territory and what, exactly, makes a player eligible for exclusivity: place of birth or where he plays his minor hockey. But those problems could be dealt with.
Does it give an advantage to traditional talent hotbeds like Toronto, Edmonton and Detroit in the early stages? Absolutely. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's good for the game to have strong teams and identifiable stars in core markets.
But the whole point of this concept is that the league benefits by turning ALL of its towns into hockey hotbeds. And maybe by putting the onus on teams to expend every possible effort, aided by the carrot of exclusive access to homegrown talent, they take a step toward making that happen.
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