For the Carolina Hurricanes and the National Hockey League the annual NHL Entry Draft means television and live audiences for what is essentially the largest hockey business meeting of the year.
In an effort to gain such exposure for the city of Raleigh and the growth of hockey in the Triangle, NHL Events and Entertainment Vice President Frank Supovitz paid a visit to the Entertainment and Sports Arena. Supovitz examined and critiqued the facility and is considering Raleigh and the Carolina franchise as hosts to the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
|'CANES FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICKS|
|Each year the NHL holds an entry draft where teams gain the professional rights to players. The draft is the number one means by which players join the league. Here's a look at the Hurricanes franchise'sfirst-round draft picks since joining the league before the 1979-80 season.|
|1979 Ray Allison (18th overall)|
|1980 Fred Arthur (8th overall)|
|1981 Ron Francis (4th overall)|
|1982 Paul Lawless (14th overall)|
|1983 Sylvain Turgeon (2nd overall)|
1983 David Jensen (20th overall)
|1984 Sylvain Cote (11th overall)|
|1985 Dana Murzyn (5th overall)|
|1986 Scott Young (11th overall)|
|1987 Jody Hull (18th overall)|
|1988 Chris Govedaris (11th overall)|
|1989 Robert Holik (10th overall)|
|1990 Mark Greig (15th overall)|
|1991 Patrick Poulin (9th overall)|
|1992 Robert Petrovicky (9th overall)|
|1993 Chris Pronger (2nd overall)|
|1994 Jeff O'Neill (5th overall)|
|1995 Jean-Sebastian Giguere (13th overall)|
|1997 Nikos Tselios (22nd overall)|
|1998 Jeff Heerema (11th overall)|
|1999 David Tanabe (16th overall)|
“There’s a lot of esoterica in selecting a host city for the draft,” said Supovitz. “Teams bid on the honor to host the draft, the All-Star Game and other NHL events, so there’s pretty thick competition. Every couple of years, we bid out the All-Star game and draft for two years beyond that. We have the next two years already known and we’re looking at the next two years beyond that. We’re kind of four years out in many cases.”
The Florida Panthers will host the 2001 NHL Entry Draft at National Car Rental Center in Sunrise, Fla. June 23-24. In December 2000 the NHL announced that Toronto will play host to the 2002 draft at Air Canada Center June 22-23, 2002.
Florida may be the most interesting selection the NHL has made for a draft site. Typically areas where fans are familiar with junior, minor and college-level hockey players make the best hosts to the draft.
“Obviously it is an event that, in the northern parts of the country and in Canada, has almost a natural affinity because there’s some familiarity with junior hockey,” said Supovitz. “Here (in Raleigh and in the south) there is junior hockey played and minor hockey played but it’s not as well attended and not as well followed. That, in and of itself, is not a reason not to come because the draft is also an incredible marketing tool for both the NHL and the host team to be able to spread the good gospel of our game."
Still, Supovitz seemed optimistic that markets like Florida and Raleigh can successfully host large-scale hockey events like the draft.
“All of the drafts that I’ve been associated with, which goes back to 1992, were all great,” said Supovitz. “The reason they were was that we spent the time to think about, very carefully, where we were going to host the draft. We go through very deliberate processes and I think that generally that has paid dividends.”
The Hurricanes organization hosted the 1994 NHL Entry Draft in Hartford. The then-Whalers chose fifth overall and selected Canadian Major Junior hockey standout Jeff O’Neill who now leads the team in goal scoring. Supovitz remembered the Hartford draft as a good experience.
“Hartford was a good place to do the draft at the time that we did it there,” said Supovitz. “The club needed a boost – I think they got it. Was it well attended? Yes, it was. It was actually a mid-week, evening draft. We did it on Tuesday night – at least the first few rounds and the rest was done on Wednesday morning because, at that time there were 11 rounds.
“The only issue I remember in Hartford was the scarcity of hotel rooms,” said Supovitz. “There just weren’t a lot of them and they weren’t close to the arena or close to one another and that’s problematic from an operations standpoint. But it was a very well done draft. I think the (Hartford) Civic Center was an incredibly versatile building even though it was old. They had a large exhibition center that was attached that we used for media, media workrooms and interview areas – it was fine."
|NHL DRAFT CITIES|
1989 Bloomington, Minn.
1993 Quebec City
1996 St. Louis
2001 Sunrise, Fla.
Since that 1994 draft in Hartford, efforts have continued to make the event exciting to television and arena audiences.
“I think the draft has evolved a lot since then,” said Supovitz. “There’s more of a show to it. We certainly spend a lot more time in trying to make it appealing to the arena audience. I can’t remember a bad draft experience. They all have their own personalities.”
The NHL Entry Draft began in 1963 and has grown significantly in that time. Until 1980 the Draft took place in Montreal hotel meeting rooms and in the league’s Montreal offices. The 1980 entry draft was held at the Montreal Forum and was attended by 2,000 spectators.
It was not until 1985 that the draft moved away from Montreal. Metro Toronto Convention Centre played host that year as 7,000 onlookers attended the event.
Since then the draft has become a major event for the NHL and families throughout the hockey world.
“We have a very unusual draft in the sense that, everybody’s here,” said Supovitz. “If you see other drafts on television, frequently what you’re looking at is one representative from each team on the telephone to a team’s headquarters somewhere else. The entire NHL family comes to one place and, to me, it looks very much like a political convention on the floor.”
So how does Supovitz decide what city and team to recommend to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to host the draft? The decision involves more than a team’s willingness and a city’s commitment to making the draft a gala event.
“What you need to do is pull together all of the hotel rooms that you need and all of the infrastructure that a city needs to provide,” said Supovitz. “That’s one of the things that we look at is what kind of infrastructure can the business community provide – primarily hotel rooms and places that our teams and general managers and prospects can stay that all come into town.
“We also take a look at how the arena lays out and whether it is conducive to hosting a draft,” said Supovitz. “And, we look at the community and whether or not the community will embrace the draft. Will people come to it? Will they find it interesting? Will they get excited about the fact that it’s here? Not just fans but the community, the city and the local governments – are they going to be excited about it? Because it is a television opportunity, a fan opportunity and those are the things that people see.”
Each time the league selects a host city and team for the draft Supovitz said is a three-step process and then he alone makes a final recommendation to the commissioner.
“There’s no committee,” said Supovitz. “It’s a formalized process until you make the decision. The process works like this. We issue bid specifications – a package of information that we send to every team. Then we receive proposals back that generally answer the questions that we ask within the specifications and provide assurances that the specifications are able to be met within the arena, within the city and within the hotel community. The third step of the process is what I am doing now which is visiting with the clubs that have expressed an interest and the cities that express interest.”
So, how does the year-and-a half old Entertainment and Sports Arena stack up to its competition for getting the draft? In Supovitz’s eyes, the Arena is as good or better than any in the league.
“It’s an incredibly versatile arena,” said Supovitz. “Other than being beautiful and new there’s a lot of spaces that the NHL requires for operating the draft that the ESA obviously has. Various breakout rooms and meeting rooms and things of that nature. The control room and the technology are terrific and that will provide a great show for the fans. I have two days of surveying to do beyond the Arena out in the community, meeting with the hotels, meeting with the city, meeting with the sports commission and others to determine the level of interest in hosting a draft. Again, not just from a business perspective, because clearly there is an economic impact, but also in terms of making sure that there are people that really want to see it around here. Again it’s a televised event – we want it to look great and we want it to reflect well not only on the NHL but on the Carolina Hurricanes and the Research Triangle.”
Supovitz’s final recommendation to Bettman on the site of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft will come sometime in the next few months. There is no specific deadline as to when the recommendation or an announcement must be made.
Carolina Hurricanes Website Reporter Kyle S. Hanlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.