Since the curtain is finally about to fall on this convoluted Sean Avery morality play, I suggest we all take a deep breath and move on to talking about people who can actually play hockey.
Like Jeff Carter.
As this laudatory Philadelphia Inquirer feature reveals, Carter is part of that class of player that Avery detests. He's "soft-spoken," to the point of whispering interview responses. Doesn't talk about his stats. Seems almost embarrassed by his own gifts. In a word: boring.
But put this guy out on the ice, and he's a deadly machine. Pinpoint shot, wicked release, big, fast, intelligent, defensively aware. This is the kind of artistry that the sport and its media should salivate over, instead of the third-tier clownery that Avery has stooped to.
Anyway, there ends my rant. From here, let me instead focus on a quote made by Flyers' GM Paul Holmgren in the aforementioned article: that Carter and his 2003 NHL Draft classmates "may go down as the greatest ever."
It seemed a bit of a gaudy claim to me, until I actually looked at the first round of the '03 Draft. And yea, thereupon gazing, mine eyes began to melt.
I could just list all of the top-tier names from this draft class, but I thought it would be more interesting (and debate-worthy) to draft a starting roster from this daunting group of players.
Twelve forwards, six defensemen, two goalies, with picks based upon who I'd want playing for me right now. Unlike NHL general managers, I don't overpay based on potential. Overall draft positions are listed in parentheses.
Let this fantastically nerdy exercise commence.
Thomas Vanek (5) - Ryan Getzlaf (19) - Corey Perry (28)
Zach Parise (17) - Jeff Carter (11) - Nikolai Zherdev (4)
Milan Michalek (6) - Mike Richards (24) - Nathan Horton (3)
Dustin Brown (13) - Eric Staal (2) - Patrice Bergeron (45)
I mean, seriously. Eric Staal's on the fourth line, people. The first round in 2003 featured a stunning array of forward talent, highlighted by the drafting coups that the Getzlaf/Perry and Carter/Richards duos represent.
Elsewhere, Vanek has lived up to his billing as the greatest pure goal scorer of this group. Zherdev is a pure bundle of finesse who seems to finally be hitting his stride in the Big Apple. Parise, MIchalek and Bergeron all have hockey IQs that bound off the charts (not that there's a single dunce in this pack). Brown is a fun mix of scrappiness and scoring.
Staal and Horton are both enduring statistical downturns right now, but they were drafted up top for a reason. Their natural gifts will shove them back on track soon enough.
In short: this group represents a constellation of the NHL's future (and present) stars.
Dion Phaneuf (9) - Shea Weber (49)
Brent Burns (20) - Brent Seabrook (14)
Braydon Coburn (8) - Ryan Suter (7)
Book it: the top three defensemen of this group will annually contend for the Norris Trophy once Nicklas Lidstrom finally grows bored of casually dominating the entire league. Phaneuf's already been a finalist, and has garnered plenty of hype for his spine-adjusting hits and crackling slapshot. Oh yes, and his girlfriend.
Then you've got the NHL's leading blueline scorer in Weber, who is fast becoming a beast of a player for the Predators. Already, he's getting some Norris love for his work this season. Next comes Brent Burns, and it's almost getting redundant, but like Phaneuf and Weber he does everything well. He's big, powerful, fast, and wires it from the point. Plus, our patron blogger Mirtle has been trumpeting his abilities for over a year now.
Not to be outdone, Seabrook and Suter are silky smooth with the puck, and Braydon Coburn will be a ghost that haunts Don Waddell and the Atlanta organization forever... especially when he's shutting down the Thrashers' top line in Philips Arena twice a year for the next decade.
Together, these six players represent the new breed of NHL defenseman. Not just hulking golems that lean on forwards and hack at skill guys, but dexterous players who can impact the play at both ends of the ice.
Marc-Andre Fleury (1)
Jaroslav Halak (271)
At opposite ends of the draft, the Penguins and Canadiens each picked up a starting-caliber netminder. Fleury, who nearly got Blackburn-ed when Pittsburgh brass rushed him into the NHL at 18, has since helped lead his team to the Stanley Cup Final. His annual injuries are becoming a concern, but it's impossible to discount his athleticism and growing swagger.
Halak's an interesting case: a supremely talented youngster eternally buried behind an even younger, even more talented goaltender. We won't know his full mettle until he escapes the blinding glare of Jesus Price's halo, but for now it's safe to say that he's got a full-time future in the NHL.
So... have alternate roster suggestions? Want to further bask in the brilliance of this draft class? Want me to shut up already? That's what the comments section is for, people.