The feelings of joy and pride of being taken eighth overall in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks must seem like a distant memory to the now-28-year-old Mark Bell. Bell is about to begin his second campaign with one of the most media-scrutinized clubs in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and, oddly like the player, the team is working hard to start fresh and embark on a new path to recapture past glory.
Mark Bell had a successful junior career playing for the OHL's Ottawa 67's, helping the team capture the Memorial Cup in the 1998-99 season. The 2000-01 season saw him spend time with both the Blackhawks and their AHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, tallying 42 points in 61 games. He also represented Canada at the World Juniors in 2000, where he won bronze with the team.
The following four seasons were spent with the Blackhawks, his offensive stats increasing each year. However, Bell never really tore it up with the Hawks as some people may have hoped; many pundits' comparisons to Joe Thornton were obviously misplaced.
Bell was traded to the San Jose Sharks following the 2005-06 season. However, prior to the start of training camp, he was arrested in the San Jose area for an alleged hit-and-run while intoxicated. He played under the cloud of this situation one disappointing season with the Sharks. On Aug. 14, 2007, he pleaded no contest to the charges against him. The Sharks then shed the drama of this situation when they traded Bell to the Maple Leafs as part of the Vesa Toskala deal.
Bell's 2007-08 season began with a 15-game suspension, as levied by the NHL pertaining to their agreements with NHLPA regarding substance abuse, and then appeared in just 35 games with the Leafs while accumulating 10 points—his lowest total and points-per-game average since his first year of juniors.
This summer has has seen Bell learn the meaning of humility. He has recently talked about the humbling experience that has been the summer of 2008 for him, as he paid his societal dues as meted out by the California judicial system. With the terms of his sentence complete, the issue is behind him. He can now re-focus on the game that has given him joy and made him wealthy. He is only 28 and definitely still has the skills and size to become a top power forward and agitator in today's NHL.
It's a new beginning for Bell, just like his team; it is now up to him to put it all together to impress his former coach/new Leafs head coach Ron Wilson at training camp, which is now just a few weeks away.
I wish him all the best, as I think all Leafs fans do.