Up to Dater: Auston Matthews' Unorthodox Audition to Be No. 1 in 2016 NHL Draft

Adrian Dater@@adaterNHL National ColumnistJuly 20, 2015

Czech Republic's Pavel Zacha, right, follows Auston Matthews of the U.S as he cheers during the gold medal game USA vs Czech of the Ice Hockey U18 World Championships 2014 in Lappeenranta, Finland, Sunday, April 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Martti Kainulainen, Lehtikuva)    FINLAND OUT
Associated Press

There is nothing neutral about the feelings of some in Switzerland toward star prospect Auston Matthews. Marc Crawford, for one, would just love to give the kid a temporary new home.

Matthews, a native of Scottsdale, Arizona, is expected be the first American-born player to go first overall in the next NHL draft since Patrick Kane with Chicago in 2007. He missed being eligible for this year's draft by two days, as he was born on Sept. 17, 1997. Players who will be 18 years old on or before Sept. 15 are eligible for that year's draft.

If he had been eligible, many believe he would have gone third overall, maybe second. So, in the year before the next draft, Matthews wants to do something that would be unprecedented by a potential No. 1 pick from North America: He wants to play with pros in Europe, in this case for former NHL coach Crawford's Zurich club in the Swiss National League.

"Oh god, we're trying," Crawford told Bleacher Report, when asked the chances of Matthews playing for his Zurich Lions. "I say a Novena every night."

Matthews, whose agent, Pat Brisson, is good friends with Crawford, apparently is eager to play for Crawford as well. He would be paid, for one thing, but the bigger reason would be to play against men under a man who coached 15 years in the NHL, winning a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 1996. It would be a better preparation for the NHL, perhaps, than one year against junior players.

But Matthews may not be able to obtain a working visa to play in Switzerland or any other pro European league. If not, the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League hold his junior playing rights, having drafted him in the third round of the 2012 bantam draft. The matter is still in the limbo of the bureaucratic process, with a decision expected one way or the other soon.

Whoever gets him for a year, Crawford said, will get a dynamic player.

Matthews, a 6'2" center, posted 55 goals and 116 points in 60 games for the U.S. under-18 national team this past season.

"He'd be in the NHL right now if he was two days older. Everybody I've talked to said he would have been in the discussion for No. 2 (in last month's draft) and 3 at least," Crawford said. "I watched him play three games at the (under-18) championships and twice at the World Juniors, and he's a stud. He was head and shoulders above anyone there. If we get him, by the end of the year he'll be our best player. He may struggle the first five or six games, as any 18-year-old might, but there's no doubt in my mind that he has everything to be a great player. He's Ron Francis. That's exactly the player he reminds me of."

Crawford freely admits that having Matthews for a year wouldn't hurt his chances at his main goal of getting back to the NHL. Crawford led Zurich to a Swiss National League title two years ago and lost in the league finals this year. Crawford's last NHL job was at Dallas in 2010-11, when the Stars finished 42-29-11 and missed the playoffs with a loss on the last day of the regular season.

He says his time in Switzerland has made him a much better coach.

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

"It's brought me back to my roots. You really become a teacher again," said Crawford, who has a 549-421-100-77 career NHL coaching mark. "I don't have a large staff, and there's so much more practice time here. I really get to spend more time with them and teach the game."

Asked what the now 54-year-old Crawford would tell the 35-year-old Crawford who won a Cup his second year on the job, he said: "I would say 'don't take yourself so seriously and you really need to give the credit where it needs to be' and that's with the players. Coaches help, they're definitely assets, but you can't feel so self-important."

Asked Friday to assess the chances of Matthews coming to Switzerland, Crawford said: "About 50-50." Brisson wouldn't put any numerical odds on his client's chances of playing in Switzerland but told Bleacher Report, "There's still a chance."

Buffalo dream offseason turns nightmarish

Fans and personnel associated with the Buffalo Sabres practically did handstands out of Sunrise, Florida, after last month's NHL draft. Not only did they come away with Jack Eichel with the No. 2 pick, but acquired Ryan O'Reilly from Colorado and goalie Robin Lehner from Ottawa.

And then came the week of July 8-15. First, Eichel was unimpressive in Sabres development camp. He was outplayed noticeably by 2014 first-round pick Sam Reinhart in a scrimmage, prompting new coach Dan Bylsma to tell the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle's Kevin Oklobzija: "I was hoping to see a blast of explosiveness (from Eichel). We didn't get to see that."

Then, O'Reilly was arrested and charged with impaired driving and leaving the scene of an accident, reportedly after his vintage truck struck a Tim Hortons in Lucan, Ontario, knocking out a glass window.

According to the Buffalo News, O'Reilly's blood-alcohol level was above 80 milligrams, which under Canadian law could result in his losing his license for a year and other fines. He could face a maximum six months in jail for the charge of leaving the scene.

Apr 7, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Ryan O'Reilly (90) attempts a shot on the Nashville Predators net in the second period at the Pepsi Center. The Avalanche defeated the Predators 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

O'Reilly had just signed a seven-year, $52.5 million contract extension with the Sabres, the richest in team history.

O'Reilly and his agent, Pat Morris, have not commented since the incident. Having covered O'Reilly for several years as a player with the Avalanche, I can say that he never had any personal off-ice issues. If he does have a problem with, say, alcohol or any other substance, he may have a great ally in beating it through his father, Brian.

Brian O'Reilly is a life coach who runs a business called Human Potential Plus and has worked previously with the Detroit Red Wings on personal growth issues. As it stands, O'Reilly will automatically be enrolled in the NHL's substance abuse/behavioral health program.

O'Reilly is still just 24 years old. There are many better days of hockey—and life—ahead of him.

Expansion money windfall?

According to an NHL management source, the breakdown of the coming expansion money from two new teams would be something like this: The league would collect $500 million from each team, with the league office taking a $100 million cut. The other $400 million—or $800 million total—would be dispersed evenly among the 30 existing teams—or about $26.6 million each.

What does that mean for the fan of, say, the Florida Panthers or Arizona Coyotes, two teams that have struggled with their finances and at the gate the last few years? It means they will be able to pay their bills easier, of course, and have more money to spend on their own and other free agents.

Canadian dollar troubles

That expansion money figures to ease some of the pain of a few Canadian franchises, which are seeing their costs rise as the value of their currency drops in relation to the American dollar. As of Friday, the value of the American dollar to the Canadian Loonie was $1.30.

While the salary cap has made the fluctuation of the Canadian dollar less of an issue for Canadian teams, the fact is the growing disparity again could have ramifications for smaller-market Canadian teams such as Winnipeg and Ottawa, and maybe Edmonton and Calgary.

Twenty to 30 years ago, the weak Canadian dollar nearly sank a couple of franchises and was partially responsible for the moving of two teams—Quebec and Winnipeg—to American cities. The Oilers had to trade Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles partially over the issue.

A large percentage of the revenues of Canadian teams are in Canadian dollars, but they must pay players in U.S. dollars and take the cost hit when traveling to American cities. For much of the previous decade or so, the Canadian dollar was equal to, and at times worth more than, the American greenback.

Because of the cap, better TV money and the coming expansion money, the Canadian cities will survive such drops in their currency. Their owners will be just a little less rich, that's all.

Scotty's Corner

Arthur Mola/Associated Press

Introducing a weekly feature to this column, a piece of wisdom, advice, remembrance or funny story from legendary former NHL coach Scotty Bowman, now 81 and still going strong.

Bowman continues to marvel at the escalation of player salaries in the NHL compared to his first days as a coach in the 1960s and shared this bit of his past:

"My first year in St. Louis (1967-68, for a Stanley Cup finalist team), the entire payroll was $475,000. My salary was $15,000. Glenn Hall was at $35,000, more than double anyone on the team!"

Think of it: $475,000 for an entire NHL payroll: or, only two-thirds more than the Boston Bruins' bar tab after winning the Stanley Cup in 2011.

Adrian Dater covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him @Adater.


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