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The top three 2000 NHL draft picks from left to right, Dany Heatley, left, picked second by the Altanta Thrashers, Rick DiPietro, centre, picked first by the New York Islanders, and Marian Gaborik picked third by the Minnesota Wild, give a thumbs up. (Jeff McIntosh)
The top three 2000 NHL draft picks from left to right, Dany Heatley, left, picked second by the Altanta Thrashers, Rick DiPietro, centre, picked first by the New York Islanders, and Marian Gaborik picked third by the Minnesota Wild, give a thumbs up. (Jeff McIntosh)

Islanders finally get another crack at No. 1 Add to ...

Mike Milbury makes his living spouting his views and analysis as a member of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada on-air crew.

He wasn't afraid of strongly criticizing wannabe NHL owner Jim Balsillie for his controversial bid to buy the Phoenix Coyotes out of bankruptcy and move them to Hamilton, and he scolded former player Eric Lindros for his internal row with Paul Kelly, executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association.

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But when recently asked for an interview to discuss his notorious 2000 NHL entry draft - in which the then New York Islanders general manager shockingly selected goaltender Rick DiPietro first overall - Milbury declined the chance to delve into that risky decision nine years later.

"I don't really know that I need to rehash it," he said. "It doesn't do me any good. It makes no sense to me.

"Frankly, I've been down that road and have had the crap kicked out of me over many things by many people who didn't have the knowledge of what went on."

The reason to rewind and scrutinize the 2000 event is that for the first time since Milbury walked up to the podium at the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary and announced DiPietro's name, the Islanders have the first overall selection in the NHL entry draft (at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Friday).

When Milbury decided to make his daring move with DiPietro, the Isles already had a 21-year-old, former first-round pick named Roberto Luongo in goal.

But in a bevy of player moves that day, Milbury shipped Luongo and Olli Jokinen (a first-round pick by the Los Angeles Kings in 1997) to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha. Milbury also dealt another former first-rounder, Eric Brewer, Josh Green and a second-round pick (later used to draft Brad Winchester) to the Edmonton Oilers for Roman Hamrlik.

The surprising moves were widely condemned, even by some of Milbury's counterparts.

"What does he know about goaltenders?" New York Rangers GM Glen Sather said at the time. "He may have given up a better goaltender in Luongo. Remember, he didn't think Tommy Salo could play, either."

Milbury had dealt Salo to the Oilers in 1998, when Sather was still running the team in Edmonton, for Mats Lindgren and an eighth-round pick (Radek Martinek). Although Salo later suffered humiliation at the 2002 Olympics with his shoddy performance in a loss to Belarus, the Swedish goalie was selected to play in the 1999 NHL all-star game.

Then Panthers GM Bryan Murray was asked if he was surprised Luongo arrived on his doorstep at a relatively cheap price. "A little bit," he said at the time. "But I think he got some good players back as well."

Milbury didn't take kindly to the views expressed on his bold draft-day manoeuvres, which included taking forward Raffi Torres with the fifth overall choice. (Torres has since scored 146 points in 358 games with three NHL teams.)

"They should mind their own business and worry about their own problems," he said. "I don't care. We've suffered slings and arrows of critics over the years. We're a lot closer to a playoff spot today than we were yesterday. We've pushed ourselves ahead a couple of years."

The Islanders did make the playoffs two years later, but with DiPietro honing his skill in the minors and Chris Osgood as the main goalie.

The inside story is Milbury even surprised his own scouts nine years ago, when he went with DiPietro over their choice, winger Dany Heatley from the University of Wisconsin.

Heatley went to the Atlanta Thrashers with the No.2 pick and has scored 260 goals and 283 assists in 507 regular-season games. The third overall pick was Marian Gaborik, who has scored 437 points (219 goals) in 502 games with the Minnesota Wild.

But Milbury, who was a brash U.S. collegiate player at Colgate and went on to enjoy a solid 754-game NHL career with the Boston Bruins, liked the same swagger in DiPietro, a fellow New Englander and Boston University product who also played for the U.S. world junior team.

"As dangerous as this might be, maybe Mad Mike has something going for him," Milbury said nine years ago, incorporating his nickname. "We have not made the playoffs in far too long [six years at the time] We need to get there. It's a roll of the dice a little bit.

"I'm sick and tired of losing."

DiPietro, now 27, hasn't been a bust by any means. He's an aggressive goalie with an ability to play the puck well. He already has a club-record 13 assists for a goalie and has compiled 117 victories in 273 career NHL appearances. He also played for the United States at the 2006 Turin Olympics.

But the big question for him now is can he rebuild his career after missing all but five games last season with hip and knee problems?

In 2000, most in the hockey world felt Luongo was the can't-miss kid, and he has grown into one of the game's top goalies. In hindsight, it turns out DiPietro wasn't even the best goalie in the 2000 draft. Sather and the Rangers snatched up Henrik Lundqvist in the seventh round (205th overall).

Milbury acknowledged nine years ago that his reputation was on the line and his future could be tied to replacing Luongo with DiPietro.

"If we're wrong, boy, will we have made a mistake," he said.

When he was asked what that would mean to his future, "Then, off with the head," Milbury replied.

He was right.

Milbury's GM duties were taken away from him in the spring of 2006, but the move wasn't solely because of the DiPietro decision. A few months after Milbury's dismissal, owner Charles Wang also saw his club's future was with DiPietro and signed him to a controversial 15-year, $67.5-million (U.S.) contract.

NINE YEARS LATER

The last time the New York Islanders had the first overall selection in the NHL entry draft, they chose netminder Rick DiPietro in 2000. Nine years later, The Globe and Mail asked a panel of five NHL scouts to redo the first round of that draft, taking into account how those players' careers have gone (name, point total tabulated from the panel - 30 for a first selection, 29 for second, etc. - drafting team and overall pick number from 2000):

Updated 2000 first round

1. Dany Heatley (150), Atlanta, No. 2

2. Marian Gaborik (143), Minnesota, No. 3

3. Henrik Lundqvist (142), N.Y. Rangers, No. 205

4. Niklas Kronwall (132), Detroit, No. 29

5. Alexander Frolov (121), Los Angeles, No. 20

6. Scott Hartnell (120), Nashville, No. 6

7. Lubomir Visnovsky (114), Los Angeles, No. 118

8. Brad Boyes (106), Toronto, No. 24

9. Anton Volchenkov (99), Ottawa, No. 21

10. Rick DiPietro (96), N.Y. Islanders, No. 1

11. Brooks Orpik (94), Pittsburgh, No. 18

12. Justin Williams (86), Philadelphia, No. 28

13. Paul Martin (85), New Jersey, No. 62

14. Jarret Stoll (79), Calgary, No. 46

15. Nick Schultz (78), Minnesota, No. 33

16. Matthew Lombardi (67), Edmonton, No. 215

17. Antoine Vermette (66), Ottawa, No. 55

18. Jonas Hiller (63), Anaheim, undrafted free agent

19. Ilya Bryzgalov (58), Anaheim, No. 44

20. Steve Ott (57), Dallas, No. 25

21. John-Michael Liles (53), Colorado, No. 159

22. Sean Avery (50), Detroit, free agent

23. Niclas Wallin (30), Carolina, No. 97

24. Rostislav Klesla (25), Columbus, No. 4

25. Andreas Lilja (24), Los Angeles, No. 54

26. Ron Hainsey (23), Montreal, No. 13

27. Alexandre Burrows (22), Vancouver, free agent

28. Antti Miettinen (21), Dallas, No. 224

29. Raffi Torres (20), N.Y. Islanders, No. 5

30. Jason Williams (19), Detroit, free agent



Original 2000 first round

1. Rick DiPietro, G, N.Y. Islanders

2. Dany Heatley, RW, Atlanta

3. Marian Gaborik, LW, Minnesota

4. Rostislav Klesla, D, Columbus

5. Raffi Torres, LW, N.Y. Islanders

6. Scott Hartnell, RW, Nashville

7. Lars Jonsson, D, Boston

8. Nikita Alexeev, RW, Tampa Bay

9. Brent Krahn, G, Calgary

10. Mikhail Yakubov, C, Chicago

11. Pavel Vorobiev, RW, Chicago

12. Alexei Smirnov, LW, Anaheim

13. Ron Hainsey, D, Montreal

14. Vaclav Nedorost, C, Colorado

15. Artem Kryukov, C, Buffalo

16. Marcel Hossa, C, Montreal

17. Alexei Mikhnov, LW, Edmonton

18. Brooks Orpik, D, Pittsburgh

19. Krys Kolanos, C, Phoenix

20. Alexander Frolov, LW, Los Angeles

21. Anton Volchenkov, D, Ottawa

22. David Hale, D, New Jersey

23. Nathan Smith, C, Vancouver

24. Brad Boyes, RW, Toronto

25. Steve Ott, LW, Dallas

26. Brian Sutherby, C, Washington

27. Martin Samuelsson, D, Boston

28 Justin Williams, RW, Philadelphia

29. Niklas Kronwall, D, Detroit

30. Jeff Taffe, C, St. Louis



 

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