Now the story comes out and it's all about how the poor kid was done in by a pack of wolves. How Jason Arnott could have been with the Edmonton Oilers forever if only he'd been left alone, if only the media hadn't reported on all the wrong things he'd said or, heaven forbid, that little paternity suit he was forced to settle.
In other words, if the Edmonton press corps had simply buried its head in a snowbank everything would have worked out fine. The Oilers would have been happy and Arnott would have developed into the major ice warrior who has almost single-handedly led the New Jersey Devils to a 2-1 series lead over the defending Stanley Cup champion Dallas Stars.
It's a load of hooey is what it is, but that hasn't stopped former Oilers general manager Glen Sather from spreading it.
According to Sather, he never wanted to trade Arnott. He liked the kid, thought he was as sensitive as he was talented. But then the pressure began to build and it all went to pieces.
So what if Arnott admitted after a particularly pathetic on-ice showing that he "just wasn't into it?" So what if he'd play well one night before disappearing for games on end? So what about the paternity suit business? He's a young millionaire and an easy target. That was the logic.
"He got into a [paternity]problem but only one time," Sather told the Edmonton Journal last week. "He was young. It became such a sensational scoop for everybody and it chased him out of town. He was sensitive, but what kid his age isn't? I never wanted to get rid of him."
The truth is the Oilers didn't do enough to tutor Arnott or help him mature. When he became a problem, it was Sather's choice to get rid of him and in January 1998 that's what happened -- Arnott went to New Jersey in exchange for Bill Guerin and Valeri Zelepukin.
As good a trade initially as it was for the Oilers, it has since become a far better deal for the Devils. After finally learning what it takes to be a professional athlete, and a successful one at that, Arnott has arrived. He has become a team player worth his height and weight in dependability. When he scores a point against Dallas, the Devils win. When he doesn't, they lose. When he plays poorly and the Devils lose, he can't wait to get back on the ice and make things better.
It's a matter of responsibility. And finally, at the age of 25, Arnott has grown up and embraced his share. You see it in his play and you can hear it in his words.
Since this Stanley Cup final began, Arnott has talked less about himself and more about linemates Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora. When Devils coach Larry Robinson criticized Elias and Sykora for their soft play in Game 2, Arnott rushed to their defence, saying: "I'm not going to pinpoint one or two guys. We live and die as a line. Things just didn't go right."
In Game 3, Sykora scored the winning goal in a 2-1 final. It came on the power play with Arnott assisting. But it was Arnott's goal late in the first period on a one-against-two rush that had Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock wondering about his team's chances and juggling his lines so that Stars centre Mike Modano went head-to-head with Devils rookie Scott Gomez and not Arnott.
"I thought Arnott's goal was the key," Hitchcock said. "We played a great first period but we lost energy after that goal. We need a better advantage [in line match-ups] There is no point in only breaking even."
Just before Hitchcock spoke, Robinson complimented Elias and Sykora for their improved play in Game 3 but saved his highest praise for their centre. Arnott's response was to praise the Devils' penalty killing. It was further proof that the kid who struggled in Edmonton has finally found what he needed most in New Jersey -- guidance.
That's what the Devils provided for Arnott. They had players who could talk from experience and a winning background. They had warhorse Scott Stevens at captain. They had Ken Daneyko, a defenceman who made his share of off-ice mistakes while struggling with alcohol. They had veterans Randy McKay, Claude Lemieux and Bobby Holik, players who understand the commitment it takes to win in the NHL.
Those people taught, Arnott learned and the end result has made for an impressive showing by an emerging player. Which brings us back to Sather and the fact the Oilers could have stuck with the kid but didn't. They knew that for Arnott to become the consistent player he is now, he needed work and time. They gave him neither. Instead, he got a handshake and a one-way ticket out of town. All that, according to Sather, because of the media.
Tough bunch that Edmonton media.
Makes you wonder how Sather will do as the Rangers' GM once the New York press corps gets owly, which could be any minute now.