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Did the Senators Cancel Plans to Draft Tampa’s Superstar Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy…Over a Sunburn?

Andrei Vasilevskiy has emerged as an NHL superstar. Tampa Bay drafted him in July of 2012 and he’s led the Lightning to two straight Stanley Cup wins and now 4 of the last 5 NHL Eastern Conference Finals.

But if it weren’t for a trip to the water park, a nasty sunburn and a missed meeting that summer, Vasilevskiy might have been an Ottawa Senator. At least that’s the impression his agent leaves in a story this week in The Athletic.

At the 2012 draft, Vasilevskiy was sitting right there, fully available, when Ottawa stepped up to make the 15th overall selection. The Sens instead chose defenceman Cody Ceci, the local boy making good with the local OHL team. Four picks later, Tampa took Vasilevskiy at number 19.

Historically, that number has served Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman very well. Yzerman was Tampa’s GM then, so he and his 2012 scouting staff deserve all the credit in the world for the Vasilevskiy selection. Not only was it smart, it took some courage. Choosing a goalie in the first round is often seen as a major gamble, which seems rather backward, when you consider that goalies are generally the players that most contribute to Stanley Cup titles. As a side note, Yzerman did it again last year – now with Detroit – using his first-round selection to choose the first goalie of the 2021 NHL draft (Sebastian Cossa).

A first-round selection is a major asset so NHL teams tend to go for the sure thing in round one. It’s easier to be right about the next big thing at forward or defence. Goalies? Not so much. They’re hardest to evaluate and take the longest to develop, if they ever do.

So Yzerman and the Lightning showed a lot of confidence in taking Vasilevskiy in the first round in July of 2012. The big Russian has been a machine over the past five years, altering the course of the franchise.

But in the summer of 2012, Ottawa seemed at least interested in messing up those plans.

According to the story in The Athletic, the Senators had a pre-draft meeting all set up with Vasilevskiy and his agent, Alexander (Sasha) Tyjnych. Tyjnych says Ottawa was interested in using that first round pick on Vasilevskiy.

From The Athletic: Tyjnych said Senators GM Bryan Murray asked after the combine if they could interview Vasilevskiy in Ottawa, where the goalie prospect was training. They were going to fly in Russian defenseman Sergei Gonchar to help in the talks. But the day before the scheduled interview, Vasilevskiy went to a water park for a few hours.

It was a very, very hot day,” Tyjnych said. “He was burned. He was so red. So, I called Ottawa and said, ‘I’m so sorry, he’s feeling bad, maybe some fever. Can we postpone for two or three days? They said ‘OK,’ but seemed disappointed.

They never called me back.”

The reference here to being “disappointed” seems to suggest the Senators were so upset about the cancellation of the meeting – and possibly the excuse that was given – that they removed Vasilevskiy from any and all draft consideration. To heck with that kid, right? He must be a prima donna if he’s cancelling important meetings over something lame like a sunburn.

Here’s the far more likely explanation. The Sens probably didn’t bother to call back and reschedule the meeting because their interest level in Vasilevskiy truly wasn’t that high. Every NHL team interviews almost every young player that might go in the first round. If the Sens had 10 guys ranked ahead of Vasilevskiy, then rescheduling his meeting wouldn’t be a high priority. 

It’s also pretty damn unrealistic to think that Bryan Murray would use a first-round selection on a Russian goalie.

For starters, he already had Craig Anderson, Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop on his roster. He was thinking of deleting goalies, not adding. Secondly, as mentioned, it’s always risky for a GM to use a first-round selection on a goalie. And finally, the Russian factor. Murray just wasn’t big on drafting Russians.

Murray was Ottawa’s GM from 2007-2016. In that entire time, the Sens drafted just one Russian. One. It was Ruslan Bashkirov in 2007. And even that pick might have been scuttled by Murray had he not been made the new GM only five days earlier. Murray probably deferred entirely to the existing scouting staff that year. 

With all that in mind, it’s amazing that Murray even set up that first meeting at all.

So, was it likely that Murray was going to buck his trend and take a Russian? A Russian goalie? A Russian goalie in the first round? No. And certainly, he wouldn’t overlook a player he wanted based on sunburns and cancelled meetings. 

Vasilevskiy was never in the cards for Ottawa. We now know he should have been, of course. But in sports, dwelling on the perfection of hindsight is a game you can play all day.

By Steve Warne | Faces Magazine

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