Had Logan Mailloux been picked in the second round of the NHL draft, as ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski reported was likely to have happened, it still would have been gross. It just would have slipped into the second day of the draft, sparing hockey some embarrassment that even though the admitted sex offender asked that he not be drafted, this culturally broken league just couldn’t help itself.
Making Mailloux the No. 31 pick, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin debased himself and his organization by ignoring everything about the situation to zero-in on the best available hockey talent at that point in the draft. He also let a whole bunch of other GMs off the hook, because somebody else absolutely would’ve picked Mailloux on Saturday.
Bill Daly, the deputy commissioner of a league that generally has no trouble making up rules as it goes along, didn’t cover himself in glory, either, by saying “Montreal was free to do what it did,” because a player cannot withdraw from draft consideration. Apparently it was too much to ask beforehand for the league to say, “Hey, every team, don’t draft this kid who committed a crime and would prefer to stay at the junior level for another year to grow as a person.”
It’s not like this is new territory for the league. Last year, the Coyotes picked racist bully Mitchell Miller in the fourth round, then renounced his draft rights because they got called out for having drafted a racist bully. But here we are anyway, with a much higher draft pick and a much higher-profile franchise.
Bergevin didn’t really have to do it, either. It’s not like his job is on the line now, not after the Canadiens went to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993. It’s wild that he’s lasted as long as he has, given that the Habs have been mostly trash during his tenure, but a deep playoff run, even by a team that won fewer than half of its regular-season games in a division with three of the worst teams in hockey, buys a GM even more time in a league where the middle-aged white men in suits get an unbelievable amount of slack.
At the same time, Bergevin did have to do it, because that’s how he and the majority of the sport are wired. The Canadiens, surely, were not the only team to have an exculpatory statement ready to fire off the moment they drafted Mailloux — they’re just the only one whose BS nod toward “helping this young man grow” or whatever made it out of the drafts folder. What happens on the ice is all that matters. Just ask perennial face of the league for some reason Patrick Kane. So, here was this talented kid, available at No. 31, with Bergevin knowing because of the way the league works, he wouldn’t be available at No. 63, the next time Montreal selected. It was a no-brainer, and Bergevin proudly used no brain.
The fact that regardless of everything else, Mailloux was going to get drafted somewhere between 31 and 63, is just another reason why the draft needs to be abolished. It’s already a grim spectacle, 18-year-olds being treated as commodities and getting no say whatsoever in where they begin their adult lives and professional journeys. But that’s always benefitted the league, so there’s been no motivation to get rid of it. Now, we have back-to-back years of one of the NHL’s marquee events turning into an embarrassing indictment of hockey culture, from trying to show toughness by humiliating a kid, to feeling a need to fit into a misogynist locker room by showing off photos of a sexual “conquest.”
Part of the reason that Bergevin picked Mailloux, and that so many other GMs would have, is that this was their only chance to add a talented hockey player to their organization, and reputational damage is always a secondary concern to winning just a couple more hockey games. There’s way more to fix about hockey culture than the draft, but getting rid of it would be a good start.
Let all the players be free agents, and instead of having teams try to tank in an effort to get the most ping-pong balls at the lottery, if you’re so committed to the idea of “competitive balance,” assign teams amounts of dollars per year, according to their position in the standings, that can be used to sign 18-year-old prospects. While it would still be advantageous in this process to finish with a worse record, doing a straight teardown would be folly because you’d still have to convince young players that your team was worth playing for.
Make players eligible to sign pro contracts on their 18th birthday, and you’ll also ensure that hockey can be part of the conversation all year long, rather than going into hibernation once the draft and free agency are wrapped up. It would be good for the sport, the fans, the players — everyone except for maybe the folks in hockey who can take two-month vacations every summer.
Most importantly, though, when a kid like Mailloux — and this being hockey, he won’t be the last — is in a situation where he wants to be excluded from the proceedings for a year, all that needs to happen is for him to tell all the teams, “hey, I’m not signing for another year, because I committed a crime, and I need to take time to learn from that experience and become a better person.”
Mailloux is 18. There still is a chance for him to do that. The grown men of hockey have shown time and again that they’re not going to learn, not going to change, and not going to become better people. Their system is broken, and it’s time to fix it.