Incoming defenseman Connor Carrick has reneged on his letter of intent to sign a deal with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League.
If you follow me on Twitter you already know my feelings, as I've been ranting in 140 characters or less the entire day. Since I have room to expand on my feelings, here it goes:
First off, he sounds like a really good kid. I don't respect his decision or the timing of it, but don't take what I'm about to say as an attack on his person. If he was the first to pull this, it probably wouldn't draw more than a mention that he wasn't coming. Most of what I'm about to write can apply to dozens of players who have pulled a stunt like this over the past few years. And in Carrick's case, if Michigan was hinting that they wanted to move him to forward to ease the log-jam on defense and he only wants to be a defenseman, then I don't really blame him for looking around.
I get that he's doing what he feels is best for his career and that teenagers change their minds. Here's the thing: I would never rip a kid for initially picking the OHL/CHL over the NCAA route. It's clearly a fine path to the NHL (as is the NCAA). Both routes offer different things and what's good for one kid may not be right for another.
What I have a major problem with is the timing. It's late June. By making this decision when he did, he guarantees that Michigan is playing down a scholarship player this season. Sure they might give the money to a player that wasn't getting a scholarship (or a full one) but they're down a scholarship player. There's no one out there that we're going to be able to bring in at this point to replace him.
If Carrick (or anyone else) makes a decision that only affects him, fine. But once you've committed and once you've put your name on a piece of paper saying "I will play for you next season" it goes way beyond that. Now his decision has a negative impact on his would-have-been teammates and the coaching staff. Their chances of reaching their goal of winning a national championship have been diminished, whether slightly or not.
It's not like the fact that the OHL is a good path to the NHL should be a shocker to anyone. It's not news that they offer education packages of some form. It's not news that there's a team just down the road from Ann Arbor.
He told the Free Press the following:
“I think Plymouth is a better fit for me from a hockey perspective,” Carrick said. “I think it gives me the best opportunity for me to reach my dream. At the end of the day, more than anything else, I want to be an NHL hockey player. I think major junior, more specifically the Plymouth Whalers, is going to give me the opportunity to do that.If major junior is the better option today, then it was a better option 2 years ago, it was a better option a year ago, and it was a better option six months ago. It didn't magically become the better option three months before the start of the season. Just saying.
Now, let's debunk the myth that major junior is going to give him the best chance to be an NHL player. He was a fifth-round pick. Let's check out how those players have done in the NHL over the past decade, along with the stats for defensemen, specifically:
- 2001: Five guys have played more than 100 games. (440 GP by defensemen, 425 by Kevin Bieksa)
- 2002: James Wisniewski is the only remotely successful player. Four
guys have played more than 65 games. Everyone else has combined for 18
games. (377 GP out of defensemen, all by Wisniewski)
- 2003: Six guys have played 80 games or more. The rest of the round has played 45. (241 GP out of defensemen, 159 by Lasse Kukkonen)
- 2004: Five guys have played more than 100 games. No one else has played more than 26 games. (125 GP out of defensemen, 102 by Nikita Nikitin)
- 2005: Seven guys have played more than a season's-worth of games. No one else has played more than 2. (255 GP out of defensemen)
- 2006: The entire fifth-round has combined for 38 games played, and one goal. (24 GP out of defensemen)
- 2007: Jamie Benn has done well. Everyone else: 62 games played, three goals. (11 GP out of defensemen)
- 2008: 11 players have made the NHL. Only Matt Martin has played more than 70 games. (65 GP out of defensemen)
- 2009: No one has played 80 games yet. No one has scored 10 goals or more for their career. (1 GP out of defensemen)
- 2010: No one has played a game in the NHL. (0 GP out of defensemen)
- 2011: Andrew Shaw is the only player to play in the NHL. (0 GP out of defensemen)
Ignoring that, bailing at this point is horrifically selfish. For two years Michigan has committed a scholarship to him (and since November-ish it's been set in stone). There would have been plenty of kids lining up to take that slot. There may have even been kids whose dream it was to play at the University of Michigan who didn't get an offer because the Wolverines were holding a slot for Carrick. Now, after it's too late for Michigan to find a replacement--and after it's too late for a hypothetical kid to come to Michigan--he's said "Just kidding. Not interested."
Clearly someone has been drinking the OHL Kool Aid in a big way. Check this out from The Wolverine:
"No one has ever said that I'm a sure-fire NHL player, but I want to play in the NHL so bad and I feel like I need to develop at a better rate than I am currently, and I will be able to do that at Plymouth better than I could at Michigan," he said.That couldn't possibly be farther from the truth. Michigan had 23 players play in the NHL last season. 15 of those players played four years for the Wolverines. Only Brown, Cammalleri, Cogliano, JMFJ, Montoya, Komisarek, Pacioretty, and Palushaj left early. According to this tweet from College Hockey Inc, over half of the former NCAA players currently in the NHL played four years of college hockey. It's just flat out wrong that you have to leave school early if you want to make the NHL.
"This decision gives me the best opportunity to reach my dream, but I'm not abandoning my education. I do very well in school and I'm going to get my degree some day.
"The thing I was thinking about, though, was even if I went to college, if you want to play in the NHL, you're likely only there two years, three - very few guys stay four years and play in the NHL, and ask any guy that goes to college at a program like Michigan and he hopes to get his shot faster than that.
"So even if I went to Michigan, I don't think I'd be there all four years, so this is a chance for me to really improve on the hockey side and then academically, it doesn't change much for me because either way I probably wasn't going to get my degree in four years."
Also, it's not like going major-junior automatically puts you into the league. Let's look at the guys who have decommitted from Michigan to go to the CHL (or left Michigan to do so) in recent memory:
- AJ Jenks (100th overall): Played four years for the Plymouth Whalers. After three 50+ point seasons there (and finishing behind only Tyler Seguin in scoring in 09-10) he split time between the AHL and ECHL last year and has yet to make the NHL. With 9 points in 52 AHL games last year, it's not likely to happen anytime soon.
- Jared Knight (32nd overall): Played four years in the OHL. Played three games in the AHL last year. Time will still tell on him, but he certainly didn't fast-track to the show.
- Lucas Lessio (56th overall): He's two years into his OHL career.
- Robbie Czarnik (63rd overall): After not doing anything for a year and change at Michigan he went to the Whalers and immediately scored over a point per game (OMG THAT LEAGUE IS SOOOOOOO GOOD!). After playing in the OHL for a year and a half (so 3 years total in college/juniors), he spent this past season in the AHL and scored a whopping 8 goals in 49 games.
- Trevor Lewis (17th overall): The one kind-of success story. He reneged on his commitment after being drafted in the first round. He played one year in the OHL, spent most of 3 years in the AHL (with a couple call ups) and won a Stanley Cup Championship with the LA Kings. For his career he has 7 goals in 155 games.
- Jason Bacashihua (26th overall): Played one year in the OHL, played 38 games in the NHL, won a whole seven of them, and has been bumbling around the AHL ever since.
- Jack Campell (11th overall): Spent two years in the OHL, and got called up to the AHL toward the end of the year.
- John Gibson (39th overall): Put up really good numbers last year in the OHL. Still too soon to tell how quickly he'll make the Show.
- Jason Bailey (63rd overall): After a year-and-a-half at Michigan, spent a year-and-a-half in the OHL. Appears to be out of hockey after 43 games in the ECHL and 107 in the AHL.
- Tyler Swystun (undrafted): After two years in the WHL, he played two seasons at the University of Calgary. Out of hockey.
- *anny Richmon* (31st overall): One year at Michigan. One year in the OHL. Played 49 games in the NHL over 4 years. 3 points, -12. Hasn't had a sniff since 08.
Ed note: I forgot Richmon* when I originally published this post.
For his sake, I hope he does follow through on getting his degree. The odds say he won't. And yet the odds also say he's going to need it. It's exceedingly rare for a player drafted where he was to have any kind of lengthy career in the NHL.
This is why I'm such a fan of Jacob Trouba and why, if he goes the OHL route as well, I'm probably going to stop following recruiting altogether. That kid took forever to make up his mind if he was going the NCAA route or the OHL route, and he said the reason was that he wanted to be absolutely sure--that he wasn't going to back out once he had committed to a team. The Wolverine talked to him as well. Without giving away what he said (it's a $ link), it shouldn't be a major shocker, given what he's said throughout the summer.
There's something to be said for being responsible and living up to the commitments you've made. If you're not sure where you want to go, then don't commit. The downside (to the player) is that the schools you're looking at might fill up. So you commit and reserve a scholarship with your name on it--taking it away from someone else who might actually end up using it--while you decide for sure which route to take. And if you decide to go elsewhere, too bad for the school, and too bad for anyone else who might have used that scholarship. It's selfish, and it's wrong. And I'm not speaking specifically about Connor Carrick on this one. Colleges are going to have to start over-signing to protect themselves against this. Eventually the expected attrition won't happen and a kid will get screwed, which is even worse than this. I don't want college hockey as a whole to turn into the SEC.
The alarming thing is that Plymouth is starting to play the "You can still go to Michigan and play for us--we're the best of both worlds!" card. I don't know if it's legal (it's certainly dirty) but if I'm U of M, I'm withdrawing acceptances for something like that. Nip that right in the bud. You want to be a pro, go be a pro. Don't let a kid say, "Screw your silly hockey team and the commitment that I made to it, but I'll still take advantage of the academic opportunities provided by your institution." Vomit.
As for the Wolverines, they'll be fine this season. Losing a fifth-round draft pick at a position where they're fairly deep already isn't going to make or break this team. They'll take the fight to the rest of the CCHA/NCAA with players who really want to be there, like they always do. And assuming no other defections, they're fine on the blue line. Merrill, Trouba, Bennett, Moffie are the top four. Clare, Serville, Chiasson, and Szuma can compete for the last two spots. That's a good group of defensemen. The bigger loss could be a season or two down the road. At least Michigan has time to prepare for that.