Originally Posted by Nodak
I see it differently. I liken it more to Al Capone. The feds knew he was doing lots of bad things, but only had concrete evidence of the seemingly minor crime of tax evasion. The league had flights, cell phones, and week long training programs. Seemingly minor to most people, but I personally have never seen a WHL team suck soooo bad, get a new front office and then become a consistent producer of 1st round NHL picks. Not to mention the luring of kids that had said they were going to the NCAA. That sort of thing just doesn't happen in junior hockey, except in Portland.
Maybe the Winterhawks scouting staff are awesome and Johnston is one helluva salesman. Maybe Portland is just that great of a town. Maybe their owner dished out some personal cash to some of these blue-chippers, something that would not show up on an audit of the 'Hawks.
The whole league was happy to see Portland turn it around, but their ability to be so good in a watered down 22 team league for 3+ years is a bit uncanny.
Well one part of sucking so badly for a few years was getting a lot of high draft picks. As the article posted by MH points out, it was actually Ken Hodge
from the previous administration that drafted Ross and Johanson, and I believe you can add Ponich to that list as well. If you go back, you'll see Hodge drafted Coburn, Dubinsky, Brendan Morrow, Andrew Ference
, the Hossa brothers, Richard Zednik
, and so on. Yes the Winterhawks have had a cluster of high NHL picks recently, but historically we have produced a lot of them and of the recent ones, they were pretty evenly split between being drafted by Hodge and Johnston. Aside from getting college players to come play for us, I don't even see how benefits would apply considering that players are drafted, not recruited like college sports.
Building success in the WHL quickly is not a new thing. Look at what Everett was able to do as an expansion team with Kevin Constantine. I despised Everett's style of play, but Constantine brought NHL credibility and instantly built a contender out of nothing. Johnston has gone about it differently, but done the same thing. And that ties in to the players coming from college: If you're an 18 year old and you see what Johnston has done developing Johanson, Neiderreiter, Baertschi, Rattie, etc. and have a realistic chance to play for the Memorial Cup, would you really need money to entice you? When we sucked under the previous ownership, I remember seeing us trade the rights to college players who said they would only play in the WHL in Calgary for example, and we didn't cry foul over that because it made logical sense from the player's perspective.
Finally, remember that this is a franchise with a large fan base and a long history of success. The mid to late 2000's were an anomaly for Portland. Johnston had a lot to work with off the ice when he got to Portland, and Hodge's draft picks gave Johnston some young talent to rebuild around. I would equate it to a college football coach taking over at Tennessee. Sure they've sucked for a few years because they've been mismanaged, but they're a sleeping giant. A coach at Tennessee starts off in a much better position to succeed than a coach at say Washington State (sorry Mike Leach) because of the fan base, the history, the facilities, and so on. Same story in Portland.