Monday, December 31, 2007

Thanks for a new monthly traffic record

September started off with a real bang, with lots of friends and family checking the blog to see how their favorite player was doing in camp and where he ended up. It was tough to match that traffic for a while, but December beat it out in unique visitors, even despite a dip for the holidays.

Prospects are a niche topic within a niche sport, so I wasn't sure how much traffic to expect when I started this, but it's been pleasantly surprising. There are a few searchers from random countries looking for "gladiator photos" and I think they want the Roman ones. But most everyone else seems to be here intentionally.

I've written more than I expected to, and on a wider variety of topics than I expected. I'm interested in prospects generally, and I think it gives a better perspective on the lay of the land. Including a bit of that seems to work, or at least not interfere, as people tend to read the blog piecemeal anyway.

The most popular post this month was one that was actually written last month, about a guy I decided not to even talk to. And I spent more time weeding through the photos of him than writing the post - go figure. But thank you, AJ Thelen. The second most popular post was "Chad Denny, Juice Boy," especially after it was discovered by fans of his old junior team. I can't recreate that every day though, I'm sorry.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who has stopped in. I hope you found what you were looking for, or were at least entertained while you were looking.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Statistical update for all Thrasher prospects

I'll present this with minimal comments. Prospects are listed with their peers, those playing at the same level, with the exception of goaltenders who are together at the bottom. Within each level, the sorting is by points per game. Blogger is not terribly table friendly, so this is about as good as it gets formatting-wise.

Michael Forney had two shoulder surgeries in the offseason and is trying to make a comeback. He's been scratched a lot lately. It's not looking so good right now. He was highly-sought after out of high school, but hasn't been able to do much in college.

Age GP G A Pts Pts/gp PIM PP
Siddall, Matt (Sr) F 23 17 5 5 10 0.59 73 1
Kaip, Rylan (Sr) F 23 17 5 3 8 0.47 36
Martin, Jesse (Fr) F 19 20 5 4 9 0.45 20 1
Albert, John (Fr) F 18 21 1 8 9 0.43 8
Kozek, Andrew (Jr) F 21 17 6 0 6 0.35 14 1
Forney, Michael (So) F 19 3 0 0 0 0.00 2

Age GP G A Pts Pts/gp PIM +/-
Machacek, Spencer F 19 36 18 19 37 1.03 45 +5
Holzapfel, Riley F 19 23 10 5 15 0.65 27 +5
Postma, Paul D 18 36 5 14 19 0.53 14 +9
Kulda, Arturs D 19 21 5 4 9 0.43 37 -5
O'Neill, Will D 19 26 1 6 7 0.27 35

Age GP G A Pts Pts/gp PIM
Enlund, Jonas F 20 35 12 10 22 0.63 4
Zubarev, Andrei D 20 27 1 2 3 0.11 45
Tuomainen, Mikka F 21 35 1 2 3 0.09 59
Lucenius, Niklas F 18 25 0 2 2 0.08 8
Loginov, Denis F 22 6 0 0 0 0.00 6

Age GP G A Pts Pts/gp PIM
Sterling, Brett F 23 24 19 11 30 1.25 42 +1
LaVallee, Jordan F 21 32 9 12 21 0.66 28 -1
Little, Bryan F 20 8 2 3 5 0.63 4 -1
Oystrick, Nathan D 25 32 6 13 19 0.59 44 -1
Crabb, Joey F 24 32 4 14 18 0.56 25 +7
Lewis, Grant D 22 14 0 4 4 0.29 8 +2
Valabik, Boris D 21 25 0 5 5 0.20 91 +8
Desbiens, Guillaume F 22 12 1 1 2 0.17 9 -3
Painchaud, Chad F 21 10 0 1 1 0.10 7 +2
Lehman, Scott D 21 11 0 0 0 0.00 33 -8

Age GP G A Pts Pts/gp PIM
Pospisil, Tomas F 20 10 3 4 7 0.70 2
Denny, Chad D 20 15 1 4 5 0.33 20
Stoesz, Myles F 20 25 3 2 5 0.20 110

Goaltenders League
Pavelec, Ondrej AHL
20 11 646 8-3 3.06 0.894
Kangas, Alex NCAA
20 6 365 3-2-1 2.63 0.907
Turple, Dan ECHL
23 14 793 8-4-1 2.95 0.911

Friday, December 28, 2007

What is a PTO in the AHL?

It seems that there is no place on the internet that properly explains the AHL PTO, so I will do my best to fill that void. Please let me know if there are any errors.

PTO = Professional try-out contract

This is an animal found only in the AHL. PTO's are for 25 games, but the player can be released before that. He can also be signed to a second PTO, but after two PTO's he either becomes a free agent or is signed to a SPC - standard players' contract (also just called an "AHL contract").

Another type of contract in the AHL: ATO = Amateur try-out contract

These are signed by previously amateur players -- graduating college seniors and players finishing juniors. There is no set number of games on these.

Any player on an AHL SPC, PTO or ATO must be released from his contract before he can sign in the NHL. Occasionally you'll hear people say an NHL team "picked up his contract," but he's really signing a different kind of contract, it's not directly transferable. The player is not eligible to play in the NHL on a PTO or even a SPC. To play in the NHL you must be signed to an NHL contract, which are full-year, guaranteed contracts (with exceptions for goaltenders in emergencies and players sent back to junior. There is also a one-game ATO in the NHL which is extremely rare, but used for players coming out of college sometimes. See Justin Abdelkader of Detroit).

So a way to think about it is that the PTO is sort of an intermediate step between the rigidity of NHL or standard AHL contracts, and the complete job insecurity of ECHL contracts, which can be terminated at any time (though the player does first go through waivers).

On a related topic, NHL teams cannot "sign players to an AHL contract." This wording is often used by teams who own their AHL affiliate (like Edmonton), but really what is happening is that they are directing the AHL team to sign the player to an AHL contract. It just sounds better to say they did it. Unless you see an official transaction that says the NHL team signed the player, be skeptical.

NHL teams sign players to NHL contracts, of which they are limited to just 50. AHL teams can sign as many players as they like, since there is no roster limit or salary cap in the AHL. Since there is no roster limit, there is also no formal injured reserve (IR) in the AHL. Teams don't give out much information about who is injured, because they don't have to.

Painchaud gets into a fight

So I'm tooling around the internet tonight, doing such things as feeling positively ancient by realizing that former Thrashers prospect Brian Pothier is (egads!) 30 years old, and I see on the Chicago v. Milwaukee live box score that Chad Painchaud has received a fighting major against one Kyle Wilson.

I think most readers are familiar with Painchaud, but if you're not, let's just say I doubt he was a willing combatant. (Can you be a glamor forward without production?) With a quick check of Google, I was surprised to dig up that he had several fighting majors in junior, however, he was on a really bad Sarnia Sting team, and bad teams often get into more fights just to get something going. So that increased his numbers higher than natural. Tonight's box score also shows that Scott Lehman jumped in to help, getting a third-man-in penalty. This is the "keep my buddy from getting his ass kicked" penalty. Lehman is a good kid, and rightly or wrongly, will always fight if needed. He's got the very crooked nose to prove it.

Perhaps there will be YouTube of this whole event later.

Enforcers still needed

Take heed, young enforcers, your skills are still in demand. The Carolina Hurricanes are in the market.

from the Raleigh News & Observer,

Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said Thursday afternoon that he is keeping his ears open.

"In the new system and the way things are now, it's hard to project if you're ever close to anything or not," Rutherford said. "So, we continue to look at things. I think the one area-and we've talked about this the first half of the season, but it becomes more obvious now - is maybe an enforcer.

"It seems like every week one of our guys is getting hit pretty hard and getting hurt, so we may try to look a little harder at that."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Book review: Future Greats and Heartbreaks by Gare Joyce

There's a new book out on hockey scouting that some may enjoy. I say "some" because the book probably isn't for everyone. It assumes a lot of knowledge, so those who don't follow prospects may have trouble getting into it. But it reads well as far as the prose goes and it's chock full of anecdotes. Being so fresh off the press, it talks about guys who are very much still prospects. The author, Gare Joyce, writes for ESPN The Magazine.

I received this book as a Christmas gift and have read half of it so far. My complaint is with the subtitle: "A Year Undercover in the Secret World of NHL Scouts." I'm on page 165 of 327, and he hasn't gone undercover yet, so obviously the book is about more than that year, and more than just going undercover. It seems that the editors went for the sexy subtitle rather than a more accurate one. Right now in the book, he's embedded with a WHL team, but he's embedded as a journalist.

Joyce touches on a couple Thrasher prospects in the book, one being Paul Postma, the team's 7th rounder in 2007 out of Swift Current (WHL). Here's an excerpt from page 159. The time period is December 2006:

The Broncos' top draft prospect is Paul Postma, a defenceman from Red Deer. In NHL Central Scouting's early-season rankings, Postma is slotted just outside the top ten in the Western league. If he holds onto that slot, Postma is probably looking at being selected in the second or third round. That seems a little high for a kid who is six foot three but a pencil-thin 160 pounds. ...

I ask Postma for the skinny on his physique -- he looks as if he could get pushed around at the starting line of the Boston Marathon, never mind the corners of an NHL rink. "I've tried to put on weight and Brandon (Sutter) has too," Postma says. "My father's a decent size. I just have to work out and be patient. I know that it would probably help me with [the draft] to have that extra weight. Scouts would look at me differently."

When I see Postma step on the ice during the warm-up, one name comes to my mind: Jane Russell. Postma's ability to pass for a pro prospect probably owes as much to modern equipment design as much as anything else -- he is padded enough and draped in a large enough sweater that his ectomorphic frame is thoroughly disguised. There hasn't been such a form-flattering outfit since Howard Hughes came up with the underdress that cantilevered Russell to spectacular effect in the 1943 film The Outlaw.

Postma is now with the Calgary Hitmen and listed at 182.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Okposo jump blows up -- Snow rips Lucia in press

A couple days ago I mentioned Kyle Okposo leaving the Univ. of Minnesota mid-season to sign with the Islanders (suspicious timing given Chris Simon's 30-game suspension). Well, now the normally quiet Islanders GM Garth Snow has publicly blamed Minnesota's coach Don Lucia for stalling Okposo's development.

"It's well-known in hockey circles that the situation for college players is to develop and get better," Snow said. "And quite frankly, it's a big responsibility for a college coach -- a program -- to handle these kids.

"Whether it was Kyle or another player, until things change in that program we'd probably make the same decision. There should be a coach there that looks in the mirror."

Snow was a standout goalie with the University of Maine, graduating in 1993 before turning pro. He was asked if he thought it was OK for a player to leave midway through a college season.

"I don't think we'd be at this point if he was being coached properly," Snow said.

Ouch. I don't know enough about his play this year to have an opinion one way or another. But I can tell you this much about Lucia -- he's is one of the few people in the world who can pull off a burgundy suit (the team's colors) and look very sharp doing it.

Dear Canadian press

Dear Canadian press,

There is a consistent error you are making with regards to your national sport. It concerns a league that has even had an outpost in Canada for a few years.

There is no such thing as the "East Coast Hockey League" and hasn't been for four and a half years. The league goes only by "ECHL" now, kind of like "IBM" instead of "International Business Machines." The change came about when the old WCHL was absorbed. It might be a little dumb, but it is what it is.

The ECHL attaches information about the league to the bottom of every press release. Here's a portion of that information:

The ECHL, celebrating its 20th Anniversary in 2007-08, is the Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League and the third-longest tenured professional hockey league behind only the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League.

ECHL began in 1988-89 with five teams in four states and has grown to be a coast-to-coast league with 25 teams playing 900 games in 17 states and British Columbia in 2007-08.

The league officially changed its name to ECHL on May 19, 2003.

The ECHL has affiliations with 26 of the 30 teams in the NHL in 2007-08, marking the 11th consecutive season that the league has had affiliations with at least 20 teams in the NHL.

There have been 337 former ECHL players who have gone on to play in the NHL after playing in the ECHL, including a record 47 in 2005-06 and 26 in 2006-07. There have been 192 former ECHL players who have played their first game in the NHL in the past five seasons.

I suspect this name information has not made it into the Canadian Press style guide, or whatever the AP equivalent is. That's why it's still so common to see stories like this, a tidbit that came from the Canadian Press, printed in The Daily News (Halifax).

Friday, December 21, 2007

Hockey stinks, part II

There's more to say on this, believe it or not.

You know who loves hockey stink? Cats. My cat will seek out hockey gear and curl up in it -- the stinkier the better. In fact, she's doing it right now.

Oystrick and LaVallee don't need soap and water after this 27-hour exercise, they just need a cat. A cat would take one sniff of them and just start licking them clean. "You seem extra dirty today," the cat would think (conceptually of course). "Let me help you with that."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hockey stinks

You may have seen this fundraiser that the Chicago Wolves are doing:

Wolves Make A Stink For Charity
Chicago Wolves defenseman Nathan Oystrick and left wing Jordan LaVallee will attempt to set an unofficial record by remaining in full equipment for 27 hours following the team’s game against the Peoria Rivermen at the Allstate Arena on Wed., Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. Fans can pledge money for each hour the players remain in their equipment, as well as visit the duo throughout the day of the challenge.

Visit them? No thanks. But it did get me thinking about hockey stink, where it's found and where it's surprisingly not found.

This year there were two Gladiators with infections, Jon Awe and Stuart MacRae. I kidded Coach Pyle about the cleanliness of the locker room and he said it's the cleanest locker room he's ever been in. I'd have to agree with him, going just by the complete lack of smell. You wouldn't even know you were in a locker room. The visitor's locker room in Gwinnett is not so lucky though. The smell wafts out to the bench and stands via the tunnel -- and it's not good.

The Thrashers practice facility I would rate as "fair to good" in the smell department. You know it's a locker room, but the smell is kept to a minimum. That's fine. No others really stick out in my head as good or bad.

In general I would say you find recreational players to be more stinky than pros, because they don't wash their equipment as often. There are rec teammates I won't sit next to on the bench.
Me? I don't smell at all. I leave my hockey bag in my trunk all summer long and have no problems. Girls don't stink. :)

The worst smelling player I've ever encountered? Paul Ballantyne, who was a Red Wings prospect at the time, playing for Toledo. They say smell is the sense with the strongest memory. The fact that this was four years ago and I still remember him for it tells you how bad he stunk. Thankfully he's far away in Victoria right now.

Rarely seen -- NCAA prospect signs pro contract mid-season

As noted by the very underrated Kevin Allen at USAToday, Kyle Okposo is leaving the Univ. of Minnesota to sign with the NY Islanders, who drafted him sixth overall in 2006. He'll play in the WJC for Team USA and then turn pro.

This is something you almost never seen happen. NCAA players lose their eligibility by even having an agent (so they call their unpaid agents "family advisors" -- OK), so this stuff is very risky. And it's considered poor form for NHL clubs to take players out of school mid-year because there are no real call-ups in college hockey. They have a few spares and might be able to pull a future recruit out of the USHL mid-year, but other than that, you're looking at walk-ons. Now, a walk-on at Univ. of Minnesota might be pretty good, it being the State of Hockey and all. But still, it's rare a guy leaves mid-year, so it's interesting. Apparently Okposo was having an off year so far, and this may have been the best change of scenery option.

Okposo is a fantastic player, by the way. I've watched him on TV several times and he's going to do great in the NHL.

ECHL update done

My mid-year update, which focuses on Turple, Stoesz and Denny, is done. This was going to be a short little update, but it's 2000 words. I'm not sure how these things happen. I started with a blank page this morning, I swear.

Speaking of Gladiators, it's a tough call as to whose name has generated more traffic to this blog -- Lane Manson or Jon Awe. Both have been very, very popular lately.

Edit to add: photo.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Random stuff

A few things on my mind that don't quite warrant their own post.

1. Let me know if you see Francois Allaire, the renowned goaltending guru, hanging around. From what Bobby Goepfert indicated to me, Allaire was at the Gladiators game on Tuesday, traveling with the Augusta Lynx (Anaheim's ECHL affiliate). I would have loved to meet him and talk to him about Goepfert, JP Levasseur, or really anything. But I didn't know until Augusta was getting back on the bus that he was there. And I didn't know what he looked like (a small problem in itself). I may print out his photo and tack it on my bulletin board because he's sure to be back someday. That's a crazy suit/tie combo there, but if you're Francois Allaire, you can wear whatever you want.

2. Where do Europe's rookies go? There's an article on the IIHF website that tries to be objective about when the appropriate time is for Europeans to come over to North America. It relates to the problem I talked about a while ago -- the tension caused between European clubs/countries and the NHL, which was exacerbated by the new CBA. Most of the highly talented players in the NHL are European, so you can easily see why this is a huge issue, the consequences of which will have ramifications for the talent pool in the NHL for years to come.

3. Arturs Kulda's Latvian national junior team pulled out the victory over Belarus today to win Pool B and the promotion to Pool A next year. Congrats to Latvia. Kulda had five points in five games and ended tied for the scoring lead among defensemen.

4. Thrashers 2007 draft pick Niklas Lucenius has made the Finnish World Junior team.

5. We'll have to go back to moderated comments because I'm starting to get spam in them. Argh. Please don't let the delay discourage you from leaving a comment though.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Where are they now -- forwards edition

A week or so ago, I posted about some goaltenders who had once played in the Thrashers system, and what they were up to now. Today is forwards. Below are points per game, total NHL games played, and then games played for the Thrashers.

GP Pts Pts/GP Total NHL GP NHL GP ATL Drafted
Darcy Hordichuk NHL Nashville 11 0 0.00 268 44 180th, 2000

Alex Bourret AHL Hartford 21 15 0.71 0 0 16th, 2005
Derek MacKenzie AHL Syracuse 30 18 0.60 29 28 128th, 1999
Karl Stewart AHL Norfolk 27 13 0.48 60 13 free agent
Pat Dwyer AHL Albany 21 7 0.33 0 0 116th, 2002
Simon Gamache AHL Toronto 15 4 0.27 48 4 290th, 2000
Milan Gajic AHL Manitoba 2 0 0.00 0 0 112th, 2001

ECHL Victoria 16 23 1.44 0 0

Tommi Santala FNL Jokerit 30 28 0.93 63 33 245th, 1999
Zdenek Blatny Czech Liberec 11 5 0.45 25 20 68th, 1999

Darcy Hordichuk is a tough guy for Nashville, but he's only seen 11 games so far this season. It's a bit ironic that he's seeing less time for them this year than last, when the Predators said they were going to try to be grittier this year.

Alex Bourret leads the AHL group in point production, but he's at the same pace he was at last year so he's not improving. He's only sixth on his team in scoring, and his -8 is by far the worst on his team. Example #2843 why it takes more than talent to make the NHL.

Simon Gamache saw 11 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs this year, scoring four points. That's the same number of points he scored with the Marlies in 15 games. Derek MacKenzie has decided he's a goal scorer now, with 12 in 30 games for the Crunch. The most he had previously was 19 in 63 games with the Wolves, so if he keeps up this pace he should easily eclipse that.

I said after Pat Dwyer's rookie pro year with the Wolves in which he scored 45 points that he probably had what would be a career year. Turns out to be the case so far.

Blatny is playing in his native Czech Republic now, but interestingly played on Modo with Tobias Enstrom last year.

Not listed above because he has no stats yet, Brad Schell is at home in Saskatchewan recovering from a back injury he suffered in Providence Bruins camp, where he had a tryout. He may return to playing in a few weeks. He was ECHL MVP in 2006-07 for the Gwinnett Gladiators.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Riley Holzapfel makes the cut for 2008 WJC

He's expected to play on the fourth line. Several prominent names were sent home. I'm sure this is headline news north of the border.

From TSN

[Leland] Irving and [Angelo] Esposito were not the only eye-openers on cut-down day, as four players from the Canadian team that won the lopsided Super Series were also let go. Defencemen Keaton Ellerby and Ty Wishart were sent back to their junior clubs, along with forwards Dana Tyrell and Zach Hamill. ...

With the cuts, the lines for the tournament should see Brad Marchand, Kyle Turris and Claude Giroux on the first line, Zach Boychuk, Brandon Sutter and Stefan Legein on the second unit, Shawn Matthias, Steve Stamkos and Matthew Halischuk on the third line and Colton Gillies, Riley Holzapfel and Wayne Simmonds on the fourth line. Oshawa Generals forward John Tavares will likely be rotated among the forward lines and on the power play unit.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Chad Denny, Juice Boy

Below is Mike Hamilton, in a yellow helmet indicating that he was Juice Boy from last week. The team has a weekly shootout contest at practices, the loser of which has to wear the yellow helmet and pass out drinks in the locker room afterwards. It's not like the Tour de France where yellow means you're doing well.

As soon as Hamilton made his shot today, he tossed the helmet into the middle to get rid of it.

Myles Stoesz and Derek Nesbitt were two of the first to make their shots, so they got to take a seat. The last four left were captain Mike Vigilante, Andy Brandt, Chad Denny and Jeff Mason. There's lots of swearing involved when it gets down to the end.

And here he is, Juice Boy for the week -- Chad Denny. The helmet is a little small on him.

Denny described the contest this way: “The last man standing is Juice Boy and you get to wear a nice old yellow helmet.”

As he handed out cups of Gatorade in the locker room sans helmet, I asked didn't he have to leave it on longer? He said he didn't know, it's his first time. "It's my first time," the nearby Nesbitt repeated. "Juice Boy virgin."

After practice, the players painted Christmas ornaments that will be auctioned for charity. JMo examines his brush.

Turps watches as Stoesz opens a tube of paint. The little blue cups are the same type that juice is served in.

Look at that concentration.

Juice Boy paints his ornament in a NY Yankees cap.

In more serious news, expect a transaction within the system in the next day that will change the Gladiators lineup.

Defenseman Jimmy Jackson skated at practice, but he's still several weeks away with his shoulder. In fact, if he doesn't heal up in a couple weeks, he may need surgery.

Edit to add: my Q&A with Stoesz is now up.

Things that only happen in the minors

Tonight's target for me was Bobby Goepfert, a top 10 Hobey Baker finalist last year who was dropped by Pittsburgh and signed by Anaheim. He's listed at 5'10 so I went with a sensible black loafer.

Goepfert was backing up J-P Levasseur for the ECHL Augusta Lynx, so in the second period, I went down behind the bench to get a photo of Goepfert without his mask. Check.

While there, I saw something I've never seen before, and probably won't ever see again. It would never happen in the NHL, because there are cameras everywhere. No TV coverage and only 3000 fans in Gwinnett tonight, but 24-year-old Jason Kostadine had the bad luck of a camera right behind him as he dropped trou on the bench.

He got himself off the ice in order to do this too. It looked like he tried to pass it off to the ref as groin so he could change past the visiting-team cutoff point, but I think it was really some kind of cup issue -- but, hey, who really knows at this point.

In the major leagues, you also don't have unknown players -- they wouldn't have gotten where they were without a lot of people noticing. But at lower levels, you often hear names for a long time without knowing anything about their personality.

True characters are rare in hockey the first place. There's a lot of perfectly nice, mild-mannered Saskatchewaners around, and there's nothing wrong with that, but they don't stand out and don't want to. (One character who stands out in my mind was Karl Alzner, selected last summer by Washington. Most players are very nervous when they come into the media room and are surrounded by reporters and cameras. Alzner on the other hand, looked around and said "how y'all doin'?" like he was starting a standup routine.)

So I had no idea what I was in for with Goepfert. I had some good question suggestions from HF's Anaheim writer, and I had read a couple things about him. Nothing mentioned his personality.

Goepfert grew up on Long Island, and you could pick him out by knowing that with no problem. At one point he tried to sell me his tie -- that's enough of what you need to know. And I spent the entire time stifling an internal laugh because he kept stepping forward, causing me to step a bit back. I'm not sure why I found this so funny, maybe because it was a long hallway and this could have gone on all night. Usually it's me trying to get closer so I can get a good recording.

Afterwards I figured out that he completely reminded me of Chris Moltisanti from the Sopranos, on good behavior.

Separated at birth?

Edit to add: Q&A with him is now up.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Decision time for AHL affiliations

Every summer, there's some switching of AHL affiliates that happens among NHL teams. Why does this occur? Well, first there's a shortage of affiliates. There are only 29 AHL teams for 30 NHL teams this year -- and that makes it a good year. Second, AHL franchises are less stable, so teams fold or relocate fairly often. Third, NHL teams often seek to have their affiliate closer for ease of travel.

Usually the yearly movement happens in the spring and summer (and you need a flow chart to track all the changes), but it's started early this year, as the first, domino hit the fan, so to speak.

From the Buffalo News:
The Buffalo Sabres are ending their affiliation with the Rochester Americans at the end of this season. The 29-year marriage has featured hundreds of players making the one-hour drive on the I-90.
"That's over," Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn told The News on Wednesday. "We're going to go elsewhere."
The union between the Sabres and their American Hockey League affiliate had become strained in recent years. The Sabres, who partnered with the Amerks in 1979-80, have been sharing them with the Florida Panthers. The Sabres want their own team, and after their reported attempt to purchase Rochester was rebuffed, they decided to go elsewhere.
"We want to have an affiliate where we're the only team, have control of the players, the coaching staff, the trainers, the whole process," Quinn said. "We've wanted that for three years."

It's ironic to read this after so many media outlets made such a big deal over the success of the Rochester/Buffalo relationship when Buffalo was doing so well last year. Winning glosses over a lot of issues, at least in the short term, and it seemed like a good story. But apparently it was mostly just a story.

Buffalo is rumored to be headed to Portland, Maine, currently the affiliate of Anaheim. Anaheim has wanted out of Portland seemingly since they got there. They want something closer, and are pegged for San Antonio, currently affiliated with Phoenix.

Rochester currently has a dual affiliation with Buffalo and Florida. The easy answer for them next year would be to stay just with Florida alone, especially since Florida has expressed a desire for a sole affiliate, but nothing's ever easy or expected in this dance. Rochester has the luxury of courting several teams to get the best deal, and don't think they're not going to take advantage. Their troublesome ownership situation probably won't make them very attractive though.

The Edmonton Oilers own a dormant AHL franchise, which anyone could purchase and place virtually anywhere they see fit. The Dallas Stars may be buyers. The Atlanta Thrashers, with their own ownership issues, are not candidates.

Where is Atlanta in the mix? I have a nugget of information that says to me that the affiliation with Chicago is at least in play right now. The two have been going year to year with no long-term commitment for a while now. If either side sees a better opportunity, I think they would think long and hard about taking it. Atlanta likes the convenience of getting in and out of Chicago, along with its tradition of winning. Chicago likes an affiliate that lets them make a lot of the decisions (like coaching) and will provide veteran players (this was a sticking point between Buffalo and Rochester).

Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, and this affiliation, which is been going since 2001-02, would be right about at the seven-year itch. Chicago has flirted with Florida in the past, taking on Jay Bouwmeester and Stephen Weiss during the lockout. With Florida back in play, they could potentially play the role of the home-wrecker.

If the Atlanta/Chicago affiliation is going to end this year, it should happen relatively soon. If you don't hear anything, then it's on for next year, as there is no tradition of a public announcement by either side of it continuing. Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Team USA for the 2008 WJC

A few days ago, USA Hockey announced its roster for the World Junior Championships. Nashville has four prospects on the US team in Blum, Smith, Flynn and Geoffrion. Joe Palmer was surprisingly selected in goal. He has just a 5-10-1 record and .883 save percentage this year with Ohio State. But, once again, politics reign and the fact that Palmer played for the USNTDP seems to trump track record in the selection process.

34 Joe Palmer 6"1" 205 (93) 2/19/88 Ohio State University (CCHA) Yorkville, NY
30 Jeremy Smith 6'0" 167 (75) 4/13/89 Plymoth (OHL) Brownstown, Michagan

24 Jonathon Blum 6'1" 171 (77) 1/30/89 Vancouver (WHL) Rancho Santa Mag, California
28 Ian Cole 6'1" 217 (98) 2/21/89 University of Norte Dame (CCHA) Ann Arbor, Michagan
27 Cade Fairchild 5'10" 184 (83) 1/15/89 Minnesota University (WCHA) Duluth, Minnesota
4 Jamie McBain 6'1" 195 (88) 2/25/88 University of Wisconsin (WCHA) Fairbult, Minnesota
23 Kevin Montgomery 6'1" 190 (86) 4/4/88 London (OHL) Rochester, NY
20 Bobby Sanguinetti 6'1" 188 (85) 2/29/88 Brampton (OHL) Lumberton, NJ
7 Brain Strait 6'1" 207 (93) 1/4/88 Boston Universtiy (HEA) Waltham, Mass.
16 Chris Summers 6'2" 191 (86) 2/5/88 University of Michigan (CCHA) Milan, Mich

19 Mike Carman 6'0" 187 (84) 4/14/88 University of Minnesota (WCHA) Apple Valley, Minn
22 Ryan Flynn 6'3" 211 (95) 3/22/88 University of Minnesota (WCHA) Lino Lakes, Minn
5 Blake Geoffrion 6'2" 189 (85) 2/3/88 Universtiy of Wisconsin (WCHA) Brentwood, TN
17 Max Pacioretty 6'2" 213 (96) 11/20/88 University of Michigan (CCHA) New. Cannan, CT
10 Rhett Rakhshani 5'11" 175 (79) 3/6/88 University of Denver (WCHA) Huntington Beach, Calif.
15 Tyler Ruegsegger 5'11" 193 (87) 3/23/89 University of Denver (WCHA) Lakewood, CO.
11 Matt Rust 5'10" 193 (87) 3/23/89 University of Michigan (CCHA) Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
29 Jordan Schroeder 5'8" 165 (75) 9/29/90 USA U-18 team Prior Lake, Minn
21 Bill Sweatt 6'0" 180 (81) 9/21/88 Colorado College (WCHA) Elburn, Ill
12 James vanRiemsdyk 6'3" 211 (95) 5/4/89 University of New Hampshire Middletown, NJ
33 Colin Wilson 6'1" 215 (97) 10/20/89 Boston University (HEA) Greenwich, Colo
9 Kyle Okposo St. Paul Minn.

Where are they now -- goaltending edition

Where have some of the masked men who have played in the system gone, and how are they doing? I've made a little chart with some of them. Dave Caruso is doing very well in his second pro year, playing mostly for the ECHL Trenton Devils. Adam Berkhoel is in the AHL, but his numbers are awful. He backs up Jim Howard, the Red Wings' top goalie prospect.

Name Team Record Save % GAA
Dave Caruso Trenton Devils (ECHL) 5-6-0 .922 2.56
Norm Maracle Iserlohn Roosters (DEL - Germany) 11-5-0 .919 2.87
Frederic Cassivi Hershey Bears (AHL) 9-7-1 .900 3.05
Adam Berkhoel Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL) 2-5-1 .869 3.45

Milan Hnilicka Ufa Salavat Yulayev (Russia)

Michael Garnett Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik (Russia)

Scott Fankhouser Manchester Phoenix (EIHL -- England)

I didn't find stats for Hnilicka, Garnett, or Fankhouser in the 10 minutes alloted to the task, but I can say that oddly Garnett is not on the roster found at his team's official site. It's all in Russian, which might as well be gibberish to me, but matching up the birthdates I couldn't find him.

Getting and keeping Europeans will likely get harder

The transfer of European players to NHL organizations has long been governed by the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) agreement, which stipulated a set amount of money an NHL had to pay a European club to sign a player under contract there. Russia quite loudly failed to ratify it again in 2005, wanting more money per player (which led to a drop in the number of Russian players taken in the NHL draft). They were able to stay outside the agreement because the high salaries in the Super League were enough to entice players to either stay or come back.

Well, now more countries are joining Russia. Sweden has just voted to extricate itself from the agreement. Finland may follow this week.

Complicating the matter is the Canadian Hockey League, Canada's junior system. They got their wish in the NHL's last CBA that Europeans be under the same rules as their drafted juniors when it comes to signing NHL contracts -- a two-year window. This window is much shorter than it used to be for Europeans, and has led to more cases of young players being taken out of European elite leagues and put into the North American minor leagues. This infuriates the European leagues, but the CHL is happy because it thinks more Canadians will be drafted instead. And they're right -- that effect has happened.

It's a really sticky situation, one that has gotten more and more pointed in the last few years. I question whether getting out of the agreement will work for Sweden and Finland though, because without hockey salaries that can compete with the NHL, players will just leave without a transfer payment and then the country is worse off.

Here's an article with further information.

Sweden’s hockey federation voted last night to formally sever ties to the IIHF agreement. Finnish Ice Hockey Federation managing director Heikki Hietanen says a similar discussion will take place Wednesday in Helsinki. ...

It’s troubling news for the NHL because free agency in countries like Russia, particularly, could prove elusive.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see every young NHL-calibre player basically forced to sign a long-term contract and never win the right to free agency,” says one NHL player agent with several Russian clients.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Everblades and Waddell watching

He might have skipped Thrashers practice today, but GM/coach Don Waddell, already doing two jobs at once, showed up to check out the young 'uns at the Gwinnett Gladiators game tonight. I passed him by the loading docks after warmups and kidded him about how he has time to come to these games. Surely he has staff who can go and give reports, right?

But, on the other hand, the arena is directly on his way home in the evening, so he doesn't have to really veer off the path, just put in a little time. He took in the first period and I didn't see him after that. Which Thrasher properties did he get to see? Myles Stoesz and Chad Denny (making his return from a concussion). Dan Turple backed up.

Below are a few shots from the game. First, a Florida Everblade beating his head on his stick when the anthem dragged on.

Kirk MacDonald and Brandon Roach.

Myles Stoesz at the red line in warmups. I had never interviewed him before tonight, so I wasn't sure what I'd get, but he was really interesting to talk to. I can already think of five more questions I want to ask him. I went in with a bunch of questions, but if I didn't get much out of it, I was just going to put it into a general ECHL update. But it was definitely fruitful enough for a full transcript in one form or another.

Chad Denny coming off the ice with partner Dinos Stamoulis. Denny played well tonight. Coach Jeff Pyle said afterwards that he's going to get him some 5 on 3 time. Guys have to earn their PP time. Plus his slap shot is so much that if things go wrong, they go really wrong.

Denny with the puck.

Turple has always taken off all his equipment between periods, but now he's spending part of the intermission out on the bench. Odd, but he's playing well so what can you say?

Maybe he wanted to catch the always entertaining musical stools.

Booyah! says the guy in the navy shirt.

As he continues to talk smack to his opponent.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Not OT, not tonight!

7pm starts for games in a city with sprawl and traffic like Atlanta are insane. However, they do normally get you home quicker, something I was counting on tonight since my absolutely favorite show was on and I forgot to record it. Yeah that didn't work out so well.

What's the show? Project Runway on Bravo. It's a reality show for upcoming fashion designers, and it's really well done. I have everyone in my office watching it, men and women, and the past two seasons I've run a pool to pick the winner. My pick this year is Christian, a high-risk, high-reward contestant. He's excessively overconfident, but it's so over the top as to be entertaining and charming. Here he is.

Last Christmas I had my dad watch the show, and he liked it too. It's just good TV. And I normally don't even watch TV. Despite the Thrashers going into the shootout tonight, I got to see the new episode, thanks to the 11pm re-airing. Christian survived, so I'm still alive in the pool.

All of which brings me favorite blog, Project RunGay, by Tom and Lorenzo, "two fabulously glamorous fags ripping the show they L-O-V-E to watch." They do a great job being entertaining. I didn't realize until tonight that I have kind of used their blog as a model. They often put up screen shots from the show and then analyze with funny comments (here's an example on the topic of the collection of Michael Knight, an Atlantan, from last year). I've been doing that with photos, though I don't claim to be as funny as them. Some things I catch are just funny themselves though. It's not why I started taking photos, but it has worked out that way (the actual reason was due to a HF site upgrade that begs a photo). Their blog is also really informative about the show and its designers at the same time.

A wise person once told me, write the book/article/blog you want to read. And that's what I do. Thanks for stopping by.

Note: in a day or two, an update on Thrashers junior prospects will be up on HF. I've gathered all the info, just need to put it together.