Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Gladiators photos

First, a reminder that there will sometimes be breaking news on the blog, so if you want to set up an RSS feed that makes it easier to know when you need to visit, you click the little orange box in the URL bar.

Now, on to some extra photos I took during last night's rematch between the Reading Royals and Gwinnett Gladiators.

First is coach Jeff Pyle, with Chad Denny sitting in front of him.

Chad Denny at warmups. He said he only practiced one day with the team (Thursday) before this weekend's games. He also said he has no problem switching back and forth between forward and D, he's very used to it by now. Personally, when I've been forced to switch back and forth, I've been known to clear the puck in the wrong direction. A true but embarrassing story.

Ervins Mustukovs looks a lot like Matt Damon, no?

And Reading's equipment guy looks like movie villain Alan Rickman (of Die Hard, Harry Potter fame).

Quick, what movie did Matt Damon and Alan Rickman appear in together?

The correct answer is Dogma (1999), directed by Kevin Smith. A fine flick if you haven't seen it. The official plot outline "The last known descendant of Christ is called upon to save the existence of humanity from being negated by two renegade angels trying to exploit a loophole." I know, it's been done to death, but this time it's done right.

Some fun bench shots. Pyle, Cam Brown -- "Browntown" as Jeff has taken to calling him lately -- and Hoops. Look at Cam's arm. It looks like he's coaching a fight.

A flurry of sticks and helmets. The old guy isn't actually on the bench. But he has a good seat.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Turple will return to GWT tomorrow, Chicago signs goalie

Dan Turple will return to the Gwinnett Gladiators tomorrow, as the Chicago Wolves sign the out of work Rob Gherson to back up veteran Fred Brathwaite for the remainder of Kari Lehtonen's groin injury. Gherson was in Elmira Jackals camp (ECHL) this year, but was a cut from camp.

Defenseman Scott Lehman will also be sent to Gwinnett, but just for the weekend (three games). He will swap places with Chad Denny, who as planned, heads back to Chicago.

Ervins Mustukovs will be let go as GWT's backup.

Vannelli no longer on Wheeling roster

I happened to wonder how former Thrasher prospect Mike Vannelli was faring in Wheeling tonight, and looked him up. Interestingly, he's no longer listed on the roster, but hasn't been involved in an official transaction either. Hmmm. Something to keep an eye on.

Many people stopped by the blog today, probably looking for a rehash of the Gladiators/Royals melee on Sunday. I don't have a lot to say about it that you can't get from the box score, or from the suspensions that will no doubt be handed down tomorrow. I remember saying "Oh my God" as it was happening because it was just so unbelievable -- total chaos with a fight between Myles Stoesz and a guy on the bench and then a linesman being sandwiched between two combatants.

The Gladiators team doctors went to give the linesman some treatment after the game, taking the stitches box, but I don't think he needed stitches because they weren't in there that long. Who was "in there that long" was Reading, who must have gotten an extremely long talking-to by their coach in the locker room. The Show-Pro guy jokingly got me a chair standing there in the hall so long (I was waiting for Jon Quick). Me, him and the cop who sits outside the refs lockers spend a lot of quality time together.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Denny's pro debut in Gwinnett

So much for well-laid plans. Minutes after describing what he intended to do to his line-up this weekend, Jeff Pyle got word that Manitoba wanted to call up captain Mike Vigilante. Ryan Walsh was back in the line-up, and he decided to move Chad Denny to forward, a position Denny has played many times before in junior, and which the Thrashers have off and on toyed with making a permanent change.

Jeff Campbell wore the C on Saturday night. I joked to Pyle that he didn't waste any time naming a new captain once Vig was gone. "[Expletive] him," he said with a slight smile. "I told these guys -- once you're out the door, I love ya, but [expletive] you, you're gone." Don't cry over departed teammates is the message, with a little shock value thrown in. Manitoba has a couple injured guys, so it remains to be seen how Vig will be used.

Denny played on the third line (there is no fourth line in the ECHL), with a rotating mix of players including Stuart MacRae, Ryan Walsh, Myles Stoesz and Andy Brandt. He flipped between right and left wings. He had a few good hits, something Pyle was hoping he'd bring. He drew a tripping call behind the net as he worked the boards late in the game. Moving his feet more and getting tighter on guys defensively are the first areas to improve on in the next game.

"Pretty good," Pyle said of his play. "Physical -- doesn't know the systems yet but it doesn't matter if he does simple thing and be smart, stay back. He's got a great shot too." Denny had just one shot on goal (in the first period), a hard wrister from the slot.

As to why Pyle decided to put Denny at forward instead of the other swingman, Jamie Milam, he said "Jamie's been playing really well defensively with Jimmy (Jackson), so I wasn't going to break them up. If I did that, I'd have to break up another pair and put Chad with them. And he doesn't know the systems back there, which is the most important part of our game."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Gladiators weekend preview

The Gladiators line-up will be slightly different this weekend, as 2005 Thrashers draft pick Chad Denny has been assigned to the team. On this assignment, he's only here for three games (Sat, Sun and Tues). If he still doesn't get ice time in Chicago after that though, he could return. As a result, the Gladiators will go with seven defensemen tonight, with Ryan Walsh the forward who drops out of the lineup. Denny was known in the QMJHL for his slap shot, but coach Jeff Pyle said he won't play Denny on the point on the power play until he learns the team's systems. That probably won't happen at all this weekend. He could be the "backdoor" D though, the left one who swings down. Pyle said that he's asking Denny to be physical, be a defensive defenseman, and just move the puck up to the forwards. Pretty simple.

The other lines will remain the same. Mike Hamilton centering Jeff Campbell and Derek Nesbitt. Pyle said Hamilton is kind of like Brad Schell, but better defensively. He fits in well with these two. The second line is the speed line: Lou Dickenson, Dirk Southern and Andy Brandt. Brandt is more physical, an up and down defensive guy. On the third line, Vigilante adds experience two what otherwise would be a very young group.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Congrats to Ellis

Congratulations to Dan Ellis on his first NHL shutout tonight (for Nashville against the Thrashers). Ellis is a player I've liked for a long time, having interviewed him during the 2004 playoffs when he was a rookie pro playing for the ECHL Idaho Steelheads. Idaho beat the Gladiators in the conference finals that year. Anyway, Ellis is a really interesting guy and I'm glad to see him succeed.

The TV crew kept calling him a youngster, but he's actually 27, too old to be classified as a rookie in the NHL. Ellis is in fact a year older than Garnet Exelby and Steve McCarthy, and a few months younger than Darren Haydar (who is also too old to be a rookie).

I was also glad to see Kevin Klein, another favorite of mine, play well with a nifty move for an assist. I talked to him a couple years ago at Predators prospects camp. I think he's generally underrated.

A few other random items:
  • 1. In the "what took you so long" file, we have an announcement of an affiliation between the Hurricanes and the ECHL Charlotte Checkers. The Hurricanes have been goalie-rich for years now, and the Checkers have a coach who was a former goaltender in Derek Wilkinson. They are sending Daniel Manzato there. The two franchises are close enough to benefit from an affiliation, but not too close to step on each other's toes. Why haven't they gotten together before is the question. Edit to add: In an interesting twist, a Florida Everblades reporter says the Hurricanes "still only have one ECHL affiliate" and that's the Blades, who they've been with for some time. As I understand it though, the paperwork is the same between teams and leagues no matter if you send one player or six, so it's as "real" as it gets. The Checkers are also affiliated with the NY Rangers, so it's not like they are desperate.
  • 2. We can probably cross Kevin Dineen off the list of possibilities for the Thrashers coaching spot. I talked to someone today who noted that he really lets his ire at players get to the surface in Portland. That's probably not what's needed right now. Plus he recently was charged with impaired driving.
  • 3. Someone reached this blog today by Googling "infected stitches pictures." I'm just not sure what to say to that. But I think they were probably disappointed. I figured out that it was a post about Jon Awe's toe that did it. Awezy is a good sport and I think he'd let me take pictures of his toe if I wanted to -- but I don't want to.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007 a Little behind

(I hate it when people use players' last names in cutesy titles, but I couldn't resist on this one.)

The Canadian Press put out a feature on Bryan Little when the Thrashers were up in Toronto, which put up on their website. The problem? "Photo not available" for Little. We see linemate Marian Hossa, but not the player the story is about. The player who is tied for sixth in rookie scoring in the league, by the way (Sterling and Enstrom are tied for tenth).

Why aren't the youth in the NHL being marketed better to a broader audience? Apparently it's because the NHL can't find photos of them.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

More names for the coaching position

There haven't been many plausible names bandied about out for the Atlanta Thrashers head coaching position, now that Bob Hartley has been fired. Randy Cunneyworth and current assistant Brad McCrimmon are definitely good ones to think about. But here are eight more candidates, with links to their coaching records at hockeydb (which isn't always complete, but a decent resource).

Mike Eaves -- Eaves played 324 NHL games, retiring in 1986. He's been an NHL assistant coach with the Flyers and Penguins, a head coach in the AHL, a head coach with the USNTDP, national junior team, head coach in the Finnish Elite league in 1996-97, and most recently head coach at the University of Wisconsin, where he won the NCAA title in 2006. His son Patrick plays for the Senators. Eaves, 51, is very widely respected in the NCAA circles.

Mike Foligno -- Foligno played 1018 NHL games, retiring in 1994. Since then, he's been moving around different levels of hockey, most recently with the OHL Sudbury Wolves, where he went to coach his son, Nick, who is now in the NHL with the Senators (a strange coincidence with Eaves above). Foligno was also an assistant in the NHL with Toronto and Colorado. I met Mike at the draft in Nashville a few years ago -- we were standing in line outside together early Saturday morning. Seeing his name tag, I struck up a conversation with him about former Thrasher Scott Fankhouser, who he had coached in Hershey the year before. I also congratulated him on Nick being named to the U-17 team (had just happened to see that like the day before). Anyway, Mike, who is now 48, seemed like a great guy, and passes my quick screening test.

Dave Hakstol -- Hakstol played in the NCAA and IHL as a defenseman, retiring in 1996. He coached in the USHL to start, and is now head coach of NCAA powerhouse North Dakota, where the Thrashers have three prospects playing. UND gave him and the rest of his staff a new five-year contract this fall. Hakstol is 39.

John MacLean -- MacLean played 1164 NHL games, mostly with the NJ Devils, who he has been an assistant coach with for five years. NJ is very good defensively, which MacLean could help with. He is 43. The question would be if he would want to leave the Devils organization, who drafted him back in 1983.

Jim Playfair -- In the "interesting, but maybe not available" pile, we have Jim Playfair. He was an assistant in Calgary promoted to head coach then was pushed aside by Mike Keenan to be "associate coach", so he may not have an out clause. Playfair played 21 NHL games on defense, and had a long minor-league career. He is 43.

Trent Yawney -- In the "easy to get because he's not coaching professionally this year" pile, we have Yawney. Yawney played 593 NHL games as a defenseman, retiring in 1999. He was a successful coach in the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals. He coached the Blackhawks for two years, ending last year.

Dean Blais -- Blais played college hockey and then some minor pro. He went on to a long career with the Univ. of North Dakota, leading the Sioux to NCAA championships in 1997 and 2000. He also had a relationship with USA Hockey. In 2005-06 he took a position as associate coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but that was short-lived. In summer 2007, he was named General Manager/Coach of a USHL franchise to be based in Fargo, North Dakota.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Farber's under-the-radar people in the NHL

SI's Michael Farber has a good list of the "Five under-the-radar people who make a big impact" in the NHL. Three of the five have impacts on prospects. If you haven't heard of them before, you should definitely read up.

1. Hakan Andersson -
Detroit Red Wings director of European scouting. People like to debate this one. Is his hit rate really that high, or do the Wings just take a lot of Europeans?
2. Chris Kelly -- Ottawa Senators forward
3. Benoit Allaire - NY Rangers goaltending coach.
4. Cory Murphy -- Florida Panther defenseman whom Tobias Enstrom really likes.
5. Trevor Timmins -
Montreal Canadiens director of player recruitment and development. Farber calls him "anonymous" but he's actually out and about and quoted quite a bit.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Larry Brooks on the Hartley firing

NY Post columnist Larry Brooks on the Hartley firing. As I've said many times before, I don't care for Larry Brooks the person, but I respect the fact that he has very good sources.

Atlanta's Bob Hartley essentially fired himself between Games 2 and 3 of last year's first-round sweep by the Rangers when he switched starting goaltenders for the second time in the series, going back to Game 1's ineffective Kari Lehtonen rather than sticking with Game 2's outstanding Johan Hedberg. That was it for the coach, who wasn't dismissed over the summer only because GM Don Waddell didn't have authority from ownership to do so.

Now Waddell, whose own job is surely on the line, is behind the bench in an interim capacity that we're told may extend throughout the course of the season.

I don't think the last bit about Don staying behind the bench the rest of the year will happen. I think that is not the favored route, but could happen if they are not able to get their top choices due to contractual or other issues.

And from the Tampa Bay Tribune, Mike Sullivan isn't an option right now:

SULLY STAYS PUT: The name of Lightning assistant coach Mike Sullivan surfaced as a potential candidate to replace recently fired Bob Hartley as Atlanta's head coach, but Sullivan's contract doesn't allow him to pursue other jobs during the season without the Lightning's permission.

Sullivan declined interview requests Friday regarding the Thrashers' opening. The former Boston head coach does have a window of time during the offseason during which he can pursue head coaching jobs.

Gladiators home opener

Last night the Gwinnett Gladiators had their home opener, beating Pensacola for the second night in a row. They are now 2-0.

The lines as they currently stand:
Mike Hamilton - Jeff Campbell - Derek Nesbitt
Lou Dickenson - Dirk Southern - Andy Brandt
Ryan Walsh/Myles Stoesz - Stuart MacRae - Mike Vigilante
Jeff Mason - Jon Awe
Jim Jackson - Jamie Milam
Ryan Mahrle - Dino Stamoulis

Stoesz fought Daniel Sullivan in the second period, a pretty mundane fight, but the crowd liked it and Stoesz egged them on as the skated to the bench.

Craig Kowalski played both Friday and Saturday nights. Dan Turple is currently called up to Chicago due to the trickle down from Kari Lehtonen's injury. But, the scuttlebutt is that Turps may not be gone for the entire time of the injury. We'll see what develops.

In the meantime, the Gladiators will hang onto Ervins Mustukovs, who had some success with Toledo last year.

I talked to Ondrej Pavelec's former teammate Jean-Claude Sawyer (Pensacola) last night about how Pavelec was to play with. Nothing groundbreaking was learned, more of a confirmation of what was already known. But it's always good to talk to a lot of people because you never know what will come of it. I got to tell him that Pavelec made his NHL debut and his face lit up and asked "how did he do?"

Friday, October 19, 2007

Why can't you be like ... Kari Lehtonen

It's unfortunate that Kari Lehtonen's latest injury happened just as he was given new life -- life after Bob Hartley.

From Jeff Marek of HNIC Radio in his blog on CBC's website:

"One step forward, two steps back for the Atlanta Thrashers, who last night, picked up their first win of the season (5-3 against the Rangers) but in the process lost netminder Kari Lehtonen to a groin injury. Ouch, that hurts. Lehtonen has been described by insiders in Atlanta as standing the most to gain now that Bob Hartley has been punted. The two were said to never see eye-to-eye and Hartley was perhaps spoiled in Colorado and expected all goalies to be and behave like Patrick Roy."

Hartley -- who mentions Roy's name so frequently it could be its own drinking game - has been Lehtonen's coach for the young man's entire NHL career. We would question the parenting skills of a father who said "why can't you be like your older brother," so you have to question someone who, even indirectly through the media, implied "Why can't you be like Patrick Roy?"

There's no question that Lehtonen's confidence suffered under Hartley's watch, who alternated between praise and criticism of him. He was impatient with Lehtonen and his calm, laid-back personality. Hartley mistook a lack of fire-breathing passion for laziness, when it just wasn't in the stoic Finn's personality to be that way. Pasi Nurminen is a Finnish goaltender who might pass Hartley's litmus test, but he was acknowledged to be unusual when he was playing.

The groin injuries have not helped matters. Lehtonen was often out when the team needed him most. It was another source of tension between him and Hartley.

Lehtonen won the 2002 Finnish elite league championship as an 18-year-old. He was a two-time winner of the best goaltender award in that league, and was playoff MVP in 2001. His accomplishments led to him being the highest-ever European goalie drafted at No. 2 overall in 2002.

Those accomplishments, and his play in Chicago in the AHL, are a stark contrast to his work in Atlanta. Fast forwarding to last spring's playoff first-round series, Hartley pulled him twice, letting backup Johan Hedberg start the fourth and final game. It's a prime example of the kind of thing that doesn't do much for a 23-year-old's confidence.

Confidence is a tricky thing, but it's the most important tool in a goaltender's toolbox. The Lehtonen who returns from injury may well be someone that the fans in Atlanta have never met.
Lehtonen himself may not even fully realize how much the mental game has affected him. But to those who knew him before, the contrast is clear.

The contrast is also in his recent non-Thrashers play. Playing for his country, Lehtonen sparkled this past summer in the World Championships, helping Finland to a silver medal.

If he can finally put the groin injuries behind him, Lehtonen's outlook for future performance is very bright. The next few weeks off will definitely give him time to clear his head and rebuild his confidence.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

First game of a new era

The Thrashers beat nemesis NY Rangers 5-3, in Game 1 A.H. (After Hartley).

The players definitely seemed to have an extra spring in their step and were skating hard. All three Ranger goals were scored on the power play, so staying out of the box would go a long way towards cutting down the goals against.

Kari Lehtonen left the game with a groin strain, which should bring up rookie Ondrej Pavelec. The Thrashers are probably really interested to see what they have with Pavelec, and give him a shot when the time is right. But with the team playing every other night for the next few weeks, there are no back to backs, so Moose could play every game if he needed to.

There was a big scare with Tobias Enstrom in the second period, who fell awkwardly into the boards on his knees, hitting face-first after a cross check. He bounces back from everything though, and returned later none the worse for wear. He's still playing on the top pairing with Nic Havelid.

The Haydar - Little - Sterling line continued to click and got a bit more ice time. Sterling had a couple chances and drew at least one penalty, but he has yet to get on the board. He and Haydar certainly know where each other is going to be, which goes a long way. Little scored his second goal, off a nice pass from Haydar. With Todd White leaving the game, no forward needs to worry about being sent down just yet.

In the "they said it" file, comes this from the Denver Post All Things Avs blog by beat writer Adrian Dater:

-In other news, sorry to see Bob Hartley go in Atlanta. But an 0-6 will do that. There were whispers that the team just totally quit on Hartley, because of his overbearing ways.

Some teams need a kick in the posterior from a coach, and some need a backrub. The Thrashers apparently were tired of all the butt-kicking by Hartley. He has always been a demanding coach, and it can wear thin on players. It happened toward the end in Colorado, too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Shooting down the Anderson idea

I'm not quite sure the genesis of it, but several people have floated Chicago Wolves coach John Anderson's name today as a potential replacement for Bob Hartley. I'll go on record as saying that I find it much more likely that Wolves GM Kevin Cheveldayoff would be hired by the Thrashers organization in some capacity down the road than Anderson. Chevy is the guy "driving the bus" so to speak in Chicago's success, and has recently drawn NHL interest. Anderson usually has a lot of talent to work with, with one reason being that Chicago outspends most teams (no salary cap in the AHL). Add to that the fact that Hartley and Anderson are a little too close in approach to make for a fresh change.

I'd be happy to admit I'm wrong if it came to pass, but I don't think there's much chance of Anderson in Atlanta.

Edit to add: The research of ESPN's Scott Burnside (an Atlanta resident) brings him to the same conclusion.

Bonne nuit, Bob Hartley

Five years ago, in December 2002, Bob Hartley was fired as coach of the Colorado Avalanche when his intense methods were no longer working with Avalanche players.

History repeated itself in Atlanta today, as Hartley was again shown the door by the Atlanta Thrashers, and the reasons he wore out his welcome were fundamentally the same.

"Uncle Bob's" hard-nosed, structured methods can be off-putting. His touch -- not very light. He about X's and O's, more X's and O's, and if that's not working, even more X's and O's. He over-coached players on small details, which probably made them think too much during games.

Some players were harshly criticized, while others probably more deserving, were not. A workable goaltender rotation, something he didn't have to worry much about in Colorado, was never something he figured out in Atlanta.

(Note: Scott Burnside's 2003 article on Hartley goes over some of this terrain, with very telling quotes from players.)

Hartley entered the 2007-08 season on a short leash, after the Thrashers were swept in the playoffs last April.

The 0-6 start was ugly. The energy level of the team was low. Special teams, which most agree are almost purely a function of coaching strategy, were very bad. Other team strategies didn't seem to fit the make up of the team, like dumping and chasing the puck by small and skilled forwards.

Worse, Hartley couldn't get along with the team's star players.

Overall, he didn't make the team want to follow him into battle. Demonstration: The team had a winning record during preseason, as player jockeyed for roster spots. But after their internal motivation subsided, they flattened out.

In light of all this, Hartley's firing was certainly the right move, and in fact probably overdue. The change should make a huge difference in the mood of the team, and give them the lift to succeed.

But like at a funeral, you feel obligated to say something nice about the departing. I have three nice things I'll say about Hartley from my dealings with him. One, he was always extremely professional. He understood that the media had a job to do, would give you his full attention and would explain things until questions were satisfied. (Well, sometimes he would avoid questions he didn't want to answer by talking about something unrelated, but that's his prerogative and it's our job to catch it and get him back on topic.) Two, in the aftermath of Dan Snyder's death, Hartley held the locker room together in a time of grief. He played the role of healer on a broader scale for the community as well. He could have easily shrunk into the background, being relatively new to the organization, but he stepped up and said all the right things to help people at all levels get through it. Three, he was fun to talk to. He liked to insert jokes into his responses, which made for a good quote. I'll miss those aspects of Uncle Bob.

The best choice for new coach right now would be someone who is more of a players' coach, like when his assistant coach, Tony Granato, followed Hartley's tenure in Colorado. A players' coach usually appeals more to emotions, a rah-rah guy. It sounds like an easy thing, but getting the formula just right is tough.

There are 76 more games to play -- but finding the right new leader should take as much time as it takes.

Greener pastures not often so for players

Former Thrashers draft pick Mike Vannelli was sent down to Wheeling of the ECHL yesterday after failing to crack the Philadelphia Phantoms roster as a rookie. This is ironic, given that Vannelli decided not to sign with the Thrashers after graduating from the Univ. of Minnesota, in order to seek out greener pastures (in more ways than one). It would be hard to argue that what he found was greener. The scenery in West Virginia is lovely, but it's not a hockey destination.

Vannelli's situation is something I've seen several times over the years, mostly with prospects, but sometimes with NHL regulars as well (Frank Kaberle comes to mind there). Players think they will get a better offer elsewhere than they do. I suppose you can't blame them for trying, but often they are just not very realistic about their value the market. Vannelli was a good college blueliner, but has questionable pro upside.

A couple years ago, Brian Sipotz was at the end of his entry deal with the Thrashers. The Thrashers made him a qualifying offer, but Sipotz ended up signing directly with the Chicago Wolves instead, where he had been playing throughout the contract. I had interviewed Sipotz the year before, and he seemed like an intelligent guy, so I just couldn't get my head around why he would do that, and then turn around and sign with the farm club. While I was in Chicago that winter, I saw him on my way out after the game so I stopped him and questioned him on it -- did I misunderstand somewhere along the way? He turned down his qualifying offer? Why? What reason did he have to do that? Sipotz was extremely nice about it, much nicer than I think I would have been if someone, anyone, came up to me and questioned me about my career decision-making. He said he felt he might find a better opportunity with another NHL team. Since it didn't happen, he came back to the Wolves. He said he wasn't giving up and was still hopeful for next year. Did he end up being right? Well, he was a tryout at Columbus Blue Jackets camp this year, but is back with Chicago. He didn't find a greener pasture, but I suppose he can sleep better knowing that he had the opportunity to explore.

The best non-Thrashers example that comes to mind is Trevor Hendrikx. The Blue Jackets drafted him in 2003, in the ninth round. The two sides were unable to come to terms on a contract in 2005, which is a nice way of saying Hendrikx turned them down, so he re-entered the draft. In the seventh round (which was then the last round), the Jackets selected him again. The two sides settled on a contract shortly thereafter. The grass didn't get any greener for him -- no other team picked him. All it did was prove that the Jackets liked him better than all the other teams - which of course is how they ended up together in the first place.

And that's almost always going to be true years later as well, the team that drafted the player values him more than other teams. Dance with the team who brought you? History shows this seems to be the best course.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Rookie fantasy update

I'm not playing fantasy hockey this season because I've come to realize I'm only interested in the drafting aspect of it. The daily management of the team becomes a burden very quickly and I lose interest after a few weeks. That said, I'm very aware of the need for good information on players, so fantasy hockey players ("poolies" as they call themselves in Canada), here's a post just for you.

1. Tobias Enstrom, D -- Enstrom is playing a ton of minutes, including the entire power play on the right point. Tonight he had 21:48 in ice time, tops on the team. At even strength he's now playing with Nic Havelid, and on the power play, he was out with Kovalchuk (who is at the other point). Marian Hossa, Slava Kozlov and Bryan Little make up the top forwards group. As soon as the power play starts scoring, Enstrom will start racking up points because he's the distributor and touches the puck a lot. Enstrom will shoot the puck himself as well, but that's not his bread and butter.

2. Bryan Little, C -- Little is now playing with Darren Haydar and Brett Sterling, but the lines change often so don't make too much of it. Little has the ability to adapt to different linemates as well as anyone on the team and finds ways to create chances. He should start finding himself in the scoring column more and more often on a team that lacks talent at center. Tonight he had 13:25 in ice time, 3:35 of it on the power play. He should continue to see time on the power play.

3. Brett Sterling, LW -- I could not in good conscience recommend him at this point. He's a goal scorer who is not scoring goals, and isn't getting great chances either. Getting sent back down to the Wolves for a while is not out of the question. Tonight he had 8:40 in ice time, 2:16 of it on the power play (second unit).

Current trading assets

Not that a trade would be the cure for what ills the 0-6 team, but if the Thrashers were to make a trade, here are some ideas on what they currently have to offer.

1. Left wings. League-wide, there is a relative shortage of scoring left wingers. This fact came to my attention just today when I questioned fellow HF writer Dave Rainer about something he had written in an article. He responded with some data to back it up -- more scoring comes off right wingers than left wingers. The imbalance is becoming less pronounced over time, but still exists. The Thrashers, however, actually have an overabundance of scoring left wingers with Slava Kozlov, Ilya Kovalchuk and Brett Sterling. With Kozlov and Kovalchuk firmly in place, it would of course make the most sense to trade Sterling. I'm not running him out on a rail, but from an asset management standpoint, rather than convert him to a right wing, it would make sense to trade him for something the team needed more urgently. If they could get equal or better value back.

2. 2008's first round pick. This pick has the most value on the market right now than if ever will, for two reasons. First, because the Thrashers are in last place, other teams think the Thrashers are likely to win the lottery and get the first overall pick. Second, since junior phenom John Tavares is still trying to make the case that he should enter the 2008 draft, there's the potential that the first overall pick could be used to select him.

3. Defensive prospects. In particular Boris Valabik or Nathan Oystrick. While the Thrashers now know basically what they have with these two players, other teams may see more upside. Oystrick gained a lot of notoriety last year as a high scorer in the AHL, and has greater value than he ever may have.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Photos of your 2007-08 Gwinnett Gladiators

Since only one player will need to be cut before the opening day roster, essentially what you see here is what the Gladiators will be starting the season with. Coach Jeff Pyle said he'd make his one cut probably on Monday. He thinks there may be a couple more coming from Chicago (a D and an F maybe), but hasn't heard for sure.

Jersey colors today (pay no attention to the order of names)
Red: Myles Stoesz - Bryson Busniak - Jeff Campbell
Green: Mike Hamilton - Andy Brandt
Blue: Stuart MacRae - Ryan Walsh - Derek Nesbitt
Yellow: Dirk Southern - Lou Dickenson - Mike Vigilante
Burgundy (D): Jim Jackson, Jeff Mason, Dinos Stamoulis, Jamie Milam

Notice only four defensemen, including JMo, who is supposed to be playing forward this year. There's been a rash of injuries/health issues on D. Jon Awe's toe is infected -- they had to open it up and then give him stitches. Ryan Mahrle was sick today (was there in street clothes later), and both Bill LeClerc and Jon Sitko have bad groins. They also did not play on Thursday in the preseason game.

Word is that last year's MVP Brad Schell signed a PTO with Providence, but he's currently injured so he's not playing.

I had a good day with the camera I think. The first one I believe is Dirk Southern in yellow, and that's Stamoulis kneeling with the mouthguard.

Turps, Hoops, and Brownie. Hoops (equipment manager) got put to work double duty during camp.

Vig and Stamoulis together.

Pyle and Hamilton in the foreground, K-Wal in the background.

New head athletic trainer Dani Ellis looks on.

Stoesz waiting his turn for a drill.
Turps drawfs Hoops. The perspective here distorts of course, but that's part of the fun.

K-Wal hiding...with Hamilton beside him.

Skating drills.

Turps, a tall drink of water himself, takes a drink of water.

Below, you can almost hear Cam Brown and Hoops discussing Brownie's stick.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thrashers vs. Senators 10-10-07

Review of the play of the rookies tonight (I won't do this all year -- right now it's the most interesting though). Brett Sterling returned to a line with Ilya Kovalchuk and Todd White and saw time on the PP. He had about three scoring chances, so that's progress I suppose, but he squandered each one. They say that a player is contributing if the play doesn't die when the puck comes to him. Right now that means that Sterling isn't contributing though.

He had the same problems of chasing the puck and running questionable patterns during the breakout. If he would just get along the right wing wall, that would help (the wall is your friend since it will often return the puck to you). But right now no one is passing to Sterling because he's not in good place to receive a pass. Most of the time he is too far up. One time tonight McCarthy hit him on the tape in the neutral zone, but it bounced off his stick.

Sterling did stay on his point man on defense pretty well, I'll give him that. But his awareness wasn't there -- once the puck was at his feet on D and he had no idea. He also had no idea the first period was ending and changed with like two seconds left. On each of his scoring chance, he shot way wide or high. It wasn't even close.

This line, Kovalchuk, White and Sterling, tend to bunch up a lot on the left wing. All three players want to be there, tripping over each other. This was the least effective of the four lines tonight. Kovalchuk scored, but he did that himself by stripping the defenseman of the puck.

Bryan Little was on a line with Slava Kozlov and Eric Perrin (who replaced the injured Marian Hossa). He looked good again, simple but effective. Had a GA in the neutral zone and a chance late in the game.

Tobias Enstrom had a couple saves right in a row at the beginning of the second period where he swooped in and got the puck out of the crease. This is where he contributed the most tonight.

Changing gears, Scott Pearson filled in on the postgame show tonight. He was introduced as "former NHLer Scott Pearson" but some of those reading the blog will remember him as a player for the Chicago Wolves in the late 90's, or last year as a guest star with the Gladiators. The Glads were really short on bodies once in the middle of the season so he got called in. Didn't look too bad either, especially for someone who had been retired for five years.

A caller said to him "welcome to Atlanta" but he's actually lived here for some time now. He keeps in shape by playing in an invitation-only men's league (at the Cooler I believe).

Pearson was supposed to be the color guy on the show, but he was being very politically correct in his comments, to an extent that they weren't colorful at all. But if it was his first time on the radio, then he did well because he was smooth and had a reply to everything.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Gladiators camp 10-7-07

First, the jersey colors:

Blue: Mike Hamilton - Jeff Campbell - Andy Brandt
Yellow: Jamie Milam - Lou Dickenson - Dirk Southern
Red: Stuart MacRae - Derek Nesbitt - Ryan Walsh
Green: Josh Bennett - Jared Wiseman
Burgundy - defensemen, which included Jon Awe.
Goalies: Craig Kowalski, Dan Turple, Chad Collins

Today is Jeff Pyle's birthday. Cam Brown guessed that he was 44, but he's really 49. He's the youngest 49-year-old I've ever met. I think coaching 20-somethings keeps him young.

Al Blevins will be coaching the goalies again this year. That's great news. For those who aren't familiar with him, he's the manager over at the IceForum, and he was someone Dave Caruso had worked with for years. He'll restart work with Turps and K-Wal once camp is over and the regular season starts. Al is a great guy and I think he really helped last year.

As far as players go, Lou Dickenson looked good to me, hitting and he has speed. Actually there's a lot of speed in general on the team. Not a lot of size though, but that's normal. It looked like a pretty tough workout, lots of 2 on 2 and 1 on 1 work.

The thing that made it worth the drive was seeing the three goaltenders play keepaway with the puck along the boards. Each one had a different strategy. Turps would lock it up along the boards and no one could move him. Collins tried bodychecking him off it, that didn't really do much except make me about choke on my drink (he's about 5'6). K-Wal's strategy was throwing his stick.

Kowalski will need to put in a new mask order ASAP. Both the Carolina logo and the palm trees look a little out of place here.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Gladiators camp update will be Sunday instead

Since I mentioned a couple days ago that I would probably go to Gladiators camp today, I feel like I should post and say that's going to be tomorrow instead. Last night at the Thrashers game I was invited to play hockey as a sub today, and since my regular team is in a bye week, it's hard to pass up. And free hockey is free hockey.

I did talk to Jeff Pyle this morning just to confirm that the Sunday practice was still on (coaches love to cancel on Sundays), and it is. He said that Myles Stoesz, Mike Vigilante and Jimmy Jackson will likely arrive in town Sunday night, so they won't be at practice until Monday.

Friday, October 5, 2007

NHL debuts by Enstrom, Little and Sterling

Of course Bryan Little must be first, having scored his first NHL goal. More impressive than scoring was his positioning though. He was always in the right spot, which goes a really long way. He told me a week or so ago that as an older guy his coach rarely said anything to him last year -- but I'm sure it wasn't just because he was older, it was because there isn't anything to say. Little already plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. He stuck to his defensive assignment, and picked up the right guy.

Little was the only Thrasher player who managed to get on the board, rookie or otherwise. He threw it towards the net from behind the goal line, and banked it off Brent Johnson's skates. It happened on one of the first few shifts that he had been moved up to wing on Kovalchuk's line.

Kovalchuk was just as excited as Little about the goal, but that's par for the course. This is a player who genuinely celebrates when he scores in practice. He loves goals -- his own and those by his teammates too.

I happened to read in his hometown paper today that Bryan Little's dad would be in the house, and I was able to pick him out before the game purely on family resemblance. He had a very big smile on his face after Bryan scored. I'm sure he's very glad he made the trip down because you wouldn't want to miss that.

One funny moment -- White got thrown out of the faceoff circle in the third period and Kovy was headed in. Little (another center of course) talked him back out and took it himself (and won it, by the way). Hartley would definitely approve of this exchange -- the kid was stepping up.

Brett Sterling's debut didn't go as well. The biggest problem was his positioning -- he was constantly drifting over to the left wing, his comfort zone -- so that there were three players bunched up together. Kovalchuk was willing to switch over when Sterling came to his side, but it wasn't flowing. Sterling also wasn't in good position to receive a pass on the breakout, often skating along the far blue line waiting for a break. The Kovalchuk-White- Sterling line wasn't clicking, so it's no wonder that Sterling and Little were swapped out for each other in the second period, including on the power play. Sterling then played on the third line with Dupius and Perrin (who moved to center).

Sterling did have a couple takeaways on the backcheck and forecheck. But his overall play was disappointing. I'll chalk this up to nervousness for now, but Sterling will need to stay in his lane in order to succeed on any line. He cannot be chasing the puck all over the ice and cherry picking on the breakout.

Tobias Enstrom played exactly like he did in preseason -- that is to say very well, very calm. The power play looked better, with more containment within the zone, and he was a big part of that. He saved a breakaway chance by tipping the puck away from the path of the Capital coming out of the penalty box. His defense down low was good, chased or stayed put when he should have. He did perhaps pinch too low to keep the puck in the zone and lost it (something seen in training camp as well), but nothing bad came of it.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Wolves preview done and Gladiators camp

I just finished my Chicago Wolves preview. Thrasher fans should at least read the last portion that has quotes from Ondrej Pavelec for entertainment value.

I'll be heading out to Gladiators camp on Saturday afternoon so I should have some observations to post at that point. Lots of familiar faces should be out there.

Edit: Here's the official Gladiators training camp roster, just released. Jeff Campbell (ECHL MVP in 2005-06) is back in the fold. Names not added yet include Craig Kowalski and Myles Stoesz. They probably just need more time to gather their belongings and drive down.

The Gladiators training camp roster opens with 18 players. In addition, Scott Mifsud and Matt York have been suspended by the team. (Both are playing in Europe -- suspending them allows the team to retain rights).


4 JEFF MASON D 5'10" 195 August 11, 1981

6 JAMIE MILAM D 6'1" 200 May 13, 1984

7 DINOS STAMOULIS D 6'0" 195 November 16, 1983

9 BILL LECLERC D 6'0" 190 April 26, 1984

10 STUART MACRAE F 6'2" 195 June 25, 1982

11 MIKE HAMILTON F 6'0" 200 May 2, 1983

12 JARED WISEMAN F 6'0" 205 April 24, 1984

15 JEFF CAMPBELL F 5'10 185 May 9, 1981

16 RYAN WALSH F 6'0" 185 January 7, 1980

17 DEREK NESBITT F 5'11" 185 April 16, 1982

20 ANDY BRANDT F 6'1" 190 June 1, 1983

22 RYAN MAHRLE D 5'11" 180 February 8, 1985

23 DIRK SOUTHERN F 6'0" 195 August 9, 1983

24 JON SITKO D 5'10 205 August 26, 1983

29 JOSH BENNETT F 6'1" 210 June 17, 1980

30 CHAD COLLINS G 5'8" 180 February 3, 1981

38 DAN TURPLE G 6'6" 225 January 1, 1985

54 LOU DICKENSON F 6'1" 200 August 15, 1982

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Homage to Per

No one has picked up on the connection, but Tobias
Enstrom wearing #39 will be an homage to fellow Swede
Per Svartvadet, an original Thrasher who played with
Enstrom at MoDo and was instrumental in preparing him
to come over.

Svartvadet played for the Thrashers from 1999 to 2003,
wearing #39. He was a checking liner, a player in the
same vein as Colin Stuart. A very good guy.
Svartvadet might not have ever gotten much of the
spotlight, but he'll be remembered through Enstrom for
years to come.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Trickle down has begun

The Thrashers have assigned right wing Myles Stoesz and goaltender Dan Turple to the ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators. Stoesz will be the resident "heavy" for the team. During the Traverse City tournament, Gladiators coach Jeff Pyle said the great thing about Stoesz is "He's a gamer and he wants to learn."

The Wolves have also assigned (former Thrashers draft pick) left wing Mike Hamilton to Gwinnett. Hamilton was the guy who in college went over to a baseball player's apartment (with a posse) and beat him up over a girl. It's probably something he'd like to forget at this point, but there I go bringing it back up. I'm sure he's a nice enough guy, just don't steal his girlfriend and you'll be fine.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Pilar to be waived again, likely back to Wolves

Per the Chicago Tribune's Blackhawks blog, Karel Pilar will be waived by the team. This means that the Thrashers get first dibs on him again, and can send him directly to the Chicago Wolves.

I don't see why the Thrashers wouldn't pick him back up, as they need more veteran presence on the blue line in Chicago.