Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Time for meaningful games at the WJC

You may have heard some of the blowout scores in the preliminary rounds of the 2009 World Juniors against some of the lesser teams like Kazakhstan and Latvia. Those might be fun for padding stats, but those kind of games don't show you much about the players on either side.

From Jason Menard at Hockey's Future:

"Games like those blowout games, you have to be careful in your evaluations," Montreal Canadiens director of player recruitment and development Trevor Timmins said. "You have to be there more as a fan than as a scout. The games against Canada, the U.S., Sweden, Russia -- those are the ones that count."

Tonight we have a meaningful game with Canada vs. USA. Now we see how players play when it really matters. Game 1 of the playoffs, if you will.

NHL Network has employed Matt McConnell for the USA games. This saves us from having to listen to Pierre McGuire, which is a a win, but they could have done a lot better.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Gladiator transactions will be more confusing

In Atlanta, when a transaction says Chicago, it means the Wolves, not the Blackhawks. That will change and become more confusing now that the Gwinnett Gladiators have affiliated with the Blackhawks (due to the demise of the Fresno Falcons).

Four of the five assigned to the team were in the lineup tonight: Adam Berti, Adam Hobson, Jean-Claude Sawyer and Brennan Turner (who is on a Rockford contract). Goaltender Joe Fallon did not dress. Not only did the four start the game, they're listed as the top line on the whiteboard in Jeff Pyle's office:

Berti - Hobson - Siddall
Kaleniecki - Schell - Fox
Fuller - Bateman - Brant

Turner - Sawyer
Engel - Mason
Cava - Marchesi

IR: Stoesz (3-day), Dunne (7-day), Youngclaus (30-day).

Here's that top line together on the bench.

In general I prefer there to be fewer ECHL teams so that the talent is more concentrated. There's more NHL prospects per game that way, and often better hockey (though not necessarily). But you like to see teams come and go in the offseason, not the middle. It's sad to see teams fail.

In all it's a bonus for me to have the Blackhawks send guys. I try to cover as many NHL prospects in the ECHL as I can, which results in me having worn a spot on the wall outside the Gladiators visitor's locker room. With this move, several western-based prospects have come east, which more than makes up for neither Dayton nor Elmira bringing anyone when they came. I'm interested to see Fallon and then what rookies they send in the fall. Fallon is rated 19th on Hockey's Future's Top 20 from August, the only one of the group to be ranked. It's hard to make the Blackhawks Top 20 with as deep as they are.

Indeed, the fact that the Gladiators were willing to take five from Chicago/Rockford is an indictment of Tampa's ECHL group. There were only four of them after Augusta folded and no other ECHL team would break up their team to take them all together. Mississippi has a couple of them now.

Hobson, Sawyer and Siddall enjoying a laugh after the whistle.

Injured tough guy Myles Stoesz helped organize the defensemen behind the bench looking very dapper. I think the more you know Stoeszer the funnier this was. But I think it will help him see things better to be back there.

Here he's yelling and you can see his new bottom front teeth. Josh Engel did some coaching too, motioning goalie Josh Johnson to come to the bench at one point.

Sawyer struggles with his helmet. He played on the power play and got some shots off. That's really where he's best fit. Last year when I watched him on Pensacola, the rest of his game left a lot to be desired.

Hobson. He played really well, very effective doing the little things. I think he gave Stoesz a hug when the Glads tied it up. (He's a former teammate).

Tonight though I was most interested in Scott Jackson with Mississippi. He was drafted quite high -- 37th overall in 2005, unsigned by the Blues and picked up by Tampa. He turned pro this year and getting little ice time in Norfolk, was sent down. I was prepared to determine what it is about him that scouts got wrong -- why a No. 37 pick failed -- but I came away thinking he could still make it. He struck me as a little young for his age in talking to him, but I didn't see any major flaw. Before the game, I thought the interview might be tough, the inevitable why are you here. But he scored the game-winning goal so he was in a good mood. The question of what the scouts got wrong can't be answered yet. It really is a five-year process and we're only three and a half years in.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas, I got you an AHL update

I'm finally done with my AHL/ECHL update. It took me this long mostly for the transcribing, over 40 minutes just of Wolves coach Don Granato. I don't think I asked 40 minutes worth of questions, but nevertheless that's how much he answered. He seems to really take the time with each individual.

I couldn't include everything, so if you have questions, just ask.

In years past, I've done a separate ECHL article, but the numbers just weren't there to warrant it this time.

Enjoy the World Junior tournament. I'll be in the middle of nowhere, on what may be the only high-speed internet connection in town, editing updates from it and taping the games. I will be warm though -- at least I'm staying in the south.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Setoguchi? No thanks, Bourret's the guy

Those who are new to the Thrashers might look at San Jose Shark Devin Setoguchi and think what a nice success story for the Sharks and Setoguchi himself. Those with longer memories look at him and shake their heads.

The storyline here actually goes back to 2004, a year before Setoguchi was drafted. In that year, the Thrashers had the 10th pick and took Boris Valabik. They were criticized throughout the league for taking him so early in the draft -- virtually everyone knew Valabik could have been had much later. The smarter thing to do, if the Thrashers really wanted him, would have been to trade down in the draft and get full value out of their position by gaining extra picks.

So in 2005 they had the 8th pick, and coveting a player that could be had lower than 8th (Alex Bourret), the Thrashers then did what the conventional wisdom said and traded down. Twice, to be exact. In doing so, they gained picks and with one of those selected Ondrej Pavelec, making what would have been a complete disaster merely a really, really bad first-round pick.

Setoguchi, who was taken at 8th with the Thrashers original pick, is currently tied for 11th in the NHL in goals, tied for 16th in points, and tied for 9th in plus/minus. Few teams had Setoguchi rated quite that high, but they did have Marc Staal, Luc Bourdon, etc. that high and the Thrashers passed on them too. And it's not like Setoguchi was hiding somewhere -- he was in the WHL where everyone was very aware of him.

Alex Bourret, taken by the Thrashers at 15th, is one of many they've taken out of the Q with an intriguing tool or two, but no tool box and 10-cent heads. The stories I heard about Bourret while he was with the organization were discouraging, and the ones I heard after he was gone were just unbelievable.

The Thrashers traded Bourret to the New York Rangers (for Pascal Dupuis and a pick), who have since traded him to Phoenix (for just a pick). He's now with the San Antonio Rampage, his third AHL team. He scored at a .71 points per game pace when he was with the Wolves, a .66 rate with Hartford, and is down to just .38 with the Rampage.

This is Alex Bourret at practice. It was a morning skate for most of his team, but it was practice for him because he was a healthy scratch for that evening's game.

He spent a lot of the game tooling around on his phone, as many know he is wont to do.

Notes on Wolves prospects

The Wolves have what seems like fewest viable prospects than they have in several years. Makes notes go very quick.

I always put these kind of notes together on a sheet of yellow paper after watching games, regardless of whether it goes directly into an article or simmers until the next opportunity. On the flight back from San Antonio, I lucked out and was upgraded to first class, and when I didn't like the way I had laid out the jersey numbers and crumpled up a sheet of paper, a hand appeared to dispose of it for me. Wow, that's service. Normally I just throw it towards the cat so she can bat at it.

One other item first: it's -3 degrees in Chicago right now, and that's before wind chill. I heart San Antonio.

8 Machacek - He got a lot of ice time since he was on the PP and PK. Goes to the net. His skill level isn't that of a top two line guy in the NHL. He can't dipsy doodle, but he hasn't stopped trying. He makes the most of what he has though, and it's those kind of guys who usually make it.

9 Holzapfel - Has skill, but the borderline second liner type. His ice time was not plentiful against San Antonio (Granato explained why which I'll put in the AHL update). Quick release on shots. His skating is very bow-legged and might benefit from some tweaking. He wouldn't help an NHL team yet. He's being sheltered from defensively-taxing situations, so it's hard to see how he'll get better at it that way.

20 Kaip - Plays on the PK and is precisely as expected, a very solid checker.

23 Stuart - He looked very good in Game 1, but had a bad game in 2. Took a penalty in the faceoff circle before the puck was even dropped by hooking Kolarik (who embellished).

25 Lewis - Looked good -- quick off the mark, physical and patient, but for crying out loud keep your stick on the ice. It's like he's playing lacrosse. Such a simple thing but it would increase his effectiveness dramatically. He might be a little over eager to jump into the play too.

28 Pospisil - Played on the fourth line and was nearly invisible when out. The only thing noticable was circling the net and centering to the front. Nothing came of it.

29 Sterling - Like Holzapfel, Sterling is being kept away from situations in which he might be a defensive liability, like defensive zone faceoffs. Still scoring opportunistically, the kind of goals that are harder to come by in the NHL because things don't break down as much.

32 Kulda - Looked very sharp in his first game back from injury. Good passes, good defense, hitting. He was probably the best defenseman in Game 2.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Wolves at Rampage photos

I'll summarize the trip in photos for time purposes.

This is San Antonio's heckler extraordinaire. He happens to sit near the photo hole, and on Thursday night, he struck up a conversation with me. As soon as I mentioned Hockey's Future, he asked me about the Organizational Rankings and when 1-10 was coming out. I promised it would be up that night. It reinforced to me how many people were reading it.

This guy is very good at heckling. He even heckles his own players (Matt Jones in particular). He said that he's gotten under the skin of Ondrej Pavelec to the point that when he came out as one of the stars of the game, Pavelec threw down his glove and blocker and motioned like "let's go." Funny. The Heckler is surprisingly a nice guy though and he knows his hockey. We talked about all kinds of guys in the AHL. I corrected him on a few factual points about the Wolves and he was a good sport about that. Like that his heckling of Stuart for not being in the NHL was perhaps misplaced since he did just come back from there and next year during his one-way contract year he'll probably be playing and in any case enjoying his compensation.

I wish I had gotten a photo of the guy heckling while holding a baby. That was really funny but I didn't want to be too obvious.

AT&T Center is first-rate in everything but seating for the backup goaltender. Seriously, can they not find the guy a stool instead of a chair? Gherson looks like he's 5 years old and can barely see over the glass.

Yesterday I posted the men's and women's bathroom signs. It got better when I walked past the family restroom. Awesome.

Derek Nesbitt, former Gladiator. He warmed up but was a healthy scratch. He and Alex Bourret actually sat with the Wolves scratches, who they know from playing with them. Chad Denny and Bourret yakked it up all game.

Brett Sterling with a beard. I'm anti-facial hair for him.

Spencer Machacek. Granato had some really nice things to say about him.

Brett MacLean defended by Grant Lewis.

Lewis in action. He's got some fierce eyes going.

I got a better shot of Artie Kulda, Mustache Boy. I may leave this up as my side photo for a long time just because he hates the mustache. He played exceptionally well tonight for being his first game back from injury.

The Wolves lost 5-3. Something I've noticed before in Chicago before struck me again after the game -- just how not used to losing the Wolves are. The mood plummets hard and fast in a loss. Worse than any team I've ever seen. No team should be happy when they lose, certainly, but the lows shouldn't get so low either.

All in all, it was a great trip and I'd definitely do it again if they play another two-game stand here. Everyone was super nice, from the media relations folks to the elevator operators, to the cab driver and yes even the heckler. San Antonio very southern in that way, but it did fail one test of southernhood today -- at a well-known steakhouse, The Barn Door, they did not have sweet tea. I wonder how long it's been since I've had to sweeten my own tea. The food was great, by the way.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Notes from Wolves morning skate

Sorry for the delay, I had to go see the Alamo. It's very pleasant outside today in San Antonio, though quite humid. If I'm wearing sandals in December I'm not complaining.

Here's the AT&T Center. I took a bus there this morning, which was very easy thanks to the concierge at my hotel. By the way, the weekend before Christmas is an excellent time to get a good deal on hotels.

Who's leading this bunch? (That's a short assistant coach jab).

Head coach Don Granato didn't come out on the ice. He had individual video sessions in the locker room with players to go over tape from last night. He's a big believer in video.

Smurf (Jason Christie) emerges from the crowd.

Artie Kulda and his whispy mustache. When I saw him with it, I asked him if he was getting ready for playoffs already. He said no, he lost in shootouts in practice so he has to grow a mustache for a month. It's been since Nov. 22. I told him that in Gwinnett the loser, "juice boy," has to wear a yellow helmet and pass out gatorade to his teammates. He said in response that he's "mustache boy." He hates it and wouldn't let me take a portrait of him with the mustache in the hall, so the above is the best I've got. I think mustache boy is a worse punishment than juice boy because you have it outside the rink too.

I asked Kulda if there were any good stories from this year yet. He smiled a tiny bit and said no. I asked if he'd tell me if there were. He smiled more and said no. I knew that would be the answer. He's cagey at times. He's always very helpful though too, going and getting whoever I need.

Here's Chad Denny talking to former teammate and former Thrashers prospect Alex Bourret. Denny said they call each other "Steve" and couldn't explain why. This doesn't make much sense, but that's par for the course.

Bourret stayed out really long after his teammates came off, which makes me think he'll be a scratch tonight. Staying out a long time for the Wolves were Denny and Siddall. Grant Lewis did not skate, but it was optional. After last night's game he said he took some hits and felt fine.

Musical goalies in the system

Kari Lehtonen will return from injury imminently, which means a trip back to Chicago for Ondrej Pavelec. Word on the street (OK, the arena in San Antonio), is that Lehtonen will start "this weekend" and since there's only one game this weekend -- on Saturday, that looks like the one.

Dan Turple has been out a few games with an injury in the area of the hip, but not true hip injury, according to Wolves GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. He couldn't describe the exact injury (definitely not a groin), but it was a day-to-day thing, which meant bringing in Brent Krahn from the Dallas Stars organization. Chevy said he has a good relationship with Scott White (director of minor league operations for the Stars) and that the arrangement just grew out of that relationship. Krahn has a lot of AHL experience but had been playing in Las Vegas in the ECHL.

Krahn will start again tonight in San Antonio, based on how quickly he came off the ice at the morning skate. Turple will back him up (according to coach Don Granato, who said he'd be in the lineup).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Howdy from San Antonio

It's second intermission of Wolves vs. Rampage part 1 for the weekend. Why am I in San Antonio? Well, last time I went to Chicago in mid-April, the weather was just ridiculous. I had to pull my heavy winter coat out of storage, and as forecast, it snowed. This year I decided there had to be a warmer way. And Texas is largely unexplored territory for me. Tomorrow's forecast is for 80 degrees. I had to dig out my summer clothes instead of my winter ones for the trip, and I didn't bring a coat at all. Huzzah.

Thrashers Assistant GM Larry Simmons is here at the arena too, it was through him that I heard about Scott Lehman getting the call-up to the big club. Too bad that this is only Grant Lewis' second game back from injury, and Artie Kulda isn't quite back yet, or they would have gotten the call. Kulda (high ankle sprain) may play tomorrow.

Check out these hilarious bathroom signs here at the AT&T Center (home of the NBA Spurs). Including the bit around the legs.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Low and high points are unbelievably close

Normally I don't pay much attention to player of the week in various leagues, because good play over a long period of time is what matters, not the sudden peaks. But I stopped in my tracks when I saw that Mike Brodeur has been named AHL Player of the Week.

Two weeks ago, I saw Brodeur at what was a very low point. It was the last home game for the now defunct Augusta Lynx, who were in a losing spiral. Six goals were scored on Brodeur that game. I wouldn't phrase it that he gave up six goals, because few did he have any chance on, per usual given the Lynx defense.

I was already in the back hallway when the Lynx came off the ice at the end. Brodeur led them off the ice towards the locker room, and as soon as he passed the threshold, started swearing at the top of his lungs. He slammed his goalie stick against a poor plastic bin. I decided that the questions I wanted to ask him that night weren't really that important. I had met him years ago when he was with Greenville, a very nice guy and a very good goalie. But he was going through an extremely tough patch with his team in the process of folding, which he was powerless to stop, just like the pucks that were shot at him from the doorstep.

So you can see why his signing by the AHL Rochester Americans and subsequent success is so heartwarming.
Brodeur was 3-2-0 with a shutout, a goals-against average of 1.39 and a save percentage of .949 as the Americans played five games in six days.

It's just another example of how quickly things can change in someone's career. Occasionally I tell player I hope I never see them again. That will mean they are succeeding elsewhere. Brodeur's one of those guys.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Thrashers 10th in new HF organizational rankings

Teams ranked No. 11-30 in Hockey's Future's Fall 2008 Organizational Rankings have been revealed. I'll go ahead and tell you though, the Thrashers are ranked 10th.

Everyone likes to argue about the rankings, and really, that's what they're there for -- to argue over. On any given day I'd rank the teams differently, depending on what was top of mind, so given that you can't expect wide agreement.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cleaning out the notebook

Here's a bunch of random stuff to get through before I start a new notebook. First two funny items.

1. You must read former journeyman Sean Pronger's blog at the Hockey News. He's found a new calling as a humor columnist. My favorite bit in there is "turkey sub."

From a reporter's standpoint, I would say that healthy scratches possess their own type of deflector shield. "Do not talk to me during this time of suffering." No problem, because you have bad juju right now. The healthy scratches you want to talk to are the juniors who are up at the end of the year soaking it all in. They are happy to be there and happy that someone wants to talk to them.

2. A week or so ago, I was in Jeff Pyle's office and the injured Phil Youngclaus popped his head in and asked if he could go home for Christmas for a week. Jeff said to take as long as you want as long as you're doing your therapy. Phil said his therapy was going well and that his attitude was that if he gets 1% better for 100 days, he'll be 100% better. Jeff responded by saying "If 100% of the players are giving 75%, I guarantee you'll only win 50% of the games." Laughing, I asked if he saw a little bit of himself in those NHL Network commercials. He said no. I didn't tell Youngclaus that his math on getting better was wrong due to compound interest. He needs to keep it simple.

3. A reader, Logan, wrote in today regarding the recent post that noted that none of the Thrasher draft picks out of the QMJHL are in the NHL. He pointed to Ondrej Pavelec, who played junior with Cape Breton.

When hockey people use the term "drafted out of," it refers to the league they played in in the season before they were drafted. Going into the wayback machine, we recall that Pavelec was drafted out of the Czech junior league -- HC Kladno Jr to be exact. He didn't move to the Q until after his draft. So he was not drafted out of the Q. This actually draws attention to another trend -- that the success the Thrashers have had in goal has almost exclusively been drafted out of Europe: Pavelec, Kari Lehtonen and Pasi Nurminen. There's been a lot of bad goaltenders serving as contrast.

4. A good source mentioned that the oddness of the Hurricanes rehiring Paul Maurice is explained by the plan to make Ron Francis the coach next year. Francis is an associate coach now under Maurice; he had been an assistant general manager with the Canes.

Oddly, Maurice makes for two rehires in the NHL this year. Two clubs willing to admit mistakes. Refreshing, isn't it?

5. 2008 draft pick Danick Paquette was benched on Friday.

Danick Paquette, the captain, rode the pine in the third period after taking two bad penalties on the power play in the third. Both of them ultimately cost the team a goal.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

2008 notable items

Just a few items that stand out to me as we close the year 2008.

1. It was a bad year for professional hockey in the south. The Nashville Predators are hanging on by a thread due to their ownership debacle, and the ECHL lost four southern teams in one calendar year: Beaumont, TX; Columbia, SC; Pensacola, FL and Augusta, GA. The outlook for 2009 is not promising either.

2. It seemed like a good year for women with a serious presidential candidate, and a vice presidential candidate. But this weekend I was told by Judy the Show Pros supervisor at Gwinnett Arena -- in regards to ongoing problems with her people wrongly denying female reporters access to the visitor's locker room -- that "if [the problem] only happens once a year I can live with that." I'd like to see her try to tell that to a black man regarding eating at the counter or riding the bus. I'm sure that would go over well with him, and the ACLU for that matter.

3. We're almost through an entire calendar year of Bob Hartley being unemployed. Losing out on numerous NHL jobs and a KHL job, he's now rumored for a job in the DEL (German league), with the Hamburg Freezers. Only rumored, mind you. He's made a lot of enemies over the years. Someone in the Q told a colleague of mine that Hartley was one of the most hated men in hockey.

4. Movie of the year in my book: Slumdog Millionaire. It's set in India, but I think the less you know about the plot the better, as it is revealed in an interesting way in the movie. It's by director Danny Boyle, which should be all you need to know. That's Danny Boyle, not Dan Boyle of course.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

AHL west coast migration begins: Abbotsford, BC

Just as Brian Burke moves to the Eastern Conference, we get the beginning of his "west coast solution." Burke often touted the idea that the AHL needed to move some teams to the west coast in order to be closer to the western NHL teams. Having an affiliate all the way across the continent, like Portland, Maine, was inconvenient and expensive. Too hard to stash them for a day or two off the salary cap. Obviously.

The Calgary Flames look like the first to benefit from "going west" by their young men, as the Quad City (Iowa) Flames are reportedly moving to Abbotsford, British Columbia. They would take over from Winnipeg and San Antonio as the westernmost AHL team. And in a follow-up story, Calgary denies they are moving their affiliate. But denials nearly always happen when the season is going on. Hard to tell anything from this. What we do know for sure is how bad attendance has been in Quad City.

The [Quad City] Flames rank 28th in the 29-team AHL, with an average attendance of 2,718 fans per game through 14 of this season’s 40 home games.

That’s a decline of almost 22 percent from an opening year that saw the Flames finish 27th in AHL attendance with an average of 3,523 fans per night.

An important line in the story is that Abbotsford talked to four AHL teams on the brink. There could be three or more teams on the move this offseason. It was already reported that the Edmonton Oilers are looking at places like Oklahoma City for their franchise. There's always a few affiliation changes, but relocations could be more numerous.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Stoesz breaks opponent's leg in fight

Myles Stoesz has injured a few players with punches over his career. But tonight Michael Couch came out of a fight with Stoesz with a badly broken leg. According to Mississippi coach Steffon Walby, the toe of Couch's skate got caught in the ice, and he fell backwards breaking both his left fibula and tibia. Since the fight ended with Stoesz on top of Couch, it wasn't just Couch's own weight that broke it, but Stoesz's as well. Landing a whole body on him, not just a punch.

In the NHL of course, this would all be just a "lower-body injury," and thus not a very interesting story. (Speaking of lower-body injuries, we saw Van Buskirk in the elevator and he said he left the game with a charley horse.)

I didn't pull out my camera for the actual fight, though I certainly would have had enough time given how long they danced beforehand. But here are a few shots of Couch in pain and being helped off.

Both teams headed out tonight for Biloxi. Here's all the gear the Gladiators had ready to go before the game.

Biloxi is known for gambling, so I asked Stoesz about his casino wear, thinking that there was ever a chance be flashy (as he's wont to do), it's at a casino. He said he doesn't wear anything special, just whatever he was already in. This disappointed me. No snakeskin shoes? He said no, and they aren't lucky at the casino, just the rink. And he won't be hitting the casino on this trip, even though he turned $100 into $400 playing roulette last time. He said it's getting close to Christmas and he needs to spend his money on gifts instead.

He does plan to wear the lucky snakeskins to the next home game though. I'm putting him down for a win guarantee.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thrasher prospects and the 2009 WJC

If it's Christmas shopping season, that means the World Juniors is coming up. The Thrashers will have two, with an outside chance of three, prospects competing. That's a low number.

Team USA has announced a final roster (not a preliminary one). They don't have a camp right before the tournament to pick the team, so they dive right in. Zach Bogosian, John Albert and Vinny Saponari attended the August camp. But now Bogosian is both hurt and in the NHL, so he wasn't named to the team. Neither Albert nor Saponari made the cut. This is Albert's last year of eligibility, but Saponari can try again next year. The biggest surprise on that team was Blake Kessel, Phil's little brother. I saw him play in the USHL in his draft year and was not impressed whatsoever. He went on to be drafted in the 6th round by the Islanders. He's improved some and is at UNH now. His NCAA location had to have had a lot to do with his selection, because you can't tell me there aren't several Americans in the CHL who aren't better than him.

Nicklas Lasu has been named to the Sweden team, and Niclas Lucenius has been named to the preliminary Finland roster. He should make the roster with little problem, given the rest of the roster.

For Team Canada, Angelo Esposito was named to the 38-man camp roster. He's been cut from the team three times already. That's hard to do, because it means you were really really good really young, but didn't improve enough to later make the team. New Team Canada coach Pat Quinn has said he wants a hard-working gritty team. That does not describe Esposito, so he'll headed for the distinction of being cut four times. That's a record that may never be broken. You can chime in with a vote on whether or not he'll make the team in a poll at the upper right.

On a side note, it's trade deadline time in the QMJHL, and Esposito's name is back in the trade rumors this year. His Montreal Junior aren't doing that well, so they may deal Esposito. They are ninth in the Q, with a record of 16-14-1.

From the Telegraph-Journal:

"A lot will depend on whether Saint John and/or Montreal are buyers or sellers at the deadline," said Moncton Flyers midget AAA coach John DeCourcey. "(Saint John's) Alex Grant and Chris DiDomenico and (Montreal's) Angelo Esposito are all guys that could shift the balance of power."

And briefly on the 2009 entry draft, more on Evander Kane. I put our WHL writer up to asking Kane how he'd feel about being a role model for African-Americans if he was picked by Atlanta (who I noted earlier had interviewed him). When the piece came back, I realized that I had made two Canadians talk to each other about a place that neither had been to. The outcome was amusing. I added the clarification to the article that Atlanta is heavily African-American so that Canadians, even the ones asking and answering the questions, would understand.

I suppose Canadians see American movies set in big cities that have a lot of blacks and don't realize what regional variation there is to it. But of course there are parts of America that are whiter than Britney Spears' teeth. My school had one black girl in it -- and she was adopted. And my dad had a guy on his softball team who was black. It was quite exotic. Those were all the black people I knew until I went to college.

Anyway, here's the quote:
On being interviewed by the Atlanta Thrashers, where he would potentially become an important role model in the heavily African-American city…
“I did speak with Atlanta. And I suppose going to the United States, of course there are a lot of African Americans. But I would be happy to play anywhere in the NHL. If it were Atlanta, well yes, you’re correct on that note and I guess that’s all part of the job and I would be very happy doing it.”


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Economy misses my ear

Until today I was really just a spectator to the nation's economic troubles. I knew I was fortunate to be in a pretty safe sector in my day job. And at a small, well-managed company on top of that. We had delayed a major software upgrade and cut back on the training budget, but those were sensible actions, no problem.

That changed today. We had a staff meeting in which we found out four people had been laid off yesterday in anticipation of a very tight 2009. One was the woman who occupied the office next to mine. I felt the woosh of the bullet whizzing past my head.

Shocked, upset, relieved, these are all emotions of the day. I don't think there will be more layoffs, since they are trimming to avoid problems instead of correct for them (overreacting maybe?), but I'm still rattled. I already encouraged a co-worker to move into the vacated office next to mine. That will fill the hole that is left and make me feel slightly better somehow.

And if all of that weren't enough, today I had to sit with someone to learn a new task -- which I'm only taking over because she has terminal cancer and is going into the hospital. The task isn't hard, but taking it over is.

Is there any good news? Well, our pool of applications at HF only continues to improve as the newspaper industry collapses and the Canadian dollar sinks (payroll is in USD). That makes my life a lot easier. Service in restaurants and retail seems to have improved too. I was at the Outback a couple weeks ago and our waiter's phrasing and mannerisms seemed to indicate that he had been trained in a fine French restaurant. When he left the table, I said to my dinner mate, "Dude, it's the Outback." People in jobs they are overqualified for will likely only increase.

In sports, NASCAR has taken a big hit, which I am not shedding a tear over as a hockey fan. The Arena Football League collapsed, which I won't miss either. Some thinning out is good, as long as it's not something you depended on.

May you all make it through this in one piece.

Helenius and Sharrow find new homes

The Tampa Bay Lightning found a home for one of their ECHL prospects: Riku Helenius has been assigned to the Mississippi Sea Wolves. Room for Helenius opened up because their No. 1 goaltender, Ryan Munce, has been called up to Syracuse.

Tampa had called most teams in the ECHL's American Conference looking for a place to put their guys after Augusta folded, which makes this statement by Mississippi coach Steffon Walby amusing. Does he really believe this, or is it for the benefit of the readers?

"We've had a good relationship with Tampa Bay. It speaks leaps and bounds of the Mississippi Sea Wolves program and the Gulf Coast. NHL teams don't put high end draft picks just anywhere."

Helenius is supposed to be a bit better than his numbers in Augusta show, so it will be interesting to see if he can rebound. Also interesting will be what happens if Munce comes back down.

The Sea Wolves were affiliated with Tampa Bay last year. This year they are affiliated with Philadelphia and have goaltender Jeremy Duchesne assigned to them. His numbers are about as bad as they get, with a .859 save percentage.

In other news, former Thrashers prospect Jimmy Sharrow was traded for a second time to the Blackhawks for a conditional 2009 draft pick. Ouch. From the Winnipeg Sun:

The offensive defenceman had five goals and 22 points in 44 games last season but had seen his role reduced this season and was a healthy scratch in six of Manitoba's 23 games.

"We butted heads along the way, but he's got an opportunity with another organization and hopefully he can make the most of it," said Moose head coach Scott Arniel. "He played some good hockey for us, but I was expecting a little more from him offensively. Sometimes it's a fit and a feel and how you play with the opportunity you're given.

"He's got a big shot and you see it a lot in practice. But you get into a game and it didn't translate into the offence that we need."

Sharrow is one in a long list of fruitless Thrashers QMJHL draft picks. Alex Bourret, Guillaume Desbiens, Chad Denny, Jordan LaVallee, Carl Mallette, Simon Gamache. Not a single Atlanta pick out of that league is now in the NHL, for any team.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Trading Kovalchuk is not a hypothetical

For months now, chatterers have brought up the idea of trading Ilya Kovalchuk. Well, we didn't start the fire, it was always burning since the world's been turning.

Bruce Garrioch writes that the chatter among the NHL execs is that the Thrashers are shopping him.

Multiple NHL sources told Sun Media yesterday that Thrashers GM Don Waddell has held serious talks with several teams about the possibility of moving the high-scoring winger, who makes $7.5 million (all terms US) and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2009-10 season.

Trading the 25-year-old Kovalchuk would be a difficult move for Waddell to make, but with the Thrashers sitting dead last in the NHL, there's no doubt Atlanta would be able to acquire a package of players and draft picks that would help the team get back on track.

The logic of the last sentence needs to be spelled out though. Garrioch seems to think that trading Kovalchuk would help the Thrashers this year, but in reality any team that wants to pay the high price to get him isn't going to want to give up important roster players. So you likely take back prospects and picks in return. That should be the way forward anyway, because it's not very likely that the Thrashers turn it around and get into the playoffs this year. Mathematically possible, sure, but in reality not likely.

Ripple effects from Augusta in the South Division

The now defunct ECHL Augusta Lynx's top players have found homes -- Mike Brodeur to the AHL Rochester Americans (where he was headed regardless), Patrick Bordeleau to the AHL Albany River Rats, and Matt Auffrey to the ECHL Florida Everblades.

But the Tampa Bay Lightning have yet to place their ECHL prospects with another team. The two that remained with Augusta when it folded (Chris Lawrence and Kevin Quick) were recalled to their AHL affiliate Norfolk, where they are practicing until reassignment. Tampa is trying to find a home for them close to Norfolk, and have contacted the Charlotte Checkers, Gwinnett Gladiators, and even Trenton Devils about placing them. The sticking point is that they want to keep their guys together, four of them (Lawrence and Quick plus goaltender Riku Helenius and presumably Justin Keller). Gwinnett coach Jeff Pyle was very skeptical that they'd find a team willing to take all four. Charlotte coach Derek Wilkinson said "probably not" to that possibility, and said in his own case, "We like our team. We didn't want to blow it up."

And you can probably scratch South Carolina off that list as well, with as many guys as Washington and Hershey already send down.

There are still some other Augusta players who may find homes in the division. Pyle said of his own potential roster moves, "There's a D out of Augusta, but I don't really want to bring him in. Find out if Josh Engel's coming back and go from there." Pyle thinks that Augusta's players aren't upgrades from what most ECHL teams already have. The Augusta Chronicle had reported last week that Gwinnett had interest in Bordeleau, but as mentioned above he got picked up by Albany.

On somewhat of a side note, Wilkinson is still very bullish on Brodeur's NHL potential. He had recommended him to the NY Rangers as a depth pickup this summer, and Brodeur was invited to Hartford's camp, but he didn't pass the physical due to a concussion. I've always liked Brodeur myself, having interviewed him when he was with Greenville (and the Blackhawks).

Onto the broader question of could another Augusta happen -- could another team fold? Wilkinson for one is worried. "I am," he said. "I think we need to be. The whole division needs to be real concerned. Mississippi is on an island. Poor Mississippi, their second year back after disaster, how do you survive if you're them? 80, 90 nights on the road. I'm really concerned. I hope there's a plan. I haven't heard of one yet. Because I don't see how it works. Columbia's not coming back yet, they're a year away if they get their building built. I don't know how you run a division so far apart. Yeah, I am worried. I go on record to say that -- I'm very worried."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Poile's resilient Preds

Terry Frei wrote a piece for ESPN about how impressive it is that through all the hardships the Nashville Predators have faced, they find a way to win and make the playoffs consistently. A few exerpts:

In this economy and these times, it's not shocking that other franchises...are having problems at the gate, too.

So, no, the Predators are far from alone, but in so many ways, the savvy management of the franchise has been amazing. General manager David Poile and [Coach Barry] Trotz have been like golfers trying to putt with the gallery screaming, given all the potential distractions and disadvantages. But instead of throwing a golfer's fit, they just putt out and plow on.

"We don't really have any excuses. It is what it is. We'll just have to find a better way to do it. We'll have to be better at drafting, we have to be better at developing, we have to have a team mentality and a culture, which we do have here, and keep building."

The Predators are the franchise I know second best, having gone to their prospect camp for several years, among other things. Their draft tendencies have been pretty consistent. They draft heavily out of the WHL and Europe. They haven't picked anyone out of the QMJHL since 2004 (Nick Fugere). Their Asst. GM Paul Fenton, who oversees the draft, and Chief Amateur Scout (Jeff Kealty) both reside in Massachusetts.

The Predators have a gritty team, but that grit comes mostly from their forwards. On defense, they tend towards offensive puckmovers. Their gritty style is reflected in their AHL affiliate the Milwaukee Admirals. You'd be hard-pressed to find a prima donna in the organization.

In goal, they find no-name guys who can stop the puck. Tomas Vokoun was an expansion draft pick, and became a star in Nashville.

Sound much like the Thrashers? No, they don't to me either.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A song for Christmas

It's been a melancholy week with bad news near and far, so while I was going to wait until close to Christmas to put this up, I'll do it now. It's become one of my favorite Christmas songs. I couldn't find an Mp3 of it so here are just the lyrics.

Rudy, by The Be Good Tanyas

Rudy lives on the borderline
Between civilization and basic survival
The summertime treats him fairly well
But the wintertime is a bitter cold rival

It's wintertime now in Georgetown
The streets come alive with the Christmas lights
And Rudy sleeps on the warm air grate
With a newspaper blanket
On December nights.

Deck the halls,
Rudolph the red-nosed wino knows it's Christmas time
Jingle bells and Christmas shoppers dashing through the snow
God bless ye merry gentlemen
Who've found it in your hearts to flip Rudy a thin
And I'll be home for Christmas
But this man has no place to go.

Christmas has a meaning it in all
To the people of greed and incredible waste
Who seek the deeper meaning in a shopping mall
In a yuletide spirit of impatience and haste
Rudy is a patient man
Who tries to see the beauty in everything
Is not a very demanding soul
Whose only wish is to live until the spring

Nobody knows the reasons why
Things turn out the way they do
And there ain't no one to tell you the reasons why
There's fortunate folks like me and you
Rudy must have people somewhere
Who wonder what became of a man
And Rudy must wonder the same damn thing
As the crowd passes by and he sticks out his hand.

Deck the halls,
Rudolph the red-nosed wino knows it's Christmas time
Jingle bells and Christmas shoppers dashing through the snow
God bless ye merry gentlemen
Who have found it in your hearts to flip Rudy a thin
And I'll be home for Christmas
But this man has no place to go.

Rudy died on the borderline
Of a civilized world on Christmas Eve
And the shoppers shopped and the temperatures dropped
On a man whose absence won't be grieved
Peace on the soul of the cop who found him
In a booth with his hand frozen to a telephone
Y'know, I think I know who he had on the line
And Rudy won't spend this Christmas alone.

Deck the halls,
Rudolph the red-nosed wino knows it's Christmas time
Jingle bells and Christmas shoppers dashing through the snow
God bless ye merry gentlemen
Who have found it in your hearts to flip Rudy a thin
And I'll be home for Christmas
But this year Rudy gets to go
Yeah I'll be home for Christmas
And this year, Rudy gets to go


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Augusta folds -- first ECHL team to fold mid-year

I'm saddened that they couldn't get things worked out. Unlike the NHL, the ECHL doesn't have the kind of budget where it can keep a team afloat for most of a year. The revamp of the schedule is going to be the worst part. It will mostly effect the South Division, which includes the Gwinnett Gladiators.

Augusta Suspends Operations

PRINCETON, N.J. – The ECHL announced that the Augusta Lynx have suspended operations, effective immediately and voluntarily relinquished their membership back to the League.

The move comes as a result of the Augusta ownership group being unable to continue to operate in 2008-09.

“We are very disappointed for our fans, league partners and the other member teams of the ECHL,” said ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna. “The ECHL would like to thank the Lynx fans for all of their support.”

Augusta players will immediately become unrestricted free agents.