Monday, June 30, 2008

Goaltender Wylie Rogers invited to Thrashers prospect camp

From the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

A recommendation by Tavis MacMillan, a U.S. amateur scout for
Atlanta and a former Nanooks head coach, to the Thrashers front-office
personnel led to the Fairbanks native receiving an invitation to the
camp on July 8-14 in the Atlanta suburb of Duluth, Ga.
"We were looking for some goaltenders for the camp and I recommended
Wylie," MacMillan said Thursday from Rosemount, Minn., where he now
lives with his family. "He's a competitive kid and he'll go in and work
hard, and that's what you want in those situations. I thought he'd be a
great fit for the camp."

Sunday, June 29, 2008

How the economy is impacting sports income

From: Reuters via Yahoo!:

In a Reuters/Zogby survey on June 12 to 14, almost 15 percent of those polled said they are attending fewer sporting events this year, and most of those people cited the weak economy as the reason. About 28 percent are spending less on food and souvenirs.

"The reality is people are going to spend less and be more careful about choosing what they spend it on," Rich Gotham, president of the National Basketball Association's Boston Celtics, said in a telephone interview.

It's the other side of the equation to keep in mind during this week of what will surely be mind-boggling spending in the NHL.

Chouinard only an infant Atlantan

Eric Chouinard is a microcosm of hockey history in Atlanta. From Legends of Hockey (NHLPA):

On July 8, 1980, the day of Eric Chouinard's birth, his father was busy packing up the household, ready to make the move from Atlanta to Calgary. Eric's dad, Guy Chouinard, was a star with the NHL's Atlanta Flames, and when the franchise relocated to Calgary that summer, Guy was part of the franchise's move.

Eric of course grew up in Canada and went on to play for Canada in international competition.

This makes Vinny Saponari, taken in the fourth round in 2008 by Atlanta, the first "true Georgian," drafted by the NHL, as Kevin Allen of USA Today put it.

There have been a few other players born in Georgia to play in the NHL as well, namely Jean-Marc Pelletier and Mark Mowers. Dave Caruso, born in New York but raised in Georgia, has made it as high as the AHL.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Saturday tidbits: Fretter, Krog, etc.

First, from Bridgeport beat writer Mike Fornabaio's blog, two items: Colton Fretter is likely looking for a new job next year and Jason Krog may be staying in North America.

Went over some AHL free-agent names with [Brigeport Team President] Howard Saffan, and he said Micheal Haley, Tyler Haskins and Andy Sertich are all signed. Pascal Morency will be given a tryout invitation. Scott Ford and Colton Fretter are among those who probably won't be back...

A reliable source, BTW, suggests not to ink Jason-Krog-to-Europe in pen just yet. We'll wait 'n' see.

I'm not sure what Fretts needs to do if 9 goals in 18 games wasn't enough to keep a job. Really.

Fornabaio writes a darn good blog, by the way. I first read it when Fretter was traded there, but since then have ended up there several times when researching things. That's the sign of a good blog to me -- you keep getting funneled back there for information you were looking for. So if that describes how you got here today, great.

Next item: The AHL has approved a larger roster for teams next year, 18 skaters instead of 17. There used to be three forward lines and two extras, but now there will be four lines. That's easier for coaches, and you would think good for the extra player, but since fourth lines don't play in the AHL any more than in the NHL, how much development is that player getting? It's supposed to be a development league, right? Does this change serve that end? Would the player be better off in the ECHL getting more ice time? I would suggest that it won't meet those ends.

2008 prospect camp is coming up. Free agent invitees are often guys who are known through team contacts somehow, friends of the family, etc. Occasionally they are actual relatives of coaches, or they are players the affiliates are recruiting. Sometimes they are guys who were known in a previous life.

An invite doesn't mean the Thrashers are serious about signing them, though. I can only think of a few who actually ended up being signed.

And for you lawyer types out there -- I know you're reading -- here's something from a legal blog Above the Law on the NHL suing MSG (Rangers owners). Maybe you will find it interesting. I didn't.

Finally, if you were planning on going to see the movie Wanted, don't waste your money. I like action movies, but it was barely watchable the plot was so poor. I was with an expert on graphic novels who said the novel was excellent, but that didn't bring my 2.5 hours back.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Anderson spending weekend at OHA camp

I stumbled across this today. It's a camp for the aspiring Daultan Leveilles of the world -- junior A and B players in Ontario. John Anderson's son Spencer spent two years in the OPJHL, which I'm sure is how he got involved with the camp.

Former Toronto Maple Leaf star and head coach of the AHL Chicago Wolves returning to the OHAHP this June.

John Anderson will attend the 2008 OHA High Performance Hockey Program that is set to take place in London, from June 27th to June 29th at the Western Fair Sports Centre. This is the third year of the program and will once again provide players, parents, and coaches education regarding opportunities on and off the ice in hockey.

John Anderson will be available for all players and parents through out the course of the weekend, while also serving as the keynote speaker at the on Friday evening. He will also offer participating OHA coaches an opportunity to discuss tactics, drills and other aspects beneficial to successfully leading a team.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wednesday tidbits

This first one I'll include because a fair number of people will be interested. Nashville did not give John Vigilante, brother of Mike, a qualifying offer:

The Predators have decided not to make qualifying offers to three players in the organization — forwards Brandon Bochenski and John Vigilante, as well as goalie Dov Grumet-Morris. All will become unrestricted free agents on July 1.

I think little Vig is quite a good player. Not that he'll necessarily ever make the NHL, but he's better than most people think.

Another player who is now a free agent who is worthwhile is goaltender Ryan Munce. He got a raw deal in LA and then Tampa's system with all of their drama. But he has talent and is a down to earth guy. I hope he catches on somewhere.

Angelo Esposito was not invited to Team Canada camp for the World Junior team. Given that he's been cut three times from it, it's not surprising.

Meanwhile, as was mentioned as a possibility months ago, former Thrashers fan favorite Denny Lambert was named head coach of the OHL Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds thanks to Craig Hartsburg's departure for the NHL. Here's the story. This second one has a photo.

I can't remember where I saw it now, but there was speculation that Trent Yawney would join the Sharks coaching staff. That's just one more name to cross off the possibilities for Atlanta.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Albert, Bogosian, Saponari invited to Team USA camp

A little late on the pickup here due to the draft, but 2007 Thrashers draftee John Albert has been invited to Lake Placid for the World Junior team tryouts, along with 2008 picks Zach Bogosian and Vinny Saponari.

COLUMBUS, Ohio –John Albert, a rising sophomore forward on the Ohio State men’s hockey team, is one 53 players invited to attend the 2008 U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp Aug. 1-9 in Lake Placid, N.Y. Participating players are candidates for the 2009 U.S. National Junior Team that will compete in the 2009 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior (Under-20) Championship Dec. 26, 2008-Jan. 5, 2009
in Ottawa, Ontario.

Here's the rest of the list because it's so incredibly hard to find on the USA Hockey website.

2008 USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp 
Name Ht (cm) Wt (kg) Birthdate S/C Hometown 2007-08 Team (League)
Mike Lee 6-1 (185) 185 (84) 10/5/90 L Roseau, Minn. Roseau (Minn.) High School
Brandon Maxwell 6-0 (183) 190 (86) 3/22/91 L Winter Park, Fla. U.S. National Under-17 Team
Thomas McCollum* 6-1 (185) 196 (89) 12/7/89 L Sanborn, N.Y. Guelph (OHL)
Jeremy Smith^* 6-0 (183) 175 (80) 4/13/89 L Brownstown, Mich. Plymouth (OHL)
Josh Unice* 5-11 (185) 185 (84) 6/24/89 L Holland, Ohio Kitchener (OHL)

Jonathon Blum^* 6-1 (185) 185 (84) 1/30/89 R Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. Vancouver (WHL)
Zach Bogosian 6-2 (188) 200 (91) 7/15/90 R Massena, N.Y. Peterborough (OHL)
John Carlson 6-2 (188) 215 (98) 1/10/90 R Colonia, N.J. Indiana (USHL)
Colby Cohen 6-3 (190) 210 (95) 4/25/89 R Villanova, Pa. Boston University (HEA)
Ian Cole^* 6-1 (185) 217 (98) 2/21/89 L Ann Arbor, Mich. University of Notre Dame (CCHA)
Adam Comrie 6-4 (194) 201 (92) 7/31/90 R Ashburn, Va. Saginaw (OHL)
Tommy Cross 6-3 (190) 195 (88) 9/12/89 L Simsbury, Conn. Westminster School (Conn.)
Cade Fairchild^* 5-10 (178) 184 (83) 1/15/89 L Duluth, Minn. University of Minnesota (WCHA)
Cam Fowler 6-1 (185) 185 (84) 12/5/91 L Farmington Hills, Mich. U.S. National Under-17 Team
Jake Gardiner 6-2 (188) 175 (80) 7/4/90 L Deephaven, Minn. Minnetonka (Minn.) High School
Blake Kessel 6-2 (188) 204 (92) 4/13/89 R Madison, Wis. Waterloo (USHL)
Ryan McDonagh* 6-1 (185) 208 (94) 6/13/89 L Arden Hills, Minn. University of Wisconsin (WCHA)
Aaron Ness 5-10 (178) 170 (77) 5/18/90 L Roseau, Minn. Roseau (Minn.) High School
Nick Petrecki 6-3 (190) 215 (98) 7/11/89 L Clifton Park, N.Y. Boston College (HEA)
Teddy Ruth* 6-0 (183) 201 (91) 2/14/89 R Naperville, Ill. University of Notre Dame (CCHA)
Kevin Shattenkirk* 5-11 (180) 193 (87) 1/29/89 R New Rochelle, N.Y. Boston University (HEA)
Scooter Vaughan 6-0 (183) 195 (88) 4/8/89 R Placentia, Calif. University of Michigan (CCHA)
David Warsofsky 5-8 (172) 170 (77) 5/30/90 L Marshfield, Mass. U.S. National Under-18 Team

John Albert 5-11 (180) 180 (82) 1/19/89 L Concord, Ohio The Ohio State University (CCHA)
Ryan Bourque 5-7 (170) 170 (77) 1/3/91 L Boxford, Mass. U.S. National Under-17 Team
Drayson Bowman 6-1 (185) 195 (88) 3/8/89 L Littleton, Colo. Spokane (WHL)
Jack Connolly 5-8 (172) 165 (75) 8/15/89 L Duluth, Minn. Sioux Falls (USHL)
Robbie Czarnik 6-0 (183) 185 (84) 1/25/90 R Washington, Mich. U.S. National Under-18 Team
Justin Florek 6-4 (194) 195 (88) 5/18/90 L Marquette, Mich. U.S. National Under-18 Team
Jake Hansen 6-1 (185) 185 (84) 8/21/89 R White Bear Lake, Minn. Sioux Falls (USHL)
Jimmy Hayes* 6-3 (190) 205 (93) 11/21/89 R Dorchester, Mass. Lincoln Stars (USHL)
Mike Hoeffel 6-2 (188) 195 (88) 4/9/89 L North Oaks, Minn. University of Minnesota (WCHA)
AJ Jenks 6-2 (188) 210 (95) 6/27/90 L Wolverine Lake, Mich. Plymouth (OHL)
Tyler Johnson 5-9 (175) 175 (80) 7/29/90 L Spokane, Wash. Spokane (WHL)
Danny Kristo 5-11 (180) 175 (80) 6/18/90 R Eden Prairie, Minn. U.S. National Under-18 Team
Drew LeBlanc 5-11 (180) 185 (84) 6/29/89 L Hermantown, Minn. Chicago (USHL)
Colin Long 5-11 (180) 180 (82) 6/19/89 R Santa Ana, Calif. Kelowna (WHL)
Philip McRae 6-2 (188) 189 (86) 3/15/90 L Chesterfield, Mo. London (OHL)
Jeremy Morin 6-0 (183) 185 (84) 4/16/91 R Auburn, N.Y. U.S. National Under-17 Team
James O’Brien 6-2 (188) 190 (86) 1/29/89 R Maplewood, Minn. Seattle (WHL)
Kyle Palmieri 5-10 (178) 185 (84) 2/1/91 R Montvale, N.J. U.S. National Under-17 Team
Nick Palmieri 6-2 (188) 212 (96) 7/12/89 R Clinton, N.Y. Erie (OHL)
Aaron Palushaj* 6-0 (183) 185 (84) 9/7/89 R Northville, Mich. University of Michigan (CCHA)
Matt Rust^* 5-10 (178) 188 (85) 3/23/89 L Bloomfield Hills, Mich. University of Michigan (CCHA)
Vinny Saponari 6-0 (183) 185 (84) 2/15/90 R Powder Springs, Ga. U.S. National Under-18 Team
Jordan Schroeder^* 5-8 (172) 180 (82) 9/29/90 R Lakeville, Minn. U.S. National Under-18 Team
Eric Tangradi* 6-3 (191) 214 (97) 2/10/89 L Philadelphia, Pa. Belleville (OHL)
Corey Tropp 6-0 (183) 185 (84) 7/25/89 R Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. Michigan State University (CCHA)
James vanRiemsdyk^*%& 6-3 (191) 211 (95) 5/4/89 L Middletown, N.J. University of New Hampshire (HEA)
Mitch Wahl 6-0 (183) 190 (86) 1/22/90 R Seal Beach, Calif. Spokane (WHL)
Patrick White* 6-1 (185) 190 (86) 1/20/89 R Grand Rapids, Minn. University of Minnesota (WCHA)
Colin Wilson^* 6-1 (185) 210 (95) 10/20/89 L Greenwich, Conn. Boston University (HEA)
David Wohlberg 6-0 (183) 180 (82) 7/18/90 L South Lyon, Mich. U.S. National Under-18 Team

^2008 U.S. National Junior Team Member
*2007 U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp Participant
%2007 U.S. National Junior Team Member
&2006 U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp Participant

Monday, June 23, 2008

Prospect camp dates

I've gotten emails asking me when Thrashers prospect camp is this year. As near as I can tell, it's July 7-13 at the IceForum. Yes it's open to the public.

If you can't wait that long, Nashville's gets underway (on-ice) on Thursday. The Rangers are underway too, but that one I think is closed.

The IceForum is very cold, so remember to bring a jacket. If you wear a t-shirt and shorts, you'll likely be very uncomfortable. Personally I bring a scarf, gloves and earmuffs, because there's no stopping by -- if I drive out there, I'm there for the duration.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Possible small moves

Rumors often start by someone adding 2 and 2 together. Sometimes they add and get 4, sometimes they get 5. Here are a couple things I've added up in the last couple days. Maybe I added correctly, maybe not. I wouldn't post them if I didn't think there was something to it though.

1. Peter Mannino, a free agent goaltender out of DU, signed, or at the very least, invited to prospects camp. There's lots of info out there about Mannino, so Google to your heart's content (basic stats here). This makes a lot of sense. Right now the Thrashers goaltending depth chart is Lehtonen, Hedberg, Pavelec, Turple. If there are two injuries, as it stands right now the team would have to call up Turple, who has played only a handful of games in the AHL. That's a scary proposition. More depth is needed, and Mannino is a good choice. He's 24, he's played in pressure situations. The signing would be reminiscent of when they traded for and then signed Adam Berkhoel a few years ago, who was also a DU goalie. Other teams may be interested in Mannino as well.

2. Chad Painchaud being available. This isn't too surprising given what happened at the end of last year (sent home early from the Gladiators). His name is out there right now, but he could be traded or just reassigned to another team until his contract expires.

3. This last item isn't a rumor, since Jeff Pyle himself told it to me. He's looking at a couple goaltenders for the Gladiators next season: Morgan Cey (Brad Schell's cousin, and someone he looked into last summer too), and Charlie Effinger out of Miami of Ohio.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Pyle will throw his name to the Wolves

It's June, but Gladiators coach Jeff Pyle is on a road trip. This time it's not yet another jaunt to Columbia, but rather the Grand Canyon with his wife and kids. But he took his cell phone with him, which he'll use after the weekend is over to call Chicago Wolves GM Kevin Chevaldayoff and express his interest in the coaching opening with that club -- the one created when John Anderson was hired by the Thrashers.

"I think the world of the organization," he said of the Wolves. Leaving Gwinnett for Chicago is not an issue, as a coach often has to move around to further his career (how about Germany to Mobile, Alabama?). "I've moved my whole life," he said. Pyle has two sisters and a brother who live in Minnesota and his wife's family lives in California. His two children are young, grade school aged. This being June, there wouldn't be any pulling them out of school.

Pyle wanted to talk about Anderson as much as himself. He said he was happy for him and Anderson deserved a chance. "Johnny knows those kids," he said. "He can get them to respond." He said for Anderson it's not about ego. Then he gave what must be the ultimate compliment among coaches: "I'd play for him."

He pointed out that he and Anderson think a lot alike, which led into me asking if he'd be willing to play Atlanta's (new) system if asked. He said he wasn't tied to one system, that if things aren't working, you change them. "If that's what Atlanta wanted to do, we'd do it." He pointed out that a lot of organizations are starting to do that from the top down, like the Islanders. He said that in Gwinnett, neither Atlanta nor Chicago had ever asked him to play a certain way. He said he tried some of their things anyway though, like trapping for a bit last year. It worked for a while, he said. "Yeah, we'd give it a shot," he said of using a playbook from above. "But if it's wrong I'd have no problem telling them." He gave the example of the long-debated question of whether Chad Denny should be a defenseman or forward. Pyle thought he developed as a defenseman over the course of the year. "Let him focus on it," he said.

Regarding Gwinnett, he said he loved the organization, "but it's hard in this league." There are so many directions he gets pulled in, so many hats to wear, that he doesn't get to focus on coaching as much as he'd like. Teams are short-handed a lot, the road trips are long. In the A, you can be more focused on the coaching part.

Then came the part of the conversation where Pyle starts to tell stories from the past. You get him talking long enough, it always happens.

I asked how long he had known Chevy. He said he met him when he was just starting out as a coach in Grand Rapids. Pyle was like the third assistant there, "and not qualified for the job," he said. He bumped into Chevy, who was looking for Bob McNamara, in the hallway. Pyle knew who Chevy was so he struck up a conversation. Years later, when Pyle was coaching the ECHL Mobile Mysticks, he had a player named Dave Craievich, who had played a few games for the Wolves. Chevy wanted to call him up. With about 10-15 games left in the season, the Mysticks were struggling to make the playoffs, and being the kind of team guy he was, Craievich wanted to stay and help the team. "Chevy got pissed at me," Pyle said. "I told him that I had offered for Craievich to go, and he didn't want to. I told Chevy, 'I can't make him go.'" That year, the team did squeak into the playoffs, but lost miserably in the first round, as Pyle recounted in clear detail.

Obviously Chevy got over the Craievich matter as time passed. Pyle said he's always treated him great, and treated Gwinnett great. He said the Wolves were a perfect affiliate, and that he wasn't saying that just to be a kiss-ass.

Regading Todd Nelson, currently an assistant with the Wolves, Pyle has commented in the past during the Traverse City tournament (where they coach together) how well they get along and see things the same way. He had a story about Nelly too. Again it was from the same period in Grand Rapids, and Nelly was a player. Over the course of that year, Pyle went from being and eye in the sky and making game tape to coaching the power play and penalty kills. Nelly credited Pyle with turning his season around, but Pyle didn't agree. "He told me, 'I had no confidence and you patted me on the back,'" Pyle recalled. "I don't think I had anything to do with it, but that's the way he remembers it."

Pyle sounded ready to work in any capacity, assistant coach or lead. He said he wouldn't be too worried about it. "It's all about winning and finding a way to support each other."

2008 draft: Brothers available on Day 2

Bloodlines not only make good human interest stories, they also add some certainty to what kind of player someone is. There are several younger brothers of NHL players or former top picks still available in the 2008 entry draft.

David Toews, brother of Jonathan (CHI).
Joonas Rask, brother of Tuukka (BOS).
Jared Staal, brother of Eric, Marc, and Jordan.
Mark Olver, brother of Darin (formerly NYR)
Nik Pokulok, brother of Sasha (WAS)
Ian Schultz, brother of Jeff (WAS)
Michael Pelech, brother of Matt (Calgary first rounder)
Brian Lashoff, brother of Matt (BOS)

Thomas Frazee is not related to Jeff as far as I can tell, which actually raises his stock in my book.

If Brian Lashoff is anything like his brother, who is also a defenseman, he'd be a good pickup. Here's an article on him from November. Matt Lashoff played with Boris Valabik in Kitchener back in the day.

David Carle, brother of Matt (SJ) was just discovered to have a heart condition and will have to retire from hockey.

Friday, June 20, 2008

2008 draft: Late bloomers?

There are a number of players who are ranked by scouting services who have been passed over in last year's draft, or in a few cases, both 2006 and 2007. They are the late bloomers.

Here's a list of them, with their birthdays. Tikhonov is expected to go fairly high, maybe the second round.

Viktor Tikhonov 5/12/88 (3rd year eligible)
Kristofer Berglund 8/12/88 (3rd year eligible)
Zack Fenwick 5/19/89
Colin Long 6/19/89
David Ullstrom 4/22/089
Eric Doyle 4/5/89
Steven Quailer 8/5/89
Brodie Reid 8/25/89
Maxim Mamin 5/17/88 (3rd year eligible)
Louke Oakley 4/7/89
Tomi Sallinen 2/11/89
Nicholas Tremblay 4/5/88 (3rd year eligible)
Brent Regner 5/17/89
Tyler Gron 9/7/89
Mark Borowiecki 7/12/89
Anton Korolev 1/26/88 (3rd year eligible)
Jack Connolly 8/15/89
Sam Klassen 1/1/89
Craig Smith 9/5/89
Sebastien Erixon 9/12/89
Mike Murphy 1/15/89

Other players who are in their first year eligible but have been described as late bloomers are Zac Dalpe, Jared Staal and Nicholas Deschamps.

2008 draft: Early and late birthdays

A few months ago I posted a link to an article about birth month in sports and how the cutoff for playing years in youth sports can over and underrate players born near the deadline. The argument is that physical development helps those born earlier in the year gain an advantage. The NHL draft deadline for each draft year is Sept. 15. A player must be 18 by that date to be drafted in that year's draft. Why that draft? Because that's the time that NHL camps start, and the league doesn't want anyone who is a minor signing contracts and playing a dangerous sport. You'll never see on-ice workouts start earlier than Sept. 15, and that's linked to the draft.

Anyway, I had a look through some draft-eligible players today and picked out the players on both sides of the magic date. It will be interesting to look back years later and see if they were in fact under or overrated.

Potentially underrated due to their late birthday

Zach Bogosian 7/15/90
Jake Gardiner 7/4/90
Daultan Leveille 8/10/90
Patrick Wiercioch 9/12/90
Andre Petersson 9/11/90
Jared Staal 8/21/90
Ilmari Pitkanen 7/18/90
Travis Hamonic 8/16/90
Marek Viedensky 8/18/90
Maxim Trunev 9/7/90
Dennis Bozic 8/2/90
Pekka Jormakka 9/14/90
Wacey Hamilton 9/10/90
Steven Spinnell 9/9/90
Michael D’Orazio 8/16/90
Colin South 8/9/90
Taylor Stefishen 8/15/90
Michael Lomas 8/16/90

Potentially overrated due to early birthday

Colin Wilson 10/20/89
Josh Bailey 10/2/89
Zac Boychuk 10/4/89
Tyler Ennis 10/6/89
Johan Motin 10/10/89
Emil Bejmo 10/10/89
Julien Demers 9/25/89
Jared Festler 10/14/89
Nicklas Lasu 9/16/89
Michael Pelech 10/6/89
Matt Delahey 9/25/89
Kory Nagy 10/12/89
Marc-Andre Bergeron 9/17/89
Zach Harnden 9/23/89
Roman Szturc 9/25/89
Petr Strapac 10/11/89
Joni Liljeblad 9/17/89
Eric Louis-Seize 10/12/89
Dustin Toharski 9/16/89
Braden Holtby 9/16/89
Jaroslav Janus 9/21/89


Kings will keep the No. 2 pick

From the LA Times. This makes it even more sure that the Thrashers will get Zach Bogosian.

[GM Dean Lombardi] confirmed Thursday night that he has had offers from three teams in the last two weeks for the No. 2 pick (widely expected to be [Drew] Doughty, a defenseman with the Guelph Storm). The most recent proposal came Tuesday, essentially a three-for-one deal -- a current player, a prospect and a draft choice for the pick.

But Lombardi went to Kings ownership, as he had with the other two, and recommended they reject the offer. He said everyone wanted to keep the selection.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ottawa to move up and take Doughty?

I'm putting together a few things I've heard today, and that's the scenario I'm coming up with. I'll lay out a few facts, and see if you don't agree.

1. Ottawa is the host team for the draft and the host team always likes to make a big splash.
2. Ottawa recently went on record saying they wanted to move into the top 10.
3. Ottawa just hired a new coach and is looking to shake things up on the roster.
4. Los Angeles holds the No. 2 pick, but does not have a strong preference on a player. They are willing to move.
5. New Ottawa coach Craig Hartsburg is a huge Drew Doughty fan. This spring he called him "the best defenseman in junior hockey." Doughty is projected to go No. 2 or 3.
6. LA beat writer Rich Hammond said today that he has a hunch something big is about to happen with the Kings.

Ottawa holds the No. 18 pick, but roster help, in the form of an established but still young defenseman, could likely be heading LA's way. Dean Lombardi has said he's already turned down offers for the pick, but isn't that what you'd say if you were trying to drive up the price?

Thrashers draft preview done

I just wrapped up my draft preview over at Hockey's Future. I wrote it all in one day, which is unusual for me. But I knew what I was going to say so it wasn't too painful.

A couple things I cut out because they were a bit of a tangent:

1. If the Thrashers do pick a goaltender (late in the draft), hedging bets in case hockey nets get bigger in the future wouldn't be a bad plan. Tall goaltenders could become a necessity.

2. Most Europeans aren't developed enough within two years to make the NHL and they generally don’t want to play in the minor leagues. Pulling players over to North America at age 20 has caused tension with European countries, and was part of what led to them pulling out of the IIHF agreement. There really do need to be different rules for Europeans, regardless of what the Canadian junior leagues want.

3. Both Thrashers picks in the first round follow a Los Angeles pick.

As far as the mock draft pick goes, I wanted Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson at No. 29, but our LA writer took him just ahead of me at 28. In real life, he's unlikely to last that long.

I get the feeling that the No. 29 pick is on the market though.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Draft tidbits -- T-4 days

I had to make my last pick in the HF staff mock draft today. The results of that will be posted shortly on the site, but that and some other fact-checking caused me to delve pretty deeply into the ISS draft guide. A few interesting things I noted:

The guide has a "style compares to" section, where they say which NHL player each top-30 prospect most resembles. Brian Campbell, Jay Bouwmeester, Adam Foote, etc. I get to Kyle Beach and it says "Terry Ryan." Who? I looked this name up and the most accomplished Terry Ryan was drafted in the first round in 1995 by the Canadiens, peaked in his draft year and played just 8 NHL games. What kind of backhanded compliment is this? Actually I think it may have to do with the fact that he was from Newfoundland and so is one of ISS's top scouts. How about a comparison more than a few people would get then?

I checked out what my hometown OHL Erie Otters had to offer this year. The top-ranked guy is Mitch Gaulton, a defenseman. He only played 20 games this year due to an elbow injury. That's probably going to keep him from going as high as he should. Poor kid. I'm going to make sure we have a profile for him.

Ever hear of the Don Waddell award? It's a real award, given for the top freshman at Northern Michigan University, Don's alma mater. Mark Olver won it this year. He put up some darn good numbers as a freshman with Northern (led the team in scoring with 38 points in 39 games), but isn't ranked very high, jut 207th among North American skaters by Central Scouting and not at all by ISS. Makes me think scouts are scared off by the experience with his brother Darin a few years ago -- drafted 36th overall by the Rangers and then they never signed him, he went to Europe. Their father is now the GM of the AHL Iowa Stars, by the way.

I just heard back from Dave Caruso, who everyone should know. I was asking him about Vinny Saponari. The two are many years apart, but Dave said he knew Vinny's older brother Al. And of course Dave managed to work in the fact that Ohio State was recruiting Vinny. He cracks me up.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Calder Cup wrap-up done

Last night I finished an article on the key prospects in both the AHL and ECHL finals. You can read it here. One point in there that could get lost, but is important: the Thrashers hope to retain Joel Kwiatkowski next season. There was some talk of him going to Russia, but I'm hearing he'll be offered another NHL deal, so it could entice him to stay. He was a very important influence on the Wolves, and a good guy to have available for call-up with all of his experience.

During the finals I mentioned that Wilkes-Barre had some points about the Wolves written on their locker room white board. Here they are. As I said I think they are very accurate.
1. Front on most pt shots
2. Hold one D net front
3. D rim pucks most of the time
4. F's pull up when enter zone -> late men
5. 1-2-2

The last one must be the forecheck.

Normally after the Wolves season ends, I would write a review of the entire season of each of the prospects, but since it ended so close to the NHL draft -- our Superbowl -- it may not happen. I had a lot of material for it too. McCudden on how LaVallee needs to be better away from the puck, Ondrej Pavelec saying he thinks the brawl-fests with Rockford are stupid. But it would have to be done after the draft and that's probably too late. Gwinnett would be in there too: Myles Stoesz saying he would probably get a job at Best Buy or something this summer, anywhere that he can work on commission. He has a way with people. I'll find a way to use it all somehow. If I don't do a late review, maybe in the next Top 20 in August.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Waddell likely meeting Sullivan in Florida

The St. Pete Times said today that Mike Sullivan is going to meet with Don Waddell about the Thrashers head coaching job. It's far from the first time Sullivan's name has come up though. It first came up right when Bob Hartley was fired in October, then was brought up again a few weeks ago by the Boston Globe. I mentioned it here at the time.

With Todd McLellan taking another post, the amount of time before the draft and the start of free agency is becoming an issue. Because of that, I think it's very likely that Waddell flew quickly to the Tampa area to meet with Sullivan instead of bringing him to Atlanta. Especially when you consider that Waddell owns a cottage in the St. Petersburg area (Madeira Beach). You'll recall the story about daughter Chelsea's parasailing scare several years ago. Waddell and Sullivan can meet very privately at the cottage, and be more flexible with the timing of the meetings. Sullivan would have little need to check out the facilities in Atlanta in order to make his decision, as he's already been to both the arena and practice facility with the Lightning.

HF will provide video from the draft

As you may have heard, next weekend is the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. It's always a big day on the internet as fans of all 30 teams scramble to Google the names of players to see what they can find out on them. For the more obscure players in particular, they end up at Hockey's Future. We're happy to help.

This year, we will have something more -- video clips from the draft.

The "Voice of Hockey's Future", Dustin Nielson, in conjunction with the good folks at Tangle Media, will be shooting video in Ottawa over the course of three days which will be posted at HF for your viewing pleasure. Some of this video will be shot before the draft, including a draft preview show. Video shot during the draft will include interviews with drafted players, NHL team personnel, and a few other hockey dignitaries of note. And there will be a post-draft wrap-up show, where Dustin and Co. will dissect the draft floor happenings from the two-day event.

The NHL doesn't hand out video rights like candy, so you won't find this many other places. I'll be interested myself to see what the team comes up with. Video doesn't Google very easily though, so you may have to manually check in to see what's available. I'll provide links if I can figure out how to do it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Saponari could be first NHL draftee from Georgia

Tonight I was scanning through a scouting service rank of players for next weekend's draft, looking for a certain Belarusian (don't ask), and saw Vinny Saponari's name. I had forgotten that this is his draft year. Saponari is a 6'0 right wing from Powder Springs, currently playing with the US National Team Development Program. Before that, he played for Culver Academy in Indiana (which is also where Brian Sipotz played). Here's an article on Saponari that gives more info. He's headed to Boston University, where his brother Victor also plays.

ISS (International Scouting Service) has Saponari ranked 225th among all skaters, and Central Scouting has him ranked 135th among North American skaters. To figure out his chances, note that there are 211 picks in the 2008 draft. If he is taken, he'll be the first native Georgian selected. The Thrashers had another Georgian in their system in 2006-07, goaltender Dave Caruso, but he was an undrafted free agent.

Teams often go after local products in the late rounds, so it's not at all unreasonable to think the Thrashers may select Saponari. That is, if another team doesn't do so first.

Esposito back in his hometown

As expected, Angelo Esposito was traded from the QMJHL Quebec Remparts to the newest franchise, the Montreal Juniors last weekend.

From the Montreal Gazette:

As a kid growing up in Town of Mount Royal, this is not how Angelo Esposito dreamed it would go down.

His introductory meeting with the Montreal media would have been held at the Bell Centre, not at a club on Crescent St., and he would be putting on the famed bleu-blanc-rouge of his beloved Canadiens as photographers' flash bulbs clicked around him.

Instead, Esposito was at Newtown yesterday afternoon trying on the burgundy and white colours of the Junior de Montréal, who acquired the 19-year-old's rights in a blockbuster deal that landed the transplanted major-junior hockey franchise a marquee, homegrown talent for its maiden season in the city.

Sometimes a change of scenery does players a lot of good. Maybe Esposito can get back on the right development path with the Montreal Juniors. They probably don't need to worry about losing him to the NHL this fall though, as he doesn't look ready to make that jump just yet.

He would need to want it incredibly bad, which is questionable given that he's still harboring so much hope of playing for the Canadiens:

"I obviously always dreamed of playing for the Montreal Canadiens, and hopefully that can happen one day, or maybe it will," said Esposito, quickly catching himself so he didn't upset his bosses in the Atlanta Thrashers organization.

I asked Thrashers Asst. GM Larry Simmons last weekend if Esposito would be signed before training camp. It's not an urgent thing of course, since he doesn't have to be signed until June 2009. Simmons thought perhaps he would be, but the Thrashers were letting the issue wait for now because Esposito has the same agent as Luc Bourdon, who was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident a few weeks ago (Kent Hughes).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Russian Super League contracts void -- what it means for Filatov and Nikulin

I wish I weren't blogging about this topic because it's an opaque and frustrating one, but since a lot of people are interested in it, I will.

First a bit of groundwork. The Russian Super League, which was probably the best league outside of the NHL, is going away. It's re-forming as the Continental League, with some changes and big plans. It will try to compete with the NHL, with things like drafts and salary caps. Here's an article by Larry Brooks on the potential tug of war with the NHL for players, and some general background info.

But initially at least, the league will amount to a refurbished, refinanced and slightly expanded Russian Super League, with the same 20 teams, plus one elevated from a lower tier and one each from the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Belarus and Latvia.

I spoke to Thrashers Director of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Dan Marr about Russian players last weekend. He said that because of the new formation of this Continental League, all previous Super League contracts are null and void. All players have to sign new contracts for the new league. This means that there will be a new wave of 18-year-olds coming to the CHL, NHL and even AHL to play this fall. Players like Nikita Filatov, a top 2008-eligible. Marr mentioned him as an example of this phenomenon, and Filatov has told multiple outlets that he intends to play in the CHL next year. This should help keep him in the top five in the upcoming draft, since playing in the CHL is a good indication the player will be signable.

I asked Marr how this all ties in with Ilya Nikulin (former second round pick) signing with the Thrashers -- would the lack of a contract providing an opening for the 26-year-old to finally come over? As expected, he was non-plussed by reports out of Russia that there could be increased desire on his part. Marr said the Russian press is always after both Nikulin and (2006 pick) Andrei Zubarev. Every year we hear things about Nikulin coming over, but bottom line if he really wanted to be here, he'd be here.

The next night I chatted with Thrashers Assistant GM Larry Simmons, who handles the organization's contracts, and he said much the same as Marr. Simmons said that he's talked to Ilya Nikulin's agent recently, and the agent said that Nikulin's contract was "assumed" by the new Continental League. I asked how that could be that only his contract was assumed when they were all supposed to be wiped out, and Simmons agreed that it's a good question. There's no way to verify this type of stuff, you have to just take their word for it. At the end of the day, to sign a player to an NHL contract, the player's side must show evidence to the NHL that they can get out of their Russian contract (via a clause or whatever). Otherwise the league won't validate the contract.

As far as this contracts question goes, here's the intrigue (there's always intrigue when it comes to Russia). One of our writers at Hockey's Future talked to a couple of Russian agents at the Combine, and they said the contracts were not wiped out. New contracts were presented to the players to sign, but everyone was told that the old ones would be enforced in court if new ones were not signed. Contracts are with the same team, just new league. If the players just refuse to sign and just try to leave, that's a huge problem -- and a lot of people recognize this. It sounds to me like the agents are saying the old contracts will be enforced in order to prevent clients from fleeing. But logically, if the old ones would be enforced, then there would be no need to sign new contracts in the first place would there? It's more likely that they are unenforceable and the agents are saying this for their own benefit (surprise!).

In light of all this, instead of an exodus to Russia for more tax-free money, we could be seeing more players leaving Russia for North America -- those who were in contracts they no longer want to be in.

(Note: NHL teams are retaining the rights to Russian players, and now all Europeans indefinitely because the league has classified them as "defected" players, a stipulation in the CBA. If and when the countries sign a new IIHF agreement, the regular rules for rights will apply.)

As far as Nikulin in particular goes, Simmons said he is still subject to the entry-level system (Europeans are subject through age 27). But the rub is that he would become an unrestricted free agent under the CBA at age 27, so if they signed him this summer, per the CBA they can only sign him for one year at an entry-level price (less than he reportedly makes in Russia), and then he'd be an UFA. It's hard to make this make sense with signing bonus, etc. Last year the issue with him coming over was money. For years we've been hearing things, but Larry ended saying the same thing as Marr -- the same thing everyone says -- they'll believe it when they see it.

Picks owned by the Thrashers in the 2008 draft

A reference for next weekend. The Thrashers currently hold seven picks in this draft -- they made just four last year. If/when picks are traded, I'll update the list unless it's so close to the start that it becomes irrelevant. It seems fairly certain that the late first rounder from Pittsburgh will be used to upgrade the defense.

Round 1, No. 3 overall
Round 1, No. 29 overall (from PIT)
Round 3, No. 64 overall
Round 4, No. 94 overall
Round 5, No. 124 overall
Round 6, No. 154 overall
Round 7, No. 184 overall

The second rounder was part of the Keith Tkachuk deal with St. Louis.

Round 1 will be held on Friday night during primetime, with the remaining rounds on Saturday.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Wolves can close out Calder Cup at home tonight

The Chicago Wolves, who are up 3-2 in the AHL finals, are back at home on Tuesday for Game 6. In Game 5, Bryan Little scored the game's first goal and the team celebrated wildly -- perhaps a little too wildly because the Penguins came right back and then marched on to a 5-1 victory.

Little talked afterwards about what went wrong, citing mental breakdowns, losing control, taking penalties. "The good thing is that these things can be fixed," he said, sounding a bit like a philosophical coach. "Next game we've got to be smarter. Get control of our emotions." A reporter noted to him that the Wolves had given themselves some wiggle room going up 3-0 in the series and could afford some mistakes. Little admitted, "I think that's the attitude we had, but obviously we have to come in with a different attitude now. We really found out that this team (WBS) is not gonna give up, not gonna stop pressing. They want it as bad as we do."

Everyone else left and I mentioned to Little how while he's been scoring a fair bit in the playoffs, most of the goals were add-on goals until tonight -- finally a difference-maker. He agreed, and said going into that game he was determined to shoot more. "I'm playing good when I'm shooting the puck a lot, controlling the puck a lot," he said. He had three shots in the game, compared to just one shot in the previous two games. Look for Little to be shooting again in Game 6.

Last time I had seen him his hair was freshly buzzed and now it's all back. I remarked that it had grown fast. "It did," he said. "My hair grows very fast." At least that's a sign of good health.

The Wolves gave up five goals, but only on one goal did I think Ondrej Pavelec could have played it better. Most were defensive breakdowns. "Those were some f'ing great saves," my officiating neighbor remarked (a neutral part by definition). He also thought the Wolves couldn't put the puck on net, they were shooting wide constantly.

A funny thing was said by Friday night's referee Dean Morton, sitting two seats down from me. John Anderson had slammed him in Friday's press conference pretty hard, saying he was the sixth player for the Penguins, etc. Well, things weren't going the Wolves way under Saturday's ref Brian Pochmara either, and the ref supervisor and Morton made some reference to what Anderson -- long known for bashing officials -- might say about Pochmara at the end of this game. "He better not outdo me," Morton said.

No wait, here's a better quote, and ironic, given the above. A reporter asked Anderson about his team's physical play. "Are we a physical team?" Anderson asked out loud, with sarcasm in his voice. "We take lots of penalties -- I don't know how physical we are." He didn't mention the officiating that time, though there was as much, if not more, to complain about.

While the Wolves have home ice advantage on Tuesday night, the Penguins seem to have the good vibe around them which makes them dangerous. The game is on NHL Network if you want to check it out.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

McLellan will interview with Thrashers this week

So says the Detroit News. Ladies and gentleman, we have our first confirmed formal interview for the open head coach position. Todd McLellan, assistant with the Detroit Red Wings.

That's the good news. The bad news is that, as expected, he's also interviewing with San Jose.

Read my other posts on McLellan here.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Postcard from Wilkes-Barre

This will be brief, like a postcard has to be. I was working two non-game stories pretty hard tonight during Game 4 of the AHL finals (Thrashers upcoming draft and coaching search), so I have less on the game.

First let me say that I was interested in coming this trip partly because although I'm from PA, I've never been to this part of the state. I always wanted to check it out and this was the perfect opportunity. It's a little hillier than I expected. The fans and ushers are tough people. This is a Philly-type crowd for sure.

The press box was cramped, so I found another seat for the second and third periods. I sat next to an NHL supervisor for officials in a chair at the top of the bowl. We were instant buddies. I got some money out to go get a bite to eat and he said "oh that's OK you don't have to buy me a beer." In fact I got a cheesesteak. I figured we were close enough to Philly that this is what one should eat at the game. The lady asked me American or cheddar cheese, and did I want peppers and onions. I'm thinking, is there any other way? Yeah, bring it on. I give the arena cheesesteak only a 2 out of 10 though. A $5.75 letdown.

Back to my seat neighbor, I knew even prior to asking that he was there to watch the officials. I kept hearing him say "good call." One time he remarked to the guy next to him (tomorrow night's ref, I found out), "that's a helluva call." It was an icing. I guess everyone has their thing.

I took the opportunity to ask if he thought the AHL would go to two refs soon. He shook his head no. Money, I asked? He nodded. But he said that's OK, it's good to learn to stand on their own, not use partner as a crutch. I asked if he thought they would get video replay, a hot topic lately. Again he shook his head no. In turn, he asked me who I thought the Thrashers would get as coach. I told him my best and latest info, because him chattering about it could only help, I thought.

Obligatory postcard photo (Fahey, Pavelec, Kulda, Valabik):

I saw Wolves skating and skills coach Kenny McCudden over in a corner and went and said hello. I thought I could gauge the emotion of the team by chatting a bit with him. The game was tied 2-2 going into the third. Kenny, who while very emotional is never at a loss for words, warned me that he wouldn't be able to talk, he was too wound up. That said a lot right there.

In the Penguins locker room on their white board, they have the Wolves lines and pairings written out, along with about 5 or 6 tendencies of the team. I copied down five of them as I was standing at the back of a scrum. I won't post them today as that's not quite fair, but I'll share them once the series and season are over. They're pretty accurate.

A TV reporter complained about the "closed" locker rooms in the AHL, meaning you have to get coaches first, then players. He said the NHL changed that after the lockout to have locker rooms be open immediately because it makes for better TV. You can get better reaction onto post-game shows. Along with the number of refs and the video replay, this is another area where the AHL is different. But this one doesn't cost money.

Thrashers asked Stamkos four questions at Combine

Dan Marr, Thrashers Director of Scouting and Player Development, was kind enough to chat with me during the entire first intermission of the Wolves game tonight in Wilkes-Barre. He said a lot of interesting things -- most of which will find their way into my upcoming draft preview -- but I'll share a couple of items now.

Marr joked that Steve Stamkos, the presumed No. 1 pick in the draft, was going around last week's NHL Combine saying he felt slighted by the Thrashers because they only asked him four questions in their interview. The Thrashers hold the No. 3 pick and are virtually certain to hold steady at that position. So they covered only the basics with Stamkos for their files.

What were the four questions? Marr listed three of them:
1. You were born Feb. 7, 1990?
2. You were born in (such-and-such) Ontario?
3. You've always played center?

"OK thanks," they said to Stamkos.

Stamkos was surprised by this, but caught on (that they thought he'd be gone by their pick). Marr thinks about 12-15 teams interviewed the player, as teams often think they can move up to the top.

I remarked how busy Marr has been lately. He said yeah, eight days of scouting meetings in Atlanta, then the Memorial Cup and the Combine, and now back at the Calder Cup finals. He said his dog forgets what he looks like.

As far as Russian players go, because of the new formation of this Continental League, all previous Super League contracts were null and void. All players have to sign new contracts for the new league. This means that there will be a new wave of 18-year-olds coming to the CHL, NHL and even AHL. I asked how this ties in with the Ilya Nikulin possibility (lack of contract providing an opening?). As expected, he was non-plussed. Marr said the Russian press is always after both him and Zubarev. Every year we hear stuff, but bottom line if he really wanted to be here, he'd be here. This is what I expected was the case, but had to ask the question.

We got on the topic of (draft-eligible) Kyle Beach somehow. I asked if he thought Beach had as many (character) issues as people thought. "He's an 18-year-old," Marr said. He learns, and he's not a repeat offender.

I also asked about David Toews, brother of Jonathan, with him in mind for the Thrashers' late first-rounder. (I'm in a staff mock draft and I like to get it right.) Marr made some comments but overall didn't seem jazzed about him. I asked if Toews would go in the first round. He said it was always a possibility, maybe to a team that had two picks. I pointed out that his team has two picks. "Today," he said, laughing. "We have a GM who likes to work the phones."

Friday, June 6, 2008

Former player talks about Todd McLellan as head coach

Tonight I had a chance to talk to a player who once played for Todd McLellan, to find out what to expect if the Thrashers hire the current Detroit Red Wings assistant. Nathan Smith played for McLellan in Swift Current of the WHL from 1998-2000. Smith, currently captain of the AHL Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, has played 17 NHL games. He was quite effusive in his praise.

Me: What kind of guy is McLellan?
Smith: Oh, he's a very intelligent coach, he reads people very well. He presses just the right buttons of certain players. I only had him for two years in Swift Current and he was definitely a big part of my progress as a player. He's a great coach -- nothing but good things to say about him.

Me: What would you say about him as a person? Did you get to know him off the ice?
Smith: As a junior kid you don't get to know coaches that well. From what I remember, he was a very fair coach, obviously very well respected amongst the team and his peers.

Me: What kind of system did you run back then?
Smith: Oh boy (laughs). We played a high-tempo -- I wouldn't say offensive game -- but he stressed to the players to make plays, and like most coaches, play well defensively. So I think pretty standard, but he does a good job of managing personalities.

Me: You also played against teams he coached when you were with Manitoba and he was with Houston. What were his teams like to play against?
Smith: His team in Houston was very good defensively. If I recall correctly, he took a team to the Calder Cup.

Me: Do you think he'd make a good NHL head coach?
Smith: Oh he'd make a very good coach, yeah. It would not surprise me one bit to see him as a head coach next year or a couple years down the road.
(Here's a photo of McLellan with the Stanley Cup)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Todd McLellan emerges for coaching spot

There were several references around the net today about Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Todd McLellan being a candidate for the Thrashers coaching job.

He was previously mentioned for the Colorado job before they rehired Tony Granato. But good thing he was in that mix because it caused the Denver Post's Terry Frei to do some legwork on him. Here's an interesting interview with McLellan in which he talks about his influences. The most revealing quote was his game plan:

"I'd like to coach a high-tempo, fast, puck-possession type team."

McLellan is in charge of the Wings power play and forwards, with obvious success. He's another tactician, another thinking-man's coach. In his playing days, he was a center. McLellan, who hails from Saskatchewan, is now 41.

And from Kevin Allen of USA Today on May 22:

McLellan’s name has been linked by the Denver Post to the Colorado job, and it’s presumed that he will also be a candidate in Atlanta....The Red Wings are considered among the NHL’s prepared teams, and McLellan plays a significant role in that.

Here is McLellan's bio from the Red Wings website. An excerpt:

He has quickly earned a reputation as a great offensive mind, leading the Red Wings' very successful power-play unit....Before joining the Red Wings, McLellan spent four seasons as head coach of the American Hockey League’s Houston Aeros. He led the Aeros to the 2003 Calder Cup championship...

Also interesting is this blog post by a radio broadcaster who remembers a young McLellan coaching in Swift Current. Good to hear McLellan is friendly to the media. That's important in this city and important for this job as the team continues to sell the sport.

As with all good candidates, he could get other offers, the Sharks among them. From the Mercury News a few days ago:

Detroit assistant coach Todd McLellan has let some folks know that he’s scheduled to talk with Doug Wilson once the series with the Penguins has been settled.

(Edit to add: my interview with a former player of McLellan's).

Monday, June 2, 2008

Draft hindsight five years later

The five-year retrospective on the draft that we do at HF every year is my favorite article on the schedule. It's both very useful to see what went wrong and right in a draft class, and it puts all of my otherwise rather esoteric knowledge to work. It provides closure on prospects who have left or are about to leave the system. It's also a bit of a trip down memory lane. In typing out Guillaume Desbiens' particulars, I had another chuckle over some of the funny things he's said, often accidentally, over the years.

That's not to say there's no research though. I had to consult the CBA for a minor point tonight. (Any day where I have to read lawyer language is a bad day.)

When I first started covering prospects, I noticed that people would call a draft year by the city it took place in -- "the Detroit draft" for example. Same with the World Juniors. That seemed to me hard to place it in time. But these days I find myself doing the same thing, because all of the drafts become such a blur over time. You need a city as a hook to hang everything on or it gets lost.

Well, 2003 was the Nashville draft, a short jaunt up I-75. I stayed at a hotel that had a bunch of draftees in it. I remember riding in the elevator with goaltender Jimmy Howard in the morning and him looking very nervous. Sure, he was going to be picked, but by whom? He didn't know. Nor did Braydon Coburn the day before. Another reporter and I were talking to him, I told him I thought Atlanta was very interested. He seemed glad to hear it from someone else.

(Speaking of Coburn, one thing I noticed but couldn't work into the article is that Coburn's penalty minute rate has gone way down in the pros. Physical play is not his preferred style. He'll do it if he needs to, but it's really not his nature.)

Before the lockout and the format change of the draft, agents always used to tell their players not to go to the draft in person unless they would be taken on the first day, meaning in the first three rounds. It was too agonizing to sit through two days of other people's names. These words of wisdom were generally followed. So on Day 2, guys who were still there, you knew they had fallen off of expectations. Well, in 2003, Jimmy Sharrow and Guillaume Desbiens were both taken in the fourth round -- meaning the second day -- and they were both there in Nashville. But their emotions after their selections couldn't have been more different. Desbiens was as happy as a clam, while Sharrow was clearly upset to have fallen. He didn't really endear himself as the years went on either, which was a story that never really got told. Once, pretty sure of the answer ahead of time, I asked a player I knew well if Sharrow was injured, and the player laughed. On another occasion, I saw a player roll his eyes at something Sharrow had just done. And coach Jeff Pyle didn't want Sharrow back in Gwinnett, period. When he was traded it was no surprise.

All in all, the Thrashers found two NHL players in the 2003 draft, which is the number that teams aim for. Add up the games played by them and divide by the number of picks, and 25.7 NHL games per pick for the year is a rather good number, especially when the team had no second or third rounder.

The Thrashers made no embarrassing picks, meaning guys who couldn't play pro hockey at all. All of them play, have played, or will play in the case of Kaip, pro hockey. Mike Vannelli has the talent to continue playing, but not enough desire to stomach playing in the lower minors.

The Thrashers found value at the end of the draft, which begs the question: If you were to reorder Atlanta's picks in 2003, how would you do it? The toughest call is Toby Enstrom vs. Coburn. This is such an interesting question that I've made a poll about it over in the right-hand column (final tally 55% said Enstrom had more potential, 45% Coburn).

Here's how I would reorder them, based on their NHL potential today. I've noted the round they were taken in beside their names.

Enstrom 8th
Coburn 1st
Sterling 5th
-------------(dropoff here)
Kaip 9th
Desbiens 4th
Vannelli 4th
Sharrow 4th
Hamilton 6th
Loginov 7th

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Mike Sullivan's name reemerges for Thrashers coach

Tampa Bay assistant coach (and former Boston Bruins head coach) Mike Sullivan's name came up immediately for the Thrashers job when Bob Hartley was fired. It was brought up again this weekend by the Boston Globe.

One NHL agent said ex-Bruins coach Mike Sullivan, John Tortorella's right-hand man in Tampa Bay, could be in the mix for the Atlanta job. Sullivan has USA Hockey ties to GM Don Waddell. Sullivan coached the Yanks in the 2007 World Championships. Waddell is a member of USA Hockey's National Team Advisory Group. If Sullivan lands with the Thrashers, he could lure Providence coach Scott Gordon, once his assistant with the P-Bruins, to Atlanta as his assistant.

Add this to two small items I know about the case for him and this opening, and I do think there's some actual fire here. The new Tampa owners are reportedly going to make a coaching change when they take over, so Sullivan will likely be looking for any kind of job soon.

Sullivan is said to be a thinking man's coach, and thus the type of guy who would be a good replacement to taskmaster Hartley. He was a checking center during his playing days, and is 40 years old.

Here are links to the AP stories from when he was hired and fired in Boston.