1. Oasis Or Mirage
Sometimes, no news is almost bad news. Earlier this week, District of Arizona Bankruptcy Court Chief Judge Redfield T. Baum ordered the NHL and incumbent Coyotes majority owner Jerry Moyes to enter into mediation in an effort to solve the multifaceted question of where in the world will the Coyotes call home. They are to provide the court with a status update on May 27.
The most public element of the dispute is Canadian Blackberry billionaire Balsillie’s bid to buy the team and relocate them to Southwestern Ontario, specifically to Hamilton, a city with a Metropolitan population of just under 700,000, according to Canada’s 2006 Census. Balsillie has offered to purchase the Coyotes for $212.5 (US) million, with the condition that he be allowed to move the team to the North Country. This comes on the heels of Moyes’ filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 5, with an in-principle agreement to sell the club to Balsillie as part of the filing. The NHL suits strongly object, claiming that Moyes essentially handed over club control to them by way of a previously signed proxy agreement relating to past financial assistance from the league.
Reports indicate that Baum was not impressed with the proxy claim although the team’s future is still undecided, as beyond the actual right of selling the team, the league believes that they have a strong precedence in terms of where NHL clubs are allowed to play, meaning that while Moyes may have the legal right to sell his team to whomever he chooses, the new buyer would simply be buying the right to own the team that plays in Phoenix. As reported by Damien Cox in the Toronto Star, NHL executive Bill Daly believes that the main issue at stake is whether the team is a mobile asset that can be moved at the whim of its owners. Furthermore, as reported in TSN.ca, Daly believes that there is significant precedent from the other three major professional North American sports leagues that league approval is necessary for the movement of a franchise. This of course ignores the NFL’s experience in 1984 when the Colts of Baltimore skipped town late one night and presented themselves the next morning as the Colts of Indianapolis. The general consensus is that the league is not a fan of Jim Balsillie, having prevented past attempts of his to buy NHL teams (with the stated intent of moving them to Ontario) in Pittsburgh and Nashville, in the past 3.5 years alone. Stay tuned, as this may take awhile.
2. Does Trading Run In The Family?
On Friday, the Minnesota Wild announced that Chuck Fletcher, who until very recently (earlier that same day, in fact) had been the assistant General Manager of the defending Eastern Conference champions and current Stanley Cup contending Pittsburgh Penguins, would take over the reigns of the franchise as their new General Manager. Fletcher is also notable as the son of longtime executive Cliff Fletcher, also known as “Trader Cliff.” In addition to his three years as Penguins AGM, Fletcher held a number of high level roles in the Anaheim front office between 2002 and 2006 and spent 9 seasons as the AGM for the Panthers, including one year spent as the interim General Manager.
According to a report on ESPN.com, Fletcher’s first order of business as Wild GM will be finding and hiring a new coach to replace the recently departed Jacques Lemaire. He has also already been quoted as stating that the Wild will change their ways, saying, “We want to dictate the pace of play against our opponent.”.
As his duties with the Penguins included (among other things) scouting and bringing prospects through the system, it may be instructive to look at which homegrown players Fletcher brought through the system for the Penguins during his reign there. His first notable developmental protégé came via the 2nd overall pick of the 2006 entry draft, when the Penguins snapped up Jordan Staal who scored exactly one point per game in his draft year. The stats themselves were not eye-popping, but they were solid, and sharing genetics with NHL super-sniper Eric Staal often counts for something. The younger Staal moved right into the NHL, using electrifying speed to score 29 goals in his debut season including seven SHG. Since then, his point output dropped to 28 in his sophomore campaign before rising back to 49 this season. According to Puck Prospectus’ proprietary stats, this past season, Staal had a total GVT of 6.4, ranking 6th among Penguins’ skaters. Furthermore, as a testament to his two-way ability, his defensive GVT of 2.4 ranked him 4th among Penguins’ forwards.
As impressive as Staal has been in his burgeoning career, his impact has paled (so far, at least) to some of the picks taken immediately afterwards, including Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, Ovechkin pivot, Nicklas Backstrom, and the Bruins’ Phil Kessel. Then again, none of those players have played pivotal roles in the Stanley Cup finals as Staal already has, and may once more. Last year’s first rounder was Angelo Esposito, a player whose talent suggested he could go much higher, but fell due to character questions and declining statistics in his draft year. Notably, Esposito was one of the keys to the Penguins’ deadline day trade with the Thrashers, netting them Marian Hossa.
Using this scant evidence, we may be able to expect the Wild to draft a skill forward with its first round pick this year, moving away from their recent tendency to go with size forwards (Colton Gillies, 6’4’’ and .81 PPG in his draft eligible year in the WHL) and blueliners (Tyler Cuma, taken 23rd overall in 2008).
3. Draft Rumors
- Slated to pick 7th on June 26th in Montreal, the hockey world is convinced that the Maple Leafs will be trading up before draft day. With good reason: As early as mid-April, Leaf GM Brian Burke was quoted in The Hockey News as saying, “We’re going to see what it costs and we’re going to try and move up,” adding “No player is untradeable.” Burke has been known to wheel and deal in past drafts, having traded up while running the old Whalers to draft Chris Pronger and manoeuvring as Canucks GM to draft both Sedin twins with the 2nd and 3rd picks of the in the 1999 Entry Draft. There had been unfounded speculation of a trade with the Lightning involving, among other pieces, Leaf blueliner Tomas Kaberle and the Lightnings’ 2nd overall selection. However, Burke is known to covet John Tavares, and seemingly, so are the holders of the 1st overall pick, the New York Islanders
- Other reports (Bob McKenzie from Canada’s TSN) speculates that the Islanders may be looking to trade down one spot to take Victor Hedman, seen by some as the next Chris Pronger and by others as the next Nicklas Lidstrom and by everyone as a defensive stud.
- Helium – As the Canadian Junior season winds down with the Memorial Cup, a few lucky and talented hockey neophytes are getting the chance to prove themselves under pressure. Among the players whose stock has solidified, if not strengthened, is Russian-born, QMJHL defensemen Dmitry Kulikov. After a strong regular season for the Drummondville Tigres (12 G, 50A, 62 Pts, + 34, 46 PIM, tied for 2nd in points among defensemen in the QMJHL), he has continued his strong play in the Cup with a key goal in the Tigres’ victory over Rimouski and adding an assist in a game that was not as close as the final score against the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires, home of fellow first round talent, and Iain Fyffe favourite, Ryan Ellis. Ellis has also shown his mettle in Cup action with 2 goals and an assist in his first five games. With 89 points in 57 regular season games, some team will overlook his lack of height and pick up an exciting offensive-minded defenseman by the middle of this year’s first round.
4. Interesting Storyline From The Stanley Cup Playoffs
Of the four teams still playing in this year’s playoffs, three of them changed head coaches during this past regular season: The Blackhawks dismissed Denis Savard shortly after the 2008-2009 season began and replaced him with former Avalanche bench-boss Joel Quenneville. At the time of the switch, the Hawks had accumulated 3 points in their first four games. The Hurricanes brought back Paul Maurice after a stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs on December 3, 2008. At the time of the switch, the Canes were floundering with only 26 points in their first 25 games. They went on to accumulate an additional 71 points in their remaining 57 games. The Penguins made their switch later in the year, firing the man who led them to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals last year, Michel Therrien, and replacing him, first on an interim basis, and more recently with a permanent appointment, with Dan Bylsma on February 15, 2009. After the switch, the Penguins went on an immediate tear, winning 10 of their next 11 games and earning at least one point in all but 3 of their remaining regular season contests. How rare is this level of success by replacement coaches? A look at the final four teams since the turn of the millennium shows that the only other club to have reached the Conference Final under a replacement coach was the 1999 -2000 Stanley Cup winning New Jersey Devils, who replaced Robby Ftorek with “Big Bird” Larry Robinson with a mere 8 games remaining in the regular season. Before using this year’s coaching change success as a way to push your favourite team to make a switch, remember this and keep in mind that the problem may be the players.
Ryan Wagman is a guest author of Puck Prospectus. You can contact Ryan by clicking here or click here to see Ryan's other articles.
Ryan Wagman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
You can contact Ryan by clicking here or click here to see Ryan's other articles.