A surprisingly busy start to the NHL off-season has provided plenty of fodder for fans around the league. There have also been other rumblings from the major junior, minor pro and NCAA ranks as well, some of which has gone largely unnoticed by the mainstream media. As always, when it affects the future of hockey, it attracts the attention of The Pipeline Show.
Oklahoma City Barons
Last week I wrote heaps of praise for Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini in part because of the recent signing of Richard Petiot and other moves made by the team. The very next day my friend Corey Graham called me for information on Alex Giroux because he was breaking the story that the Oilers had signed the AHL superstar.
I was at a house party on Friday night so hadn't heard the news and I was quite honestly more than a little surprised. Giroux was a player that Kevin Prendergast had tried to sign last summer but the idea, I was told then, was shot down because the team couldn't afford to give the player a one-way deal. The Oilers had already signed Charles Linglet and Chris Minard and while they really wanted to add Giroux to the mix, the player was trying to land a 1-way deal.
This is an absolutely fantastic signing for the Barons. Giroux has been a dominate player at the AHL level for several years now, the last couple with Hershey have been particularly stellar.
There was also some indication on Friday night that the Oilers were in pursuit of Corey Locke, the forward who captured the OHL scoring crown in the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. Locke was a 4th round pick in 2003 by Montreal and would be another excellent player to target for AHL help; he's had three straight +70 point seasons with Hamilton, Houston and Hartford.
If the Oilers are indeed looking for more impact AHLers to fill out the OKC roster, Marty St. Pierre and Josh Hennessy would be well worth consideration. The goaltender free agent pool got a little smaller over the weekend as Joey MacDonald was snapped up by the Detroit Red Wings who will send the veteran to Grand Rapids; they also signed Chris Minard.
No word publicly on the vacant Assistant GM position or the coaching staff in Oklahoma City. I mentioned that Gerry Fleming, who was in Springfield with the Falcons, will follow the team to Oklahoma. He might still be an assistant coach or he might be getting some consideration for the head coach job; his résumé includes a successful 7-year tour of duty in the ECHL with the Florida Everblades as the bench boss (see below).
I'm not sure how players and fans would feel about it but one name that was mentioned to me tonight in regards to the head coach job was Kelly Buchberger. I haven't heard anything official from the Oilers about Bucky's status with the organization and where he fits in, if he does fit in at all. With the massive overhaul the franchise has undergone this spring it's a bit hazy to see who is coming, going and who is sitting in limbo. Would fans want to see Buchberger in charge of the AHL affiliate as he was in 2007-08?
A while back Jim Matheson of the Journal wrote that Scott Bonner was in consideration for the Assistant GM position. Matty also briefly mentioned that should Bonner assume the role, that it would be a possibility for Vancouver Giants head coach Don Hay to tag along. That would certainly be interesting as Hay comes with a pretty successful junior record with just a so-so professional one as a coach.
Just as a note: One guest on The Pipeline Show this Tuesday (July 6th) is scheduled to be Ryan Aber of the Daily Oklahoman who will be the beat reporter covering the Barons this season.
In June WHL Commissioner Ron Robison had some comments in regards to the growing NCAA issues that have been steadily increasing through College Hockey Inc. and its Director Paul Kelly. In the article, originally written by Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post, Robison is quoted from a previous appearance on The Pipeline Show.
This is a topic that we will continue to monitor during the off season as we have plans to speak with several people throughout the Canadian Major Junior system as well as Mr. Kelly.
CHL Super Series
Nate Sager, who does a great job covering the CHL for Yahoo Sports!, found another article by Greg Harder (Regina Leader-Post) that quoted Ron Robison concerning the annual Canada/Russia challenge. Robison admitted that the league was looking at other options to make the series more interesting including moving the dates back a bit to match up with European league breaks. That might open the door to other national teams coming over to play instead of the Russians, or it might mean a better Russian team because some KHL level juniors would be available. All positive thoughts.
Sager also linked back to my original idea of having the Super Series being played between Canadian CHLers and American/European CHLers. Sager liked my ideas a lot which indicates his high level of intelligence.
CHL Coaching Carousel
Bob Boughner has left the Windsor Spitfires for an Assistant Coach position with the Columbus Blue Jackets. I have heard that the Oilers considered Boughner for the vacant spot in Oklahoma City but have not verified that so it may have just be idle chatter.
Former Tri-City Americans head coach Don Nachbaur will be back in the WHL in 2010-11 but behind the bench of the rival Spokane Chiefs. Nachbaur spent last season as the head coach of the AHL's Binghamton Senators. Nachbaur was previously the bench boss of the Seattle Thunderbirds making this his third stint in the WHL and all within the US Division.
The Moncton Wildcats didn't use an import pick this year because, as the New Brunswick based paper Times&Transcript suggests:
"The Wildcats are counting on having forwards Marek Hrivik and Kirill Kabanov as their two imports next season."Call me a skeptic but I'm thinking the Wildcats are probably hoping to trade Kabanov's rights more than simply cutting his rights loose. If the Russian is back in the QMJHL and playing for Moncton next year... it would be like seeing the Calgary Flames re-signing Olli Jokinen to a 2-year deal. Wouldn't that be ludicrous???
The Everett Silvertips host an annual pre-season mini-tournament that usually features their US Division rivals. This year there is a really cool addition - the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL. Silvertips head coach Craig Hartsburg was head coach of the Greyhounds in the mid-2000's and played for the team as a junior player so the ties to his old club are obvious. It's an interesting decision that I hope sets a precedent. I know I'd love to see the Edmonton Oil Kings pre-season tournament featuring a OHL club as well as the WHL teams that come up.
AHL Divisional Shuffle
With the Oklahoma City Barons joining the loop, the American Hockey League now has one affiliate for every NHL parent club. The 30-teams have been shuffled slightly to establish the 2010-11 alignments. The Barons will play in an 8-team "West Division" which, oddly enough, won't include the Abbotsford Heat, the most Western franchise in the league.
Edmonton's AHL affiliate will have a tough time though as they will compete with the Chicago Wolves (ATL), Houston Aeros (MIN), Milwaukee Admirals (NSH), Peoria Rivermen (STL), San Antonio Rampage (PHX), Rockford IceHogs (CHI) and defending finalists Texas Stars (DAL).
- there is some speculation out there that UFA Ryan Stone may miss the year, if not longer, because of the severity of the damage in his knee. Stone appeared in 27 NHL games with the Edmonton Oilers last year and is free to sign anywhere as an unrestricted free agent but the thought is that he wouldn't pass a physical. One source suggested he could turn up in Oklahoma in some off-ice bench/staff capacity.
- Colin McDonald is a Group 6 UFA. I'm told the Oilers have offered the former 2nd round pick a minor league deal (see Bryan Young last year) but that MacDonald is exploring opportunities to get a 2-way contract from another NHL team. Should that not come to fruition, would the winger have an AHL deal with Oklahoma City higher on the list than with a New England based team? He's from Connecticut, played 4 years at Providence College and his 3-years as a pro have been in Massachusetts with Springfield. Maybe the change of scenery would be just what the doctor ordered.
- The 2010 NHL Draft saw 22 players taken out of the USHL, 10 coming from the US-NTDP. There were also 22 U.S. high school players selected by NHL teams in June. By comparison, the combined number of Canadian Jr. 'A' players chosen was 11; the BCHL led the way with 4.
- We've been suggesting that, with the addition of the US-NTDP, the USHL has supplanted The QMJHL as the third best junior league in North America. It's interesting to note that the Q also produced 22 draftees but only one was a 1st rounder while the USHL had 4 players taken on Day 1. There was only 1 QMJHL player taken in the 2nd round while the USHL saw 6 players chosen. After 2 rounds the "score" was USHL 10 - QMJHL 2.
- The AJHL's Calgary Royals have changed their look and their name for the 2010-11 season. The club will now be known as the Calgary Mustangs and will feature a Denver Broncos-esque horse head which curls into a 'C'. New Team Site.
- According to Evan Daum, colour analyst at the University of Alberta, the Golden Bears have a pair of incoming WHL veteran goalies. Kurtis Mucha and Linden Rowat are to join the team for the 2010-11 season replacing Travis Yonkman and the injured Real Cyr. The Bears have a pretty impressive freshman class joining the program this fall.
- Daum also reported that the Annual Golden Bears vs Edmonton Oilers Rookies game is slated for September 16th and might possibly shift from Clare Drake Arena to Rexall Place. The game is an annual sell-out but anticipation and demand for this Fall's match (with Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Jordan Eberle, Jeff Petry, Chris Vande Velde, etc) will be at an all-time high so a record crowd could be had in the NHL rink.