With the Iva Hlinka Memorial Tournament now in the books, the 2010-11 hockey season is officially underway. There are a plethora of items to discuss these days and this as good a time and place to do it as any other. With that said, here are some things kicking around the cranium right now...
Lockout on the Way?
I recently had a chat with someone involved in the NHL at the scouting level. I was picking brains and asking whether teams were expanding their scouting staff because of the rediscovered importance of drafting and developing from within. I was quite surprised when told "Actually, teams are cutting back everywhere they can and scouting is always one of the first places to get the hatchet."
According to this one NHL executive, "I think a lot of teams are planning for the potential of a work stoppage in two years."
There's your dose of good news for the day.
Speaking of Scouts...
I was pre-planning an upcoming show and going over a bunch of potential guests when I noticed a name missing from Tampa Bay's staff directory. An online search revealed no press release on the subject and a call to the Lightning wasn't returned. I called a non-Lightning contact and he said the word on the street was that the Tampa Bay Lighting had fired Director of Player Personnel Jim Hammett. Anyone know the story for sure one way or the other? (Photo: Hammett is on the left of Brett Connolly at the 2010 Draft). Hammett has had a solid career, part of it with Hockey Canada which should automatically put him on Steve Tambellini's radar.
I'm also wondering what the Edmonton Oilers are going to do with their European scouting this year. With their Euro scout staff halved with the resignation of Kent Nilsson you'd think the team would have hired someone to replace him. Nothing has been reported there yet. I've also been told that Frank Musil might not be spending much time in Europe this year with son David a top-10 worthy candidate for the 2011 NHL Draft and playing in the WHL with Vancouver. I'm told the team has hired Jim Crosson as a part time scout but he's based locally I believe. It will be interesting to see what the team does in regards to Europe.
Speaking of the Oilers, just a quick not about former amateur scout Chris McCarthy. I spoke with him recently and after weighing a few opportunities he's decided to take a bit of time away from the scouting biz, hit the law books and potentially return ready for more of an executive type role. Best of luck to him in that venture.
Lastly, I know we mentioned it on the air but I'm not sure if we did so here on the blog. We salute Montréal's hiring of Ryan Jankowski a few weeks ago. The former Assistant GM of the New York Islanders had done a terrific job with that organization but for some reason was let go. We knew it wouldn't take long for him to be scooped up by another club and the Habs added a good one when they signed him as a scout.
Starring for Canada at their camp in Newfoundland was Louis Leblanc who has accepted an offer from the Canadiens and will report to the QMJHL for the coming year. Chemistry is so important at the World Juniors and if you can find some quickly, you stick with it. I'll be surprised if Hockey Canada doesn't try Leblanc with Cody Eakin (WSH) and Sean Couturier again at the December camp.
Speaking of WJC line combinations, assuming Tyler Seguin (BOS) is available and does play - is that an automatic ticket for Tyler Toffoli (LA) who was his running mate at the 2009 Ivan Hlinka? The duo had good moments last week in Newfoundland too. They'll need a third to round out their line though... how about Brayden Schenn (LA)?
There were a number of talented players not involved in the camp who could still factor into the December sessions. Brett Connolly (TBY) would look awfully good alongside Portland teammates Ryan Johansen (CLB) and Brad Ross (TOR) wouldn't he? Ross was at the summer camp but didn't take part in the scrimmages.
Calvin de Haan (NYI) and Jared Cowen (OTT) missed due to injury. Might Dylan McIlrath (NYR) have something to say about a December invite? We've told you before that we expect an offensive breakout from the big blueliner some want to pigeon hole as a tough guy. If he's putting up numbers in Moose Jaw it would be hard to not give him a long look in my opinion.
Mark Pysyk (BUF) was held out of the final inter-squad game because of a sore jaw. I spoke with him the next day and he said there was no problem, it was just precautionary after taking an elbow or a shoulder a bit high. The Oil Kings breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Another gold for Canada. In a year where it appears three teams stood above the pack, Canada took home its 6th gold medal in the last 7 years. USA edged Sweden in overtime during their semi-finals match then lost a close one to Canada settling for the bronze. The Swedes then pounded the host Czech Republic for the bronze.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (above) was Canada's top player and much like Tyler Seguin last year, has used the event to vault himself to the forefront of the mind of many scouts. However, like last year with Taylor Hall, the current favorite to go number one overall wasn't involved in the tournament because he was at the U20 camp - Sean Couturier.
The new season is around the corner and with camps about to open every team looks like a contender. I really like how teams have adapted the pre-season tournaments into their routine. The closest one to us is here in Edmonton which will feature the host Oil Kings, the Prince George Cougars, the Medicine Hat Tigers and the Swift Current Broncos.
The U.S. Division clubs have two tournaments, the first hosted by Everett will feature the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL which is a great twist. Tri-City will play host to the second U.S. Division tourney a week later.
In case you missed the announcement and Robin Brownlee's subsequent write up of the news, Corey Graham is the new voice of the Edmonton Oil Kings. We're very happy for Corey who was once a part of our show before he quickly out priced himself because of his high quality work. Corey's busted his ass at the TEAM 1260 for the better part of the last decade and is deserving of the promotion for that alone but he also calls a great game too. I'm looking forward to the new year and seeing Corey around the Oil Kings a lot more.
There is a growing sense that Sheldon Souray might have no choice other than to return to the Oilers this fall or just stay at home. People who know the team a lot better than I do have been saying as much recently on Oilers Lunch and The Jason Gregor Show.
I know a lot of people felt that Tom Gilbert's first half funk last year was fixed in large part by the acquisition of Ryan Whitney but one contact has made me consider another point - That Gilbert improved so dramatically not because of Whitney's arrival but because of the absence of Souray. The team source suggested that Souray's dark cloud on the bench and behind closed doors was a pretty negative force for some and that it affected Gilbert the most.
I'm not one of the stat masters so this is an invite for one of those guys to double check the hypothesis. Gilbert at the end of February had just 11 points, Souray's last games of the year was the final one in January against Calgary. Ryan Whitney joined the team for March 5th. In the final 19 games of the year Gilbert recorded 16 points so to me there is a direct correlation to Whitney's joining the club.
I should allow for the possibility that both things could be true, that Gilbert's improved play was aided by Whitney and the fact that Souray wasn't around the team. I don't know what the stats would show though.
City of Champions?
Lastly, I recently wrote a piece that was supposed to be more tongue in cheek than hard hitting journalism about Minnesota and the label "The State of Hockey". It got a lot of people upset on a number of message boards and I got a few beauty emails in reply too.
I felt turnabout is fair play so let me ask, again with tongue in cheek, should the City of Edmonton remove the City of Champions signs from the edges of the city until such time as a team from here wins something again?
The Edmonton Oilers haven't made the playoffs since 2006. The CFL's Edmonton Eskimos have struggled mightily over the last number of years. The Edmonton Oil Kings are young but haven't won a playoff game yet. The Edmonton Rush of the NLL made it to the Finals last season, their first year finishing with at least .500 record. The minor league baseball scene in town has had little to cheer about until the current season but even that has fallen off as the year has dragged on.
In a city that once boasted professional dynasties in both hockey and football the moniker made sense. Bending the name to include curling, Olympians and world championships that were played here is all that can be done to justify it now.
So should the signs be temporarily removed?
- Moose Jaw head coach Dave Hunchak was passed over for the GM job once again. How long until he's had enough and is looking for another organization where an opportunity to progress is available?
- Did you know that the last time the Oilers finished above the Calgary Flames in the regular season was way back in 2002-03?
- WHL follower Alan Cladwell does a tremendous job digging into some things that no one else does but everyone else appreciates. One such thing is his annual calculation of mileage logged by WHL teams. This year he's also done a rundown of the OHL just to compare to the WHL... wow, I knew it would be a lot less but to see it on paper is quite frankly staggering. I'm curious to know how the QMJHL compares now...
- The WHL has done a pretty good job of getting exposure in California and I know the league wants to do a lot more there. I'm told that the next major target for holding camps and information trips is Minnesota.
- 5 Oil Kings to keep in mind for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft this year: forward Michael St. Croix, forward Travis Ewanyk (above), forward Klarc Wilson, defenceman Keegan Lowe and netminder Laurent Brossoit. Cam Lanigan was passed over at the 2010 event but got a look from the Calgary Flames at thier prospect camp. I'd be very surprised if he wasn't taken in 2011.