Monday, July 21, 2008

Old Rivals, New Teammates

March 18, 2005... WCHA Semi-Finals... Denver Pioneers vs North Dakota Fighting Sioux. UND defenceman Robbie Bina broke his neck that night after taking a dangerous hit from behind by Oiler prospect Geoff Paukovich.

The play could have ended Bina's hockey career and certainly has had a lasting and negative impact on Paukovich's play. Emotions from the incident carried on for years although bubbling under the surface, that is until Edmonton training camp in 2007 neared and former UND captain Matt Greene met his fellow Oiler prospect for the first time.

Ironically, 3 years later Robbie Bina and Geoff Paukovich may very well be teammates after the former signed a minor league contract with the Springfield Falcons.

I can't take the credit for breaking this story because The Pipeline Show's pal in North Dakota, Brad Elliot Schlossman, tipped me off tonight via e-mail and he'll have the full story in tomorrow's Grand Forks Herald. Once that comes out I'll provide a link.

However, if you want a bit of history on the subject, here's the story I wrote for HF back in June of 2005.

Expect to officially hear about the minor league signing of Bina sometime tomorrow.

EDIT: Here's the link to B.E.S.'s story in the Grand Forks Herald.

Still California Dreamin'

Not a long post here but something I know many of you will at least find interesting, others will find exciting and a couple fans will be ecstatic to hear.

I recently had a conversation with an Oiler prospect who is down in California training with fitness/Jedi Master Chad Moreau and he gave me a list of players who are also there. Not all are Edmonton property anymore but the fact that even the ex-players are still in the same off-season routine speaks highly for Moreau and for the often described 'closeness of the Edmonton dressing room'.

The players:

"[Ethan] Moreau, [Jarret] Stoll, [Matt] Greene, [Sheldon] Souray, [Andrew] Cogliano, [Taylor] Chorney, [Joffrey] Lupul, [Jason] Smith, Kip Brennan, Penner and one other player."

First, I'm assuming that Penner is Dustin Penner but I don't know that and someone correct me if I'm wrong. Oiler fans should be encouraged by that though and that young guys like Cogliano and Chorney see the value already as well.

I was curious so asked about a specific pair of Oiler prospects Alex Plante (who was down for most of May) and Marc Pouliot (who went down briefly in 2007 and has had his conditioning questioned by the organization). Plante has not gone back down since his extended pre-prospect camp sessions and Pouliot has yet to appear. Don't read too much into that, it's not a criticism, I was just curious if those two players were down there or not.

Oh by the way, the 'one other player' on that list has now been in California working out since May. 3 months non-stop? I don't know but every time I've asked, that's where he's been. He's the guy pictured below.

I'll give you 3 guesses and the first 2 don't count.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

WHL Overagers

Alan Caldwell has done a terrific job of breaking down the overage situations for every WHL team and the choices they have to face coming into the 2008-09 season. (See his work here.)

There are a couple of things worth noting in regards to the Edmonton Oilers and the Oil Kings.

First, Caldwell speculates that new Oiler defenceman Jordan Bendfeld will return to the Medicine Hat Tigers next season although my Oiler sources have all been telling me otherwise. Since the draft the organization has been talking about the contribution to Springfield (AHL) they think Bendfeld can make, especially in the toughness department.

However, the roster in Springfield was bulging before the addition of Jake Taylor so maybe there isn't room for Bendfeld now. The argument then becomes 'what's better for Bendfeld - the ECHL or the WHL?'

The other thing to consider is contract negotiations. I haven't asked but perhaps talks are going no where which would put Bendfeld back in a Tigers uniform by default. Pure specualtion.

Now for the Oil Kings... and what a situation GM Bob Green is going to find himself in. From Caldwell's report:

Edmonton Oil Kings: Cameron Cepek (D), Brenden Dowd (F), Robin Figren (F), Jeff Lee (F), Brandon Lockerby (D), J-P Szaszkiewicz (F)

Figren is gone pro. The other five should be back; I'm thinking I'd keep Cepek, Dowd, and Szaszkiewicz if I were them but on the other hand, the Oil King blueline is so horrible looking for next year that they might need to keep Lockerby too just to have another veteran guy.

I was not a fan of Cameron Cepek last year; I didn't travel with the team so I didn't see the road games but at Rexall, most nights I thought he was somewhere between average to awful. But, as Caldwell says, the Oil Kings defence is still rather lacking so they might need him back.

Brenden Dowd, while hot and cold, I thought was one of Edmonton's better players; I bring him back. Szaszkiewicz (or 'Jips' to coach Steve Pleau) is a local product and helped out on the ice during the spring prospect camp. I find it hard to imagine he won't be around as he's surely a favorite for the coach (both were in Spokane before the expansion to Edmonton). But he is a depth player.

It gets interesting with Jeff Lee though. Here's a guy they talked out of the NCAA to come and play for them. Edmonton needed a big forward and Lee wasn't playing much for his NCAA prgram in Alaska. However, if he loses his WHL job, he can't go back to the NCAA and for some reason I have a hard time seeing Bob Green doing that to a kid he recently wooed to his team.

Green is very conscious of how the Oil Kings are viewed by agents, players and parents. Last year the team had a verbal agreement with Robin Figren that they wouldn't trade him at the deadline and, despite a really nice offer from Regina, Green kept his word and let the Swede decide if he'd take the trade or not. Figren stayed and spoke publicly about the class and honor that Green and the WHL organization had shown him.

Yet they'll cut Jeff Lee? Maybe, he's certainly not the same sort of impact player that Figren was but it still doesn't seem right. Edmonton does have some incoming youth, especially up front, that could have an impact in helping Green make his decision.

It'll be interesting.

Caldwell also mentions that Kootenay might opt to dump goalie Kris Lazaruk and go with a youth movement. (Lazaruk is the goalie in the photo making the save on J.P. Szaszkiewicz).

Right now it looks like Edmonton will have Dalyn Flette and one of a couple youngsters vying for the back up spot. Flette didn't exactly light the world on fire last year and while the future for the Oil Kings looks fantastic (see Laurent Brossoit and Cam Lanigan) Green might have an interest in a guy like Lazaruk for one more year.

One more thing: Caldwell conveniently lists all the prospects for each WHL team on his site as well. You'll find the links at the top left on his site. Extremely handy for those of us who care about such things. 'Small Thoughts At large' is recommended reading and we've had it listed under Pipeline Pals for some time now.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Invasion of the Bodie Snatchers!

Nothing official yet but it appears the Anaheim Ducks have already or are about to scoop up former Oiler prospect Troy Bodie.

The one time Kelowna Rocket was not tendered a qualifying offer by Edmonton and so their 2003 9th round pick became an unrestricted free agent. Bodie played two pro seasons, one mostly in Stockton (ECHL) and then last season entirely in the AHL with Springfield.

I recently chatted with Bodie while he was in town at the Oilers prospect camp, nothing really in depth just a quick "Hey Guy, how's it going?". I did ask what he is currently tilting the scales at and was told close to 6'5 and 218 lbs. The Manitoba product has always been considered a long-term project but the fact that the once gangly, lanky and awkward Bodie has developed into a fairly dependable 3rd line minor leaguer is a testament to his character and work ethic.

Let's be honest, Bodie likely wasn't headed to the NHL anytime soon with the Oilers so the organization did what many fans have asked them to do with borderline prospects over the years; fish or cut bait. They cut Bodie loose but not after offering him a purely minor league contract, the same sort of one that goalie Glenn Fisher accepted back in May.

It's neither a blow to the Oilers nor a steal for Anaheim, at least not unless something unexpected happens, but it is a bit disappointing for one reason. New Springfield head coach Jeff Truitt coached Bodie for 5 of the last 6 years including all four in the WHL with the Kelowna Rockets. Truitt obviously got to know all of the Falcons players last year but having that long-standing relationship would have been an asset heading into 2008-09. Sure Tyler Spurgeon is still in the system but at last report, the Edmontontian still is feeling the effects of last year's season ending concussion.

Bodie was well liked by the players, was willing to step up and drop the gloves, played hard, took the body and was a beast in the corners. His spot can be filled with other large bodies like Geoff Paukovich or David Rohlfs but it's safe to say Bodie's void will be felt off the ice and in the dressing room.

Bodie was a good soldier, did everything that was asked and expected of him and was determined to turn himself into a professional hockey player. He was successful. Personally I hope he finds more success now that's he's moving on.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hunting In Our Nations Capital

The Pipeline Show has learned that Curtis Hunt is expected to be named to the Ottawa Senators Coaching staff on Thursday.

Hunt has coached the Pats since 2004 compiling a 132-127-11-18 record. Before Regina, Hunt led the Moose Jaw Warriors for 2 years.

While he's never advanced past the 2nd round of the playoffs, the former Prince Albert Raider player, is recognized as one of the top coaches in the CHL, and has spent time behind the bench for Team Canada's World Junior Championship teams, which is where the connection to new Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg comes from.

Hunt ran the defence with Canada, and Hartsburg is obviously looking for same chemistry they had with Hockey Canada.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Expose the Exhibition Season!

I'm not going to take any credit for this topic although every September it is something I kick myself for not bringing up in July.

No, credit for this goes to 'Bryan in Hawaii', regular listener to the show and known in cyberspace as "Bryanbryoil". Most identify him with his legendary man-crush on Robbie Schremp but occasionally he puts down the (insert the sterotypical Hawaiian object) and has a pretty solid idea. This is one.

Pre-season doesn't get too many people excited. Many season ticket holders give those duckets away or the seats go empty as the general hockey populace sees the exhibition games largely as a waste of time - "just get on with the season already!"

However, as Bryan represents, there is a growing number of die-hards out there that would love to see the pre-season action because it's a way to see the eventual NHL product coming together. Line combinations are experimented with, guys are often literally fighting for jobs and of course prospect junkies like ME... not want, need to see the youth in action!

So with that in mind and the support seen in Bryan's thread at HF, I contacted the Oilers to check if such an endeavour is possible or perhaps even in the works. The following quotes come from the organization via email and were received in the last two days.

Question #1: I have a question about pre-season TV coverage and if it's possible to have the exhibition games televised or shown via the internet. If not, why not? (costs, lack of demand, league policy, etc.)

Allan Watt (Oilers): Our National NHL partners are not interested in carrying local/regional games. Sportsnet is our Regional partner but they are contracted for 48 regular season games. That leaves Oilers PPV as a posibility and in past years we have produced Pre season games on PPV with marginal return - subscriptions barley covered our production and distribution costs and in most cases didn't.

Other outlets, Global, CTV and or City TV are not interested in disrupting their very lucrative mid week fall tv prime time programming to pruchase, produce and distribute Oilers pre season games with marginal advertising revenue compared to their fall schedule.

Once again this fall we will explore pre season games on PPV and measure possible return against production and distribution costs - also measured against cannibalizing our pre season gate revenue.

All pretty reasonable but didn't touch on carrying the games online so I followed up with...

Question #2: Would there be any thoughts on 'broadcasting' the games on the Oiler website (video + Rod & Morley). I know a lot of people who have an interest in seeing the pre-season action and obviously I personally would like to see as many of the prospects in action as possible and won't get to the road games.

If there are complications to having that done, what would they be? I know the AHL games are all available online in this fashion.

Allan Watt: Good question and we are hoping to be able to facilitate. NHL broadcast rules, as agreed to by each member club, provide a defined home team extended broadcast territory - ours is Alberta, Sask, Man and the territories. No TV product (Oilers games) by any means including IPTV can extend beyond those boundaries. The NHL has new technology that will allow us to broadcast on the Web to specific addresses in our territory and we are planning to experiment with such broadcasts even as soon as pre season. Questions of who pays for production, the team or the end user remain.

So I'm not sure that will satisfy the fans who want to know if they'll be able to watch the exhibition games on TV or online. However later on in the thread at HF, Marc Ciampa (Oilers website guru) left this post: "I'm working on getting the pre-season games streamed live on the website - at least the home ones. The road ones (at Dallas, at Calgary, at Vancouver) might be more difficult. Vancouver did it last year so that would mean 5 of 7 pre-season games hopefully if everything works out? We're also working on getting streaming audio play-by-play of the prospects tournament. Stay tuned!"

At the very least it appears that the wheels are in motion. Die-hard fans, prospect junkies and hosts of hockey prospect radio shows are all waiting with fingers crossed. The Oilers do hockey right... I'm sure if it's possible, they'll find a way.

My questions for you the listener/reader: Would you pay to watch? If yes, how much would be reasonable? Would an online-only feed (video and audio) be good enough for you?

I look forward to your comments.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Jury is out on Brule

Tuesday night Dean and I had a special 3-hour edition of The Pipeline Show in honor of the opening to UFA hunting season. The Oilers made news with three seperate trades over the last week and I was asked that night, and have been asked several times since, what my thoughts were on those deals. As I said on the air on Tuesday, I have issues with all 3 but the trade that I have the most concern over, from an Oiler pespective, is the Raffi Torres for Gilbert Brule swap.

First let me say that I felt dealing Torres was smart; big contract, extremely streaky and just seemed to have confidence issues all the time. His goal scoring has dropped significantly over the last 3 season from 27, 15 to 5 last year (injury shortened but on pace for only 12ish).

Still, Torres is at the very least a proven NHL calibre player who does have a pair of 20-goal seasons on his 3.5 year resume. That's why I'm suprised that the best return Lowe was able to find was Brule. As I told Jason Gregor (off the air) during TPS, if the Oilers had traded a prospect who was struggling, say Marc Pouliot, for a player who had Torres' resume... Oiler fans would be ecstatic. (Gregor evidently liked the analogy as he used it on Just A Game about half an hour later).

Now don't get me wrong, I have no vendetta against Gilbert Brule and sincerely hope to one day be proven completely out to lunch with my concerns. I never got to see him in person while he was with the Vancouver Giants but I've spoken with enough scouts over the last few years so I have no trouble recognizing he was a superb WHL star. He had 39 goals and 87 points in 70 appearnaces during his draft year but it was the next campaign when he really hit stardom in my opinion.

He began the year with the Blue Jackets but after 7 games broke his leg and fractured his sternum forcing his return to the Giants. Once he got healthy again he went on a tear racking up 38 points in 27 games to close out the season. Then in the playoffs he had 16 goals and 30 points in just 18 games as he led his squad to the Memorial Cup in Moncton. The Giants didn't reach the finals but I was told by several scouts that Brule was easily the best player in the tournament; "It was the Brule show".

Brule was then chosen 6th overall by Doug MacLean and the Blue Jackets. That year he was my pick for 'over-rated player' amongst the first rounders. He was in my first round but not in my top 10 simply because I didn't believe he could play the same way he did as a junior once he turned pro and still have the same sort of success. So far, I've been right.

Brule is definitely fast, clearly an asset in Edmonton, and he has hands. Yet described more as a goal scorer than a playmaker, somehow after 148 NHL games Brule still has lit the lamp only 12 times and did so just once last year in 61 outings.

He's listed at as 5'10 and 189 lbs so it's understandable why his aggressive bowling ball junior mentality hasn't equated to production in an offensive sense; he can't dominate physically and create room for himself now like he did with the Giants.

Bob Stauffer, my colleague at TEAM 1260, is a pretty sharp guy and pointed out that Craig MacTavish has had a lot of success with developing young centermen. That's true but unfortunately since turning pro Brule has been converted to the right wing. Besides, he's not going to play ahead of Horcoff, Gagner, Cogliano or Brodziak so he'd need to acclimate himself to a wing spot in Edmonton anyway.

Aaron Portzline from the Columbus Dispatch was a guest on the last edition of TPS and made it pretty clear that Brule, in his opinion, was rushed into the NHL. The Oilers are receiving a player who was a top line scorer as a junior but might best be suited to a 3rd or 4th line Darcy Tucker-like role as a pro. The feisty energy player who can still contribute on the score sheet from time to time. But something tells me that Brule, not unlike J.F. Jacques and Ryan O'Marra over the last couple years, hasn't come around to that idea yet.

Checking in with Oiler capologist Rick Olczyk on Thursday I confirmed that Brule does not need to clear waivers to be sent to Springfield - yet. With 148 games under his belt, Brule is 12 appearances shy of the 160 game mark at which point waivers will click in.

I personally feel Brule should start the year on the farm to try and rediscover his offensive game while playing on the top line for the Falcons. But how would he take that? He's only played 16 AHL games. Would he take a reassignment to the farm in stride or...

Portzline also described Brule as "quiet, soft spoken and very introspective" then went on to add that some in Columbus questioned how strong his desire is to play the game.

As a junior, Brule's two greatest strengths were his ability to score goals and to dominate physically. Both of those assets have eluded him as a pro so what does that leave? A fast player that can hit and can score but shouldn't be counted on to excel at either every night.

What I would like to see: Keeping in mind that this is early July and I reserve the right to change my opinion once I see him perform at training camp... but to me, a year on the farm would be a good thing with an eye on eventually replacing Fernando Pisani as the 3rd line RW. Moreau-Cogliano-Brule could be an extremely fast checking line in 2009-10.

Brule tidbits: Scored in his 11th game last year meaning he is currently on a 50-game streak without a goal. The game he scored in was in Los Angeles and he only played 5:29 that night, the second lowest minutes he received in a game all year. More often than not he played in excess of 9 minutes and quite often into the mid-teens.