Monday, March 31, 2008

2008 Draft Lottery and the Thrashers

The Atlanta Thrashers are in contention for winning the 2008 draft lottery for the top pick, by virtue of being the third from the bottom in points. The draft lottery will be held one week from today on April 7, at 8pm. It will be carried live on Canadian sports channel TSN for those Canadian readers who want to tune in.

Currently the Thrashers are on target to get the No. 3 pick, and if the standings don't change, have a 14.20% chance of moving up to the first pick.

Here's the percentage chance of getting the pick based on final finish in the league:

30th -- 48.20%
29th -- 18.80%
28th -- 14.20%
27th -- 10.70%
26th -- 8.10%

All 14 non-playoff teams have chances in the lottery, but a team can only move up four spots in the order. Teams 6-14 have very low percentages and thus rarely win.

Here are the updated standing point totals, following Atlanta's win over Tampa.

30th LA - 69 pts
29th TB - 71
28th ATL - 74
27th STL - 74
26th NYI - 76

The last-place team has a lower than 50% chance of keeping the pick (48.2%), which is designed to keep teams from tanking the season. It was put into place after the Pittsburgh Penguins pretty clearly did just that in order to secure the rights of one Mario Lemieux in the 1980s.

In recent history, rarely has the lowest-finishing team retained the pick, making the actual outcome much less than 50% retention. It happened in 2006, but that was the only time since the turn of the century. The Thrashers were one of many "lucky" teams in recent years.

Recent draft lottery outcomes:

2000 - NY Islanders (slotted 5th, moved to 1st)
2001 - Atlanta (slotted 3rd, moved to 1st) - picked Ilya Kovalchuk
2002 - Florida (slotted 3rd, moved to 1st)
2003 - Florida (slotted 4th, moved to 1st
2004 - Washington (slotted 3rd, moved to 1st)
2005 - Pittsburgh (all teams had a chance at 1st)
2006 - St. Louis (retained 1st overall pick)
2007 - Chicago (slotted 5th, moved to 1st)

The 2008 NHL Entry Draft will be held June 20-21 in Ottawa.

The consensus No. 1 is Steven Stamkos, a center. Los Angeles and Tampa Bay don't have a big need for a center, so either of them trading the pick is not out of the question.

Peter DeBoer emerges as strong candidate for Thrashers coaching position

Peter DeBoer, the coach and GM of the OHL Kitchener Rangers, is also in the running to be the next coach of the Canadian U-20 team next year.

From the Mar. 28 Kitchener Record:

(excuse the formatting, I'm sending this remotely)

Kitchener Rangers coachand general manager Peter DeBoer, one of the top junior hockey coaches in Canada, is astrong candidate to become the next head coach of the struggling NHL Thrashers."I know Peter verywell," said Thrashers general manager and interim head coach Don Waddellwhen reached in Floridayesterday. "I have a lot of respect for what Peter has done.
Waddell plans to speakto DeBoer, who is in his seventh season guiding the Rangers, after Kitchener is done hostingthe Memorial Cup in May.

DeBoer was previously rumored for a position with the New Jersey Devils. Here are DeBoer's statistics from And info from Wikipedia.

Edit to fix link to a recent very complimentary article on him:

And to borrow the title from one of Elton John's biggest hits, DeBoer is a "Rocket Man" who's destined to blast off for the NHL before too long. In 13 seasons as an OHL bench boss, DeBoer has rung up over 530 career wins, two coach of the year awards and a Memorial Cup title in 2003. Kitchener is set to host the 2008 Memorial Cup tournament in May and the Rangers have an excellent chance of lugging the big trophy around their own backyard rink.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Valabik at practice

I went to practice today, largely to talk to Boris Valabik about how it's going. The team worked on moving the puck in units and some skating. Valabik matched up with and beat Bobby Holik at the agility race. He was paired mostly with Joel Kwiatkowski and Mark Popovic for drills, the same guys he's been playing with the past few games. Crowd turnout was good, but if they wanted autographs, they were largely disappointed. Not a happy team, though there were a scant few smiles which I happened to catch below. First, Valabik points out something across the ice to assistant coach Steve Weeks.

He pointed out the same thing to Kwiatkowski, who got quite a laugh out of it. I think it may have involved a kid and a sign.

I asked Valabik a bit about the Chicago Wolves locker room to try and gauge how far they might go in the playoffs. He spoke fondly of the guys. He said Steve Martins is the biggest joker in the room, "the funniest hockey player I've ever met." That's quite a compliment. He also mentioned Kiwi as being funny. Among the younger guys, he said Chad Painchaud is a joker too. I said I was surprised to hear that, since Painer is usually pretty shy. Valabik agreed that he's shy, but said once you get him going, he's like that.

While I was waiting, I grabbed Valabik's stick off the stick rack (a RBK X-stiff Flex 10). It's taller than me. In heels. That makes it at least 5'10. Looks like he has a 2" end plug (piece of wood typically) to extend it. Geez.

As far as his skates go, he said he's on Pair #3 for the year. He has a fourth pair in Chicago, but he doesn't think he'll break them in before the playoffs. Recall that he said in November that he needs to cycle through skates more frequently so that he doesn't experience ankle problems. Newer skates are stiffer, and that's what he needs.

I also talked to Mark Popovic about Valabik. At the end I asked Pops if he would be back next year (knowing that it's not up to him and there's not much room on the blue line). He smiled and said "you'll have to ask Don about that." He said of course he'd like to stay. He's an RFA this summer with just 43 NHL games experience.

It's a shame that there's probably no room for him because Popovic is a perfect 6th/7th defenseman. He's versatile in terms of being a two-way guy who plays either side and he has a very positive attitude all the time. The "all the time" part is the key. September or April, win or lose, Popovic is positive. But if a top defenseman (or two) is acquired, guys still under contract must be bumped down the depth chart. Squeezing out one of the last positive guys in the room is really not what the team needs going forward but they would have to get creative to keep Popovic.

(Sidenote: Someone asked me recently how cold the practice facility is. I took a thermometer with me today and measured 58.5 degrees. It's not a place for the ill-prepared clothing-wise.)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Draft binder made

For events like prospect camp, training camp, road trips and the draft, I make a special binder. I put rosters, stats, articles, and lists of questions I want to ask in there. Leading up to that point, I have some fuzzy ideas, but once I make the binder, it's on. I'm focused. Today I made my 2008 Entry Draft binder.

Some of you may be surprised how late in the year I start paying attention to the upcoming draft. Well, there's a few reasons for it. First, the stocks of the various prospects are very volatile over the course of their draft year. You can end up learning about guys that quickly fall off the map. Over time I've decided it's just not worth it for me until the spring. I can only hold so many players in my head, and choose to have more 18 to 23-year-olds in there than 17-year-olds.

This is supposed to be a pretty solid draft year, but I've noticed it is pretty low on drama. The Russians are less enigmatic, there are no throw-down arguments about the top pick, and though there's a consensus No. 1 in Steve Stamkos, he's not supposed to be the Next One. So it's a ho-hum year from a pundit's perspective. The only guy who is providing a bit of drama is Kyle Beach with his attitude issues. He's the guy who mocked Spencer Machacek during a ceremony earlier this year, leading to a fight. Beach scored no points and was -6 in four WHL playoff games, which would also hurt his stock, though it's not clear how much of that it was due to concussion issues. That's two or three strikes against in any case: attitude, poor playoffs and/or concussions.

There are plenty of good defensemen rated highly, which is good news for the Thrashers, as there will be no conflict between the Best Player Available mantra and team needs. They had this fortunate set of circumstances in 2006 as well, when there were lots of good centers at the top of the board. They opted for Bryan Little that year. Defenseman Zach Bogosian has a blog at that you might check out if interested. No word on whether it is ghost-written (a la Billy Jaffe).

There are some brothers of current players in the 2008 draft pool, like David Toews, the younger brother of Jonathan. If I were picking, I'd take a chance on David because I like Jonathan so much. Brothers of NHL players are more often than not similar players to their siblings, and they know what it takes having seen their brothers go through it. When I went to Nashville's prospect camp last year, it was amazing how much alike Mark and Mike Santorelli are. They are virtually the same player -- same strengths and weaknesses. Tomas and Frank Kaberle play very similarly as well. And then you have more well-known examples like the Staals. David Toews is not as skilled as Jonathan, but coming from that family, I'd take him ahead of a lot of other guys where you're less sure of what you're getting.

Here's a little bit on him from the March Red Line Report article in USA Today:

David Toews is a left winger who cracked the 100-point barrier as a prolific scorer on the powerhouse Shattuck squad. While David lacks Jonathan's supreme skill level, he makes up for it with vision and playmaking ability, and a knack for finding openings in even the tightest places to fire off hard and accurate shots.

One other thing that sticks out at me reading the names available in 2008 is Joe Colborne. The hockey world has only recently gotten Braydon Coburn's last name down, and then we throw a wrench in the works. Thanks, Joe.

Friday, March 28, 2008

2008 NCAA tournament underway

Clarkson beat St. Cloud State in the opening game of the NCAA regionals to get the party started. At 2pm CT tomorrow, Thrashers prospects get going, with North Dakota taking on Princeton.

Apparently moustaches are the team-building exercise of the Fighting Sioux this year. Check out Rylan Kaip's at this link. The staches make him and Robbie Bina both look about 35 years old. Funny.

Tomorrow night at 7:30, Minnesota takes on Boston College. Here's what one of Alex Kangas' coaches said about him recently.

"I just think his consistency and the stability that he brings have been great and that's just what you want," (Assistant Coach Mike) Guentzel glowingly said of his young netminder. "Alex has been the epitome of that all year long. He came in after we played Jeff Frazee (NJ) for the first five or six games and immediately had a good impact right away in his first game. He's proven to be a very stable, solid guy. He's stopped the shots that he is supposed to stop, and every once in awhile he steals a goal from the opposition. I think that has really kind of generated some excitement from our guys and he's certainly been our most valuable player this year."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Amerks affiliation issues

Continuing to follow the Rochester Americans situation, here's the latest, which is sort of a post postmortem of the year. And to think, just a year ago, the Buffalo-Rochester relationship was lauded for how well it worked. No one really scratched underneath at that point because it was such a tidy story. But things are rarely that tidy, good or bad. There's a lesson in there for sure.

Rochester’s record suggests an AHL team in complete disarray, but that’s only partially accurate. A feud among the team’s three owners has contributed to financial problems and continuous speculation about a sale. The Sabres and Panthers, the only NHL teams that share an AHL affiliate, have made it clear the dual relationship no longer works.

The result has trickled down to the ice, where both NHL teams stocked the Rochester roster mostly with players who will be no better than third-or fourth-liners in the NHL. Winning becomes difficult because they lack the balanced cross section of players — scorers, defensive players, toughness, etc. — required for success.

...(much further down) Regardless, the Amerks will likely continue their relationship with Florida and bid farewell to Buffalo.

Where Buffalo's prospects will end up next year is anyone's guess. They own enough prospects to stock their own farm club if they sign all their college and junior guys, but what kind of partner will they find this late in the game? It's not as easy as just wishing it so. (Note: Buffalo has stated they don't wish to stock a full team next year).

On the plus side though, highly-regarded AHL coach Randy Cunneyworth (an employee of the Sabres) may be looking for a job if Buffalo has to find a new city for its prospects, and should be considered a legitimate candidate for the Thrashers position.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

NCAA tourney for Thrashers prospects

At 11:30 this morning, the 16-team pool for the NCAA tournament was announced.

Goaltender Alex Kangas' Univ. of Minnesota Golden Gophers grabbed one of the 10 at-large bids will take on Boston College in the Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass. BC will have the crowd behind them, so it could be a tough atmosphere for the Gophers. If they win, they would play Miami or Air Force. Probably Miami. Kangas was named the MVP of the WCHA Final Five. Here's a story on him published today in the Pioneer Press.

North Dakota (Rylan Kaip, Andrew Kozek, Michael Forney) won the WCHA and thus got one of four No. 1 seeds. They will play Princeton in the Midwest Regional in Madison, Wisconsin. Princeton has been hot lately, so this may be a tough one. If UND advances, they have to face either Denver or Wisconsin (likely Denver) and that won't be any easier. Denver is of course the team of freshman Jesse Martin, a Thrashers 2006 draft pick.

Defending champs Michigan State are a third seed in the West Regional and must face Colorado College. Here's the full bracket.

The Frozen Four will be held Apr. 10-12 in Denver, Colorado.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter ode to Peeps


"They're an American icon," David Ottogalli says Washington artist, whose principal media are Peeps and other vibrantly colored food products. "When blazing yellow Peeps appear on your grocer's shelves, you know it's springtime."

That's from the Washington Post in 2004. They've been on the cutting edge of Peeps coverage for some time now. Clearly visionaries. Which brings us to this season...

Peeps Show II
"The second annual [Washington Post] Sunday Source Peeps Diorama Contest drew more than 800 sugar-filled entries from our readers. A bounty of mallow rained down on us this Lenten season. The Peeps came not like locusts but like meteors of great ambition and, yes, some arts-and-crafts psychosis."

Click to see photos of the 37 best creations. One of my favorites was naturally photo No. 34, "Project Peepway." It's amazing how much the Peeps look like the principals on the show from the season just completed (PR4). "Peepator Craig's Wide Stance," No. 8 is laugh out loud funny.

Edit to add: Chris Matthews just showed a picture of the "Peepator Craig's Wide Stance" on his show Hardball. He just went up in my book.

Scientific experimentation on Peeps was a field started right here in Atlanta by an Emory pair almost 10 years ago. You can read this funny tongue-in-cheek article from 1999 about their work here. And you can read the actual results at

Edit to add: Someone else's Ode to Peeps here.

CHL playoff update

Real quickly since it's timely, center Riley Holzapfel's eighth-ranked Moose Jaw Warriors are taking on defenseman Paul Postma's Calgary Hitmen in the WHL playoffs. Both of them had a goal last night in what was a 5-1 win by the Hitmen. Keep an eye on Postma. He's an up and comer.

Spencer Machacek's Vancouver Giants are playing Chilliwack, and they beat them 2-1 last night. Machacek also had a goal. Both games were Game 1 of what will be a seven-game series.

In the QMJHL, Angelo Esposito's Quebec Remparts are taking on Chicoutimi (my favorite Q-team name). They lead the series 1-0. In what has become a theme now, Esposito had a goal in the game -- shorthanded.

Defenseman Arturs Kulda's OHL Peterborough Petes are taking on the Belleville Bulls. They are even at 1-1 in the series. Kulda has one assist in those two games.

Valabik debut, part deux

Tonight was Boris Valabik's second NHL game. He played fewer minutes than in his debut because the game was much closer, and wasn't on the ice for any goals against or for. He played 11:50, had two hits and one giveaway. Kept his shifts extremely short.

At warmups I got the money shot, Valabik next to Toby Enstrom. Throw in a little Ilya Kovalchuk for comparison's sake. Love it.

Chris Thorburn can chat and blow bubbles at the same time. He's been playing great lately, by the way.

Valabik played with Mark Popovic this game, and as expected, this pairing was much more effective. Joel Kwiatkowski was a scratch.

The Capitals were obviously told to try to get under Valabik's skin, as they went after him on the very first shift. (Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau would be familiar with Valabik from his time coaching the AHL Hershey Bears.) Alexander Ovechkin got things going by hitting Valabik on Shift #1. The Caps were successful, drawing Valabik off the ice with an unsportsmanlike early in the first period.

During this early period of the game, Valabik fell down two or three times. I could tell what was wrong though. The first few shifts of a game with a new team (including new equipment manager)? I recognize those falls. I've taken those falls. His skates were too sharp. Didn't know where his edges were.

You could see him testing his skates out during the next TV timeout. Probably just dulled them up a bit and he was good to go the rest of the game.

Valabik showed more physicality in this game, which showed more confidence. Again he was very good defending the rush, using his body to shield the player or pokechecking the puck away. He showed an interesting technique around the net -- hit the player to separate him from the puck instead of using body position or a stick check. Unorthodox but it worked. He also made a kick save to keep the puck out of the net at one point.

Bad points included shanking on an outlet pass, though given he was aiming up the middle, it's just as well. Again he treated the puck like a hot potato, getting rid of it as soon as he got it instead of looking around for the best option. He also puts a little too much mustard on his short passes and surprises his teammates with them. It's all they can do to catch the things, leaving them a bit handcuffed.

The Thrashers lost the game 5-3, following a late surge by the Caps. Below, assistant coach Steve Weeks mapped out a strategy during the timeout.

Caps celebrate Ovechkin's 60th goal.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Poll results: Readers would move Sterling on Top 20

In the latest Thrashers Prospects Annex poll, the question was "Which prospect would you have moved up or down the most on the Top 20?" This is of course referencing HF's recent Top 20.

50% said Brett Sterling (who was 5th)
33% said Chad Denny (not ranked)
8% said Angelo Esposito (who was 4th)
4% said Boris Valabik (who was 9th)
4% said Andrew Kozek (not ranked)

Since Sterling was 5th on the list, we can only assume readers wanted to see him moved down. I understand that thinking, given that he hasn't produced much at the NHL level. He moved from third to fifth this time because of it, with Holzapfel and Esposito slotting in ahead. But, the list is mostly about top potential, and if Sterling works out, he'll be a sniper and that's pretty valuable. He also has his head in the right place and is a hard worker, which is important.

The second most popular choice was Chad Denny. I included him as a choice because he fell off the list this time, taking the biggest plunge from 10th to not ranked. Blog readership includes a lot of Gladiators fans, so we can assume this helped his poll numbers. But Gladiator fans will also note that Denny was seeing third-pairing minutes in the ECHL, and not much time on the power play. Agree or disagree with Gladiators coach Jeff Pyle on what you will, but I think he distributes the ice time pretty fairly -- guys play what they earn. Denny spending the season at the ECHL level isn't career-ending, but it's evidence of a problem.

I was a little surprised more people didn't go ga-ga over goals and vote for North Dakota's Andrew Kozek. Perhaps college hockey doesn't get enough pub to have that kind of effect.

Kurtis Foster breaks leg, season over

Former Thrashers prospect Kurtis Foster suffered a serious broken leg last night with the Minnesota Wild.

Foster, a rising young defenseman playing his best hockey of the season, broke his left leg in a collision with San Jose rookie Torrey Mitchell and the boards behind Minnesota's net in the second period. He was expected to undergo surgery to insert a stabilizing rod into his leg, almost certainly ending his season.

Foster was traded by the Thrashers to the Anaheim Ducks for Nic Havelid. Foster was let go by Anaheim as a free agent and then signed with the Wild.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Boris Valabik's NHL debut

Tonight was the NHL debut of 2004 first round draft pick Boris Valabik.

We begin at warmups, with everyone taking his picture. Below, team photographer Scott Cunningham lives up to his name, cunningly grabbing a photo as Valabik parks near the bench.

Valabik is going to keep an eye out for that from now on.

Overall at warmup he looked like a nervous guy trying not to look nervous. He chatted with Kwiatkowski, Slater and Popovic. Popovic tapped him on the butt with his stick as encouragement. I would have liked to post a picture of him next to Toby Enstrom, but the ones I had were not good enough. It's entertaining though.

Waiting his turn to shoot.

"I think I look good in blue."

Valabik played with Joel Kwaitkowski all night. These two were not a pair in Chicago, so there was some getting use to each other, though Valabik said after the game that knowing where the forwards were going to be was tougher than knowing where Kiwi would be. (Valabik said he played mostly with Brian Fahey and Grant Lewis in Chicago.)

Valabik saw a bit of PK time tonight in addition to even strength.

His night actually looked worse on the stat sheet (-2, on the ice for five goals against and two for) than it did in person. On only two of the goals was he really at fault.

On the second goal, Valabik failed to clear the puck, tossing it instead to a Hurricane player who took a couple strides in from the blue line and fired. It was pretty far out to be a good goal, so Hedberg was either screened or shares some fault there.

On the fourth goal, Valabik's guy scored on a pass from behind the net. He was near the guy, just didn't eliminate the threat in time. He skated back to the bench with his head down, defeated. He knew that was his bad.

Personally I would like to see him with a partner other than Kwiatkowski. Playing two guys who've spent most of the year in Chicago together is going to doubly expose weaknesses.

Valabik's strengths tonight: Good defending the rush and was sufficiently physical (credited with two hits). Kept up with the play and didn't get beaten wide. Defensive positioning was good.
Weaknesses: Moving the puck without a plan, turning the puck over (credited with three giveaways), missed passes. Overall decision-making. Cutting from side to side was slow. Bryan Little picked up someone because Valabik couldn't shift over quick enough.

As far as why he didn't play against Philadelphia last night, the stated reason was to get some practice in first, but that doesn't make a lot of sense because he only had one morning skate with the team. The real reason was much more likely to be the fact that Philly is a very chippy team and they want him to stay away from that stuff for now.

Below he's in a puck battle with Tim Conboy.

He took a hooking call at the end of the game. I asked him about this and he didn't have much of a reaction. It was sort of irrelevant by this point. Valabik got in no scrums, and walked away from Joe Jensen early in the game when something could have potentially come of it.

After the game, Valabik was much harder on himself than his play warranted, and harder on himself than Don Waddell was.

"Not the game I was looking for obviously, I was really really nervous," he said. He noted how little time he had practiced with them, then said "It's not an excuse. I have to play better. Guys were helping me the whole game, they were great. Hopefully I can just play next game and show them what I can do."

The coaches told him to keep it simple, play his game and that's what he tried to do. Waddell praised his physicality and great reach after the game. "It's his first game, we know he'll get better. He'll be fine," Waddell said. "He's a player that really cares."

Cheer up, Boris. Tomorrow is another day.

Photos of downtown Atlanta tornado aftermath

I went downtown this morning, partially to see how the cleanup was coming from the tornado that came through on Friday night. I was going to park under Philips, but they had Marietta St. blocked off between CNN and Centennial Olympic Park. I think you can get under there if you're coming from the other direction though (from the west). The big crane you see below is working on the roof of CNN Center.

Here's a sign kitty-corner from CNN that advertised the NHL All-Star game. I just said like a week ago that they should take that down. I didn't mean via tornado though.

Ted's Montana Grill is now open! They no longer have a big round neon sign mounted on the corner though. That smashed up pretty good.

This larger, corner-mounted clock on the CNN deck was fine, but the time was wrong.

Here's the building the Thrashers have offices in, Centennial Tower. The police had Spring Street shut today for fear of falling glass. It was quite windy.

And here's the Georgia Pacific Building. I like how they used all plywood for the windows -- a Georgia Pacific product. Well done.

And the Westin Peachtree Plaza.

I headed down to the Tabernacle because I had heard it had sustained significant damage and many friends of the blog are regulars. There was a smaller building behind it on Nassau St. that was totaled. The beige bricks you can see on the bottom floor used to go all the way up. There were lots of smashed up cars still be towed away as well.

Here's an aerial shot of the Tabernacle taken from a parking garage.

From the street.
Tabernacle shot taken through a broken window. My artsy photo of the day.

Valabik will wear #48

The Thrashers did not take a morning skate this morning, but game notes were available. Boris Valabik, who is scheduled to make his NHL debut tonight against the Hurricanes, is listed as #48, the number he has worn in training camp the past couple years.

Don Waddell has said in the past he is against players wearing high numbers (a traditionalist on this question), but the exception seems to be training camp numbers. Often rookies will move to a new number later. So while this will help you pick Valabik out tonight -- as if at 6'7 that were a problem -- don't run out and get your jersey custom-made just yet.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Thrashers prospects YouTube clips -- college

This is a series of posts I've been meaning to do for a while but things kept coming up. Below are some links to YouTube videos that highlight some Thrashers collegiate prospects. Other leagues will follow in a few days.

We begin with North Dakota's Rylan Kaip's January fight against Trevor Bruess (Minnesota State). Kaip is #17 in green. He almost strips Bruess -- that's one way to do it. And here he is penalty killing. If someone makes a YouTube video of you penalty killing, you know you're doing a good job at it. Or you have a lot of friends I guess.

Alex Kangas had his own run-in with Bruess, when Bruess recently scored a game-winner on him and the celebration almost mauled him. The officials rescue him.

Andrew Kozek is a goal scorer, so naturally there's video of him. Here are three goals: against Bemidji State, vs. DU, and vs. AK Anchorage. He's #10 in white. Dang T.J. Oshie is good.

Here's Jesse Martin with a scoring chance. He's #12 in red, taking the shot.

Matt Siddall was involved in a melee back in December, here you can see him wailing on Jordan Foote of MTU. Siddall succeeds in stripping him and Foote actually leaves the ice with no pads or sweater at all. This one is entertaining even if you don't know who the players are.

There's no individual videos of John Albert, but here's a CCHA All-Access program on OSU hockey. You see Albert on the bench, he's white No. 15. You definitely get an idea about his coach though.

Troyke scores first goal of season

Christine Troyke scored her first goal of the AAHL Rec League Blues' 12-game winter season Sunday night at the Cooler in Alpharetta versus the Rangers. The right-shooting left winger took a shot from a few feet off the right post, which bounced off goaltender Paul Toth in such a way as to confuse him. Troyke then poked home the rebound from the goal line. "I just followed up my shot," she said smiling on the bench afterward.

The goal came moments after the Blues forwards were wisely encouraged by their captain to move farther away from the net in order to make plays.

Tied 2-2 after the tally, the Blues went on to win 8-3 and are now 5-4 on the season. Troyke later joked about her celebration, "I think I pulled a stomach muscle."

Attendance: 6. (Four of whom were players left over from the game before.)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pat Dwyer called up to Hurricanes

From today's Raleigh News & Observer beat blog:

The Carolina Hurricanes placed Ray Whitney and Wade Brookbank on injured reserves today and called up Patrick Dwyer and Joe Jensen from AHL affiliate Albany.

Whitney was scheduled for surgery today to repair a swollen bursa in his left ankle, while Brookbank is out with a leg injury.

In addition, Matt Cullen didn't skate Saturday. He didn't return to the third period of Friday's Buffalo game. Canes coach Peter Laviolette said Cullen "is not feeling well."

Dwyer was a fourth-round pick of the Thrashers in 2002, 116th overall. He played 14 games for the Gwinnett Gladiators at the end of his senior year, and then the next year with the Chicago Wolves on a Chicago contract. He then signed as a free agent with Carolina.

Rechecking the temperature

This post is a follow-up to an earlier one called "Temperature check on Thrashers ECHL prospects."

I spoke to Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle about that post last night. First, he had no issue with the way he was quoted. The entire conversation with him was reported beginning to end, nothing added or taken out, in the order it happened. I've never in five years had someone say I misquoted them. That streak continues.

His issue was in bringing Dan Turple's actions up at all, saying Turple is a good kid and not a problem in the locker room. I agree with both of those things. Turple is a good kid, and that's exactly why this was newsworthy -- because it was so unusual.

Making a mountain out of a molehill? Pyle made the argument that none of Turple's noted behaviors were all that unusual for any player on a bench at any given time. This is where we strongly disagree. I've never in my life seen a goalie at any level do these things. Can you imagine Johan Hedberg leaving the bench with 20 seconds to go for example? I cannot. I wasn't the only one to notice something was amiss with him that night either.

Turps was back to his normal self last night on the bench, which I think underlines the point that last Saturday was unusual. And therefore notable.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Gotta love this 7-year-old journalist

Here's a heart-warming story out of the Sacramento Bee of a 7-year-old who started his own neighborhood newspaper.

He got the scoop on a neighborhood burglary after someone kicked in the front door of a nearby home in broad daylight. It was a rare and startling event in Finn's upscale neighborhood.

"That was real news," said neighbor Will Benware, who said he is a regular reader.

Finn also writes about his own experiences. One headline read, "Editor loses tooth." Another story was about the death of his pet rabbit: "He had striped ears, and died because, well, I do not know."

This story brought back fond memories of my childhood. I never wanted to be a journalist when I grew up. And good thing, given the market today. But, I actually did have a newspaper when I was 9.

In Mr. McAraw's 4th grade class, we had something called mini-society where we had fake money and started businesses within the classroom. We would play out the society for a few hours every week to learn basic economics. More of a traditionalist at 9 than I am now, I started a bank and a newspaper. My paper was a hand-written, one sheet (front and back if I recall correctly), and printed on -- I'm really dating myself here -- Ditto machine. That's the carbon-paper based method with the purple ink. This was the first kind of photocopier, the paper actually came out wet. Unbelievable now. Anyway, so I did have my ink-stained period, it was just at age 9. I don't remember what exactly I wrote about, just news around the classroom I guess, but I never recall being at a loss for words.

The papers sold well, but I did not max out my circulation because copies were passed around in the classroom. This is the problem of having your audience too close together. Other classmates sold things like cookies or crafts. One girl in our class made a real killing. Her mom was a stay-at-homer (not a defenseman), and would make all kinds of stuff. It was totally unfair. Our teacher finally told her she had to pay her mom for the work -- like off-shoring to China. Anyway, my bank didn't make money because no one took out loans for me to collect interest on. But I carried the money around in my pencil box and everyone trusted me, which counts for something I guess.

I also visited a local newspaper on a trip with the Brownies when I was about the same age. I wasn't so interested in writers, presses and whatnot, what I was most impressed with was the "wires that brought the words in from around the world." I thought this was amazing and everyone should have this. A couple years later we had fax machines and then the internet.

And here I am still on it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Top NCAA hockey free agents 2008 --> NHL/AHL/ECHL

Lots of people are looking around for names of free agent (non-drafted) college players who are about to turn pro. This will be a running post -- names and information will be added over the next few weeks. I'm no expert on this, mind you, but I want to know this information and if you can't find what you're looking to read, write it yourself I guess. Did someone say that before? If not, I'll claim it. It sounds good.

Peter Mannino, G - Successful goaltender for DU, finishing his senior year. Here's a feature article on him to get you started.

Mike Radja, F - Senior forward for Univ. of New Hampshire. Here's some info on him. More interesting reading is the elevator cage match against UND's T.J. Oshie earlier this year that got him suspended. Nice.

Ryan Duncan, F -- Last year's Hobey Baker winner, a lot of people thought he'd turn pro last year, but he has a chance at a national championship with North Dakota so who would question that.

Bryan Marshall, F -- Senior forward out of UNO (That's Nebraska-Omaha, former home of Nashville's goaltender Dan Ellis). He finished third in points per game in the nation this year. Here's a story published just yesterday about him. He's been out with a knee injury but is nearly ready to return.

Mike Moore, D -- Princeton defender who can score and hit, majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering. The guy doesn't mess around.

Mike Brennan, D -- Boston College. Here's his profile.

I'll add more names in a few days. More and more underclassmen are turning pro early, but it's harder to predict who will make the jump.

Here's one who might:
Michael-Lee Teslak, G -- Michigan Tech goalie. Here's his profile.
Edit: Teslak has joined the Flyers organization.

Jack Hillen, D -- He led defensemen nationwide in points per game with .95 as a senior with Colorado College. He's very good at golf, so a southern destination may be appealing. He looks kind of like Mark Popovic. Profile here.

Jean-Philippe Lamoureux, G -- He led the nation in GAA this year with a 1.65 playing for North Dakota. The downside: he's only 5'8. He'll get a chance to play pro, but his NHL potential is probably limited. Top-10 Hobey Baker Finalist this year.

Simon Lambert, F -- This senior out of RIT was named a Top-10 Hobey Baker Finalist this year. The team captain led the AHA in scoring, and his 51 points in 37 games are tied for third in the nation. (Edit to add: He signed with ECHL Victoria on Mar. 26).

David Leggio, G -- Senior out of Clarkson. Profile here.

Eric Ehn, F -- Profile with a photo of him in uniform -- Air Force uniform. He's only 5'9 and there's some question on whether he owes time to the Air Force on duty as well.

Brett Wilson, F -- Junior out of Princeton. Profile here. Looks more like a coach than a player.

Lee Jubinville, F -- Another junior out of Princeton. Jubinville is 5'10.

Playoff outlook for Thrashers prospects (NCAA, CHL, Europe)

I'll start with the CHL since it's more straightforward.

The WHL regular season ends this Sunday. Riley Holzapfel's Moose Jaw Warriors are 8th in the WHL's Eastern Conference, and will likely match up against Paul Postma's 1st place Calgary Hitmen in a seven-game playoff series. So one of the two of them would be done early, and I'd have to guess Holzapfel based on the standings. Joining the Chicago Wolves would give him a nice taste of pro hockey as he heads into next year though.

Spencer Machacek's Vancouver Giants are 2nd in the WHL's Western Conference. They of course went on to win the Memorial Cup last year. Angelo Esposito's Quebec Remparts are 4th in the QMJHL's Telus Division. Arturs Kulda's Peterborough Petes are 8th in the OHL's Eastern Conference. An early exit by them could have Kulda joining the Wolves. It's not unheard of for a player with junior eligibility remaining to play a few AHL games in the spring either (and then return to junior the next year), so Esposito could conceivably do that, but it's unlikely given Chicago's depth.

The NCAA is more of a mess. The regular season is done and we're now in conference championships. But what teams really want to do is be invited to the national tournament, a la basketball's March Madness. These invites are based on rankings -- strength of schedule and the like. Here's a link to's PairWise rankings and latest bracketology where they guess the match-ups. It gives you a good idea of who will be invited. The league champions each get an automatic bid, even the struggling CHA. The writer predicts that 7 WCHA teams -- generally agreed to be the strongest conference and the one where more NHL prospects play -- will make the tournament.

The WCHA's Univ. of North Dakota is tied for fourth in the pairwise rankings. UND is the team of three Thrashers prospects -- Rylan Kaip, Andrew Kozek and Michael Forney. They are a talented and gritty team -- the stuff that could take them all the way. They do indeed, as they say, put the fight in Fighting Sioux. Denver, ranked 6th, is home to freshman Jesse Martin. By the way, if anyone can explain to me why Denver goes by "DU," yet the official name of the school is University of Denver, do tell. Seems to me like it ought to be UD. And finally, for all its struggles, the Univ. of Minnesota is ranked 12th and will probably just make the tourney. Goaltender Alex Kangas is their starting goaltender as a freshman.

In the CCHA, John Albert and Ohio State finished next to last in the regular season standings and have already been put out of their misery. Last place was Western Michigan, a school you almost never hear about anymore. Matt Siddall is at Northern Michigan and they finished 6th in the CCHA.

In Europe, Jonas Enlund had a great start to his playoff career with Tappara Tampere in the Finnish league the other night -- he turned game 1 around and scored both goals in a 2-1 win vs. JypHT in the quarterfinals. Also in Finland, Miikka Tuomainen's team Lukko Rauma is out, losing in the "pre-playoffs." Andrei Zubarev is not playing at the moment but his Russian Super League team Kazan Ak Bars won the first round and is now playing CSKA in the quarterfinals. Kazan is one of the favorites for the league title.

Finally, I have to share something funny I read today:

. Vancouver comic Torben Rolfsen, on University of Moncton hockey player Josianne Bisaillon being suspended for an entire year after she punched a female linesman three times in the face: "Great; this totally screws up my Atlantic University Sports women's hockey fantasy league team.''

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Russia closes two-week notice loophole for athletes

This is kind of advanced topics in prospects news, but for those of you who know about the two-week notice loophole Russian athletes could use to get out of their contracts scot-free -- it's being closed. Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a new labor law, and it goes into effect March 30. Athletes (read their new employers, the NHL) will now have to compensate their current employer to break a contract. This will mean less jumping to the NHL.

Here's the link to the NYTimes blog post about it. Best to read the whole thing if you're interested in this topic.

Playoff outlook for Thrashers prospects (AHL and ECHL)

Here's a look at the playoff outlook for Thrashers pro affiliates, the AHL Chicago Wolves and ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators. Another post will look at NCAA and CHL guys.

First, the Wolves. They sit atop the West Division, and if the playoffs started today, would play the Milwaukee Admirals, the team they swept in the first round last year. Houston is right behind Milwaukee with games in hand though, so that match-up could easily change. Rockford and San Antonio are second and third. Playoff rules from

In each division, the fourth-place team will play the first-place team in the division semifinals, while the second-place team plays the third-place team. ...

Division semifinal winners face off in the division finals. The winner of the East Division final plays the winner of the Atlantic Division final in the Eastern Conference final, while the winner of the North Division final plays the winner of the West Division final in the Western Conference final. Conference final winners meet in the Calder Cup Finals.

All series are in a best-of-seven format. ... Where possible, teams located within 300 highway miles of each other play a 2-2-1-1-1 format, and teams located more than 300 highway miles apart play a 2-3-2 format.

The AHL has something called a Clear Day Roster, which lists the players they intend to use from then on, barring injury. Two Thrashers prospects who were not put on the list were Chad Painchaud and Guillaume Desbiens, who are coincidentally both now down with the Gladiators.

Other Thrashers prospects who could join the Wolves if they make a long run are Riley Holzapfel, a center for the WHL Moose Jaw Warriors, who is already signed to a Thrashers contract, and defenseman Arturs Kulda, now playing for the OHL Peterborough Petes. Possibly also center Rylan Kaip, a center for the Univ. of North Dakota Fighting Sioux. These players would likely just practice, playing only if there were injuries. Last year, Bryan Little got into two Wolves playoffs games once his shoulder healed up.

The Wolves season ends Apr. 13, a week later than the NHL and ECHL.

The ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators sit second in the South Division behind the Texas Wildcatters. An insane eight out of the nine teams in the division make the postseason. So right now the Gladiators would play 7th seed Augusta Lynx, who they just swept in three straight regular season games. Getting past Texas will be the challenge as they are an exceptionally good team. They don't have a lot of big names, but they play with a lot of vigor and seem to be, dare I say it, well-coached. When they were in town a couple weekends ago, I was struck by how energetic they were just in the back hallways before warm-ups. They are well-conditioned, so a long series definitely favors them.

There's an important date to keep in mind: Apr. 2, 2008 at 5 p.m. is the ECHL deadline for amateur players to be eligible for the Kelly Cup playoffs. This means college players turning pro must be signed by then. College playoffs begin this weekend, so that's only three weekends worth of teams eliminated before the deadline. The North Dakota and Colorado College guys are never going to make it. Shucks. Players who have been pro all year need to have played 5 games with the team to qualify for the playoffs. Painchaud and Desbiens have played 6 and 7 games respectively, so they're in.

The Houston Aeros are a team to keep an eye on. They are the AHL affiliate of Texas, so if they're eliminated, they will send players down to Texas like goaltender Anton Khudobin, and that's bad news for the Gladiators. But they could also send a player back to the Gladiators in defenseman Jon Awe. They aren't required to, but it's generally done. Now, if there's shenanigans going on, Texas could try to convince Houston not to send him back because it would help Texas's opposition. But given that Texas is dismantling next year, I'm not sure what kind of sway they would have. Houston may be more likely to make nice with an ECHL team that's sticking around, affiliate or not. If Houston, as the fifth-place West Division team has more points than the fourth-place North Division team, they make the playoffs and enter the North bracket.

Derek Nesbitt's Rockford IceHogs are in the playoffs, and Jimmy Jackson's Peoria Rivermen are not out of the playoff picture.

Minor league baseball promotions nuttier than hockey

I have previously noted "Shred Rich Rodriguez night" by the ECHL Wheeling Nailers. Well, in nearby Macon, Georgia, you can attend Eliot Spitzer night hosted by minor league baseball team Macon Music.

The team announced Wednesday that Luther Williams Field will play host to Eliot Spitzer night on June 13 in honor of the disgraced New York governor who announced his resignation Wednesday after allegations surfaced about his involvement in a prostitution ring...

- The Music will give away a trip to New York and a one-night stay at the Mayflower Hotel.

- The ninth fan – or Client No. 9, as Spitzer was known in the prostitution ring – into the ballpark will receive a free Music prize pack.

- Fans with the name Eliot, Spitzer or Kristen, along with any fan from New York, will receive $1 off admission. Any fan who has ever resigned a position will also receive $1 off admission.

- The Music will play Frank Sinatra songs throughout the night.

- Wire taps will be placed around the stadium.

- Fans will be able to use ATMs in the ballpark available for cash withdrawals not to exceed $5,000 per hour.

- The 871st fan through the gates will receive a gift certificate for the team store.

Blogger Jason Pye (of had a great line in response, which hockey fans will appreciate. "It would be funnier if the Macon Whoopee were still around and they [were] doing this." Indeed.

Continuing in the article linked above from the Macon Telegraph, it talks about some previous crazy promotions other teams have done. I don't pay much attention to other sports so these were all new to me, and pretty funny. Maybe it's old news to you, I don't know.

The Charleston Riverdogs from Charleston, S.C., had Nobody Night in 2002 when the team locked fans out of a game to record professional baseball’s lowest attendance in history, according to The Fort Worth Miracle baseball team had a George Costanza night in 2003 in honor of the "Seinfeld" character who refused to follow the norm, also according to The team paid its fans to park and ran the scoreboard backward during the game.

News via old fashioned means put on Deadpool Watch

This is a few days old, but worthwhile. It came off a tech blog I read called TechCrunch which features a Deadpool Watch for tech companies who have failed/are failing. Here they are talking about the death of newspapers and radio though.

Survey results released by We Media/Zogby earlier this week show that more people turn to the internet for news than any other source.

The survey found that nearly half of all people in the United States (48%) cite the internet as their primary source of news and information, compared to 29% for television, 11% for radio, and a dismal 10% for newspapers. There was an age difference at the lower end, with only 7% of people aged 18-29 getting news from newspapers, vs 17% of those 65 and older...

It will be a long and slow death, but as newspapers and radio slump into lower and lower single figures, it’s a given that the presence of both will shrink; we’re already seeing massive across the board downsizing now in print media.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Temperature check on Thrashers ECHL prospects

There are currently six prospects owned by the Thrashers assigned to the Gwinnett Gladiators. That's got to at least tie the record for most at once. The group consists of one goaltender, one defenseman, and four forwards.

Chad Painchaud was reassigned to the Gladiators this week. He had been down for a weekend early in the season, the rest of the time playing pretty sparingly in Chicago. Well, he had a hat trick tonight. "That's what we knew was inside him," coach Jeff Pyle said. "We saw the talent last year, and we're seeing the work ethic now. He's playing simpler, doing the things he needs to do." Pyle said he thought it was the first time he had seen Painchaud play two games back to back of good hockey. The two met when Painchaud got here, and Jeff told him basically "this is it, me or you," meaning your way or my way. Painchaud chose to work hard, which goes hand in hand with the fact that he asked to be assigned to Gwinnett this time due to lack of playing time in Chicago. Pyle said he thought that showed character. Painchaud called his agent to set the ball in motion.

During the celebration of Painchaud's hat trick, something caught my eye -- Dan Turple wasn't participating. He was backing up Craig Kowalski again tonight, and was sulking to the point of not even coming forward to tap the glove of the scorer. Turps and Painer are friends and even lived together last year.

This photo begins to show his mental state.

Turple had been coming out onto the ice before games this year to shoot the puck around. He didn't come out today. He used to wear a white Gladiators hat on the bench. Now he's wearing his own non-team hat. He's not opening the bench door for anyone. And at the end of the second period, he bailed for the locker room early, with about 20 seconds to go.

I think the one below encapsulates it best. The spotlight is still on from the goal, and instead of leaning forward for taps on the glove, Turps is leaning back into the corner. On Milo's goal, he had been leaning forward on the boards watching when the goal was scored, but leaned back to avoid the celebration. He joined in the celebration only when defensemen Grimaldi and Mason scored at the end.

I asked Jeff Pyle what all was up with Turple. He said Turps had come into his office to complain about not playing -- saying he had played only four of the last 19. Jeff reminded him that months ago he told the two goalies that whoever was winning they would run with it. Jeff said he thinks Turps is bitter because the team plays better in front of K-Wal. Turps has had some bad games at home and the fans get on him (heckling him). Jeff plays him on the road to take the pressure off. "I'm glad he's not happy," Pyle said. If he wasn't bothered by it, that's worse. Jeff did correct Turps on the 4 out of 19 bit, saying he was called up to Grand Rapids part of the time. But, he said, in the end, when choosing who to play, the stats speak for themselves. The team needs to win.

Turple will play on Tuesday.

Next we have Tomas Pospisil. Pyle said he's going through the same thing with Pospisil as he did with Painchaud -- work ethic and doing the little things.

Captain Mike Vigilante, hanging out in the press box because he's still got concussion symptoms, said that with the additions of Painchaud and Guillaume Desbiens, it seems like a whole new team. Here's Desbiens below. He was somewhat out of shape when he arrived due to not seeing much game action in Chicago. I was reminded at warm-ups how much Schell and Desbiens enjoy playing together. And it's a pairing that works. Because of this, I think you'll see Desbiens on that top line with him the rest of the way.

Chad Denny's name came up in our discussion tonight when Jeff joked that being up 8-2, he "put the riff-raff out on the power play." And they got scored on. "Two Chads had the puck on their stick and turned it over," referring to Denny and Painchaud. But Pyle did also say that Denny had been playing better lately. (He's still getting only sporadic PP time though.)

Lastly, Myles Stoesz. The only guy we didn't talk about tonight. Here he is behind Turps at warm-ups. He took a slashing call early in the game which he seemed to feel bad about. The referee was very inconsistent though. Stoesz was part of the "riff-raff" out on the power play at the end.

Edit to add: See follow-up post as well.

Gladiators vs. Lynx 3-8-08

The lines:
Campbell - Schell - Desbiens
Dickenson - Hamilton - Pospisil
Painchaud - Brandt - Busniuk
Mason - Milam
Grimaldi - Mahrle
Stamoulis - Denny

PP1: Campbell, Schell, Desbiens, Dickenson, Milam
PP2: Brandt, Busniuk, Painchaud, Hamilton, Mason
(No Denny and no Pospisil.)

Chad Denny fraternizes with the opposition during warm-ups.

Brad Schell.

Andy Brandt.

The Gladiators put up 8 goals on Augusta's Bobby Goepfert. They were by and large his fault too, no blaming the defense here. Lots of rebounds, not tight to the post. A bad night for him.

Guillaume Desbiens yells across the ice at warm-ups.

And he purses his lips and rocks out to the music playing above.

Coming back from intermission, Jeff Pyle decides to throw a puck to a fan over the glass. Problem is, it took him several tries. Tomas Pospisil watches the drama, while Schell finds the comedy.

Pyle, as usual, was focused on out of town scores after the game, and not just ECHL. He keeps a close eye on NHL and AHL boxes, so he can do the math of when and if he might get his players back. He's watching St. Louis because if they don't make the playoffs they will send guys back to Peoria and then Jimmy Jackson could be back. Pyle said he's going to have a hard time figuring out who to put on the playoff roster based on which AHL team is the least likely to go far. I asked if it was still likely that Dirk Southern would be in the mix after his knee surgery and he said no. So scratch just one from the list of possibilities.

If the playoffs started tomorrow, Gwinnett would play Augusta because it goes 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, etc. I said (ironically) I thought they could beat Augusta.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Impressions and notes from townhall meeting

With the Thrashers well out of playoff contention, Friday night's game results held no real importance. The important action was actually at the pre-game season ticket holders townhall meeting. This is one of many times that I'm glad I shell out what seems like extraneous money so that I can sit with my SO. The organization served some rather tasty boneless buffalo wings as hors d'oeuvres, but they should have served popcorn because it was good, though quite subtle theater. You had to know what you were looking for.

Item 1: Don Waddell talked for 2-3 minutes about the coaching change and situation, and there was no mention whatsoever of associate coach Brad McCrimmon. I have maintained since shortly after Bob Hartley was fired that the next coach would come from outside the organization (and system). The current situation has been merely about stalling until the summer and the favored candidates become available. (Click the label at the bottom called "new coach" to see all posts on this topic). I've never understood why so many people think McCrimmon was or is the obvious choice. The inmates don't run the asylum so who the players like is irrelevant. A coach is needed who will make them play as a team, which is why they need an inspirational leader. I don't think McCrimmon is that guy. Nor is the defense any good, and he's supposed to specialize in that. Any indication the organization might have given that he was the heir apparent is window dressing so as not to undermine his authority during the season, and probably in response to a direct question on it, not something they went out of their way to say. The next coach will be inspirational not only for the team, but the city as a whole, selling the game.

Specifically what Don said on the coaching question was "I will not coach this team next year" and that candidates available early in the year as are not as good. The search begins immediately when the season is over, and they hope to have a coach in place by July 1, as it helps sell free agents on joining the team.

Owner Bruce Levenson said later in response to a different question that if they had to do it again they probably would have named an interim coach instead of having Don do both jobs because it is too difficult to do both.

Item 2: I wrote in my notes during the meeting: "BL doesn't get it." Levenson didn't seem able to see things from other people's perspectives. His answer to ticket was prices was "ticket prices will rise every year." No explanation of the economic pressures that make them do this, apology for the inconvenience, or anything of the sort. A friend of mine summed it up best right as the meeting ended by calling him a jackass. That's about right. He had a room full of people who are interested but skeptical of the product. He needed to do a sales pitch, but he did nothing of the kind. It was just bad business. He almost certainly lost buyers instead of gaining them.

There did not seem to be warm feelings between Levenson and Waddell during the tag-teaming either. Bruce was kind of steamrolling and Don stepped aside to let him do it. In hindsight they should have just let Don talk because he actually has some people skills, unlike Bruce.

The only other things that were interesting enough to mention is that it sounded like getting Brian Campbell at the deadline as a rental would have cost something like Ondrej Pavelec and a first round pick. I guess you need to explore all options, but it seems pretty ridiculous that the team would have been a buyer.

Don said some things are broke, but "it's not a blow it up situation." In other words, add some important pieces over the summer, don't blow up the entire team. My own thought is that in this era of parity, does anyone blow up their team anymore? There's a much finer line between being at the top and bottom, so it doesn't take as long to rebuild. As such, I don't know if teams raze the landscape now like they used to periodically do.

Don said they would have about $17 million freed up to spend. In goal, "we're fine," with two guys and Pavelec. That made me believe that Johan Hedberg would continue to back up next year. Don said realistically the team has two top-four defensemen: Toby Enstrom and Nic Havelid. Guys like Exelby and Klee have been playing above where they need to be. Sounds like they want to get Boris Valabik a few games this year so they he can experience the speed of the NHL and know what he needs to work on this summer.

Don said they recognized about 10 games into the season they had a big problem on defense, but that it was impossible to trade given the parity and cap. They tried many times. He said if he had to do differently, maybe they would have raised their offers significantly, "maybe it was worth giving up a top player."

Thursday, March 6, 2008

New Top 20 published

Here it is. Just a couple words here.

Tweaks to the order were made right up to the end. In fact, I didn't put numbers next to anyone's name until it was pretty much done. It's just so hard to order them.

It doesn't seem right that Grant Lewis fell on the list. This is a product of things like adding Esposito, and WHL commenters saying that Machacek shouldn't be very far from Holzapfel. In Lewis' write-up, there's a joke in there somewhere to be made about a psych major passing a psych test with flying colors, but at 2:30 am, I can't really work it out. It didn't seem right to make a joke near the word concussion anyway.

In other news, it may have been a night of big loss for the Thrashers, but me, I'm a winner. The guy I picked in my Project Runway pool won the competition, Christian Siriano. His collection was amazing and naturally his exit interview was hilarious. He promised that we haven't seen the last of Christian Siriano -- "people need to see more of the fierceness."

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Howard's injury sends up Turple this time

Geez, it's like As the Goalie Turns in the Wings organization these days. Jimmy Howard, the No. 1 in Grand Rapids, has a sore groin, which caused Dan Turple to be called back up there. The first time Turple went, it was due to Dominik Hasek's hip (which caused Howard's absence).

Goaltender Jimmy Howard and forward Darren McCarty were both held out of the Grand Rapids Griffins' practice at Van Andel Arena on Tuesday morning. Coach Mike Stothers said Howard is day-to-day with the sore groin he suffered Sunday night against the Lake Erie Monsters.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Making of the Top 20 list

It’s that time of year again, Hockey’s Future’s semi-annual re-ranking of the Top 20 prospects for each NHL team. The trade deadline has passed, and the rookies that have played all year like Enstrom have put in 65 games (HF's cutoff). The Thrashers rank and accompanying article will be out in a few days.

A few notes about it. The rank is based mostly on potential -- who will end up the best player. It’s not a depth chart, meaning who is the most likely to make the team next year. Some of the players are several years off.

Anyone who says they disagree with the list can count me in too. On any given day, I’d probably make a different list. Why? Because there are so many factors that go into potential -- skill level/upside, age, drive to succeed, injuries –- and they often compete with each other.

Some of these factors are more important than people think in determining future success, like age and drive. The younger the prospect, the more likely he is to make big improvements to his game. An older player is not likely to improve as much. A prospect who hasn’t made it by age 24 is very unlikely to, which is why players generally aren’t considered prospects by HF after the season of their 24th birthday.

The longer I have followed prospects, the more that the inner drive to succeed shows itself as the determining factor in whether a guy makes it to the NHL. Getting to know the player and how he's seen by coaches and teammates are instrumental here. At base level, a guy needs to demonstrate that he’s not a complete fruit loop. Not all meet even that hurdle, much less higher ones like being a true team player.

There are also some factors that people look at too much, like scoring at the junior level. Junior scoring only says that the player is able to rack up points against 16 to 20-year-olds. It says nothing about whether he has the talent it takes to make the NHL, because a lot of sins like poor skating and poor defense can be hidden in junior stats. The same goes for college stats and minor-league stats, though to a lesser degree since the players are more mature physically. Still, there are a lot of guys who can put up points in the AHL and not the NHL. You have to look at how they are scoring the points and if that style of game is going to transfer. Scoring at the junior level is a necessary but not sufficient indicator of success in the NHL.

Why do players from time to time take a plunge on the list? Typically it happens when issues of character are brought to my attention – the player isn’t a team guy, or maybe he doesn’t work hard in practice. It’s rare that someone with bad character makes the NHL, because it’s so incredibly difficult to get there and the weak at heart don’t make it.

This brings up the newest Thrashers prospect, Angelo Esposito. Since the Thrashers traded for him, I’ve heard virtually all negative things about him, including that the Penguins were actively shopping him. The fall he would have taken on the Pittsburgh list will now be reflected on the Thrashers one instead.

I started ordering the list about two months ago. I passed it around to some people who are familiar with the players and got feedback. That circle includes the full HF staff – writers who see the WHL, OHL, etc. And I keep my ear to the ground all year long for information that will help in putting the list together. I watch games on TV, and I go on road trips.

Do I ask the Thrashers how they rank the players? No, and I wouldn’t use a list they gave me if offered. There is no incentive for a team to reveal their hand about their true assessment of their players. They would want to keep the hype of unsigned players down so as not to raise their asking price. And they can hype up those who they want to move. Jimmy Sharrow was high on the Hockey News ranking (who do ask teams for lists), long after he could have credibly been thought by the team to have such potential. And then he was traded last summer. Coincidence?

A meaningful list is an independent list. This is an independent ranking based on input from many directions.

Now, I need to get back to writing the accompanying article.

Bad drafting by Minnesota in microcosm

Lots of people criticize the NHL team they're most familiar with for bad drafting, without putting it into context by comparing to other teams in the league. Once you do this, you see that misses are in fact more common than hits. If a team gets two NHL players out of a draft class, that's considered a good draft.

With the Texas Wildcatters, the ECHL affiliate of the Minnesota Wild, in town this weekend to play the Gwinnett Gladiators, draft errors by Minnesota can be seen in a microcosm. If you don't have your own visual of draft errors around the league, you're welcome to this one.

First we have Minnesota's first round pick, 12th overall, in 2004 A.J. Thelen. Minnesota chose not to sign Thelen last summer, taking the compensatory pick for him instead. He was signed by AHL affiliate Houston Aeros, but has played the entire year at the ECHL level. This hardly needs to be said, but first rounders shouldn't be playing in the ECHL. He'll be 22 in ten days, but is not even a top player at this level.

Next we have Matt Kassian, a fighter that the Wild took in the second round, 57th overall, in 2005. Second round! Most fighters go late in the draft, as they should. I don't know what the Wild thought they saw in him to take him so high, as he'd never put up any offensive numbers. Lots of people questioned the pick at the time, and there's no reason to put away that sentiment. He's 6'5 and not the worst skater I've ever seen, but far behind most other second rounders in skill.

I asked Myles Stoesz about Kassian, to find out how good of a fighter he is. Stoesz was complimentary of his fighting abilities, saying he was one of the top guys in the WHL when he was there, putting himself, Aaron Boogaard and Milan Lucic in the mix as well. Aaron Boogaard was also drafted by the Wild, but more reasonably in the 6th round (2004). On Kassian, Stoesz seemed to agree that he was taken high, but said "hey, good for him." Indeed, but bad for Minnesota.

We got to talking about Lucic a bit as a tangent, and Stoesz raised his shoulders to do his Lucic impression. He does have a hunchback (see my YoungStars photos). I have a feeling other fighters have done that imitation to goad him into a fight in the past. Good player though, we agreed. "He came out of nowhere," Stoesz said. A great pick by Boston in the second round in 2006 at 50th overall.

Gladiators vs. Wildcatters 3-1-08

This is a big weekend for the Gladiators, so it's a shame that the refereeing ruined the game tonight. Below is the culprit, Ryan Sweeney. He didn't see some blatant things like Craig Kowalski getting clipped up high just before a goal was scored, but called ticky-tacky stuff instead. Jeff Pyle, saying he didn't care if he got fined, called the game "the biggest embarrassment in 10 years of coaching," and "a horseshit job." I'll agree with the horseshit job bit. Jeff is prone to hyperbole, so it's hard to tell if it was actually the worst in his career.

Jeff Campbell wipes his face, perhaps in frustration.

It was jersey giveaway night, and fans were lined up outside the arena for them. The attendance was over 10,000. That's twice in one day the arena seated 10,000, as there was a Georgia Force game in the afternoon.

The one below is hysterical. It's of Riley Emmerson, who only came off the IR today and skated for just half of warmup and not the game. He shot a puck through a partially opened door by accident and reacted with a funny face.

Speaking of faces, here's a bunch lined up on the bench. The nearest is Dan Turple, then Joe Grimaldi. Mahrle has the gape-mouth as usual, and you can see Stoesz further down too. And then to the far left, a girl sitting between the benches.

Guillaume Desbiens was assigned by Chicago to help out. Otherwise the Gladiators would have been short, since defensemen Jeff Mason and Jon Sitko are on IR. Mason may come off IR tomorrow though.

Dezy (his preferred spelling) was involved in a scrum, but there were no fights all night. I was surprised by this given that these teams don't like each other much. Plenty of hitting, but no fights. This is him being restrained.

Chad Denny tied the game with a top shelf shot, but Texas would go on to win 2-1. Here he gets pats on the head.

I don't have a good photo of Tomas Pospisil from tonight, but he was playing much more physically than normal. Having seen Thrashers Asst. GM Larry Simmons in the building, I wondered if Pospisil was playing for him. Pyle claims Pospisil has been better lately, and it wasn't unusual. I would maintain we hadn't seen it at home though.

And in the "picture's worth 1000 words" file, we have Dan Turple on the bench, bored.

Lots of guys nursing minor bumps and bruises after the game. Brad Schell is still icing his back, Lou Dickenson his ankle, and Andy Brandt his wrist.

No good photos of Mike Vigilante's black eye from Friday's game, but I can tell you it's a rainbow of colors. As far as how it happened, he got into something he would tell you he had no business being in. But he was trying to protect his goalie, which is an admirable thing. The joke in the training room tonight was that Vig's girlfriend gave him the black eye. This struck people funny, probably because he's so easy to get along with, and the joke kept getting repeated. To me, the funniest thing was when, knowing his soft spot for babies, I told him there was a baby in the trainer's room and he didn't even say anything back, he just turned and went in. He's drawn to them. "Other people's babies," he clarified when called out on it.