Minor League Hot Dish: Cups Held Hostage, Seattle Looking For Locations

I’ll start this off by saying the first I heard of this was from Justin Cohn of the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette. He kind of laid the ground work of it all for me and then the ball rolled from there. But if you decided to step away from Twitter and hockey for the summer, you’ve missed the fun of the Colorado Eagles, the ECHL, and the Kelly Cup.

High-speed low-down is that the Eagles won back-to-back Kelly Cups in the ECHL before leaving like they were CM Punk in 2011 at Money in the Bank– but in this instance, they didn’t return the Cup weeks later, they still have it in their possession. They said they had dates to set-up a return to the ECHL, but nothing came from it. However, the Eagles say it’s safe and in pristine condition. The ECHL said they never came forward with it and had to make another one because of the Eagles’ hostage situation of the championship.

Let this be a lesson to the ECHL and others that there’s a reason that Phil Pritchard is the Keeper of the Cup and has eyes on it at all times…ALL TIMES. Are the Eagles being asses about it?? Sure, but at the same time– what league just gives their prized possession to a team, especially one that is moving up next year– and doesn’t have a chaperone with it during the time with the team??

If nothing else, it has created a nice little buzz for the league during their Final, while also allowing the ability to have this made into some little documentary about what happened by ESPN.


Meanwhile, even though they are a couple years away, the Seattle Your-Name-Heres are looking at affiliation locations for their AHL squad. It seems to have come down to a couple of interesting choices among the finalist.

First, you have Boise, Idaho which currently houses the ECHL’s Boise Steelheads. The Steelheads have been a successful WCHL and ECHL team, playing to a nearly sold-out house on average each year. The question is when it comes to the ownership group thinks that the AHL cost structure will work better for them and if the AHL in general will be a good move for them and their fan base. You could argue that a move up is always a good choice for the legacy of the team– but there’s times it just doesn’t work out; hello Utah Grizzlies.

The second option is a wild one and it’s Palm Springs, California. It’s wild because there’s not many places to play right now unless the city build a new venue. There’s been talk of an indoor venue via the Coachella Sports and Entertainment Stadium Authority that could open by 2021, but there hasn’t been much movement there. Plus, it could be a harder sell for an arena that has little to no background in hockey. While it would be cool and I’m sure my co-host of “In the Draft” Wilson would be able to get to more hockey games– I don’t know if it’ll be the best fit when trying to make a successful team.

Given the options, Boise would probably be my choice because you’ve got a built in fan base there, though you’d be cutting off a rather successful affiliation with the Dallas Stars. Not only that, but the ECHL would have to really wonder what to do with the Utah Grizzlies being way the hell and gone from every other competition.

Tippett Becomes Eighth Coach in Past Decade for Oilers

For the life of me, I don’t know what Dave Tippett is doing. The former Arizona Coyotes’ head coach is now the current Edmonton Oilers head coach, leaving the adviser role he had with the new Seattle Your-Name-Heres and moving into a spot that could be one of the hottest seats in the NHL.

There has to be some respect for him to take on the challenge rather than laying back easy and waiting for the Seattle team to talk. And let’s be honest, with the way teams are with coaches in the recent past– he still could be the first coach of the Seattle team. Yet, you have to think that he got that itch again and the wait would be too much for him– so Edmonton it is.

There’s no doubt to have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in the line-up, it’s give the team a fighter’s chance at making the playoffs. However, the biggest deal is…well, everyone outside of those two is the big worry. That albatross of the Milan Lucic contract looms heavy, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is constantly in the rumor mill, the defense and goaltending is suspect at best– so there’s work to be done.

Granted, the whispers of the possibility that Mike Smith is going to Edmonton to follow his buddy Tippett doesn’t bode well long-term for the Oilers; but it hasn’t been stable in net since Bill Ranford left. The defense has plenty of potential, but there comes a time where potential is overdone and disappointment/anger/hatred comes into play– if it’s not already there in Edmonton.

For me, this almost seems like an older version of Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan from a few years back for Edmonton. I know the whole problem with the Oilers before was the old-boys club being in charge and the thought with Chiarelli and McLellan was they ditched that moniker. Now, with Craig MacTavish finally gone and Paul Coffey being let go it; could be a real new start for Ken Holland, Tippett, and crew– but Kevin Lowe is still hanging around– so who knows.

It’s a pivotal time for the Oilers. You have to think the time is ticking to get Connor McDavid to be happy with where he’s at. Hell, his name is already being murmured when it comes to being moved if things don’t get better soon. His no-move clause starts in 2022-23, so there’s three seasons to get it right or else he may want his way out of Edmonton. The question is whether or not Tippett is the guy to spark the team around McDavid and Draisaitl or if it’ll be the third coach for the Oilers to have two great assets, but can’t get to the playoffs due to the team around them.

On the Topic Of the Wild and Jason Zucker

You’ve got to feel bad for Jason Zucker. First, he was on his way to Calgary before the deal fell through at the last second. Now, he’s the center of deals that didn’t happen and aren’t going to happen. It seems that Zucker is the new guy perpetually on the trade block until someone actually feels the need to have Zucker on their roster.

According to Michael Russo of The Athletic, Zucker’s name was in the middle of trade proposals for Phil Kessel, Sam Bennett, Michael Frolik, Christian Dvorak, Jonathan Marchessault, and Brock Boeser. The first and last being very laughable that they would have been considered with reports saying Vancouver laughed at Paul Fenton and hung up the phone.

Look, Zucker is a solid player with three-straight 20-goal seasons– but you can’t think he’d be an equal return for the likes of Boeser and Kessel especially. And maybe, it’s the system that he’s in that’s not really bringing the best out of him like when he was a Denver University or playing with the US Development Program. That said, it’s less a Zucker issue and more of an issue of what is wrong as a whole with the Wild.

It’s almost as if they need to blow the team completely up from top to bottom and start fresh. It’s not a new coach or new GM situation– that’s been done and the team still seems to be spinning their wheels; a deadly happening for a team in the Central Division. Paul Fenton needs to make moves, but trying to attract any kind of big name players are futile because those players don’t want to go there because of the lack of playmakers around them– as was the reported case with Kessel vetoing the deal to Minnesota.

This is a team that, for some reason, doesn’t move forward. Since that gonzo run in 2003, they’ve made it to the playoffs eight times in the last 15 seasons and have only made it out of the first round twice to lose to the Blackhawks both times. With their core getting older, you have to wonder how many chances Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin will be given in a bigger role and how much they’ll be able to step up in that role. There’s plenty of potential in both of them, don’t get me wrong, but will they be able to thrive in the Wild system and given a chance to show off their style of play.

For someone like Zucker, you have to wonder how much this is going to affect his psyche and what he might do in the future with this team. He’s a professional and probably gets that this game is a business, thus why he protected his own by getting a modified no-trade in his contract for ten teams NOT to be traded to and this could be Fenton doing his due-diligence to see what they could get…but he’s taking the whole “you never know if you don’t ask” credo too far. This could be another Matt Duchene in Colorado situation for Zucker and the Wild– which, if true, could be damning for the Wild and extremely positive for Zucker.

2019 Playoffs: Stanley Cup Final

The Final is upon us and it’s like it’s 1970 all over again.

BOSTON BRUINS vs. ST. LOUIS BLUES
PREDICTION: Blues in 7
REASON: Look, the Blues look like they have been on a mission. It’s a battle of depth, it’s a battle of goaltending, but when all is said and done– I think the Blues are more of a team than the Blues– but not by a lot. The first lines match-up well, goaltending, but I like the heart of the Blues more than anything else and I think they’ll be more hungry than the Bruins to get this storybook ending they deserve and the city deserves.

Regicide Happens in Manchester; Monarchs Cease Operations

Photo via Manchester Monarchs Twitter

With the Manchester Monarchs folding up shop, it can looked at either one of two ways. One way is that it’s a failure of ownership to adjust to the changing landscape of entertainment and couldn’t maintain an audience. Another way is that a league change wasn’t received well and the only form of protest fans knew was to not show up.

For me, it’s combination of both because the ownership couldn’t handle was what going on and people in the community couldn’t find themselves to put money towards a team that didn’t seem to be getting better. Not only that, but dropping down to a lower-league, though there’s talent in that league, didn’t sit well with fans who were coming off their first and only Calder Cup in the AHL, only to see that team move west to Ontario.

There is some kind of bitterness I could understand with a team moving down a level of play. Some people were very happy with their AHL standing and the move to the ECHL was one that could be represented as a shot at the community not being good enough rather than a logistical thing for the LA Kings to bring their affiliate closer. What they may not have realized is that the team they were getting had been on a four-season streak of 40-plus wins. It was all about status.

Attendance dropped by 1,000 people in that first season and never rebounded. That said, the last few years in the AHL were middling at best given outside influence in life and money being tight everywhere. Regardless, the drastic drop could have been due to the league change, but the team charging the same price for the team they did in a higher level– I don’t have that access to the books.

Plus, it’s not like this team was horrible– they put together over 37 wins each season they were there, made the playoffs each of the four seasons, and had plenty of things going for them in terms of prospects just starting out so people could get in on the ground floor. But it wasn’t the AHL.

In comparison, the other teams who were moved out east found some kind of success in the move– Adirondack has grown by almost 1,000 people a game in those four seasons, though they hit a downturn when they moved to ECHL. Norfolk had plenty of rumors about their future with the declining attendance, but have gotten back to over 3,500 fans a game for a non-playoff team; but also dealt with a drastic hit from the move and ownership quarrels.

Yet, how were they able to survive and keep on going despite the move and other rumors and shake-ups?? Was it understanding the market better and adjusting?? Was it the fans actually really trying to give it an honest shot at a lower level?? How come Manchester didn’t do what was needed to survive??

To say that “ECHL hockey is not viable in Manchester” is a giant cop-out and a shot to the community of Manchester who actually supported the Monarchs through it all. On top of that, it seems that the ECHL gets painted badly due to the fact that a team that was so successful in attendance a league higher couldn’t make it a league below. Probably not many people thinking that if they’re following along, but from the far outside it could look bad overall for the league to be not looked as exciting enough for a former AHL championship city to be a viable area for ECHL hockey.

In the end, maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder. One place that maybe prospective Manchester hockey revivalist could look towards is Worcester. The AHL Sharks were a team that had its ups and down, but had a decent showing before they moved out west to become the Barracuda. After two seasons offs, the ECHL Railers came into town and have topped the 4,000-plus a night their first two seasons. That’s an ownership group who did their homework, looked at the area, and adjust accordingly to be successful off the ice, with the on-ice product learning the ropes of the ECHL and hovering the .500 mark.

Manchester can be a good hockey town. History has shown us that. It’s just a matter of the fans not feeling entitled to just having the AHL and the ownership group being smarter with the product they are trying to sell to the area.

2019 Playoffs: Conference Finals

Went 1 of 4 last round– batting a total of 25% on the playoffs, so here goes a whole lot of nothing.

BOSTON vs. CAROLINA
Prediction: Carolina in 7
Reason: I’ve been low on Carolina, but they’ve done great. They’ve also got a longer layoff, which would be great this time of the year, especially with the injuries they’ve encountered recently. Even if Petr Mrazek is done, Curtis McElhinney has been stellar, while Sebastian Aho is starting to really turn to form with Justin Williams there. That said, Tuukka Rask has looked better than ever and could very well carry the Bruins onward.

SAN JOSE vs. ST. LOUIS
Prediction: San Jose in 7
Reason: They’ve gone seven the past two series, why not a third?? Martin Jones has really turned it around for the most part, while Joe Pavelski coming back could very well give them the jolt they may have needed. The defense may need to tighten up a bit, while Jordan Binnington could be their toughest foe goalie yet. Also, Jaden Schwartz has been stellar and David Perron could be the thorn in the side needed to maybe rustle the Sharks’ jimmies.

On the Topic Of Parity, Marketing, and Bitterness of the NHL Playoffs

The other day, a writer for The Athletic tweeted something “edgy” about the comparison about the NHL and NBA playoffs. It’s often something that circles the wagon of hockey fans to unite in saying how much better hockey is than basketball. To which NBA fans couldn’t care less because they are focused on their playoffs because they don’t have a chip on their shoulder about their sport’s standing in the US.

Ah, yes– the great parity debate and the great “playoff system is broken” rallying cry. Look, I’ve gone over the playoff system before and it’s not great, but it’s the best we’ve got since people wanted more rivalries. In the new system, the only match-up that would have been changed is the Bruins would face the Penguins and the Islanders would have the Maple Leafs. For what it’s worth, the Eastern and Western Conferences would have had the same match-ups in the second round with re-seeding.

Shocking. Something doesn’t go Toronto’s way and people kick up a giant fuss. To counter that– because it seems he heard a lot of that– he tweeted this.

To which, another user had a reply to him to counterpoint this writer:

You cannot compare the two playoffs– so doing such is stupid. The NBA has clear winners and losers in their game. There’s no point for an overtime loss– it’s just a loss and no ground gained for the losing team. Hockey’s one point for extra time loss. Why even have the loser point anymore?? Just have a straight loss and that’s that. No incentive for losing, actually play to win the damn game.

More over…isn’t parity something that people love about hockey…hell, love about sports?? Are Toronto media and fans– OF ALL PEOPLE– tired of parity happening and other teams in maybe non-traditional markets actually getting some kind of success at the expense of them?? It’s a helluva thing, isn’t it??

Yet, there’s a much better thing that people are missing from the amount of parity that happens in the league and that’s the casual fan being lost during playoff parity. Look, I won’t lie– I go back and forth when it comes to parity in hockey all the time. As much as I like the idea long-shot story being a thing…it does hurt the casual fan base in the US and thus, the ratings– which is really what people look at when it comes to judging the popularity of a sport. Losing the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, PK Subban, and to a lesser extent (not a short joke) Johnny Gaudreau– they are names that are somewhat recognizable to the casual hockey viewer.

Of course, that then falls on the NHL, NBC, and the marketing of them both. NBC wants ratings, so they’ll go with teams that have a bigger following nationally– rightly or wrongly. When you hang your hat on those teams, you leave a lot of room for error and a lot of room for people missing out on teams that should be profiled later on in the season. The NHL wants to put out their superstars– so the Caps and Pens are thrown out on national broadcast ad nauseum.

It’s really up to the NHL’s marketing department to work with NBC to make people care about players in Carolina and Dallas and Colorado and the other markets who are underserved. There’s no conceivable reason that every team cannot be the focus of some of these Wednesday Night Hockey deals that NBCSN has. Hell, the NBC afternoon games would be great for the teams out west with an afternoon eastern start time.

So, how did this start as a self-righteous Toronto writer comparing the remaining seeds of the NHL and NBA to the marketing of the NHL and NBC need to be better?? I don’t know. Things just work that way. The point is the NHL needs to be better for their teams so that when some of these teams goes on a “shocking playoff run,” it won’t matter that some of the top names are out because the NHL and NBC would be profiling stars across the league by showing their games rather than just mentioning them in passing during the season in highlight packages.

NHL Playoffs 2019: Round Two

Photo via the NHL Media Website

All the top seeds are out. The NHL scurried to get a “Second Chance” bracket thing to make people more engaged. Here’s my picks after going two for eight in the first round….so bet against me.

BOSTON vs. COLUMBUS
Prediction: Boston in 7
Reason: The long layoff will help Columbus, while the old guard will hinder Boston to start. The Bruins may get another life in the middle of the series, especially if Brad Marchand can keep his pace up, while also hoping Patrice Bergeron can find some scoring touch and Zdeno Chara can not break. The Blue Jackets are driven and it’s interesting to see what John Tortorella does to keep his team rolling, but I think the Bruins could be a bit much for them.

NY ISLANDERS vs. CAROLINA
Prediction: Islanders in 6
Reason: Another team with a long layoff, but it could help the Islanders focus more and be able to breakdown what the Canes did to beat the Caps, especially with Barry Trotz at the helm. Robin Lehner needs to have a repeat of the first round, while the Canes will need to find an extra gear in their quick turnaround. This will be the series with the worst ice conditions, though.

DALLAS vs. ST. LOUIS
Prediction: Dallas in 5
Reason: Much like Johan Hedberg before him, the rookie sensation that is Jordan Binnington is primed for a falling and with the Stars looking like world beaters and a healthy Ben Bishop in net, it could be quick work for the Stars moving forward.

SAN JOSE vs. COLORADO
Prediction: Colorado in 6
Reason: As great as the comeback of the Sharks were, you could see there were cracks. With that, it just gives more time for Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and the crew to rest. Though it’ll come down to which Martin Jones shows up for the Sharks and if Philipp Grubauer can keep it going for Colorado.

Back to…..the Drawing Board

It was fun at the top while it lasted.

But the Caps didn’t do themselves any favors with their play in the playoffs. There were a lot of things that they could have done better. There’s things that they didn’t do last year that they did this year. There’s things they didn’t adjust to when the Hurricanes looked so much hungrier than the Caps did.

First, the biggest thing is the lack of pressuring when they were ahead. They were up in Game Five and let it slip away. They were up by two twice in Game Seven and it ended in a double-OT loss. Maybe it was just too many games for a lot of these guys and they kind of ran out of gas. Maybe it was not being able to adjust to injuries in their line-up. Maybe it was a lot of things…the Caps just couldn’t put the Canes away.

Second, defensively there were a tire fire. An honest to god tire fire. So many turnovers in their own zone leading to quality chances for the Canes was amazingly frustrating. Whether it be dangerous passes up the middle, whether it dangerous passes in front of Braden Holtby, whether it the forwards lack of breakout support for the the defensive which– hey– caused more turnovers. There so many times the Caps went for a home-run pass the length of the ice that the Canes played perfectly in the neutral zone that I lost count and just had a heavy sigh about it. Yet– there was no adjustment.

Rod Brind’Amour adjusted better than Todd Reirden did and it showed in the result. While they shuffled some lines in Game Seven, the grand scheme of things came down to Brind’Amour getting his team much more into it that Reirden could. To a man, Canes players were behind their coach and always commented about his fiery nature to get the team going. I didn’t hear one Caps say the same about Reirden, at least on the record.

And I won’t blame losing TJ Oshie to injury. That’s a part of the game and you have to adjust– which the Caps didn’t. One of the things it did take away was low-end options on the power play. Oshie’s play in the slot was some of the nice decoys for Ovechkin to get some more space. Without that option and a fill-in to act like that (sorry Tom Wilson), the Canes were able to give the Caps minimal chances to convert.

They did what they could though. The top line was solid with Nicklas Backstrom leading the way in the goal-scoring and Alex Ovechkin being the set-up man, which was an amazing change of pace. Tom Wilson was able to get into some dirty areas at times, but maybe could have done more.

Holtby was not himself, though. Lot of soft goals, lot of saves he could have made last year that snuck by this year. Like I said, his defense didn’t help him out at all. If anything, that’s a key point to look at for next year and how they can build around John Carlson and Nick Jensen. There needs to be some help out there because Dmitri Orlov and Matt Niskanen are hit-and-miss, Brooks Orpik is out of fuel, Jonas Siegenthaler needs more time, Christian Djoos somehow isn’t cutting it. They just need to hope Michal Kempny is ready to tear up the league next year.

Lest we forget the Luis Mendoza Line (all speed, questionable hands) of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jakub Vrana, and Carl Hagelin. When you need a secondary scoring line and it’s more of the third and fourth lines getting it done– there’s an issue. Kuznetsov, aside from the goal, seemed to be more than snakebit this series, Vrana was near invisible for the duration, and Hagelin was good on some penalty kills, but overall not worth retaining– unless they can get a good deal on him.

The Caps had a good season. It’s hard to top what they put forward last year and unless they would have swept everyone or beat everyone in Game Sevens, the dramatics were not there. Personally, this is probably the calmest I’ve been when it comes to losing a series, especially when you see them outworked as they were when you look at the greater picture.

Thank you Capitals for the ride over the past 10 months, it was fun while it lasted. Now, it’s time to reflect, figure out who’s going to be here next year, and find that hunger again.

Caps By The Numbers: Backstrom With Another Two-Goal Game

In what could be the most complete Caps game in the series, the defending Stanley Cup champions put a six-spot on the Carolina Hurricanes to go ahead three-games to two in the series with a chance to close it out on Monday. Nicklas Backstrom’s hot hand continued with two goals, Alex Ovechkin had a goal and two assists, and Nic Dowd put up a penalty shot goal for the Caps.

It was the first game without TJ Oshie, who is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury. Devante Smith-Pelly, last year’s breakout playoff star, was called up and was the energy boost the Caps seemed to need for Game 5.

When you talked playoffs heroes in DC, there was always one name that came to mind. And he’s the #19 I picked in the Trail to Dale.

Photo by Bruce Bennett

Up until last season, John Druce was a man of Capitals lore. The run that he had during the 1990 playoffs was one that every role player wants to have. While Alex Ovechkin was able to beat his goal total for a single playoff, the short time that John Druce was in Washington was one thing that most Capitals fans shouldn’t forget.

The former second-round draft pick but the Capitals in 1985, Druce plyed his craft in Peterborough of the OHL where he was a serviceable player, with his stats getting increasingly better over his tenure there. The same goes for his time in the AHL with the Binghamton Whalers and Baltimore Skipjacks, which included a 30-goal season with the Whalers. The consistency would continue onto the Caps, where he would split time between Landover and Baltimore. While he was very unassuming in the 1989-90 season, something went very right in the 1990 playoffs, where he was able to create a lot of much for the Caps.

While the first round was the Dino Ciccarelli show, Druce was able to muster three goals in the six-game series. However, Ciccarelli would be injured in the second round against the Rangers, which allowed John Druce to take over offensively. In the five game series, Druce had nine goals and two assists, including a hat-trick in Game Two and OT series-winner in Game Five. Druce would only put up two more goals and one more assist of that playoffs, as the Caps were outplayed by the Boston Bruins in the Conference Finals.

Druce came back to the Caps for the 1990-91 season and would register his only 20-goal and 50-point season of his career. He couldn’t recreate the same magic in the 1991 playoffs, only putting up a goal and assist in 11 games for the Caps, while in the 1991-92 season, Druce had 19 goals and 18 assist, but only one goal in the playoffs. Druce got moved to Winnipeg in the summer of 1992 and then had stops in Los Angeles and Philadelphia before hanging up the skates.

After playing, Druce spent five years doing junior hockey commentary for Rogers Sportsnet before going into financial advising and then co-founding Unique Vehicle Wraps, a company for advertising on cars, trucks, and buses. While some people may forget his playing career overall, I don’t think many will forget his goal-scoring abilities in the 1990 playoffs for the Caps.