Wright, Savoie, and Exceptional Status

In Canadian major junior hockey, the exceptional status is given to a 15-year-old player who the league deems good enough to play an entire season at the major junior level. Otherwise, the player would only be able to play five games at age 15 in major junior until they turned 16. Before this season, the only players who were granted exceptional status in the Canadian Hockey League were Connor McDavid, John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Sean Day, and Joe Veleno. Of all of them, only Veleno wasn’t playing in the Ontario Hockey League; he was a Quebec League player.

This season, two players applied and only one was granted the status. Shockingly enough, it was a player from the OHL that was given the status in Shane Wright. The other– Matthew Savoie– was not given status, despite him having been compared to Sidney Crosby at age 14. It also continues the Western Hockey League not granting players exceptional status. Due to this, Savoie said that he committed to the University of Denver for the 2021-22 season. It should be noted that Jack Hughes also applied for exceptional status two years ago, but was denied and is now on his way to University of Michigan next fall….maybe…if he doesn’t get to the NHL before that, as he is projected to be one of the top two picks in this Draft.

There’s two way to think about this whole situation. The first is that it’s a travesty that the WHL isn’t letting this kid, who has 31 goals and 71 points in 31 games playing a year older than he should be. The second is that it’s good that the WHL isn’t rushing a kid who may not be able to deal with the grind of travel and physicality that the WHL often presents, not to mention the mental and maturity factor of it all.

It’s easy to see both sides of the coin. You don’t want to have a kid who’s obviously head and shoulders above his peers in bantam or midget hockey, risk him getting bored or even seriously injured, or embarrass the competition. In most of the exceptional cases– the players were able to succeed with three of the five of them being 1st overall picks in the NHL Draft and four of five being in the first round. Sean Day was the player who didn’t get pick in the first round, though he was also the only defenseman of the group who was given that status.

Some believe that Day’s performance was the reason why Hughes wasn’t given the status, but that’s subjective as hell and you could counter that by saying it takes defensemen longer to develop than forwards.

On the flip side, it’s almost good for the younger players not getting bigger than they should be if they aren’t ready for it. Again another subjective aspect of the judging process, but at the same time– to hold off on a player who the committee may have the slightest doubt of it is erring on the side of caution. You may lose a player or two– like with Savoie and Hughes– but it might be better than burning them out at a young age or having them flame out when such high expectations were placed onto them. Plus, when I mentioned maturity– these kids at 15 may or may not be ready to take on a pro-like schedule, away from home all the time, and growing up before they may be ready to.

While it could be the CHL’s loss, the NCAA does have the ability in something great. Of course, Hughes may not make it to the college level, while Savoie could be using his as a bluff or doing the same thing as Jack Eichel in playing the year before his draft year and then leaving after a season. Many claim that the major junior route is the quickest route to the NHL– and it’s probably true– but at the same time, if Savoie and Hughes can play in the NCAA, even for a year, and dominate before going to the NHL; it may change some opinions…but probably not.

Summer Reading: Iginla’s Retirement and Player/Fan Loyalty Relations

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With the announcement of Jarome Iginla retiring in Calgary, it allows Flames fans to truly celebrate the man who pretty much was the face of the franchise (and some could argue the face of the NHL at the time) throughout the 2000s. He was the player and leader everyone wanted on the ice, as well as an ambassador and community leader off the ice. Having lived in Calgary during that time, Iginla was The Man for the team and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone to say a bad word about him in the area.

At the time that Jarome Iginla was traded away….the fans were ready. Not because they wanted to lose their franchise player, not because they wanted to rebuild– but they wanted what was best for a guy who gave his all and more for that team. He had a no-movement clause that he didn’t have to lift, but with the rebuild under Jay Feaster not going as planned, they moved him to help the rebuild and to help Iginla get a better shot at a Stanley Cup.

Iginla didn’t get his Cup with the Pens or other teams he went to, the prospects back from the Penguins in that 2013 trade didn’t help at any point in the rebuild for the Flames, and we’re all none-the-wiser to this whole deal working out for either side.

But in the end, there wasn’t a big uproar from Flames fans of Iginla wanting to move on and win. They were resigned to the fact that the Flames weren’t going to be the best place for Iginla to get a Cup win, and they didn’t see like it was a big slap in the face for their top guy to want out.

While you could link this to some of the happenings in the John Tavares situation with Islanders fans– you could almost say that the Iginla situation was worse because it was the middle of the season, he had the chance to stay with his no-movement; but he wanted to go elsewhere and fans loved him enough as a player and a man to let him go because they didn’t need to be owed anything else. Whereas the reaction of some Islanders fans makes it seems like a free agent picking their spot is the most traitorous thing to happen in the sports landscape.

Granted, you could say that a small few idiots ruin the other Islanders fans who have been a bit more respectable in the situation, but fan is short for fanatical; thus leading to the crazies leading the asylum.

Is there such a thing as loyalty anymore though?? Sure, a long-term contract to a team could be a kind of loyalty, but is there someone out there like a Jarome Iginla who can punch his own ticket as he sees fit?? Is there someone out there who is given the blessing of the fan base (like they needed it) to move along and not get ridiculed for it??

I’m sure there’s people who would be given a pass if they haven’t won a Cup despite being stellar with their individual numbers– like a Steven Stamkos or PK Subban– if they haven’t won it yet. But by and large, there’s not a lot of people who would get a big pass after years with one team if they haven’t won a title with the team they’ve been at for so long. Fans feel like they’re owed something– which could be partially true in their own minds, but isn’t the reality of the situation.

Players don’t owe fans anything in loyalty because most the times fans will rip on the player if they have a couple of down years– like when many Caps pundits and fans wondered if it would be better to trade Alex Ovechkin away. Loyalty is only as good as the last season’s results and the attitude of the fan base when it comes to the reality of their own team and the franchise player who may deserve more. They don’t owe fans the prime of their career for some arbitrary loyalty clause because they stuck it out so long with a middling team, they shouldn’t want to leave now– especially with a no movement clause.

Flames fans realized that with Iginla and though it didn’t work out– they knew what his goals were and they knew their team didn’t have what they could give him as far as results. That should be taken into account the next time a franchise player gets dealt or signs elsewhere– take a step back and look at the reality. If you feel wronged– that fine, but that’s the business of sports.

TEPID TAKE: 2018 NHL Free Agency Edition

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The first day of open market in the NHL pretty much brought us everyone waiting for John Tavares to finally decide where he was going. The other signings meant nothing until he signed– it was all about JT today.

-So, JT did sign with his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs– making their fanbase even more insufferable when it comes to players who were born in the GTA coming to their Cup-drought filled team. Good on JT for making this decision, though– to walk into the lion’s den freely to achieve a goal to play in your hometown. It’s a comfort for him…for now. Ultimately– he makes the Leafs that much better despite the lack of defense for now.  Maybe this will take some of the pressure of Auston Matthews of being the first-line center and perhaps help him get out of whatever doghouse Mike Babcock has Matthews in.

-When it comes to Islanders fans, though, it’s natural to feel pissed at this– especially with JT dragging this process on and really making people wait. The problem is that JT doesn’t owe the fans anything and you should really be mad at the dysfunction in the front office for years rather than the player who wanted to play on a contender. The legacy Garth Snow left is being barely mediocre while not really getting Tavares the support he needed. With Lou Lamoriello being at the helm, we’ll see if he’ll build around Mat Barzal or some other wacky stuff to keep the Islanders middling for years to come.

-The move I liked the least had to be Petr Mrazek going to Carolina. We all are aware that the Scott Darling project hasn’t worked out after the first year, but to get a guy who will be a challenger to Darling’s starting spot could go one of two ways– really good by pushing him and making him better or really bad by having two goalies too tense to make a mistake that their nerves get shot. With two goalies who are better off as a back-up coming in to start a string of games rather than be a starter– the Canes are playing with fire in hopes this will really work out this time.

-Bruce Boudreau really loves former Capitals and grit guys that the Wild signed a lot of them. Matt Hendricks, Eric Fehr, JT Brown, and Greg Pateryn are joining Minnesota for the next season. For what reason….character?? I really don’t know what these moves are about, but if grit is the one thing the Wild thing was missing– then they are sure to get further now.

-Most people hate the Jack Johnson deal. I think the tenure of the deal is what gets me, but overall– it’s not HORRIBLY BAD. Especially in Pittsburgh, Johnson could get back into the groove of things with his boy Sidney Crosby around and Mike Sullivan working him until turns it around in a big way. It could turn out to be a very big value deal if Johnson can actually get his game back.

-Speaking of tenure deals I don’t like– Jay Beagle to Vancouver. I’m glad Beagle got paid somewhere. He was a folk-hero in Washington for years, but he couldn’t have been expecting that money in DC. Four years for Beagle at $12M is something I shook my head at for Vancouver. Good on Beagle to get his money, Jim Benning better hope it pans out for the team and gets them closer to another level.

-One of the busiest teams was the Dallas Stars. They picked up Anton Khudobin, Blake Comeau, Roman Polak, and Val Nichushkin. A decent amount of depth there– Khudobin hoping not to be another in the junkyard that is goalies of Stars past, while Nichushkin comes back after a two-season hiatus in the KHL putting up 27 goals and 51 points in 86 games. Polak will be another veteran presence on the blueline next to Marc Methot and help tutor the younger defensemen in the Stars line-up.

That’s the moves that stand-out to me that need talking about. We’ll cover more of these on Face Off Hockey Show Wednesday night live and on podcast that weekend. After Tavares, things kind of cooled down. Which is fine for a holiday week and reporters wanting to actually enjoy it for a change. That said, there’s probably going to be small moves here and there as teams address their depth needs and wants.

Weekend Wrap: UND Picks, Carlson Deals, Others Dealt

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It’s been a bit since I’ve written something, mostly basking in the afterglow of the Capitals Cup victory and then waiting to play out what’s gonna happen leading up to the NHL Draft that happened this past weekend in Dallas. While nothing crazy really happened, some moves were made in order to prepare for next season. For that– here’s a little high-speed rundown of some notable things.

NORTH DAKOTA FOUR INCOMING PLAYERS GET PICKED

This weekend, I did my work for the University of North Dakota, which saw four of it’s incoming class get selected. Jacob Bernard-Docker (OTT), Jonny Tychonick (OTT), Jasper Weatherby (SJ), and Gavin Hain (PHI) were all picked and I was able to get stories on three out of the four players (I don’t believe Weatherby was in attendance that I saw), as well as head coach Brad Berry. Links are below.

Berry reflects on draft, hockey growth in Dallas
For Bernard-Docker, road to NHL runs through UND
The draft wait now over, Tychonick ready to roll
Flyers’ pick Hain looks forward to next chapter

CAPS LOCK UP CARLSON

As I was getting home from Dallas, I got the news that the Caps took one of the most sought after free agents off the market in signing John Carlson to an eight-year extension worth $64M. For a guy who is 28 and just hitting his stride it seems, it’s a great deal for the Caps to keep him locked up and part of the core for a long time. Carlson is coming off a career year in goals (15), assists (53), and obviously points (68), while also being a huge contributor in the Stanley Cup playoffs with five goals and 20 points in 24 games. It also gives the Caps some room to get others key parts signed. However, in order to do that– they had to shed some money, too.

GRUBAUER, ORPIK DEALT

On Friday before the Draft, the Caps trades Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to the Colorado Avalanche for some picks in return. Both players were going to be rumored to move anyway, but for Grubauer– he turned it into a new deal with the Avalanche for three more seasons, while Orpik was bought out by the Avalanche in order to help get them to the floor of the salary cap. Grubauer will be the primary back-up for the Avalanche it seems, mostly grooming to probably take over for Semyon Varlamov– who is a free agent at the end of the 2018-19 season. Orpik may return to the Capitals at a value deal, but we’ll see how it all pans out.

HAMILTON DRAMA NOT ON STAGE

This whole thing with Dougie Hamilton is very weird and makes you wonder how much one player going out of his way to do things on his own is a detriment to his character. When he left Boston, rumors went around that Hamilton was a guy who was a bit of a “loner,” as it were– not really hanging out with teammates as much as some people would have liked him to be. It seems that stuff like that continued in Calgary; which lead to him and Micheal Ferland being moved to Carolina for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm.

Hamilton was tied for the league lead for defensemen in goals with 17, but apparently was all too content with the Flames losing down the stretch and may have taken offense to the Flames releasing his brother Freddie in January…which really is something you take with a grain of salt until you hear it from the man himself. GM Brad Treliving mentioned he’s going to keep stuff internal, but the gossip about Hamilton’s character keeps buzzing around.

Honestly, if a player doesn’t want to be around his team 24/7 during the season– I could see that. It shouldn’t be a knock on his reputation if he needs a little time to himself. Of course, the hockey culture of being with your teammates constantly is something I acknowledge, as well. It does seem odd for a guy to just go rogue like that– but maybe it’s something that’s needed for him to reboot now and again– especially if the team isn’t doing great and he needs to get away from that scene.

Regardless, the fact that this is the second time he’s been traded despite people saying he’s a top-tier defenseman should raise an eyebrow or two to why he keeps being moved around so much.

TIME FOR TALKING IS NOW

Another anxious time for fans, as unrestricted free agents have their week period of talking with other teams and hearing their offers before the July 1st “Frenzy.” Focus is going to all be on John Tavares, of course. He’ll take is time listening to offers, all the while new Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello is sitting in his office– lights out, shades drawn, and the hit of light from a screen in the background as he waits by his phone for a call. While Rick Nash and Toby Enstrom may be doing the same, Tavares’ name will be the one most looked at when it comes to this period– especially for Isles fans who want to keep him around.

Age of Superstar Trade Rumors

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Remember when the “Face of the Franchise” was untouchable and the only way you would get rid of him would be in a Ray Bourque kind of fashion?? Blame the salary cap, extremely long-term contracts, or just knee-jerk reactions, but the idea of teams trading away their most valuable asset has been a very vocal part of the off-season for some fans and pundits alike.

Firstly, the Alex Ovechkin rumors and the ideas of trading the face of the Capitals comes more and more to the forefront after the Caps still haven’t been able to get out of the second round in Ovechkin’s tenure. This is definitely a hard-sell now considering this past season, Ovechkin had a personal-worst season in goals and points for his career during a full-season. Of course, he had only 32 goals during the shortened season of 2012-13, but that was just one-less goal than he had last season. Ovechkin turn 32 when training camps open up and this past season, you could see he was a bit human as his breakaway speed seemed to not be as it once was. For a player who may be starting to trend downward, it’s obvious some people think the Caps would be best to cut their superstar and see what they can get for him.

Name value alone would intrigue some fan bases, sure, but when you look at the long and short of it– I don’t know how much Ovechkin to truly bring back from another team given that the Caps may know something in his attitude or what-have-you off the ice that would make some teams leary. Plus, in a salary cap world, would you want to trade away some of your blue-chip prospects for an aging superstar who could be bottoming out on his career and still has four years (at $9.5M per) on his contract?? Unless you need the boost at the box office, I don’t think it’d be a smart move for the long-term.

Another name that has come up is John Tavares. Granted, Tavares’ situation is much different than Ovechkin. Tavares is on a team that seems to be getting worse before getting better. Couple that with the front office not getting him much support on the ice and his contract coming up at the end of next season, the young sniper will have his name amongst the trade bait heading into next season if a deal is not done with the Islanders before then.

Not only that, but former Islanders star Mike Bossy said that he could see Tavares going to Montreal for a big bunch of young players going the other way to the Islanders. While it is a big lot to get rid of, especially when you look at what Alex Galchenyuk, Mikhail Sergachev and Charlie Lindgren could become; but it does fill the void that the Islanders need for their future. Yet, how productive could he be in the Montreal system and limelight. That said, he does have many years left, as Tavares is on the cusp of his 27th birthday and does have some years left to give.

It’s an interesting time we live in for hockey players being dealt. It used to be that if Wayne Gretzky could get traded, anyone could. However, that adage could morph into, if PK Subban can get traded for Shea Weber– no star player is safe….or something much less clunky.