Tepid Take: 2019 NHL Draft Fallout

The 2019 NHL Draft weekend has come and gone and what a weekend it was, huh?? Personally, it’s my 16th Draft and third working for the University of North Dakota. For those stories about Shane Pinto, Harrison Blaisdell, Judd Caulfield, and Brad Berry’s reaction— go to those links in the name.

Shockingly– there was more that went on. I know. So, here’s a rundown of that from me…with the most tepid of takes.

First, you can’t really talk about what happened after before you talk about the salary cap being set at $81.5M, which was a bit of a lower figure than many people thought it would be. Luckily, having it happen before the draft gave teams the time to scrambled to see what they can get done. Which…some did.

Toronto was the first to make a salary dump– which they needed to do anyway if they wanted to re-sign Mitch Marner to a big money deal. They unloaded the Patrick Marleau contract to Carolina, along with both swapping picks. Marleau’s contract has a year left and with the uncertainty of Justin Williams’ future– it’ll provide a veteran presence with this team– just in case they needed it coming off of last year’s wonderful run.

With that move, it effectively took the Maple Leafs out of the running for PK Subban; which was actually a possible destination for the Nashville defenseman….well, ex-Nashville defenseman.

Subban was moved to the New Jersey Devils for prospects and picks going to Nashville– which probably moved the Predators in the running for Matt Duchene. But to Subban– this is the second trade he’s been through, which is odd for a guy that is considered one of the premier defensemen in the league. Three years left on the contract for Subban and the Devils needing some experience back there seems like a good fit.but as much as he wants a Stanley Cup in New Jersey– it could be quite and uphill struggle to get that.

As for the Draft itself, it was a Draft that USA Hockey won’t soon forget. Seventeen players from the US National Development Program were selected and 59 US players were picked overall. It’s a huge boost to the program in itself and really shows how much the USA program is evolving and catching up to their Canadian counterparts, who had 63 players picked overall.

Overall, players jumped, players fell, the Draft is usually something you can’t tell will pan out until five years down the line and they graduate where they’re from and maybe make it to “The Show” in that time frame.

Vancouver was fun overall, personally. It’s the first re-run for me and I didn’t have my running buddies with me all the time and didn’t have a Dufferin experience– but overall it was a good time.

Next up for the NHL, it’s the free agency talking period leading into the free agency period and everyone forgetting they own a calendar and asking if it’s October yet.

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.

Fixing the Minor League System

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Photo taken from N2B Goal Horns’ YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BCELxhOAFw)

Yesterday, I talked about the Draft system in the NHL and how it is a broken system when it comes to the player’s rights and actual development with the team overall. However, the only real way to fix this system is to totally overhaul the minor league system as we see it today.

The idea to have a 31-31-31 system is a great idea for hockey– but are there 93 markets out there that are strong enough to keep things solidified for a decent amount of time and are there enough prospects out there to fill that team and make the pipeline system viable and valuable overall to the landscape?? You can say that there are a good amount of markets that are stable as hell, but you can’t assume that all 93 markets will be very strong if they stay across three leagues.

First, you have to make the minors mean something– especially if you change it to a point where players have to choose between their amateur status (in a world with Major Juniors is considered amateur and you have to leave there to start a pro career) and their pro career starting. You’d need a strong first step. Elements need to be taken from the SPHL– not saying that they’d be a jumping off point, but their regional presence is something that minor leagues need more of.

Second, take that regionalism and then create leagues that way. The problem with minor league hockey in the late-90s/early-00s is the fact that while there were a wide array of hockey leagues– they were all in competition with each other trying to be the Alpha League. The ECHL was in competition with the WCHL, UHL, CHL– but ultimately the ECHL won out. The AHL had to compete against the IHL, but the IHL’s owners were too enamored with competing with the NHL that they lost the plot and then the AHL won out.  The thing in this day in age– especially with a stress being put on development– is to take a page out of baseball and have multiple minor leagues in different regions, but a uniform classification for them to battle it out playoffs wise; almost like the NCAA and their conferences.

(In this scenario, amateurs are in my consideration Major Junior and NCAA, with the same rules applying that if you declare and sign a pro contract, you can’t go back to those teams– as a point I suggested with the post on Thursday. You can bet that the CHL will have plenty of push-back on that because they’re trying to run a youth-pro league off these kids; but it’s my imaginary situation– so get over reality for a bit.)

As great as the SPHL has been– they almost have to be considered independent to this whole scenario I’m putting together since I don’t believe there’s any official affiliation with the NHL and the SPHL clubs. Not only that, but I doubt there’s enough prospects for each team to sustain quality hockey across 31 Single-A teams. The SPHL is better off as its own entity anyway because they wouldn’t be held to the hard and fast rules of the NHL in their trickle down theory.

Therefore, the current ECHL is the entry-level point for players who declare and sign their pro contract. However, you can’t have the ECHL as one league anymore– you almost have to have the two conferences as two leagues under the AA banner of hockey. Hell, if they really wanted to get into it– make it three leagues under the banner and then the top teams meet in a final eight– the two top teams from each of the three leagues and overall wild card to win the AA title.

When it comes to the AHL– or AAA level– you can do what baseball does since teams are moving more westward with their teams. Especially with Loveland, Colorado coming into play next season, it just adds to that flavor. Again, you could have three leagues with an Eastern, Midwest, and Pacific leagues under that AAA banner to have all three meet akin to what I suggested with the AA league.

While minor league hockey does have its niche, the fact that people believe that one league is needed seems a little stupid, especially with how the NHL made sure to move their teams closer to them and then held the AHL hostage to make their games/travel less than the rest of the league or they threatened they would start their own league. In all honesty, they should have started their own league and started this upheaval quicker than what I’m suggesting.

Granted, some teams in some areas may want promotions, but at the same time– it’s knowing their market and knowing what they can be capable of doing in those markets with that league. An idea of relegation or promotion– which is sexy in a gimmick sense– won’t do much for stability in a cutthroat business of sports. It’s a nice idea, but when put into reality does more harm than good.

There’s a lot to enjoy about minor league hockey– but when you look at a successful and sustainable league, the regionalism of the SPHL is the front-runner for solid business model. They know their communities, they know their role in hockey, and they don’t get too ahead of themselves thinking they’re going to be the next big thing. They play to what they know and it pays off for them overall. If all minor leagues and minor league teams could see that and realize that regional hockey is a solid money maker/travel saver– then the divided leagues under the same classification could work out very well in order to save minor league hockey decades down the road.

On the Topic Of Changing the Draft Rules

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On this week’s Face Off Hockey Show, we debuted our new Patreon Pick segment where contributors of our Patreon who hit the donation tier picked a subject we would go long-form on. This week, one of the selections was the return to Major Juniors to two big names in the start of the season for their teams.

Kailer Yamamoto was sent from the Oilers back to Spokane, while Owen Tippett was moved from the Panthers to Mississauga. These two made enough of an impression to make the team out of camp, but due to their youth, inexperience, and the loopholes of an entry-level contract, they were allowed the ability to go back to Major Junior and grow more there.

This sparked a questions from our own Marc “with a ‘C'” who wondered if there was a way for players to lose their eligibility once they declare for the draft, which would also lead to the building of a new minor league system in that aspect. While I think this is something that could be an interesting test, I don’t know how much it could work in practice.

By in large, the NHL (and hockey in general) is very odd when it comes to the set-up of their draft, in that the rights of the player is held even if he’s not in their organization– like Junior and College players. For Major Junior players, they have two years to get signed or else they go back into the draft, however– if they sign a deal– they can play up to nine games before their first year is burnt up in their contract. For college players, they have all four years to decide if they want to stay or go. Yet we have seen in situations like Will Butcher, Jimmy Vesey, and Corban Knight where the college guys pick their poison once they get out of college and don’t have to sign with the team that drafted them– which is almost a waste of a spot for those teams that did pick them.

In other drafts, players have to declare and then lose their amateur rights when they sign a professional deal. Also, the NBA makes players aren’t eligible until a full year after their last high school year (though that may change), NFL is three years after your last high school year, while MLB is odd in that they draft players— but if the player steps into a college classroom, their rights are immediate withdrawn (see point 5 on that link). However, MLB has such a deep area of minor leagues that it’s not something hockey as a whole could take on unless they wanted to really, really shrink the size of each minor league. My belief is that minor league hockey “heads of state” are too bull-headed into doing something like that because for some reason they feel that a league has to have a 31-31-31 situations rather than what baseball has where the minor leagues are spread out.

Not only that, but it’s not as if hockey has the development situations the other sports have, since high school kids are in Major Juniors at 16 and don’t develop through an actual school team, but by a team within a leagues that is pulling in multi-million dollars a year. Those Major Junior leagues are run like a pro league, without having to pay the pro prices for players– but that’s another story for another time and another writer who has better knowledge on the inner workings of that kind of hockey.

So, what do you do to help the development so that 18-year-olds aren’t rushed in when they are not ready to do so?? The one thing people keep coming back to is raising the draft age to 19 or 20 years old, which is what the NBA did a couple years back.

It only makes sense to raise the age. The maturity of the player will be able to show through more, the player would get even more time in their development, and the teams won’t be playing roulette all that much because you’d be able to see a kid three-years into his playing cycle and maybe get some trends on how he plays. Of course, this is only for Major Juniors.

The college side is a little different. Players can get drafted by NHL teams and still play college because they have “advisors” which, according to the NCAA, aren’t agents and still allows the student-athlete to keep their amateur status and NCAA eligibility. It goes with the weird NHL thing where the kid isn’t property of the team until they sign a pro contract, but their rights are held for “x” amount of time until they decide to sign or wait it out to be a free agent. A great cheat sheet about the CBA and NCAA and Draft Rules is right here.

Personally, I don’t think it’s fair for a kid to have to lose their eligibility to play in college or major junior if they get drafted in the NHL, I also think the system is broken in that the whole “rights” ideal is something that is really antiquated. When you look at it, raising the draft age would fall in line with the age limits that the AHL has, where a player who is drafted out of Major Junior and still has eligibility has to be 20-years-old to play in the league– which would mean that they would be done with their Major Junior eligibility just as they’re ready to go to the next level. That makes sense.

However, if you actually want to put stock into the player and have their lose eligibility if they declare early– the need would be to totally revamp the minor league hockey system as we see it. How do you do that?? I’ll bring about that idea tomorrow.

Stumping For More Event Diversity

Why is it that the NHL doesn’t like diversity in their pinnacle events?? While the Draft does get moved around frequently, the prospects of the return to Toronto or Montreal– while nice– doesn’t appeal to me not just because I’m a part of the media, but because I’ve been there and won’t get to experience a new location.

That’s why when the NHL announced that the All-Star Game for 2018 would be in Tampa made me tilt my head a little. Not to say that Tampa isn’t a good market to hold it in, as many who have attended events there have said it’s amazing hospitality, but wouldn’t you– as a league– want to shift things around to make sure each market gets a taste of NHL audience traveling there and pumping up the local economy on top of seeing new sights. Tampa last had the All-Star Game in 1999, which happened to be Wayne Gretzky’s last ASG before retiring and he got the MVP in an unsurprising happening.

This past season, Los Angeles had the ASG, 14 years after they last had one and six years after they held a Draft. I get it that LA is a big place for celebrity turnout and a place that people want to be to experience it– but three times in 14 years could be overkill despite the rabid fan base.

While this may seem like an attack on popular markets….it is. When you look at other fan bases who get left out in the cold, you have to look to mainly the East Coast. For me, I’ve never seen a Draft or All-Star Game in the Washington, DC area because the last time they had a big event there was in 1982 and it was in Landover. Long Island/Brooklyn haven’t hosted either since 1983, New York City hasn’t had a big event since 1994; though you could say that the Draft in Newark piggybacked off of New York City being so close.

My point is that there are big fan bases that don’t get these premiere events for one reason or another (maybe they don’t want to bid because it’s too big an undertaking). Sure, some of those places like the DC-area gets outdoor games, but that doesn’t draw fans from the 31 teams, which is nice bank and the ability to get new people to see how great the area is.

Since my ideal location is the DMV-area, I’m sure with the Verizon Center having a lot of other things going on during the ASG and Draft times– it’ll take a lot to get them there. Especially with Vegas coming into play, Edmonton and Winnipeg wanting to get those kinds of events in their arenas that haven’t been explored before, Anaheim and San Jose being left out on a lot of these events, as well. It’s just quite short-sighted for the NHL to not go to places or stump harder for these places to hold these events to diversify the minds of hockey fans.

This is why we get people who don’t know Nashville is a hockey town until they get to a Cup Final. When we went to the 2003 Draft, you could tell that area had a core group of people who loved it and were trying to share the love of it to others, which was rough during their unstable times. Now, it’s finally in full blossom and I know I’m not surprised because I’ve been there. When the eyes aren’t on them in the main events of the NHL, it’s not hard for people to not realize how good a place can be and how amazing the fan base and the cities are in supporting it.