The power to not play

These past few days have been extremely interesting with two very different situations leading to sport teams standing up and walking out until change occurs.

In Missouri, the football team declared they were not going to practice or play until the president of the university stepped down. The strong stance was in response to racial tension at the school and it worked, with the president soon resigning.

Meanwhile, in a situation that may not have had as important motivation but was no less revelatory, the entire roster of the OHL's Flint Firebirds quit after their coaching staff was fired, forcing team management to back-peddle and re-instate.

Like the VICE article details, these incidents are nearly unprecedented. Perhaps the only surprising fact is that situations like this, with teams taking a united stand against what they feel is not right, are not happening more often, especially in environments like college sports and junior hockey.

That door is now wide open. What happens next?



Sitting right fucking there

That guy right there. He's the CapGeek guy. He's on The Hockey News's list of influential people. Sitting right fucking there.

I can still remember that night, at the Metro Centre here in Halifax. It was some forgettable game for the Halifax Mooseheads and during the first intermission, everyone in the press box was rushing to grab a sandwich before the healthy scratches got there. And one of the scouts at the game, looking down at a beat reporter typing notes into his laptop, dropped that line in absolute amazement. Because he just figured out Matt Wuest's "secret identity".

I had credentials for the Mooseheads for about half a dozen years or so and Matt was there working for the Daily News and then for the Metro for most of them. But that scout's incredulous reaction is a testament to how he went about his work. He was quiet, worked hard and let his work speak for itself. He also never hesitated to help, whether that was a question about Red Wings prospects, NHL contracts or QMJHL players.

CapGeek is what he'll be remembered by and it's through CapGeek that his passion for the sport of hockey becomes clear. After he made the decision to shutter the site, I, like many people I'm sure, had the conversation with some of my more technically inclined friends about being able to fill that void. We looked at it like a project and tried to do a bit of due diligence. The nuances of the NHL's CBA and the different clauses and rules, the daily transactions and calculations with everything from contract bonuses being carried over to the next year to long term injury reserve to buyouts, etc etc. Plus the quality of the information coming in, which was the lynchpin, as the site would be worthless if it wasn't accurate.

And that's the thing, when you look at the amount of work he put into CapGeek and consider that it was his hobby, the thing he did when he wasn't working, that's where the realization of his passion for the sport really hits home. That's the incredible part of it.

Thank you, Matt.


One other thing to add:

Last summer, CapGeek sold their "Armchair GM" shirts with proceeds going to the Canadian Cancer Society. By that point in time, Matt would have been sick, but that wouldn't have been known by practically anyone. Consider donating to the Canadian Cancer Society here.

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Maybe Jane Seymour was right

Many year's ago, shortly after I first moved to Halifax, I went to a Mooseheads game. As luck would have it, Jane Seymour was in town filming a movie and I happened to be sitting a few rows behind her and what I can only assume was her husband and her children. As it sometimes happens with hockey, and often happens with junior hockey, a fight broke out on the ice and as everyone else stood up and strained to watch, I can distinctively remember Seymour staying seated while her male companion motioned for others to sit down and loudly booed. It seemed that aspect of hockey wasn't their cup of tea.

A few years later, as I got into actually covering junior hockey, my views started moving closer to those of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. There were the jokes about watching 16-year-old boys beat each other up, which masked the reality of that being exactly what it was. I stopped cheering when the gloves dropped, I viewed it more of an uncomfortable inconvenience.

How things have changed in a decade and a half. Hockey fans have watched a parade of tough guys die young; we've seen a series of star players fold up their careers early after one, or three, or 40 too many hits to the head. We've started debating the role of fighting in the game, about how best to combat headshots. We–some of us, at least–have felt a trickle of guilt at the cheers when the gloves hit the ice.

What Happens To Enforcers When Hockey Uses Them Up? 

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Additional musing on previous post

There’s a great scene in North Dallas Forty, from all the way back in 1979, when the owner of a fictional football team is watching practice with business associates. He worries aloud about his team’s playoff chances, so one of them responds, “Christ, you make more with your manufacturing division in one week than you do on this goddamned football team in the whole year, even if they DO win.”

And the owner laughs and says, “That’s true … but my manufacturing division never got the cover of Time magazine.”

The World's Most Exclusive Club - Bill Simmons

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HF: QMJHL Goaltenders – additional content

This is a bit delayed but I wanted to follow up on this article on QMJHL goaltenders who have their rights owned by NHL teams.

Here's a quick look at the list:

  1. Francois Brassard, Quebec - Ottawa Senators
  2. Brandon Whitney, Victoriaville - Chicago Blackhawks
  3. Chris Gibson, Chicoutimi - Los Angeles Kings
  4. Francois Tremblay, Val d'Or - St. Louis Blues
  5. Maxime Lagace, PEI - Dallas Stars
  6. David Honzik, Cape Breton - Vancouver Canucks

This list was a hard one to put together, because there wasn't a clear standout and every player has some ups and downs about them.

It was recently suggested to me that I take a second look at David Honzik and where I ranked him. When talking about Honzik, first let me talk about Maxime Lagace. Lagace actually finished the season with poorer stats than Honzik, despite playing for a team that earned 50 (!) more points than Honzik's hapless Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. I originally had Lagace last on this list and for good reason: Lagace had a difficult year and lost his starting position pretty early on, never to regain them. I was surprised when he got an NHL deal from the Dallas Stars and when he was named to Hockey Canada's roster for the Summer Challenge against Russia. But I also have to respect that (acknowledge that people who are smarter than me saw something I didn't see in him) and in a list of six goaltenders, Lagace is the only one right now with an NHL contract.

That said, Lagace's play rightfully should put him on the bottom of this list.

As I mentioned in the article, Honzik has been in a rough situation for the past two years. He battled for time in Victoriaville and ended the season with the team turning to Brandon Whitney when the wheels fell off in the playoffs. But that was a case of the wheels falling off for the entire team, rather than just Honzik alone. Team captain Philip Danault made mention of that enough when I interviewed him in the summer, talking about team chemistry.

The decision to move Honzik was made for a few reasons by Victoriaville, not just because they had two goaltenders capable of being starters, but I also believe Honzik's age (Whitney will return to the Q next year) and the fact that Honzik is an Import played into it (the Tigres added forward Dominik Rehak, who just turned 18, again a move for a younger team in Victoriaville as they plan for the future).  Finally, Honzik was scheduled to miss the beginning of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, which possibly was also a factor in the Tigres choice to send him away.

The shoulder is important, because it was an injury that Honzik suffered during last season in Victoriaville and played through. So that also might help explain his struggles in the playoffs and the poor numbers he put up in January and February of 2012 (a 6-2-1 record, but a .869 save percentage and a 4.04 GAA).

Which then brings us to this year. Much can be said about the problems that plagued the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. They finished with 36 points this season and just 14 wins. My error here was attributing too much of the team situation to the situation with the player.

Honzik appeared in 32 games for the Eagles, the most out of the 3 goaltenders they used this year. But more importantly, he played the majority of those games after any hope that Cape Breton had was already breathing its last breath. Because of the rehab for the shoulder surgery, Honzik did not return to the ice until November.

Honzik rejoined the team after missing the first 19 games of the year. In those 19 games, Cape Breton had a record of 5-10-2-2. Considering their final standings, 38% of their points came in the first 28% of the season. For a team like Cape Breton, who at this point had already fired their GM and would soon fire their coach, things were about to go from bad to worse.

Honzik joined a team in disarray and one that was on the cusp of being hit by numerous significant injuries. By the end of December/early January, William Carrier, Kyle Farrell, Jakub Culek and Loic Leduc would all be out of the lineup with injuries and they would not return for the rest of the year. Furthermore, top scorer Alexandre Lavoie would request a trade in late December and sat out until he was accommodated.

For Honzik, the period of December and January was his best. After needing a few games to get his feet back under himself (a 6.24/.771 November over 6 games in November), those two months were very strong. Cape Breton fired their coach at the beginning of December and that seemed to spur on the Czech goaltender.  Honzik appeared in 14 games over those two months and although his record was 2-10-0-1, his save percentage was .909 and his GAA was 3.09. Strong stats for any goaltender in the league, let alone one on a team in freefall.

So that's the story on David Honzik. In retrospect, I was incorrect in placing him last among the six. I did not look as close into the situation as I should have when doing my original research for the article.

Those numbers from that period of time in December and January, where Cape Breton was playing at the closest they came to full strength are no doubt a better reflection of the player than the situation he found himself in and place him comparable to Francois Tremblay, Chris Gibson and his former teammate Brandon Whitney.


HF: QMJHL Emergence – additional content

The culmination of my CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game coverage was a brief interview with QMJHL Commissioner Gilles Courteau, which led to me writing this article about the league's strong draft class in 2013 and some improvements that I've seen in the league over the past few years.

Here's some additional thoughts:

  • The idea behind this article started taking root a number of years ago, perhaps even as far back as 2008 when there wasn't a QMJHL player selected in the first round. I've always been interested in draft trends over time.
  • One particular narrative is Atlantic Canada. The Halifax Mooseheads were the first team in these provinces back in 1994-95, so players like Nathan MacKinnon have grown up going to Moosehead games. There's now six teams across three provinces (and there used to be a team in Newfoundland).
  • Besides the players simply growing up as QMJHL fans, I wonder how much language and being able to play close to home factors in for young Atlantic Canadians entering in to the QMJHL.
  • I didn't run all the numbers, but I feel like the QMJHL also has a higher number of Import players drafted per quota. Last year, I wrote about the Import Draft in this article.
  • One demographic that I didn't mention was the Americans. Right off the top of my head, I'm not sure if there has been a top level American draft eligible in the QMJHL (maybe Ryan Bourque or Adam Pineault?)
  • That all might change with the QMJHL mandating that their teams must draft two American players each year.
  • One thing that I think hurts the QMJHL compared to the other CHL leagues is population base. Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces is the smallest population and even when pulling from the US, the states they have rights too are New England, with a heavy college influence to compete against.
  • The OHL has access to Michigan and New York, while the WHL has done great work with areas like California.
  • Like attracting Atlantic Canadians, I wonder how much language and culture has an effect on American players choosing to come to the QMJHL.
  • I'm interested in how draft classes relate to one another. For example, the last 10 years, a talented year from the QMJHL (4-5 first rounders) was often followed with a slower year (0-2 first rounders). The 2014 draft class doesn't look particularly incredible at this point.
  • When it comes to draft picks from particular positions, it's worth noting that although QMJHL goaltenders aren't as favoured as they were 15-20 years ago, there's also a reluctance to drafting goalies in the top rounds as a whole.
  • Also I mentioned the rise of defensemen coming out of the QMJHL, but looking ahead, I'm wondering if that might be short lived. The league has gone from Gormley & Beaulieu to Ouellet & Sergeev and next up is Culkin & Fournier with Morin & Murphy in the pipeline. Nothing against any of those players, but the Q isn't challenging the OHL & the WHL for developing blue liners anytime soon.
  • With that said, the development time for most defensemen is a bit longer as well, so it will be a few years before accurate assessments can be made.
  • I'll be looking at the NHL drafted defensemen in the QMJHL a bit closer in my next article for Hockey's Future (shameless plug).

Top Prospects Game – by the numbers

The 2013 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, by the numbers:

  • # of Articles written: 9
  • # of Words written: 10,389
  • Capacity of the Halifax Metro Centre: 10,595
  • Longest article: 1748 words
  • Shortest article: 871 words
  • # of times I've been told I'm long-winded: countless
  • # of Days of coverage: 3
  • # of Trips to the rink: 4
  • Total hours of sleep (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday): 17
  • # of Cups of tea drank: 16
  • # of Cups of coffee drank: 4
  • # of Lattes drank: 1
  • # of Players interviewed: 14 (+2 coaches + 1 commissioner)
  • Psalm number on the back of goaltender Spencer Martin's helmet: 118:8
  • Height of Samuel Morin (tallest player): 6'6.25
  • Weight of Nikita Zadorov (biggest player): 221 pounds
  • Height and weight of Nicolas Petan (smallest player): 5'8.25 and 166 pounds
  • # of Participating players who were in Halifax for the 2011 Canada Winter Games: 21
  • # of Stanley Cups won by Kevin Lowe: 6
  • # of Funny looks I gave Kevin Lowe for his hat (some sort of poorboy cap): 3
  • # of Goals in the game: 3
  • # of Fights: 2
  • # of Carlin's Seven Dirty Words that losing coach Don Cherry used in post-game press conference: 3

QMJHL invites for Team Canada

On Monday, December 3rd, Hockey Canada will announced their selection camp roster for the 2013 World Junior Championships. As I did last year, here's my prediction on what QMJHL players will be invited to the camp.

RDS's Stephane Leroux predicts that there will be between 6 and 8 QMJHL players invited to the camp.

Here's my list:

Jonathan Huberdeau, Saint John Sea Dogs - Huberdeau is a no brainer to be invited and to be on the team. A returning member from last year, Huberdeau was tied for second on Team Canada in scoring last year with a goal and nine points in six games. If it wasn't for the NHL lockout, Huberdeau would be playing for the Florida Panthers in the big leagues. Instead, he'll be a top line player for Canada's offensive attack.

Phillip Danault, Victoriaville Tigres - Danault was invited to the selection camp last December but didn't make the cut. In fact, he was likely competing with fellow QMJHL player Michael Bournival for the same role on the team. Bournival made the team, but has now graduated to pro hockey, opening the door for Danault. The Chicago Blackhawks prospect impressed at the Canada-Russia Challenge over the summer and can fill a bottom six role with plenty of PK opportunity. I see him making the team.

Charles Hudon, Chicoutimi Sagueneens - Another player who impressed at the Canada-Russia Challenge, Charles Hudon is an offensive talent that has forced his way into serious consideration for a spot on Team Canada. A Montreal Canadiens prospect, Hudon might be smaller in stature, but his skills and determination on the ice make up for any shortcomings. At a game last night against Halifax, Hudon left the ice briefly under what appeared to be considerable pain, but returned  for the next period. A relief for both Hudon and Hockey Canada, as I see him making the final team.

Nathan MacKinnon, Halifax Mooseheads - Highly touted, there were many who thought Nathan MacKinnon should have made last year's World Junior squad as a 16-year-old. Now a year older and no less impressive, MacKinnon is a strong favourite to be drafted first overall at next summer's NHL draft. In the mean time, his speed and offensive abilities will add to Team Canada's forward corps. I have him making the team.

Jonathan Drouin, Halifax Mooseheads - Drouin has made a name for himself so far this year by proving to be just as dazzling on the ice as his linemate MacKinnon. With both players eligible for next summer's draft, Drouin makes a strong argument for himself to be considered among the first few players picked. A wizard with the puck, Drouin might unfortunately find himself victim to the numbers game due to the NHL lockout. There's a chance he'll still be available next season, but I think he'll be hard pressed to break the roster this year.

Xavier Ouellet, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada - Another player who played well during the Canada-Russia Challenge,  Xavier Ouellet is currently suffering from sprained ankle but should be healthy by the time the selection camp rolls around. Despite being known as a more offensively talented player, Ouellet,a Detroit Red Wings prospect, filled a shutdown role with Canada over the summer and will likely be called to do that again on the final team, especially due to the injury to Ryan Murray that will rule him out for this year's World Juniors. I see Ouellet making the final squad.

Etienne Marcoux, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada - A teammate of Ouellet's, Etienne Marcoux could have injury questions of his own. Early reports from last night have him suffering a shoulder injury, which is concerning news as the undrafted goaltender has a history of shoulder issues. If he's healthy, he's likely the best in the QMJHL at his age group, but he'll be in the dog fight to fill the backup role behind expected starter Malcolm Subban. With Team Canada expected to bring their #3 goaltender along with them to Russia, Marcoux might squeak in to a spot on the team.

Zach Fucale, Halifax Mooseheads - Arguably the top draft eligible goaltender for this year's draft, Fucale is young but his play on the ice certainly does not reflect his age. His calm demeanour and controlled movements on the ice pace the rest of the Mooseheads and there's good reason why he was the co-MVP of the team last year alongside MacKinnon. With Hockey Canada's historical preference towards older player when it comes to the World Juniors, this invitation to the selection camp might be more for experience than anything else. He'll get his opportunity soon enough.

So that's my eight players. If Hockey Canada only invites six players from the QMJHL, I see Drouin and Fucale on the outside looking in. In total though, I see at least five of these players (Huberdeau, Danault, Hudon, MacKinnon and Ouellet) on the final roster. After the camp is announced, I'll write up my prediction on the final roster, based mostly on my observations from the Canada-Russia Challenge and some changes that have happened over the course of the season thus far.

Other possibilities for QMJHL players to be invited:

Francois Brassard, Quebec Remparts - The other top goaltender in the QMJHL, Brassard was drafted by the Ottawa Senators last summer. Like Fucale, he could be brought along for the experience and could compete for a spot next year.

Dillon Fournier, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies - A puckmoving defenseman, Fournier plays big minutes for the Huskies, which coincidentally is Team Canada's assistant coach, Andre Tourigny's team. Drafted by Chicago last summer, he could be in the mix next year.

Finally, there's Maxime Lagace, a goaltender for the PEI Rocket. Lagace was a member of Team Canada at the Canada-Russia Challenge, but played poorly in his single game of action. Signed as a free agent by the Dallas Stars over the summer, Lagace has had a poor start to the season, including losing his starting role in PEI. He's unlikely to still be in Hockey Canada's plans, as could be seen by the fact that he was not invited to play at the Super Series games.



2012 QMJHL Playoffs: Third Round

The 2012 QMJHL championships start tonight, so here's some closing thoughts on the last two weeks of playoff hockey in the QMJHL.

  • No surprise that Saint John is in the final, but how about the Rimouski Oceanic? They finished seventh in the league but are now in the final two. Rookie coach Serge Beausoleil quickly becoming one of the more promising names behind the benches in the league.
  • Rimouski averages 4 goals-per-game and allows 3 goals-per-game. Meanwhile, Saint John is scoring at more than 6 goals-per-game rate and allowing just over 2 goals-per-game.
  • One thing that really surprised me with Rimouski was their defensive play. The whole team made an effort to keep Halifax to the outside and block as many shots as they could, which ultimately led to the Mooseheads elimination in the third round. They'll have a tougher job against the talents in Saint John though.
  • Many may have felt that Saint John was closer to the pack this year then last year. After all, this season they only won the regular season by a six point margin compared to 17 points the previous year. But keep in mind the changes they dealt with: Huberdeau, Jurco, Tesink and Galiev all missed major time, while Coyle didn't join the squad until the second half. As scary as it might be, they're better than they showed in the regular season.
  • Dealing with the roster shuffle during the regular season should mean that Huberdeau's suspension for the first two games of the series (due to a dangerous hit on Chicoutimi's Charles Hudon) won't slow the machine down too much.
  • Interesting that Huberdeau is the team's best faceoff guy in the playoffs (57%), although he normally only takes the draw during special teams. 4th liner Jason Cameron is next with (55%). Charles Coyle, Danick Gauthier and Stephen MacAulay are all sub-50% success, while Zach Phillips is barely better at 51%.
  • By comparison, Rimouski's top faceoff guy is Alexandre Mallet with 57%. Mallet at 19 has definitely opened some eyes in this playoff run. He forms the Oceanic's top unit with Alex Belzile and Peter Trainor, all under-rated and undrafted veterans.
  • Rimouski's Pierre-Luc Pelletier seemed to be tasked with defending against Halifax's Nathan MacKinnon in the third round and at times, MacKinnon's frustration was visible. His job will be a lot harder against Saint John's depth though.
  • A pretty impressive turn-around by Columbus prospect Petr Straka. Last year with Rimouski, he scored just 25 points all season long while bogged down with injury. So far in the playoffs, he's got 19 points in 17 games. He adds an important secondary scoring element to the Oceanic.
  • Another interesting story is Scott Oke. Oke was with Saint John last season for the championship and the Memorial Cup. I don't think anyone could have expected that he would be facing his old team in the league championships when they dealt him to Rimouski at the mid-season mark. Draft eligible last year, Oke has a great mix of size and skill. I remember last year it being speculated that if he played a larger role for a different team, he might have been drafted. Could that be a possibility this time around?
  • On Saint John's side, it's easy to forget about Stanislav Galiev after he missed a large chunk of the year with injury, but he continues to show why he's a top flight QMJHL player and a star NHL prospect. Fourth in playoff scoring and averaging two points per game, Galiev has always raised his game for the postseason.
  • Notable as well was the 8th ranked Chicoutimi making it to the third round. They were a team that took some time to gel after some mid-season trades, but it paid off for them. They could lose both Pageau and Gibson to the pro ranks this summer.
  • No playoff goaltenders were busier than Zach Fucale and Christopher Gibson. Both faced over 500 shots in the playoffs (on average 29.8/game for Fucale and 33.1/game for Gibson). Have to wonder how much fatigue was a factor at a certain point, especially for the rookie Fucale who has been playing in every game since December.
  • Much has been written about Nathan MacKinnon, but his linemate and fellow rookie Jonathan Drouin deserves some acclaim. He joined the team at the mid-season point and really came into his own in the playoffs, finishing just one point behind MacKinnon in scoring with 27 points in 17 games. Next season will be an exciting one for Halifax.
  • Final note: Quebec announced that Grigorenko has mono. Apparently he felt tired during the series versus Halifax, which may help explain his lack-lustre play. If he would have been 100%, who is to say how that series would have turned out.
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