Fall really is here, isn’t it? That lovely crisp feel in the air after a few warm, muggy, months can be a relief for those us that live in a jurisdiction that actually has a summer. Of course, those of you living in Calgary have no idea what I’m talking about, so feel free to disregard the preceding sentence, but at any rate, the season is drawing inexorably nearer. In the round-up this week, the youngsters head to the Okanagan, the RFA pool shrinks, and PA might finally have its man.
The kids have arrived in Penticton for the Young Stars tournament that kicks off later today. The Flames’ prospects get a twirl tomorrow afternoon against Anaheim’s youth, with the puck drop at 5PM MT. The Fan960 has web-only audio for the opener, and although the Flames’ website doesn’t mention any coverage, the Ducks’, Canucks’ and Oilers’ team sites all suggest they’ll have streaming video of the games.
Of all the Flame prospects gathering in wine country this week, I might be most interested in the progress of Mitch Wahl. The Seal Beach native had the sort of junior career that sometimes goes under the radar, but guys that manage PPG numbers in their draft year while playing the other team’s better players bear watching. His brief stint with Abby last spring suggests he might just need a bit of time to finish physically maturing, but it appears that Jimmy Canaryshirt is in his corner, differing personalities aside. I’ll just remind people of the fact that Craig Conroy, who I’ve used as a comp for Wahl in the past, played exactly 13 NHL games before he turned 25, so patience, as with every other prospect, is in order.
The boss, fresh off farm-related activities of his own, opined that the upcoming camp might see a vet or two disappointed in the outcome. There’s plenty of amusement in that interview for those of us that might be of a more cynical bent, including the little lecture about how the cap changes from day to day. Who was it that acquired Steve Staios, again? Hmmmm.
As mentioned, the Flames are part of a five team prospects’ tournament that includes youngsters from Anaheim, Vancouver, San Jose, and Edmonton. The Oilers’ kids have the highest profiles, with Taylor Hall at the forefront. He got the official seal of approval from the ol’ Vish Throttler this week, as Kevin Lowe handed over the number 4 jersey. The Oilers will likely be a team worth watching this season, in that there’s always a school of thought that suggests that a team in the mushy middle should just blow things up, live with several years of suck, and reap the rewards. It’s a damned risky way to proceed, though, and the Oilers are right in the middle of that process. Flashy junior careers aside, their young men will probably lead them to the lottery once again.
The Canucks are hosting the event this week, but one of their prize prospects is still shelved, as Cody Hodgson’s wonky back remains a bother. If the kid’s back hinders him in any significant way, the Canucks might regret the ridiculous approach they took with him at this time last season, when they did all but publicly accuse him of dogging it. Playing through pain is a part of any athlete’s life, of course, but Vancouver might have damaged the young man through sheer bloody-mindedness.
The Ducks will be Calgary’s first opponent tomorrow evening, but they have larger issues at play, like the status of Bobby Ryan. The Duck winger still remains unsigned, with plenty of rumours swirling, but I still can’t imagine any deal for him that exceeds Getzlaf’s. He isn’t the only notable RFA unaccounted for, with James Neal and Niklas Bergfors also waiting for contracts to be negotiated.
The number of RFAs on the pond did manage to shrink this week, with two contracts really standing out. Martin Hanzal signed a very reasonable deal in the desert, averaging 1.8M over two years. He’s already a tough minutes eater at the age of 23, which is a rarity in the NHL, and I hope people can grasp why his point totals are pretty much irrelevant. He out-shot and out-scored the best the Coyotes’ opposition could throw at him, with a 46.6 ZS% tacked on for good measure. I don’t know exactly what that sort of performance should be worth, but the Coyotes sure as hell aren’t overpaying.
A young man that Phoenix forsook also inked a new deal, as Peter Mueller agreed to remain in Denver for the next two seasons for 2M per. He’s almost exactly the opposite type of player from Hanzal at this juncture of his career, feasting on some easy circumstances after his trade to the Avalanche. All credit to him for doing something with that sort of opportunity, and his pedigree suggests he has a shot at being pretty good as he matures, but he’s not remotely as valuable as Hanzal.
Other players to get a deal include Andrew Cogliano and our old pal Nigel Dawes, who signed a two-way deal with the Thrashers. If Atlanta actually follows through on their plan to use Dustin Byfuglien on defence, the wee man from Winnipeg might get some non-trivial PP time.
This week’s off-ice news of note concerns the likely ascension of Don Fehr to the head of the NHLPA. It isn’t quite done yet, as teams will likely not vote on the matter until later this fall, but the die appears to be cast. Like Tyler Dellow, I hope people watch the moves that the NFLPA might make in order to deal with a potential labour disruption, including the threat of decertification in order to prevent the NFL from imposing a lockout. The NFLPA went this route in the early ’90s with considerable success, and as Brandt noted in the linked piece, the ruling by the USSC on the American Needle case appears to limit the powers of that league and by proxy, the NBA and NHL. The NHLPA likely won’t go that far, but they might remember that the NFLPA decertified, let various court decisions force the league and players together, and then reformed once the dust had settled. The Kovalchuk ruling, to my mind, allows the league some pretty spectacular freedom in imposing rules that it might not get under a scenario where the players weren’t bargaining in the collective.
That’s all for this week. The big kids go to camp in a few days. It’s long past time.