Saturday, October 7th
#NSHLFriedge on Wagers, Jersey Sales & Free Agency
Does anyone even remember their Wagers from last season? If I'm being completely honest, I'd forgotten all about it. It seems like the league had to but as it turns out the Commissioner has been side tracked with other things and there just has not been time.
On Saturday the league updated the Wagers results and all-in-all it was a financial success for participating teams.
The Quebec Nordiques came away as the big winners, taking top spot after making the most correct predictions overall with 21, winning $6M cash. They'd add another $3M in cash from their Challenges, one by correctly challenging the Hurricanes, and the other two from incorrect challenges by Seattle (Calgary) and Tampa Bay (Hamilton). Nine million dollars, not a bad haul.
The Hamilton Tigers (previously Tampa Bay) and Toronto Maple Leafs were tied for second place therefore taking home second and third place prize money ($6,000,000 combined).
The league handed out $42,000,000 in total for the #NSHLWagers feature. When asked if it would be back for NSHL17 the Commissioner said "The hope is to bring it back for sure. With so much "easy money" available to teams, it almost would seem absurd to not take advantage of a fantastic event like this. We might address some potential 'weaknesses' to really enhance the experience - details will come in time."
I've heard from various league sources that the #NSHL17Wagers feature will be updated more frequently with prize money throughout the season, rather than at the end of the year.
Speaking of my "various league sources" I can confirm that the league is working on unveiling their newest endeavour, a new deal with Adidas to enter the league into jersey sales. For the first time ever, teams will be able to sell jerseys, with incentives that can earn more "easy money" for everyone. The details are still vague as far as I'm aware, but as I understand it teams will compete in jersey sales and the top sellers overall will be eligible for further incentives. Look for this to start bringing Captaincy back into play, a feature this league has available but does not really take advantage of.
Also in the coming months the league will begin introducing what they're calling #NSHLLegends a tip of the hat to a long lost Hall of Fame. "The Hall" existed many seasons ago but got off-track and sort of took a nosedive when an elected member found themselves bankrupt. The "new look" is being headed up by Red Wings GM Eric Gosselin and Canadiens GM Sean Crowder who are working on building the statistical database needed to start determining which players and GMs of the past should be considered "Legends".
I've put off talking Free Agency long enough, so let me throw out some of my own thoughts, based on various conversations I've had with GMs across the league. Nothing solid and perhaps a few of them were blowing smoke, but here we go anyways.
The top player available if you go based on OV ratings is two-time Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin. The Blackhawks had the opportunity to Franchise Tag the 30 year-old free agent, but elected to allow him to test the market. Make no mistake, everything tells me Chicago will be "all-in" on getting Gino back and they can certainly afford to pay him.
I think their biggest challenges will come from the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers, both also wealthy clubs that are looking for a stud centre. It likely comes down to who has the bigger briefcase full of money ready to throw on the table.
Fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin is also a free agent and I don't expect him to return to his former club, now in Vancouver. Once again I think the Rangers and Flyers will be big time players on Ovie, with a sneaky run potentially coming from Tampa Bay who might like to lock-up Ovechkin for themselves and peg him on the top line with soon-to-be Rookie of the Year (??) Connor McDavid.
Something else that I think may not be as interesting to others as I think it is. Word on the street is that neither expansion team is planning to remain mum when the market opens and we could see some free agent spending from Los Angeles and Winnipeg. It makes sense you know, with a handful of very talented 30 year old UFAs hitting the market, a decent bank account (by league standards), and a long "wishlist" of needs.
The Jets don't have a goalie on the roster, so don't be surprised if a GM Sousa - Marc-Andre Fleury reuniting happens in Winnipeg. With the extremely thin goaltending market, and the shift of the league to having IIHF contracts only in the MSHL, the bidding for goalies may be intense. The reigning Vezina trophy winner Jonas Hiller is not eligible to return to the pros as he's in Europe "in real life". Boom. Huge talent, limited market.
I asked a few GMs for their thoughts on the change in policy re: IIHF. The feelings were pretty much all the same: most teams only had one or two guys in the pros anyways so it doesn't change a whole lot. The changes are to the one-off guys like Hiller who just happened to have the season of his life when he was playing in Europe outside the NSHL. "The ruling on goalies might be an issue, to be fair. We're so short supplied as it is so limiting European goalies from our rosters could be difficult when injuries start turning up mid-season. We'll see." said a veteran GM.
My final thought on the day is nothing new, but worth throwing out there: at the end of all this, once the off-season finally winds down, all rostered players get promoted and teams set their lines. In doing so they open themselves up to Opening Day Waivers where any player 25 and older that gets demoted has to clear waivers before opening day.
This "restriction" if you will prevents teams from just signing all the players and stacking their MSHL roster with talent. It's been around for years and does a pretty good job at keeping talented players in the big leagues. Some teams, not all teams, but some teams have figured out that in the later rounds you can grab a guy and overpay him so he's a significant contract to remaing in the pros but gets 10% of that once he clears ODW (Opening Day Waivers).
It's a workaround if you will. He makes too much for a team to take interest of him as a waiver claim, but once he has cleared, he's a guaranteed top line player for my farm club. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this thought process and no, it doesn't always pay out.
My advice to some of the new guys, and there's a few of them out there now that have never really participated in free agency. This is free advice, so consider that I guess too.
You have so many offers you can make in a given free agency wave, say the limit is 5. You're only really interested in a top line forward, a backup goalie and maybe a defender so you make 3 offers. Why not throw in some minimum wage offers with the remaining 2 slots and just see where that takes you? Maybe the 6th defenseman you need 1 month in to the season can be had for $500,000 in Wave 3 of free agency, rather than worrying about what to do once the season starts and you've got to promote and demote.
It's funny to me that teams don't take advantage of all of the things available to them. Free agency slots for one, and apparently the "easy money" I talked about isn't so easy when you decide not to partake.
Sunday, September 3rd
#NSHLFriedge on the Playoffs & Looming Expansion
Wow. What a few weeks it has been. Playoffs. An MSHL final that was the Battle of the Unlikely. The Islanders and Seguin. The End and Start of the Sousa Era. The Kings and Jets are 19 and 20. Lots to cover, let's get started.
The MSHL playoffs were quite a bit of a surprise for many as the Wolfpack and Mallards took on the "Minnesota North Stars" approach of getting hot at the right time and taking out the favoured competition. As some of the worst MSHL teams last year, both Finalists turned zeroes into heroes and came out ahead (with the Wolfpack coming out slightly more ahead than the Mallards).
What does this mean for the MSHL going forward?
I was asked on Twitter whether or not I thought more teams would take a "one and done" approach to the MSHL. Not to say that's what either of these clubs did, but more to the point that they quickly turned it around in less than a year.
To answer the question: Yes - but not for the reason you'd think.
The league's Board of Directors have eliminated the Pro IIHF contract and are restricting any international players to MSHL only duty. Sounds great, I'm all for it. Let North American talent compete at the elite level and open the door for vets to stick around or for young kids to break through.
With an influx of IIHF talent (see Vezina candidate Jonas Hiller), the MSHL is about to get a production boost. IIHF deals are one year deals and one year deals only with no rights going forward. Any team that thinks an Ilya Kovalchuk on a one year deal would improve their club into immediate competitiveness (he would), can sign him, pay him the big bucks and buy a top line winger to complement their young up and comers.
One GM told me he expects the MSHL IIHF UFA market to be as fierce and competitive as any other part of free agency this off-season. "Hiller, Kovalchuk, Bouchard, Brunner... all top quality players that could turn any team into the MSHL17 version of the Wolfpack or the Mallards."
Speaking of the MSHL: would you look at how quickly a player like Tyson Barrie can go from "MSHL stud" to helping his team reach the Stanley Cup Finals. Fair, he had a lot of help, but the Detroit Red Wings made an improbable run of their own this year and their wealth of MSHL talent played a big part.
With that being said, the Grand Rapids Griffins were an odds on favourite right through the playoffs too. Nino Niederreiter has grown up in the MSHL and will soon graduate to NSHL game where he'll no doubt excel. The Red Wings - Griffins culture seems to defy the "future one and done" MSHL point I made earlier. I guess in truth the direction and speed of travel all depends whose driving the truck and how fast they want to get there.
That brings me to the New York Islanders. The Islanders turned Cleveland Barons turned Washington Capitals turned New York Islanders again. Before the current group was in place the franchise had best been known for only three things: the elite Mike Comrie era, being incredibly cheap and being incredibly MIA. Oh how times have changed.
The Tim Tan era is upon us and his moves have already brought the team a title. True, many of the pieces were inherited, but the addition of Taylor Hall cannot be overlooked. The team is no longer the "autopilot" champion and all things considered, no one would be the least bit surprised if they were back in the finals next year.
"It may be getting tougher for a team like the Islanders..." an anonymous GM told me. "The Sabres relocation to Pittsburgh puts them both in the East. The Sabres franchise is up and coming if you look at the recent regular season successes of their affiliate in Rochester. They've got some talent that may interest an Expansion club too, to be honest. Interesting decisions ahead for the reigning champs."
Moving on to the Expansion teams..
The league has been aware of the Panthers' removal and rebirth for some time, but the Predators' decision had only happened in recent weeks. Two teams out. Two teams in. Easy, right?
GM Sousa's personal relocation overseas made him unreachable and therefore inactive for months. The decision originally to remove him wasn't easy and set to take apart one of the best top to bottom clubs the NSHL has seen. But for the Commissioner and the Board, inactivity is inactivity.
Then, after curfew, a plea came from GM Sousa to return to the league and restore himself as the league's 20th GM - only a couple of years removed from NSHL and MSHL titles. What a bind.
My sources tell me the league was in talks with a couple of people to fill the role when Sousa's request came through. Going on the credibility built through the years, Sousa was awarded the second Expansion franchise - losing what he built as a punishment for inactivity and zero communication.
I asked the Commissioner for his comment on my findings above. His response?
"Look. Anyone can have stuff in their life take over and the NSHL becomes an afterthought. I get it. But it's helpful to know the interest is there to return. The communication lines are open, send a message. We sort out lines and rosters for busy GMs all the time. We lost communication here and made plans to expand that impacted every GM. We were too far along to back up."
Now that GM Sousa is back officially, I'm hearing reports he has already sent feelers out to existing GMs about making a deal to protect their studs from the Expansion Draft. The difficulty he has is he cannot guarantee his Expansion rival in Los Angeles won't take what he agrees to pass on.
According to those in the Sousa / Jets camp, regardless who wins the coin toss on Sunday, the Jets will be taking two former Predators with their only Dispersal Draft picks.
As for the "real" new guy? All is mum. As a referral of Ducks GM Andy the expectation is that GM Tower will not take a "slow and steady" approach to building and will come out guns a-blazing.
Related note: GM Andy tells me the new guy in Los Angeles is the "Hamm of the West" - can't wait to cover his press conferences, let me tell you.
Ok, so we have two new teams entering the fray, there's bound to be some gossip on the trade front, right?
Surprisingly, there's not much that I'm aware of. I do know there's a Red Wings - Lighting now Tigers deal involving goaltender Matt Murray that will likely light a fire. The Tigers will be holding onto an unconfirmed asset for the Red Wings until after the Expansion Draft and will be rewarded for it.
Look for a number of teams to consider this approach, although I doubt many pull it off. Protecting 11 players is definitely more than enough with rookies and prospects exempt.
In a typical situation that's 1 goalie and then the first two lines of forwards and top two pairs of defenders. Teams can stray from that approach obviously, but few need the extra protection given the abundance of up and coming youth in the league.
Finally, I wanted to ask the Commissioner what his plans were for expansion down the line if this goes well. Given that a number of GMs were apparently lining up to take on the 20th team before Johnny Sousa was re-hired. His thoughts were pretty clear: "20 is good. We've got a solid group here. The contraction will help with financial stability of the 18, then the two new teams get a fresh slate. 20 active teams is perfect. We need to build up player depth, specifically goalies. Get them wanting to play I the MSHL and NSHL instead of overseas - then we're golden."
Summer's winding down and the offseason approaches. I suspect you'll hear more from me in the next little bit. It's bound to be hectic. Enjoy!