By: Nick Lanciani
It’s been a busy offseason around the NHL- and by that I mean it’s been a rather unusual offseason around the NHL.
The Ryan O’Reilly saga finally ended in Colorado and began in Buffalo, but took a side trip into the side of a Tim Horton’s somewhere in Ontario. While the Sabres could use his offense, they could do without his legal offenses (moral of the story, everyone, don’t drink and drive- have a designated driver, be responsible- use common sense).
Mikhail Grigorenko’s been reunited with Patrick Roy in Colorado, although sadly the rest of the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 Quebec Remparts will not be joining the party in Denver.
T.J. Oshie, Brandon Saad, Milan Lucic, Dougie Hamilton, Patrick Sharp, Cam Talbot, Phil Kessel, and others have all been on the move as the result of blockbuster trades.
Don Sweeney’s been on a rampage (more on that later), Peter Chiarelli’s turned around the Edmonton Oilers in one offseason (at least on paper), and the Toronto Maple Leafs front office might be the smartest guys in the game for the first time in a longtime. Wait, what did I just say?
That’s right, on Thursday, 72-year-old hockey front office legend, Lou Lamoriello, resigned as president of the New Jersey Devils only to join the Toronto Maple Leafs (announced on Twitter a mere two minutes apart) as their 16th general manager in franchise history.
Fun fact: Back in 1987, Lamoriello drafted now fellow colleague, Brendan Shanahan, 2nd overall in his first season as the president and general manager of the Devils.
Now, Lamoriello joins Shanahan in Toronto’s front office. Things certainly are weird right now in New Jersey, in the meantime, by the way- where Ray Shero is currently their GM and Marty Brodeur is, well, among the front office of the St. Louis Blues. Yep, it’s safe to say nobody would have predicted that both Brodeur and Lamoriello would move on from the Devils.
In 2009, Lamoriello praised Shanahan after Shanahan attempted one final go in the NHL, with the Devils, only to decide he would not continue his career and thus stepped aside from playing, retiring before the 2009-2010 season. Lamoriello expressed so much praise, in fact, that he blatantly stated that should Shanahan want a job in the Devils front office, Lamoriello would go out of his way to make it happen.
But here we are in 2015, where Shanahan recently transitioned to the helm of the Maple Leafs front office and instead of going to his former boss for a position, he brought in his former boss.
Lamoriello spent 28 years with the New Jersey Devils organization, but now he’s about to embark on his first season with a different organization- just his second as a general manager- the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Maple Leafs, if you recall, hired Mike Babcock this offseason as their latest head coach, by the way. Babcock too, left an organization he spent a lot of time with for the Maple Leafs this summer. Babcock spent the last 10 years with the Detroit Red Wings before joining Toronto.
Both Lamoriello and Babcock have something in common, they both left teams that used red as a primary color for a team that wears a blue maple leaf proudly displayed prominently on their jersey (it’s a bit slow right now in the offseason, cut me some slack).
In other news, the National Hockey League began the formal expansion process this summer, having accepted expansion applications up until Monday.
Two cities formally submitted a bid before the deadline- Las Vegas, Nevada and Quebec City, Quebec.
Las Vegas billionaire, Bill Foley, continues to headman the construction of an arena in Las Vegas as well as a drive for season tickets while aiming to land an expansion team. Meanwhile, Montreal-based media conglomerate, Quebecor, aims to bring the NHL back to Quebec City.
One of Canada’s hockey gods, Don Cherry, has already provided his blessing for a return to Quebec City.
This is the first time the league has formally gone through the expansion process since the late 1990s when the league quickly grew in size adding the Nashville Predators, the Atlanta Thrashers, the Minnesota Wild, and the Columbus Blue Jackets between 1998 and 2000 to become the 30 team league that we all know and love today (with the minor relocation of the Thrashers to Winnipeg having occurred prior to the 2011-2012 season, of course).
Since the Thrashers relocation to Winnipeg, the NHL has continued to take a firm stance against having to move another team for a while. Prior to the formal announcement of the expansion process being officially explored, the Arizona Coyotes and the City of Glendale, Arizona were at odds with one another.
Despite IceArizona’s firm commitment to the State of Arizona, many thought the Coyotes would be on their way out of Glendale this offseason. Given how a short move back to Phoenix in such a short period of time would not be feasible, speculation led to the Coyotes packing their bags and moving to an NHL ready arena.
Downtown Phoenix does not have an appropriate sporting arena for hockey currently, thereby handing the Coyotes a double whammy when their Gila River Arena lease agreement with Glendale was pulled out from under them by the city.
After threatening substantial legal action, IceArizona and the City of Glendale came to terms on amending their agreement- eliminating an outclause from its initial version and adjusting some revenue sharing between the hockey club and the city (the team will now get a larger share, with the city footing less of the bill).
Again, the Coyotes are staying put. No escape route to Seattle, no move from one desert to another desert (Las Vegas), and no move to Quebec City that would further imbalance the conferences in the league.
But then again, the amended lease agreement is only for two years, so the Coyotes aren’t fully out of the woods yet.
There remains so much yet to be seen concerning the Arizona Coyotes and their strained relations with the City of Glendale. While a short-term deal is necessary for their immediate survival in the market, their ultimate situation is not comforting. Things still could get quite ugly in a couple of years, yet the two sides have something to work with right now and can always chip away at improving viability of the franchise in Glendale.
If not, perhaps the next two years is all the time the Coyotes need to convince Phoenix, Arizona and the NBA’s Phoenix Suns to construct a new- joint- arena that would be suitable for hockey in the desert and a return to downtown Phoenix for the Coyotes franchise. Otherwise, it could be enough for Seattle to scrap together some plans for a NHL-ready arena and sway the Coyotes into relocation.
Or there’s always Quebec City or Las Vegas, that, should either location not see the expansion process include them in the more immediate future of the league, could always have a stronger say in relocation. Both cities have strong interest from potential ownership groups and physical arena’s that are state of the art and nearing completion.
Speaking of Quebec City and Las Vegas, now is the perfect time to reach into these markets. A return of the Nordiques to the hockey crazed Ville de Québec would be a golden opportunity for the league to return the game to where it belongs and can further drive marketability.
For those that are opposed to adding another team in the Eastern Conference, kindly show yourself to the door. Realignment is never a fun topic, but I think we can all agree that sending the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets back to the Western Conference would be a good thing. As fans, we’d see a return of more Detroit and Chicago matchups, providing more fuel to the fire- built into the regular season schedule- when it comes to that longstanding rivalry.
And with the addition of a team in Las Vegas, well, it’s the same old, same old. It’s a never before seen market in all of professional sports and it would balance the conferences under the aforementioned scenario.
So at the end of the day, why disappoint the good people of Quebec City once again, NHL?
Then again, balanced conferences are overrated, aren’t they?
Come to think of it, the European model for professional sports isn’t too bad when it comes to league structure. Yet, the North American model of conferences, divisions, and such makes for a much more exciting game. We’ll never see the NHL switch to a relegation model based upon Premier League association football, but maybe we’ll see the NHL become more at ease with unbalanced conferences.
Hey if the game works in a market, why ruin it by taking it away from that market just to satisfy conference structure? If the owners are going to squabble over that then they really aren’t looking out for the best interest of the league are they? Management’s number one goal is to profit from growing the game.
Without an interest, there aren’t any fans. Without any fans, there aren’t any marketing opportunities from potential sponsors looking to reach fans. Without any cash flow, there is no game. If there’s an economically viable market or situation, go for it.
Last, but not least, the Boston Bruins have been a busy team this offseason. One can only think that the B’s will make another move or two before training camp in September. Don Sweeney and the Big Bad Bruins front office are in on trying to sign defensemen, Cody Franson, or Christian Ehrhoff.
The Boston fanbase continues to grumble and gripe about the presence of Chris Kelly and Dennis Seidenberg on the Bruins roster. One of the two could be moved before the puck drops in October.
And while we’re still at it, the Bruins still need a backup goaltender. While Peter Budaj or Jonas Gustavsson may not be the first names that come to mind when it comes to free agent backup goalies that are still available and could be dispensable for the Bruins, well, one of them might be all that the Bruins need.
Of course, Ray Emery and Ron Zepp are always still out there, granted Emery is a proven goaltender in the league (well mostly- he could be a backup for Tuukka Rask, but he’s past his number of chances of ever being a number one goalie in the NHL) and Zepp parallels Tim Thomas thus far in his career (minus the two Vezina Trophies, a Conn Smythe, and a Stanley Cup championship).
I’ll go more into detail about the Boston Bruins offseason conundrum in another post prior to the season. Quite frankly, I’m still trying to piece together what their plan might be. For now it looks as though Patrice Bergeron could be set with (a recently spotted dancing in Montreal) Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, with Matt Beleskey-David Krejci-Jimmy Hayes, Loui Eriksson-Ryan Spooner-Brett Connolly, Zac Rinaldo-Chris Kelly-Max Talbot filling out the forward lines.
Their blue line still needs work, but can be corrected within a few seasons. What’s more important right now is that the Bruins sign a top four defenseman and obtain a backup goaltender (or at least, implement a plan for a successful backup goaltender). While not necessarily a problem with an elite starting goaltender of Rask’s quality, the revolving door of backup goalies the Bruins have had the last few seasons is something they must work on for the remainder of Rask’s dominance in net.
Anyway, this ends my stream of consciousness. I’ll go back to waiting for Cody Franson to make up his mind and sign somewhere now.