Haim, Wimbledon, baseball and everything but hockey. The Original Trio explore many facets of the extensions that have been signed by players over the last couple of weeks including Carey Price, Connor McDavid and Martin Jones, as well as breakdown the Arizona Coyotes hiring of Rick Tocchet as head coach.
Last week a second ECHL team in less than a month announced that they would be ceasing operations at the end of the 2016-2017 season.
The Elmira Jackals are joining the Alaska Aces in the soon-to-be-defunct-teams category of sports trivia at your local bar that actually asks questions about ECHL teams. First of all, if such a bar exists, I am impressed. Secondly, real talk, stump trivia could really up their game by asking all sorts of questions relating to the ECHL, but I digress.
The more important question to be asking right about now is what is happening with the ECHL? Is there some sort of financial instability league wide that has yet to be exposed (similar to the concerns that have pained the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) since its birth) or is the loss of two organizations in one season simply a matter of growing pains for the growing in popularity– and importance– second-tier minor league?
As a fan of the forthcoming 29th team in the league– make that 27th team– the Worcester Railers, there is reason to be concerned about the ECHL, if not simply its franchises.
Worcester, Massachusetts as a professional hockey market has long been a staple to minor league hockey in its accessibility to a wide market of fans in the New England region, as well as its affordability compared to some of the major league NHL tenants in the area.
Not to discredit the Manchester Monarchs who appear to be killing it in attendance (by ECHL standards) since dropping down from the AHL as a result of the mass exodus of AHL organizations to California, but having Worcester is crucial to the viability of the ECHL.
From the first puck drop in Railers history, having a rival in the New England region is certainly something to work with for both the Monarchs and Worcester. However, my preference for the Worcester organization over Manchester, as a fan, is not simple.
It all harkens back to the days of growing up with the AHL’s Worcester IceCats, the betrayal that was felt when they left (despite no other options), the joy of seeing a return to the AHL in the form of the Worcester Sharks and the consequential loss of yet another AHL team to bigger and better prospects of league sustainability, as well as prospect development from an NHL standpoint– hello, San Jose Sharks.
Losing the Alaska Aces is a shock, despite their declining attendance figures. Losing the Elmira Jackals almost a month later is a blow below the belt for the ECHL.
It’s one thing to foresee the longterm success of a professional sports franchise in Alaska as well, not ideal, but somehow the Aces made it work for years despite all of the travel, especially in the modern ECHL.
Nobody said it couldn’t be done once the Aces made it happen, in terms of both on ice success– having won three Kelly Cups in their venture in the ECHL from 2003 to 2017– and off the ice, however the ultimate downfall of the team was brought forth by a sluggish Alaskan economy, mounting bills on travel and faltering attendance.
Minor league hockey has long been a staple in New York.
Just look at how many AHL teams there are in the state. Now multiply that number by 1,000 and you should have approximately the number of ECHL teams and AHL teams in the Empire State. I’m only kidding.
Acknowledging that hockey has grown to being more than just a Northern sport on all levels, we really should have seen this coming in terms of perhaps overexerting the market and maxing things out on a bunch of affordable, minor league options in one state that also boasts several NHL teams to boot (in state and within a short driving distance out of state).
The New York market contains the Albany Devils, Binghamton Senators, Rochester Americans, Syracuse Crunch and Utica Comets are all AHL teams in state (with the Toronto Marlies not that far from the up-state border in Canada). Albany, of course, is relocating to Binghamton to replace the Senators who are moving to Belleville, Ontario at season’s end.
All of the teams above are in the AHL, which prides itself not only as being the top minor league in the world, as the greatest affiliate of the NHL, but as one of the most family-friendly sports and entertainment options in minor league sports in general.
Coincidentally, the ECHL is in the same market of family-friendly sports and entertainment options.
The Elmira Jackals are the only other ECHL team in New York besides the Adirondack Thunder– and Adirondack had long been a staple in the AHL, despite changing hands and franchises over the years. Similar to the AHL’s situation in New York, where the Marlies are just across the Canadian border, the Brampton Beast (the Montreal Canadiens ECHL affiliate) aren’t that far at all from the states in Brampton, Ontario.
It should be no surprise that the overcrowding of minor league hockey in New York is quickly disintegrating before our eyes, given the AHL’s Californian adventure prior to the 2015-2016 season and all, but at this point there’s no sense in repeating myself.
The ECHL needs to thrive on bigger smaller markets.
They’ve found niche successes with the Allen Americans (San Jose’s ECHL affiliate), Wheeling Nailers (Pittsburgh’s ECHL team), Orlando Solar Bears (Toronto’s ECHL farm team) and more, although sometimes their successful franchises in market draw has been helped by their NHL affiliates, recent ECHL championships or admittedly necessary constant ownership turnover.
But one thing is constant, the teams above have all done well in non-traditional hockey markets, where fans are sometimes exposed to the game for the first time at its most pure and otherwise violent level. Minor league hockey isn’t for the faint of heart, considering how many players are trying to live out a dream others might easily have given up on two rungs below on the NHL ladder.
Sure, the loss of the Aces and Jackals can probably be chalked up to the changing environment of NHL-AHL-ECHL affiliate systems and where parent clubs prefer their minor league teams physical locations over others, but the loss of two franchises in an otherwise up-and-coming brand of hockey that could rival baseball’s minor league system shouldn’t be handled lightly.
Despite the contraction, there is a possibility for light at the end of the tunnel. A return could be looming in or around the Las Vegas market with the incoming Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL, as well as a return to professional minor league hockey in Portland, Maine, as a group of former Portland Pirates executives slowly explore their options.
In a late transaction prior to the 3 PM ET trade deadline on Wednesday the Anaheim Ducks acquired forwards Sam Carrick and Spencer Abbott from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for left winger Kenton Helgesen and a 7th round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
Carrick, 25, has yet to play in a NHL game this season, but has appeared in 19 career NHL games since the 2014-2015 season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has 1-1-2 totals and 13 penalty minutes in his young NHL career.
Additionally, Carrick has been in 249 career AHL games with the Toronto Marlies and Rockford IceHogs, notching 52 goals and 76 assists for 128 points since the 2012-2013 season. He had 11-17-28 totals in 57 games played with Rockford this season prior to being traded.
The 6’0″, 207-pound forward has played in 36 career Calder Cup Playoff games with 6-11-17 totals.
He was drafted by 144th overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto and can become an unrestricted free agent this July.
Abbott, 28, has appeared in two career NHL games since the 2013-2014 season with the Maple Leafs and the Blackhawks. He has yet to record his first career NHL point.
In 240 career AHL games with the Marlies and IceHogs, Abbott has 64 goals and 119 assists for 183 points since the 2011-2012 season. He had 15-20-35 totals in 53 games so far this season with Rockford. Abbott has participated in 29 career Calder Cup Playoff games and has nine goals and 13 assists for 22 points in that span.
He was undrafted and can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.
Abbott and Carrick will report to the Anaheim Ducks AHL affiliate, the San Diego Gulls.
Helgesen, 22, has yet to make his NHL debut and has recorded five goals and 13 assists for 18 points in 69 career ECHL games with the Utah Grizzlies.
The 6’3″, 194-pound forward had 3-10-13 totals in 38 games played with Utah prior to being traded Wednesday. Helgesen has played in four ECHL playoff games in his short professional career since 2016.
He was originally drafted 187th overall by Anaheim in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and is a pending restricted free agent this summer.
Early in the day on Wednesday the Colorado Avalanche and the Washington Capitals swapped minor league players.
The Avalanche acquired goaltender Joe Cannata in exchange for defenseman Cody Corbett.
Cannata is a 27-year-old native of Wakefield, Massachusetts who was originally drafted by the Vancouver Canucks 173rd overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
In 22 appearances with the Hershey Bears (AHL) this season, Cannata amassed a 11-5-4 record with a 3.22 GAA and a .876 save percentage.
The veteran goaltender also played in three games with the South Carolina Stingrays (ECHL) this season with a perfect 3-0-0 record in addition to a 2.33 GAA and a .916 SV%.
Corbett is a 23-year-old native of Lakeland, Minnesota who was undrafted. In 23 games with the San Antonio Rampage (AHL), Corbett had two goals and eight assists. He has 8-17-25 totals in 93 career AHL games.
The pending restricted free agent had 2-3-5 totals in seven games with the ECHL’s Colorado Eagles.
Corbett played junior hockey with the Edmonton Oil Kings for three seasons, winning two WHL championships and a Memorial Cup championship in 2013-2014.
By: Nick Lanciani
The St. Louis Blues began their Saturday by acquiring Edmonton Oilers goaltender, Anders Nilsson, in exchange for goaltender Niklas Lundstrom and a fifth round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Nilsson is a 25-year-old who has played in 26 games this season for the Oilers. His 10-12-2 record, along with a 3.14 GAA and .901 SV% provide a little depth for the Blues in net given their recent injury prone run in goal. Nilsson will be assigned to St. Louis’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.
The 6’5″, 229-pound goalie is a native of Lulea, Sweden and was drafted by the New York Islanders in the third round (62nd overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He has played in 49 career NHL games for the Islanders and Oilers, amassing a 19-21-4 record and a 3.10 career GAA, as well as a .900 career SV% and one shutout.
Lundstrom is a 23-year-old goalie who was drafted by St. Louis in the fifth round (132nd overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. He split this season between the ECHL’s Elmira Jackals and the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. Lundstrom is a native of Varmdo, Sweden and is 6’1″, 194 pounds.
He has an 8-3-0 record in 13 games with Elmira and a 1-1-0 record in four games with the Wolves this season.
Late on Friday night/early Saturday morning (if you’re on the East coast), TSN’s Bob McKenzie tweeted that it was believed that the St. Louis Blues had acquired 25-year-old goaltender, Anders Nilsson, from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a mid-round draft pick.
The Blues, of course, just regained the health of their goalie, Jake Allen, but lost Brian Elliott due to injury in the span of about 24 hours apart from one another. St. Louis was just one of a few teams looking to add a goalie down the stretch (with San Jose having added James Reimer on Saturday and Buffalo in search of another net minder and/or trading partner for Chad Johnson).
Neither the Edmonton Oilers, nor the Blues, had officially announced a trade involving Nilsson following Friday night’s action.
Shortly before 3 AM on the East Coast, Anaheim tweeted some sort of cryptic message shown below just to cause anguish for those of us still up at the crazy hour of almost three in the morning (aside from the fact that the Ducks beat the Oilers 2-1 in overtime, of course).
This post has been updated to reflect the official announcement of the trade.
By: Nick Lanciani
With the trade deadline approaching on February 29th, I figured it’d be a good idea to recap the deals that are made before then and give you my two cents. So to start, thank you to the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs for giving me the first major trade before the deadline to write about while I’m in between classes.
On Tuesday, the Toronto Maple Leafs sent captain Dion Phaneuf to the Ottawa Senators in a large nine-player trade. Toronto also sent forwards Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey and Ryan Rupert, as well as defenseman Cody Donaghey to the Senators in exchange for defenseman Jared Cowen and forwards Milan Michalek, Colin Greening and Tobias Lindberg. The division rival Sens also included their 2nd round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft as part of the deal.
This trade seemed inevitable, but comes as a bit of a surprise in its quick occurrence. The Senators have been known to have inquired about Phaneuf’s availability in the past, however given how the Phaneuf trade rumor mill had been relatively quiet in the public eye this season, it’s not surprising to be surprised.
That all might sound like a bunch of nonsense, and in a way it was supposed to not make sense, but listen folks, the Maple Leafs don’t have much hope for the rest of this season. They’ve got room to wheel and deal and have plenty of pieces to offer this season approaching the trade deadline.
While Toronto shipped Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the offseason, many were left wondering when the next domino to fall would come in a potential Phaneuf trade, given how Kessel and Phaneuf were high priority assets to move.
Now the time has come.
Dion Phaneuf joins the 25-23-6 overall (56 points) Ottawa Senators who are currently sixth in the Atlantic Division, trailing the New York Islanders by four points in the race for the second wild card position for the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Phaneuf is expected to be paired alongside Cody Ceci on Wednesday night as the Senators take on the Detroit Red Wings.
Phaneuf, 30, has a lengthy term left on his contract at $7 million AAV through the 2020-2021 season. He’s had 3-21-24 totals so far in 51 games with Toronto this season. Given the youth movement in Ottawa over the last few seasons, he should start picking up more assists and see plenty of time on ice, easing the pressure on the Senators largely young presence on the blue line.
It’s not that the Senators are inexperienced on the back end of the game, with captain Erik Karlsson leading the charge as the Sens best defenseman (even if he is an offensive defenseman). Plus Ottawa has strength in Ceci, Marc Methot, and Patrick Wiercioch (notice, I didn’t say skill, I just said strength- as in these guys can push around the opposing team, but might not be superstars on their own or when they’re caught on a rush).
Ottawa has a developing presence on the blue line that’s seen some impressive performance at times from Mark Borowiecki, Chris Wideman, Erik Claesson and company and Phaneuf is only going to bring in more experience to help mold the youth movement into a force to be reckon with.
Phaneuf was a finalist for the Norris Trophy in the 2007-2008 season, a member of the NHL All-Star Rookie Team in 2006, an NHL First All-Star Team member in 2008, and has been part of three All-Star Game appearances in 2007, 2008 and 2012. He was a ninth overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Calgary Flames where he scored a career high 20 goals as a rookie in the 2005-2006 season.
On January 31, 2010, Phaneuf was traded to Toronto in a seven-player trade. He had 120 goals and 424 points in 801 regular season games in his career split between Toronto and Calgary.
Frattin is a 28-year old forward who has spent the entire 2015-2016 regular season with the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League, scoring nine goals, 13 assists and 22 points in 47 games. He had 22-26-48 totals in 59 AHL games last season. In 135 career NHL games, Frattin has 17-18-35 totals split between the Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets.
If a change of scenery can help him now, then what went wrong before?
Bailey is a 24-year old forward who has 4-14-18 totals in 38 games for the Marlies this season. He has one career NHL goal in six games with the Maple Leafs last season.
Rupert is a 21-year old forward who has split the year between the Marlies and the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL, combing for 9-8-17 totals in 36 games.
Donaghey is a 19-year old defenseman who has spent the year with the Halifax Mooseheads and the Moncton Wildcats in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He has 5-17-22 totals in 36 games this season in the Q.
Perhaps the more surprising elements of the deal were what the Senators gave up in Cowen, Michalek and Greening. Cowen is yet to enter his prime as a defenseman, however had a chance to become the leader of the younger blue liners in Canada’s capital. Cohen’s 6’5″, 238 pound build could prove to be a crucial part to Toronto’s defense if they can find a way to better utilize his size than the Senators did.
He’s 25-years old and has just four assists in 37 games this season, but could see time with Morgan Rielly or other younger defenseman and turn out to be a puck moving, shut-down, pair. It seems as though the Senators tried to rush his development too quickly before fully understanding what they had before them.
With Mike Babcock as Toronto’s head coach and his plethora of knowledge from the way he ran Detroit’s brick wall defense over the years, Cowen might finally get his chance to come into his own and shine.
Cowen was the ninth pick overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft for Ottawa and had 15-31-46 totals in 249 career games with the Senators.
Michalek is a 31-year old forward who can contribute both directly on the scoresheet and indirectly with his presence and puck movement on the ice. His 6-4-10 totals in 32 games this season mirror those of a typical glue guy on any NHL roster.
Michalek had a career high 35 goals for Ottawa in the 2011-2012 season and was a 20+ goal scorer in four consecutive seasons for the San Jose Sharks and Senators from 2006-2010. He was the sixth overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft and had 206-232-438 totals in 729 regular season games for San Jose and Ottawa.
Greening, 29, is another glue guy that had been buried in the AHL this season, having scored seven goals and 13 points in 41 games for the Binghamton Senators. He had 38-49-87 totals in 256 games for Ottawa over appearances in the last six seasons.
Lindberg is a 20-year old forward who has 5-17-22 totals in 34 games for the baby Senators his first professional season in the AHL. He was the 102nd overall pick of the Ottawa Senators in the fourth round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He had 32-46-78 totals in 67 games last season for the Oshawa Generals in the Ontario Hockey League.
Again, the Senators face the Red Wings on Wednesday in what will be Phaneuf’s debut with his new team. Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs play the Flames on Tuesday night.