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Prospects, goalie equipment and the Canucks

Cody Hodgson was picked 10th overall by Vancouver in the 2008 draft. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

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Cody Hodgson was picked 10th overall by Vancouver in the 2008 draft. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

As Brian Costello so accurately pointed out in his blog, it’s a little quiet around the THN office this week. Summer’s in the air, my golf scores are at all-time highs and it doesn’t look as though the slow-pitch team will be winning any banners this year. So why not talk a little hockey?

With Adam away and a diminished staff on hand, I’ve taken up the cause and tackled a few of your questions.

Warning, the opinions expressed below do not necessarily reflect the views of your usual question answerer, Adam Proteau. Although you’ll all be surprised to learn Adam turned me onto the documentary “Les Chiefs.” If you haven’t seen this gem yet, it’s a must-see for any hockey fan…especially if you like Slap Shot. And who doesn’t like Slap Shot? Deep down, there has to be a hockey fight fan in Adam.

Hey Adam, I just wanted to know your opinion of certain players. The first played in the world juniors last year and in the Memorial Cup: Travis Hamonic. Everywhere I look, it says he's a shutdown guy with limited offensive capabilities. But in the WJC, I found he was a bona fide puckmover and I remember he had power play time. What do you think? And will he make the Islanders this year? And what are your thoughts of fellow Manitoban Dylan McIlrath? Does he have a decent shot of making the U-20 team for Canada even if he wasn't invited to the summer camp? Thanks,
Gary, Winnipeg


Hey Gary,

To help get you some inside information on these two, I called up and enlisted the help of former Minnesota Wild assistant GM, longtime scout and current THN insider blogger Tom Thompson (a Manitoba native). I had the pleasure of meeting Tom at this year’s draft and sat next to him during the procession; it was quite the experience to listen and converse with him about almost every prospect who was selected from Round 1 right on through Round 7. I can tell you first hand, if you want to know about any prospect at all, Tom Thompson is your man.

About Travis Hamonic: “He’s a shutdown defenseman,” Thompson said. “He’s got good hockey sense; he can consistently make good first passes, it’s just that he doesn’t join the offense that much. So he’s not going to have high point totals, I don’t think, at the pro level. He’s a good, solid puckmoving guy who can play against the other team’s top offensive players. He’s a real tough-minded guy who plays with an edge; I think he’ll play a lot of minutes on a good team.”

Will he make the Islanders roster next season? Tough call. The acquisition of James Wisniewski put a damper on that chance and seeing how Hamonic missed a large chunk of 2009-10 with a shoulder injury, it would make sense to give him another year of seasoning. No sense in rushing him.

And about Dylan McIlrath: “On merit, he should (be on Team Canada’s WJC team); maybe they just think he’s a one trick pony. He’s the king of the jungle, there’s no doubt about that. He can skate. His puck skills have not been great, but I think they’re getting better as he gets more confident. I would think if he’s not a candidate this year (for the WJC) he’ll be a candidate next year. If I was picking the team, he’d be at the camp. But that’s me.”

Hey Adam, I was looking at my The Hockey News magazine (Volume: 64 Number: 1) with Jonathan Toews on the front cover holding the Stanley Cup and I noticed all the goalies with all the new upgraded goalie equipment in ads for the 2010 Goalie Buyer's Guide and I saw how big, huge and advanced the goalie equipment was and I thought: Is it me, or are they going over the top with the goalie equipment? Then, after I read the magazine, I watched a movie called 'Ultimate Gretzky' and The Great One said “The only way guys are going to break my records is if they stop upgrading the goalie equipment – it’s the only way.” I know they just upgrade the goalie equipment to improve the safety of the goalies, but let’s face it, goalies only miss some games because of sickness or groin injury. So do you think they are going over the top with upgrading the goalie equipment? Bye.
Shayne Macneil, Calgary


Shayne,

I’m no good at byes.

Actually, the NHL is downgrading the size on goalie equipment and has been every season since the lockout. It’s been a gradual decrease instead of a sudden all-at-once leap, but the NHL has made a conscious effort to promote form-fitting equipment to crackdown on the Michelin-man padding from a few years ago.

Former NHL goalie Kay Whitmore, who is currently a goalie consultant for the NHL, is the lead man in this endeavor. The NHL 2009-10 rulebook reads that there is a 38-inch height restriction on all goalie pads. However, the form-fitting direction the NHL is moving to next season means each goalie will have his own pad dimensions, i.e., smaller goalies will have smaller pads.

Of course, some have pointed out this will negatively impact the smaller goalies much more than the bigger ones. Whereas they could wear the same sized equipment last year, next year padding will be in proportion to the goalie’s size.

Will the goalies of today ever look like the lightly protected goalies of yesteryear? Of course not. Just as it would be insane to make goalies remove their masks, it would be just as crazy to pare down equipment to that extreme. After all, padding is there to protect. It’s a natural evolution of equipment that spun out of control for goalies and became more about stopping pucks than protection. So now the NHL is finding a middle ground and reeling it back in. We’ve already seen rules put in place against the cheater pads on the glove and in the five-hole.

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Hey Adam, I just have a question about how arbitration works in the NHL. I understand the part where the organization or the restricted free agent can go to an arbitrator. I was just wondering the process by which the arbitrator chooses the player's contract?
Dylan Cochrane, Smiths Falls, Ont.


Hey Dylan,

If a player and team can’t come to a contract agreement and are forced to go to arbitration, a hearing date will be set in Toronto (late July or early August). The two sides meet with an arbiter and each side has a chance to argue their case. It can sometimes get uncomfortable, you can imagine, as the NHL team points out all the shortcomings they believe their player has.

Evidence each side can argue varies from statistical information to injury history to contribution to a team’s success to using “comparable” players as a guide. Within 48 hours, the arbiter announces the decision and the team then has the option to sign the player to the new deal (usually a one-year contract, but sometimes two years as we saw with Jiri Hudler), or walk away, making him a free agent (as we just saw with Antti Niemi and Clarke MacArthur).

It seems to me as though the Canucks have a fair amount of top prospects that are centers, but not a great need for them. They've got Cody Hodgson, Jordan Schroeder, Prab Rai and even Mario Bliznak in their minor-league system. Hodgson and Schroeder are first or second line scorers, and Rai and Bliznak are probably third liners. But the Canucks already have great depth in the center position: Sedin, Kesler, Malhotra, maybe even Wellwood if he stays in Vancouver. So my question is, what are these prospects’ futures with the Canucks?
Nora, Vancouver


Nora,

It’s not that the Canucks don’t need those prospects because they wouldn’t have drafted them if they didn’t need them. In fact, they need them to start making some progress now as the team remakes its third and fourth lines.

After getting shutdown and pushed around against Chicago last playoff season, GM Mike Gillis had every intention of overhauling this section of his depth chart and it started with the Malhotra signing. There’s an understanding that, if need be, Malhotra can switch to the wing, so Hodgson will likely be given every opportunity to be the team’s third line center.

Keep in mind Schroeder can also play on the wing and given the Canucks’ depth down the middle, he’ll probably start his career there, though the jury is still out on whether that will be this season or not. With Kesler and Sedin signed for the long term, neither Hodgson nor Schroeder will be a top-two pivot in the near future, but they’ll find other roles on the roster and will be adequate fill-ins should the injury bug bite.

As for Rai and Bliznak, they are both prospects who don’t project as top-liners, as you point out, and they also aren’t exactly knocking down the door to break into the league yet. For now, they’ll be developing with the Manitoba Moose, so you can’t be worried about where they’ll eventually fit into the depth chart (if they find a spot at all). They may eventually become depth-line players, or they may end up as career American Leaguers.

Hello Adam and helpers, I was wondering why the Flyers would trade Simon Gagne instead of Jeff Carter. To me it seems like the Flyers could get a lot more value back for Carter while cutting the same cap space. Not to mention the Flyers have Richards, Briere, Giroux, Carter and Betts at center. Wouldn't it have made more sense to trade Carter for the goalie they so desperately need and maybe some help at wing, then re-sign Gagne next year for pennies?
John Mason, Newark, Del.


Hello John,

Would it make sense for the Flyers to address their goaltending concerns? Yes. But then, that’s seemed to make sense to anyone outside the Flyers’ boardroom for the past couple of decades.

What this comes down to, and what you have to take into consideration for any deal now, is contracts.

Sure, Carter makes $5 million and is an RFA at the end of next season, but Gagne makes slightly more than that and will be a UFA at the same time. Obviously, the Flyers will be more in control of what happens with Carter next off-season than Gagne. As for signing Gagne for pennies, that’s just not going to happen.

This was a pure salary dump move and a 25-year-old capable of scoring 40 goals or more isn’t the type of guy you trade away in that scenario; instead you go with the pending UFA who has injury concerns.

Seeing how the Flyers have such a young and deep roster, it’s not just about the now, but also about sustaining their Stanley Cup presence year in and year out. While Carter had a 23-point dip last season, he scored 46 goals the year before and will be a much more prolific scorer over the next decade than Gagne. At least one of the centers you listed will play wing next season and that’s not a big deal for those talents.

If there were a trade option out there that better complied with how the Flyers are trying to construct their roster they would have gone that route.

Follow Adam Proteau's hockey tweets at twitter.com/TheHockeyNews, and his non-hockey observations at twitter.com/ProteauType.

Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His blog appears regularly and his column, The Boylen Point,  appears Tuesdays on THN.com.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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