Union attempt great news for players, bad for operators

Ken Campbell
Mem Cup

The men who run major junior hockey have had it their way for decades and even though the involvement of Canada’s largest private-sector union in an effort to protect the best teenage hockey players in the world has raised a host of red flags, these guys had better continue taking notice.

News that Unifor, a 300,000-member behemoth that represents workers in trades ranging from auto assembly to the media, was getting involved in a potential CHL players’ union is not good news for the Canadian Hockey League any way you look at it. Yes, its leader Jerry Dias denied having any association with Glenn Gumbley, which “changed after the (Toronto) Star presented email correspondence and invoices obtained by the newspaper and a lengthy interview with Gumbley that establish Gumbley at the centre of Unifor’s campaign.” Gumbley led the charge for the ill-fated Canadian Hockey League Players’ Association two years ago and didn’t appear to know much about the inner-workings of the players he’s trying to protect. Read more

What do the players think of a major junior union?

Ryan Kennedy
CHL-Prospects

It’s unfortunate, but efforts to get a players’ association started for the three major junior circuits always seem to get off on the wrong foot. As reported by the Toronto Star on Monday, Hockey Canada nemesis Glenn Gumbley is back on the scene, this time teaming up with Unifor (which also represents Star reporters), a major private sector union.

Based on the comments and situations described in the article, neither Gumbley nor Unifor should be anywhere near a potential CHL union drive, but that doesn’t mean I dismiss the idea. What the concept does need, however, is support from the constituents themselves. So I hit the ol’ modern rolodex and asked major junior players from across the country what they thought. The respondents represented all three circuits: Ontario League, Western League and Quebec League. Some were high NHL draft picks, some haven’t been drafted yet, while others signed pro deals as free agents.

And there was one common thread when I asked what the players would want from a union: More money.

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Scouting report from Team USA’s under-18 summer camp

Ryan Kennedy
Denis-Yan

Each year, Team USA holds its Select 17s camp, where the best from that age group square off in a tournament, followed by an all-star game. Once again the camp was held in Amherst, NY near Buffalo and for early June, the hockey was pretty solid. The best of the best were chosen for the all-star game and the best from that group was also chosen to represent the Americans at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which takes place in August.

The Americans don’t send the official National Team Development Program squad to the Ivan Hlinka, instead using the summer showdown to reward kids from the United States League, major junior and the high school ranks. Here are some of the players that impressed me at the all-star game, many of whom will be heading over to the Ivan Hlinka.

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CHL Import Draft: Who is coming and who is staying home?

David-Pastrnak

The CHL Import Draft is complex. On the surface of course, it’s straight-forward: Every team from the Ontario, Western and Quebec League has the opportunity to select two European players, assuming they have two import slots open on their roster.

But if one of your Europeans went in the first round of the NHL draft, you can keep the rights to three, in case the first-rounder bounces between the pros and junior (it’s basically the Mikhail Grigorenko rule). And you’re not allowed to take goalies anymore, which is protectionist and ignores the fact American netminders have been “taking jobs” from Canadian kids as much as Europeans were.

Also, some folks will tell you it’s not quite a draft because some teams have unofficial deals with players beforehand – which led to last year’s awkward situation where Washington Capitals pick Andre Burakovsky thought he was going to Windsor, only see to Erie scoop up his rights first. After a lot of fuss, Burakovsky went to the Otters and helped Erie make a nice playoff run.

The 2014 installment of the Import Draft happened on Wednesday and as always, there was drama, beginning with the first pick. The OHL’s Sarnia Sting tabbed Czech power forward Pavel Zacha first overall, but the youngster’s agent, Allan Walsh, immediately took to Twitter to announce that Zacha, a potential top-10 NHL pick in 2015, has a contract with Liberec back home and that Sarnia just wasted the pick.

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New Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Johnston will play fast

Ryan Kennedy
Mike-Johnston

For a second there, it looked like the Pittsburgh Penguins would lose a game of coaching musical chairs. But with Mike Johnston reportedly signed to a three-year pact now, the franchise can get back to the job of winning the Stanley Cup.

That has been rather difficult since the team last pulled off the feat in 2009, despite having two of the best centers on the planet in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Under previous coach Dan Byslma, the Pens had a great deal of success in the regular season but haven’t been able to get back to that Cup final, flaming out in various rounds for various reasons.

Structurally, Pittsburgh was not a great possession team in 2013-14, despite the two previously named assets. Kris Letang’s absence due to a stroke didn’t help matters, but ending the campaign with a middling Fenwick close of 50.2 percent has to be seen as a disappointment.

One of Byslma’s mantras for the team in the past was “Hunt,” meaning that the Pens should be hunting the puck down when they didn’t have it, but clearly the team had gotten to a place where they were the hunters way too often.

Johnston, who comes from the Western League’s Portland Winterhawks, hasn’t had that problem in junior. No team even came close to the 338 goals his squad put up this season en route to a fourth straight appearance in the WHL final and in an interview conducted two months ago, the coach told me his strategy.

“Our template is puck possession,” Johnston said. “Skating, up-tempo play. We want to play with pace from our defense to our forwards.”

Johnston will certainly have the tools to continue that philosophy in Pittsburgh. Along with Letang, the team also boasts Paul Martin and Olli Maatta on the blueline and I wouldn’t be surprised if Derrick Pouliot, who has played in Portland the past four years, joins his old coach as a rookie. All four of those D-men can move the puck with ease.

GM Jim Rutherford’s job now will be to bring in some reinforcements up front. The Penguins have been notoriously top-heavy in recent years, but even those Crosby and Malkin lines have been criticized for not having enough talent on the wings.

Johnston’s success in Portland did come with controversy and the back story will surely be mined in the early days of his Pittsburgh tenure. A WHL investigation unearthed alleged recruiting infractions such as extra flights for parents and giving the captain of the team a cell phone. Johnston was suspended for the second half of the 2012-13 campaign and the team lost a bunch of future draft selections. There was also a $200,000 fine levied. Some believe the investigation was a witch hunt orchestrated by the league’s old guard owners, who were sick of Portland and new owner Bill Gallacher winning so often.

Either way, Johnston served his sentence and watched right-hand man Travis Green step up and lead the team to a WHL championship and berth in the Memorial Cup final, where they lost to Nathan MacKinnon’s Halifax Mooseheads. Green went on to coach the American League’s Utica Comets this season and now Johnston is following him to the pro ranks – albeit with a loftier title.

And if Johnston can continue his up-tempo, winning ways in Pittsburgh, the Penguins may just find themselves hoisting another Cup in Steeltown.

Five 2014 draft prospects who know how to fight

Ryan Kennedy
Aaron-Irving

What is the future of fighting in the NHL? Will it go away completely, will the status quo be maintained, or will the job of intimidating opponents/defending teammates simply go to players who also bring other skills to the ice while enforcers are phased out?

No matter which scenario plays out, the following five players available for the 2014 draft can bring the pain when the gloves are dropped, but also contribute in other ways and play regular minutes.

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Patrick Roy is THN’s pick for coach of the year, but can his magic last?

Colorado Avalanche versus the Chicago Blackhawks

You can always tell when Patrick Roy wants his players to make a line change. No matter how deafeningly loud the building is, there is that ubiquitous whistle. Once they hear that shrill sound, Avalanche players scurry to the bench as though their paychecks are waiting there for them. He uses it in practice, too, prompting the kind of classical conditioning from his players Ivan Pavlov would envy.

Roy is the most engaged coach you’ll ever see during a practice. After he explains a drill, he turns to his charges and says, “Did everyone understand that?” And at the end of the workout, he insists on all of his players coming to center ice and forming a circle, putting their hands in the middle and chanting, “Team!” as they raise their hands in unison.

Seriously. Patrick Roy gets away with all of this. In the NHL. That kind of stuff might have gone over well in Quebec City, where he coached the Remparts for six seasons, but Roy is in the big leagues now. Someone should tell him NHL players can see through all that rah-rah crap and doing that is a good way to get fired.

But somehow Roy pulls it off. Stunningly well, we might add. THN’s choice for NHL coach of the year, Roy has gone where few Hall of Famers have gone before. History tells us superstar players, generally speaking, make lousy coaches. Rocket Richard lasted two games with Quebec in the World Hockey Association before quitting. Wayne Gretzky, Bernie Geoffrion and Doug Harvey were all sub .500 coaches in the NHL. Read more

Ryan Kennedy’s sleeper picks for the 2014 draft

Ryan Kennedy
Brendan-vanRiemsdyk

Other than being very good players, Joe Pavelski, Dustin Byfuglien and Matt Moulson all have something in common: They were selected after the 200th pick in the 2003 draft. One year later, the same could be said for Pekka Rinne, Mark Streit and Troy Brouwer.

Every draft class has “sleepers,” also known as players with potential that teams may have to wait longer on to develop, or simply take a leap of faith on. This year is no different, but who will those kids be? If we knew for sure, they wouldn’t be sleepers, would they? In any event, here are some players I see as potential draftees this weekend who may go late, but have the potential to beat the odds and become NHLers one day. Keep in mind there are no guarantees these players will be drafted – even when a team tells a prospect they will pick him, things often change on draft day. But these kids have something to them.

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