The CHL has suspended controversial owner Rolf Nilsen of the Flint Firebirds for five years.
The case of the Flint Firebirds just grew more precarious – and I doubt anyone is surprised.
After the utter storm of incompetence that was the club’s inaugural 2015/2016 season, which featured not one but two direct interventions by the Ontario Hockey League commissioner, things reached their climax this week.
In a move that shocked even those in the know, CHL commissioner David Branch swung a heavy hammer in dealing with team owner Rolf Nilsen. Long accused of purchasing the Firebirds so his son, Hakon, could play, Nilsen received an unmistakable message from Branch that the league comes first.
This took the form of a five-year suspension for the owner from working with the club, combined with a $250,000 fine. Perhaps most painful, though, was the forfeiture of the club’s third overall selection in today’s OHL priority selection draft.
This last move is somewhat dicey on Branch’s part. While a reasonable maneuver by the league, it also hurts the franchise if Nilsen is found to have breached the league constitution and be forced to sell the club. Would a club, operating in a dismal economic environment like Flint, truly be seen as an attractive commodity without its premier pick in the draft? Perhaps not.
However, it also highlights another emerging issue with junior hockey.
We have seen an increasing number of top-tier prospects refuse to go to smaller market teams. We saw it just a few years ago, when we saw the Kingston Frontenacs draft future Coyotes star Max Domi. A refusal to report saw a near immediate trade from Kingston to London, where Domi went on to become a star.
Unconfirmed reports have surfaced that a great number of prospects have advised Flint they refuse to report if selected. The league has attempted to combat this by assuring prospect families that the team is now under league control. However, whether this is enough or not remains to be seen.
While young prospects may want to be in an environment conducive to development, a name such as Bode Wilde (though currently committed to Harvard), Kirill Nizhnikov, or Tyler Weiss would sure make the club a lot more competitive in the near future.
Wonder about why Ryan Merkley was not mentioned?
The Guelph Storm has already announced him as the first overall selection – not surprising, as he may be the best talent in the entire draft.
A new discussion has emerged for the coming NHL entry draft – and it involves the blueline.
While Jakob Chychrun of the Sarnia Sting and Olli Juolevi of the London Knights have long been spoken of as the blue-chippers in this crop, the name of Mikhail Sergachev in Windsor has been making the rounds.
At least one scout thinks Mikhail Sergachev of the OHL's Windor Spitfires could be taken high in the first round of the 2016 NHL entry draft:
Speaking to one scout recently, he was highly impressed with Sergachev and his fluid skating.
“It’s absolutely effortless,” the scout told me as we discussed the merits of each defender. While citing the seamless mobility of the likes of Juolevi, the scout smiled knowingly.
“I know you like Juolevi,” he replied (true).
“But this kid is something else. I have him right there with Chychrun, and it wouldn’t shock me if a club had him as the first to go.”
Sudden changes and surprises involving blueliners are hardly unforeseen. Looking back to the 2012 in Pittsburgh, many eyebrows were raised when Anaheim decided to utilize its sixth overall pick to choose Hampus Lindholm. While many were shocked by the move, there is little to debate that Lindholm has emerged as a far more capable defender than the likes of Ryan Murray (chosen second) and Griffin Reinhart (selected fourth).
Consider also the falling of Seth Jones in 2013 from projected first overall by some, all the way to fourth. While a year or two are still needed to truly evaluate the outcome of that draft, Anaheim (and, by default, Colorado, Florida, and Tampa Bay) provided full evidence that the blueline can be the great mystery at the podium.
Could this season be the truest blessing in disguise for Montreal Canadiens fans?
This is a conversation worth having for a great number of people out there.
With this season essentially turning into a dumpster fire, courtesy of exposing the club’s utter reliance on all-world goaltending from Carey Price, things may not be as bleak as that.
Consequently, it may be a truly opportune time to look at picking up some Canadiens for next season in your keeper league.
While boasting slowly emerging, but potentially first-line, pivot Alexander Galchenyuk, as well as solid prospects Nikita Scherbak, Arturri Lehkonen, Noah Juulsen, and Michael McCarron, the Habs can add a very good prospect in Buffalo.
Projected to select eighth before the draft lottery, the Canadiens might contemplate a plethora of available names.
One of the big three defensemen in the aforementioned Chychrun, Sergachev or Juolevi could be available – and they would look might fine in les tricolours.
Don’t want to go defense? Perhaps a sneaky, super-skilled forward like Alexander Nylander fits the bill? Or maybe a little more bulk in Quebec product Pierre-Luc Dubois?
Either way, what is clear is that the Montreal Canadiens are not as good as they showed last season, and not as bad as they were this season. Adding a highly coveted and skilled prospect this year may slingshot this enigma toward being a perennial Stanley Cup contender.
Speaking of the Canadiens, the case of Zach Fucale can’t help but make one curious.
Selected 36th overall in the 2013 entry draft, far lower than many projected, Fucale has struggled on both the international stage, as well as in his first AHL season.
With Carey Price firmly entrenched for the next decade or so as Montreal’s starting goalie, the potential of moving Fucale to a team lacking between the pipes is well within suspicion. Posting a 3.14 goals-against with a save percentage a shade north of 90 per cent, Fucale hasn’t been a world beater. The upside, however, is still present with this young man.
Standing 6-2, he has size and ability – there is no question about that. However, would it make more sense to move Fucale now, when he still holds higher value that would only diminish with a lackluster sophomore pro season.
Given the failed expectations of this past season, Fucale is a trade chip that could be used for immediate help to assuage the pain of what this season became. While it is pure speculation at this point, it remains a distinct possibility that Montreal strikes while the iron is hot to convert this asset into a more immediate, contributing asset.
The jobs of Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien may depend on it, should this kind of season show itself again.
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