Discover more from Hockey Sense with Chris Peters
The Final Hockey Sense Newsletter
My new job; Lessons learned from Avalanche; College Hockey's future and more
It’s all come down to this. We’ve reached draft week, on the precipice of a very, very brief offseason and hopefully heading into the most normal hockey calendar we’ve experienced since 2019. It’s a relief to have made it this far. It’s also a time for change and transition.
As I announced weeks ago, this is the end of Hockey Sense on Substack. This will be my last newsletter. My content will soon be housed at a new, exclusive home that was formally announced today. I’m joining FloSports on a full-time basis starting immediately and will have a large hand in guiding their hockey content which will include a lot of what you’ve already come to expect from me. You can learn more about my new job here.
My podcast will continue on at FloSports, with an even bigger presence than before, hopefully with a steadier schedule and more ways to engage. The content you’ve known and loved from this site will in large part continue as well. So I thank you all for subscribing.
Annual subscribers should be receiving notifications of their refunds, or will at least have those show up in their accounts in a few business days. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have not received a refund by July 11.
I’ll have a couple of quick thank yous at the end of this newsletter, but first, let’s get to some news and analysis.
Reflecting on Colorado’s Stanley Cup win
The Avalanche are Stanley Cup Champions and it’s always fun to look at how teams were built in order to see just how they grew into champions. There has already been a lot of digital ink spilled on that, but what I wanted to focus on is how the Colorado Avalanche managed to succeed with one of the worst draft records outside of the first round of any team in the modern era.
There was not one homegrown pick from outside of the first round on the active roster. There were, however, six first-rounders drafted by Colorado. The latest of those picks was Alex Newhook, who was drafted 16th overall. They did have Logan O’Connor, who was signed as an undrafted free agent by Colorado. Amazingly, even among Black Aces, only three were homegrown Avalanche draft picks. Beyond that, the rest of the roster was acquired via free agency and trade.
Meanwhile, the team they just beat — the two-time defending champion — had 10 homegrown draft picks, six of which came from outside of the first round.
Both teams had a No. 1 (Nathan MacKinnon, Steven Stamkos) and No. 2 (Victor Hedman, Gabriel Landeskog) overall pick on their rosters, which is a very important similarity. In the last 11 Stanley Cup Finals, eight have been won by a team with a homegrown No. 1 draft pick on its roster.
The Avs had four top-five picks on their roster — MacKinnon, Landeskog, Cale Makar and Bowen Byram — a top 10 pick in Mikko Rantanen and then Newhook. They also had another top 10 pick on their roster this year, but traded Tyson Jost to cut costs and get Nico Sturm for valuable depth.
It’s as if pain is a prerequisite to winning the big one. That’s why I think we’re going to see a number of teams not outright tank, but certainly not be well positioned for success next season. The importance of landing No. 1 and securing a player of Connor Bedard’s talent is the rocket fuel for a rebuilding team that gives them a core to build around. After that, you need some lucky breaks along the way.
The Avalanche had a ton of those kind of breaks go for them. Cale Makar being a generational defenseman drafted at No. 4 overall is the kind of windfall you can only dream of. Trading Matt Duchene and then landing a pick that became a No. 4 overall draft choice and getting Bowen Byram who then also really came into his own just in time for their Stanley Cup run was huge, too. By the way, Joe Sakic’s patience on that Duchene trade is one of the key moments of his run as GM.
Sakic’s work along with Assistant GM Chris McFarland was masterful, though. It wasn’t all luck. The low-risk signing of Valeri Nichushkin after his goalless season paid immediate dividends and ended with him putting on a cape in the Stanley Cup Final was one of my favorite moves they made in the last few years. His underlying numbers were always pretty good and they only got better when he was in Colorado. Then the goals started coming, too.
Not being too precious about your prospects is also important, as the Avalanche showed with solid young defenseman Conor Timmins, who has been great when healthy but hasn’t been healthy very much. The Avs used him plus a conditional pick to land Darcy Kuemper and address a hole at the goaltending position.
The Nazem Kadri trade was also one of the big highlights for this front office as they took advantage of a situation where Kadri looked like a depreciated asset, but they saw the value and it paid off. It did cost them fan favorite Tyson Barrie, but they basically had his replacements already lined up.
You can build a roster a lot of different ways. Colorado’s lack of success outside of the first round did require them to be more aggressive on the trade front, but they made a lot of really effective deals that didn’t cost them significant assets. They hit on the big rebuild-style trades they had to make (Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly) and then they had a core of top picks that they could build around. It’s going to be really hard to replicate that outright.
What will be replicated by a lot of teams, however, is the lean years that are essentially prerequisite to winning. High picks, and often more than one high pick, is one of the surest paths to Stanley Cup success, so long as you don’t screw it up around them and bet on the right horses.
Russian factor looms large
The ongoing saga regarding Philadelphia Flyers goalie prospect and recent signee Ivan Fedotov is being monitored closely by the sporting world as a whole. According to reports, Fedotov has been detained in Russia on charges of evading military service. There is speculation that his leaving CSKA Moscow in his prime triggered his being pursued by police and arrested. It’s a very scary situation that has implications far more important than hockey. All of us hope for a quick resolution to this situation and one that is favorable for Fedotov.
This happening just before the NHL Draft is going to put a significant amount of scrutiny within NHL teams about how to handle drafting Russian players. I’ve heard from teams they are operating as normal, some that are operating off of two lists with the Russian players separated out, and a bunch of other teams that are going to take their cues from ownership about how to handle the situation. A number of teams will not be drafting a Russian at any point in this draft.
What is happening with Fedotov is not something that was anticipated. The biggest concern was about being able to secure visas or being able to make contact with the player. Now there’s an element that players that attempt to leave Russia could face consequences on the home front.
Geopolitical issues have crept into sports plenty of times before, but it’s starting to feel like we’re entering a territory where getting top Russians could require defection or the cloak-and-dagger scenarios of the late 1980s and early 1990s that saw the earliest Russian players escape the Soviet Union to play in the world’s best hockey league. I don’t know how many teams are going to be as willing to go through something like that (unless of course we’re talking about Matvei Michkov, then they might).
The Fedotov situation is terrifying and should be. It’s different from the Brittney Griner situation, but that’s another huge concern as the WNBA star has been detained with no end date in sight after she was charged with drug possession while attempting to leave Russia. This is no longer a hockey issue. It is a human rights issue and I’m not sure how many teams are equipped to handle such a situation. No doubt the NHL will be engaging with teams on legal issues, but how this shakes out is very uncertain.
It’s hard to fathom, but hockey players and athletes appear to be significant political pawns in a geopolitical game of chess that has no clear end date.
U.S. World Junior Camps set for later this month
USA Hockey is going to have a World Junior Camp in Plymouth at the end of July that will include both the 2023 and 2022 roster for the U.S. National Junior Team. It’s less than ideal to work it this way, but I believe the early part of the camp will be focused on the 2023 team roster construction and the 2022 group will be more towards the end of the camp before leaving for Edmonton.
I believe the U.S. roster for 2022 will essentially be anyone that made the team last time with the exception of players that will not be released by their NHL teams, and also goalie Drew Commesso (CHI) and Ty Smilanic (MTL). The loss of Commesso is a significant one as he was the team’s clear No. 1 goaltender in the winter and gave them the best chance to compete among the top teams in this tournament.
The U.S. summer World Junior roster is going to have some significant holes. Matty Beniers and Jake Sanderson are not going to be participating as they prepare for their rookie seasons in the NHL. The good news for USA, however, is that Thomas Bordeleau (SJS) will participate in the camp and will play in the summer World Juniors, despite being under NHL contract. He twice was due to compete for Team USA at the WJC, but had COVID-19 protocols knock him out in both 2020 and last winger. Third time appears to be the charm for him, assuming there are no other hiccups.
This U.S. roster is going to find itself with a bit of a taller climb without Commesso, Sanderson and Beniers. That’s three core players from the team in the winter that won’t be available. However, there are plenty of other key players that will return and could be poised to make an even bigger impact than they were ready to in the winter. Top prospect Logan Cooley will likely have an outsized role on the team, as should Matthew Knies (TOR) and Luke Hughes (NJD), all of whom performed even better down the stretch of their season. Brock Faber (MIN), fresh off of his trade to his hometown wild was going to be playing massive minutes last winter and ended up being the USA’s No. 1 defenseman at the Olympics in February. He might play 27-30 minutes a game for this team.
The big question about the summer World Juniors is who is all going to play? We could see a lot of shifting priorities after the NHL Draft and team control situations that shake things up. I think most teams would be OK with letting players play, but is whoever picks Juraj Slafkovsky or Shane Wright going to allow him to risk injury ahead of his first training camp? I have a hard time seeing it.
As a result, I think we’re going to have a slightly watered down version of this event. I have no idea how it will ultimately play out. It looks like Sweden should have most of its roster from the last go-around, plus a few underagers like Jonathan Lekkerimaki (2022) and Mattias Havelid (2022) who will help their cause. There will be no Russia, as mandated by the IIHF and then Canada, regardless of its significant roster losses to NHL teams, will have one of the strongest rosters in the tournament.
It’s still the World Juniors, even if it won’t necessarily feel like it in the middle of August, but it’s an interesting way to kick off the season nonetheless.
As for the 2023 entry, that will be interesting as well. Commesso won’t be eligible and they’ll be working with basically the same goalie pool as they’ll have for the 2022 event. That puts them on the back foot a bit, but they’ll still have the most recent draft class that will see as many as eight Americans selected in the first round. On top of that, despite not winning gold, last year’s U18 Team ran through the U18 tournament before hitting a hot Swedish goalie and not being able to outscore some of their mistakes.
I think that 2023 entry will have to be younger by default, with a chance to build more towards the 2024 WJC. The 2004 birth year is a fair amount ahead of the 2003s in terms of skill level, but I’m sure we’ll see some of the 19-year-olds take charge.
Will they be competitive? Of course. There’s a long way to go before next December and we’ll still have to wait and see which players from the 2003 and 2004 birth years emerge.
U.S. Hlinka-Gretzky Roster Named
The U.S. named its roster for the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup which will precede the WJC in Red Deer, Alberta, July 31-Aug. 6.
The group is highlighted by Sudbury Wolves forward and last year’s No.1 pick in the OHL Draft, Quentin Musty. The Buffalo-area native had a solid rookie campaign in the OHL with 31 points in 50 games. He has the size and skill that should translate well into him being a leading player for Team USA. The roster will also feature a number of players who have significant junior experience including Tri-City’s Tanner Adams, who put up some solid numbers despite turning 16 just prior to the USHL season beginning. He will be one of the younger players eligible for the 2023 NHL Entry Draft. Mikey Burchill and Connor Brown are another couple of USHL forwards worth watching.
Another notable forward in the group is Carey Terrance. He is a U.S.-Canada dual citizen who I’m told should have received strong consideration for Canada’s Hlinka-Gretzky roster, but his intentions clear that he planned to represent the U.S. The Erie Otters center had a solid rookie campaign in the OHL with 24 points in 62 games. He also played some international games with the U.S. U17s last season and performed especially well.
I’ve been so focused on the 2022 NHL Draft class that I haven’t had much time to dive in on the 2005s quite yet, but I’m looking forward to tracking all teams at the Hlinka-Gretzky as the 2023 NHL Draft season begins in earnest in just a few short weeks.
The Future of College Hockey
As I get close to closing out my final newsletter, I wanted to share some thoughts on the future of college hockey. If you’ve been anywhere near sports media this last week, you’ve heard about the massive movement in college sports. It’s primarily to do with football, but conference realignment is completely restructuring the landscape when it comes to college sports.
USC and UCLA are joining the Big Ten. A number of the remaining Pac-12 schools could be on their way to the Big 12. It doesn’t necessarily seem like this should have hockey implications, but it does. Everything that happens trickles down in some way and conferences across the country, in all sports, are trying to understand what this will mean.
When I learned of USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten, I fired off this tweet. It was more humorous than serious, but there’s no doubt I’d love to see college hockey expand west.
But here’s the problem. All of this movement is happening because of football and basketball. Everything else is an afterthought. The priority more than ever before is to continue pumping money into the revenue programs that are making schools and conferences the most amount of money. It pushes hockey further down the priority list.
However, there will be some positives — depending on who you ask — that the dwindling oversight of the NCAA on its conferences and programs will bring about. The NCAA is already starting to move away from restrictions on coaching limits and rules restricting time coaches have to interact with their players and recruits. The increase in staff will allow big programs to widen the gap a bit, probably. Which may not be for the best, but it’s the reality of the moment.
NCAA teams will be better able to serve their players if they had larger coaching staffs that allow them to specialize more. It will also allow programs to hire better talent by offering competitive pay to be goaltending coaches or replace what used to be the “volunteer coach.”
But here’s where the problems come in from this new landscape. The ever-growing importance of football may make it less and less likely for bigger schools, especially those in the Big Ten, to consider hockey. They need maximum resources in a non-stop arms race in recruiting and developing top tier talent. Hockey requires a significant commitment and would need to have deep-pocketed donors that are hellbent on making hockey, specifically, a reality at the schools of their choice.
I want to see college hockey continue to grow, but I think we have to look at the way college sports is going and understand that there may be more important battles to fight in the coming years. Keeping the programs we already have is going to be a big enough challenge. We have a large number of independent programs that are going to probably need conference alignment to have a better chance at long-term survival and sustainability.
Arizona State’s situation should be stabilized by its new arena, which will be a gem in the college hockey world. And that is going to be a program we have to continue to watch. If they can get themselves into a conference and maintain competitiveness, they could be a guiding light to other major athletics departments to consider the possibilities of hockey. Should the Sun Devils not draw well, not have success on the ice and maybe not get into a conference, it’s going to be a blow to the hopes of further Western expansion. I’ll choose to think positive, though. That new arena should be a draw and they’ve picked up some really solid transfers that could help them get more competitive next season.
There is a lot that is going to happen over these next several years in college sports. The hope will be that rising tides float all boats, but the more these schools become beholden to the all mighty football — and I say this as an avid college football fan (Go Cyclones!) — the less room there is for growth in other areas. I hope I’m wrong about that.
The game is growing across the country. USA Hockey’s membership numbers showed a very strong rebound from the lost pandemic year. There’s still more of a ways to go. But there is going to be a need for players to find their footing and get something to shoot for that isn’t so far outside of their home town. The more ways the game can touch a community, the more chances we’ll have to grow it and allow hockey to reach its full potential in this country. I’m looking forward to seeing it and hopeful it will happen one day.
Thank you, thank you, thank you
Well we’ve reached the end of my last formal newsletter from Hockey Sense. I can say with certainty this website was way more than my livelihood. It was a lifeline. After losing my job at ESPN, my fear regarding what was next was at an all-time high. You don’t just lose your dream job and shrug it off. The earliest subscribers to this newsletter gave me hope. They showed me a couple of different things that allowed me to get back on my feet and fight to stay in the game.
The most important thing was the support. There was also belief. And in the end, I hope I paid you back with quality content. Your faith in me to produce quality content worth your money challenge me in ways I’ve never experienced in my career. It was all on me, and I felt like I had to deliver for you. That was what made getting up and writing these posts so worth it. I knew it was going to an audience that cared, that was engaged and that was part of a community. I wanted to make sure that community got what it deserved.
My career is taking another turn, but I hope you’ll all come along with me.
FloSports has been involved in hockey these last few years as the official streaming partner of the CCHA, Atlantic Hockey and the ECHL, among some others over the years. Now, however, hockey has become a priority of the company to help grow its audience and bring hockey fans significant offerings both in live streaming and with content. I’ll be on the content side of things, providing all of the kind of coverage you guys know me for and a whole lot more. I can’t wait to dive into everything they’re going to give me a chance to do.
I can’t thank you all enough for your support, your encouragement, your belief and your time. It was not an easy decision to leave this behind, but I know I can still serve all of my subscribers on a new platform and do what is best for my family. Thanks again.
Yours in hockey,