Saturday, January 16, 2010

Charlotte to the AHL, how it could go down

Dave Andrews, President of the AHL, was on XM Radio yesterday talking about Charlotte, NC coming into the AHL in the next year or two. This has been in the works for a long time, and I'm glad to hear it's coming along.

The logistics of this are interesting because unlike European leagues where there's relegation and promotion -- teams drop down a league if they come in last in the standings -- the minor leagues in North America don't work like that. Moving a city from one league to another is trickier and means buying and selling franchises.

The first thing that needs to happen for Charlotte to have an AHL team is to move the current ECHL Charlotte Checkers out of town. Who has the money and the interest do this? It's looking like the Checkers owner himself actually, with the understanding that they would affiliate with the Carolina Hurricans. It would be nice to have your top farm club nearby instead of in Albany, NY wouldn't it? And the Canes affiliation with the River Rats is up this year.

So now there's an ECHL team without a home. The owner could fold it up if he wanted, but how about moving it somewhere else, somewhere nearby that has a nice hockey say Greensboro? This city is strongly rumored to be getting an ECHL franchise next fall, and putting two and two together, I think it could be the former Charlotte franchise. The Canes could then have their NHL team and AHL and ECHL affiliates all in the same state. This makes for easy travel and good marketing. (Their ECHL affiliate is currently the Florida Everblades, but they don't send many players there.)

The investors in the Charlotte AHL team would need to purchase another AHL franchise to be able to move it to Charlotte. There are a number of struggling northeast teams, and the Iowa Chops franchise is also dormant. Any of these are candidates. The Edmonton Oilers own a dormant franchise too, but that's destined for Oklahoma City.

Could Charlotte to the AHL happen for fall 2010? It would be quicker than normal, but yes I think it could. There don't seem to be any big obstacles to overcome. I think the Charlotte fans would accept the new team. The arena can certainly accommodate what would likely be a somewhat bigger crowd; it is the NBA Charlotte Bobcats arena after all. It seats 14,100 for hockey.

Charlotte's closest AHL neighbor would be the Norfolk Admirals, located on the coast in Virginia, 327 miles away (5.5 hours). This would make Charlotte an outlier, but still much closer than Abbotsford, BC, whose closest team is in Winnipeg, Manitoba, half a continent away. Interestingly, Charlotte would not become Norfolk's closest neighbor, as Hershey is a hair closer at 318 miles away.

Brian Burke, when he was GM of the Anaheim Ducks, wanted to begin to move the AHL to the west coast. Maybe instead we'll see it move south, which has the advantage of keeping it closer to the existing teams. Travel costs can never be underestimated as a factor.

Charlotte has a metro population of about 1.8 million and is considered an up and coming city.

The last city to successfully move from the ECHL to the AHL was Peoria. They kept the moniker -- Rivermen -- which is rare.

Update (2/13/10): I'm hearing that rather than Greensboro, there's been some interest in moving the ECHL franchise to the midwest. But it's equally likely that it will just be folded.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sheahan feature article

I finished my feature on Riley Sheahan last night. He's a better player than he is an interviewee, but that's fine. And he'd have to be a reeeeally good interviewee to accomplish that anyway. But I did get some interesting information out of him I thought.

Having interviewed Kevin Lind the night before (also 2010-eligible and coincidentally a Notre Dame recruit), it was striking how young Sheahan seems. Most of the draft-eligible guys are really smooth already when you talk to them, but he's still kind of rough around the edges. Kind of the way Calvin de Haan was when I talked to him before his draft stock rose.

Regarding the Rick Nash comparison, Thang and I both thought of Nash independently, each of us with our own reasons (which are stated within). But I don't want to overstate the comparison. I think Nash is more power forward than Sheahan. Sheahan doesn't try to go through people the way Nash does, or used to when he was young.

The Lind piece is still forthcoming. We talked for 15 whole minutes, so there's a lot of transcribing involved.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Notes on Notre Dame

I recently saw Notre Dame at the Shillelagh Tournament. Here are some notes on the prospects.

Kyle Lawson (CAR) -- I was surprised to see him listed at 5'11, because he doesn't look small on the ice. Defense is pretty good, he gets offensive chances. Usually plays D but was moved up due to shortage. Made a terrible giveaway trying to send the puck up the middle.

Riley Sheahan (2010) -- He's kind of boring to watch, actually. Not flashy, and in fact, doesn't look like he's doing much. But he really is, it's just so effortless for him that it fools you. Very good offensively and defensively. Spoke to him -- nice kid, but he's still really a kid. Not confident in himself yet. His game will probably take off even more when he is finally confident. The funniest part of the conversation was him saying it was a coincidence that he's Irish and ended up playing for the Irish. Said his family really liked the school. Yes, he said he is Catholic. Let's see, and Irish Catholic going to Notre Dame, gee I don't think it's a "coincidence."

Teddy Ruth (WAS) -- Very good defensively, smooth skater. It's surprising that he doesn't score more, given how well he skates and is in good position. He may just be cast in a role. But I think he's capable of more.

Ryan Thang (NAS) -- Typical third liner, effort but not slick. He's on a line with Sheahan so I asked Thang about him. He had some interesting things to say. We agreed that Sheahan reminds us of Rick Nash, but we each had different reasons for it.

Ben Ryan (NAS) -- Has good skill, shifty through traffic and protects the puck well, but has some real size issues that may hold him back.

Sean Lorenz (MIN) -- I cringed when he got near the puck. The Wild don't have great prospects and this is one more example.

Ian Cole (STL)
-- Probably the best player on the ice, though Sheahan will rival him soon. Cole's strengths are well documented so I won't list them all. Nice kid too.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Comments on Steel prospects for 2010

I caught a USHL game when I was in Chicago for a college tournament last weekend. I can tell the league has improve just from a few years ago when I saw it the last time. Here are some observations on some 2010-eligible prospects from the Steel and one from Lincoln.

Kevin Lind (2010) -- I liked him quite a bit, more than expected given his rankings. Very good defense and skating. Physical. Adequate puckhandling and offense. He needs to mature on the ice, but he's 17 so that's normal. Spoke to him for 15 minutes afterward and was very impressed by him personally. Should be a mid-round pick.

Andrei Kuchin (2010) -- Very good playmaker, and fast. I don't see how he slips through the draft again. He's getting PK time, so that will help his defense. Coach was bullish on him.

Brendan Woods (2010) -- It was his first game of the year due to a broken leg. I thought he looked good given the situation, can dangle and stays with the play til the end. Would be a late rounder if he gets taken.

Safir Gill (2010) -- Went home for a family situation, coach does not expect him back this year. This won't help his slim draft chances.

Jared Coreau (2010) Lincoln Stars -- Tall goalie with decent lateral movement, but poor glove and blocker. He has his glove OK in his stance, but as soon as the shot is coming, he drops it with open part down, and you're never going to catch pucks like that. He would need a complete makeover to have a future.

Mark Adams (Buffalo draft pick) -- Good size and skating, but very poor positioning.

Here's a photo of the action with Lind (7) and Kuchin (91) included in white.