Wings to Pick Fourth After Draft Lottery

For the fourth straight season, the Detroit Red Wings fell back in the NHL Entry Draft due to the Draft Lottery.

Despite having the best odds at picking first-overall in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft by virtue of their 31st-place finish during the 2019-20 season, the Red Wings were passed by three teams to drop to the fourth spot.  The Ottawa Senators will pick third, the Los Angeles Kings will pick second, and a placeholder team representing one of the losers of the league’s qualifying playoff round won the right to pick first.


What do you want me to say? The odds were always on the Wings picking fourth. Of course, the odds were also such that only Ottawa could be expected to pass Detroit, yet here we are. Again.

There will be good players available at fourth overall. But the Wings really need one of these to hit eventually.

AHL Palm Springs Update: Firebirds Back in Play

With the American Hockey League’s Henderson Silver Knights officially unveiling their name and logo last week and no announcement in sight for the National Hockey League’s Seattle expansion franchise (though I’d be shocked if it wasn’t some form of “Seattle Kraken” at this point), I decided to dig a little further into Seattle’s farm team in Palm Springs, CA, and see if there was anything new.

Somewhat surprisingly, there was, with “Palm Springs Firebirds” having been saved from the trademark trash heap.

After a flurry of domain registrations and trademark filings last August, Firebirds seemed like the front-runner for the new AHL team’s name, over options such as Eagles, Hawks, Sun, Dragons, and Falcons.  The team’s temporary web site ran with the slogan “We’ve got the fire, now bring on the ice.”

However, on November 12, 2019, the trademark filing for Palm Springs Firebirds was rejected by the US Patent and Trademark Office, due to the name’s similarity to that of the Ontario Hockey League’s Flint Firebirds.  Overnight, the slogan became “We’ve got the heat, now bring on the ice,” and the team’s direction seemed to have changed.  The trademark for Palm Springs Hawks was abandoned but the remaining four all made it through the registration process (though, in a league with the Colorado Eagles, Palm Springs Eagles would never actually be an option).

On May 11, 2020, one day before the six month limit on responding to the rejection of their Firebirds application, the Palm Springs organization did file a response.  Included was permission from the Flint Firebirds to use the name.  This update was accepted by the USPTO a day later and approved to be published for opposition (the final step in a trademark filing and likely a rubber stamp with the Flint Firebirds on board) on June 2.

With Firebirds an option once again, and given the effort that went into making it such, I think we might just be seeing the Palm Springs Firebirds in the AHL’s 2021-22 season.

On A June Draft and Draft Lottery Changes

The National Hockey League is apparently making a push for holding its Entry Draft sometime in June, while still intending to finish the 2019-2020 season sometime later in the year.

Obviously there would be a lot of logistical issues to sort out with such a plan, and one of the proposals would come as a pretty big benefit to the Red Wings (and Ottawa Senators).

As a Wings fan, obviously, the idea of picking no lower than second is fantastic, especially after having dropped three spots in each of the last two drafts due to the lottery.

That said, this plan makes me feel uneasy for several reasons.

Most importantly, I really dislike the optics of changing the rules mid-season.  Teams went into the season expecting the draft lottery to look one way and now they’re being told it might not actually play out like that.  Changing things on the fly is a breeding ground for conspiracy theories, which I’ll circle back to momentarily.

Of course, we’re in unprecedented times where every option needs to be on the table, so maybe a change like this is palatable.  But a midseason draft wouldn’t just be about a change to the draft lottery, it would also essentially mean a draft without trades, as no playoff-eligible team is going to want to move assets for draft picks.  This is another case where teams may have planned for a scenario that will be taken from them, as there are certainly general managers who would look to package a plethora of picks for a different form of help.

If the league were to resume in late summer and feature a Stanley Cup Finals series ending in October, for example, we would be looking at a draft occurring in the middle of what would be players’ draft +1 season.  Additionally, just because the NHL might be willing to extend their 2019-2020 season into the fall doesn’t mean the other leagues will, so you could see the Entry Draft taking place after the start of every other league’s 2020-2021 season, which would raise all kinds of questions about how that would even work.

I’m not saying there are any easy answers to this.  I think the reasons for a fall draft are better than those for a June one but I don’t have to worry about the business side of things so it’s easy for me to say that.

Coming back to the draft lottery, though…

The NHL adopted the current lottery system in the wake of the Connor McDavid draft, which saw the Sabres and Coyotes abandon all pretense of putting forth a competitive roster in an effort to get the best odds of drafting McDavid.  The Oilers ended up winning that draft, because of course they did, with Buffalo forced to settle for Jack Eichel at second overall.

To prevent such tanking, the NHL changed the lottery to give every non-playoff team a chance at first-overall, second-overall, and third-overall.  The worst team in the league now has higher odds of picking forth than they do of picking first.

I believe that to be an overreaction.  The league already had rules in place that could have been used to prevent tanking, namely, the ability to reject trades.  My thinking is that, if the league thinks a team is so blatantly tanking, it can stop accepting the team’s trades.  Otherwise, the current rules punish legitimately bad teams for what two kind of bad teams did in an ultimately-futile effort to get a generational talent.

That said, I don’t think restoring the old lottery rules should be done on the fly, as would be the case under the current proposal.

Here’s what happens when you spring unexpected changes on people: They think there’s an ulterior motive.  I say that with full acknowledgement that I still look at the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals and can’t help but think that the league knew that deviating from it’s originally-announced schedule would help the Penguins.  Let me spin you a conspiracy theory…

Going into Game Five of the 2009 Western Conference Finals on May 27, the Red Wings were beat up.  The Stanley Cup Finals had been announced as beginning on June 6, though, so they knew that if they could finish off the Blackhawks in that fifth game, they would have time to rest and heal.  They did win that game, needing overtime to do so.

And then the league announced that the Finals were being rescheduled.  Instead of over a week of rest, the Red Wings were getting two days.

With both the Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins having finished their series early, it made sense to move the schedule for the Finals up a bit.  The league’s broadcast partner, NBC, was debuting Conan O’Brien as the new host of the Tonight Show the following week, though, so they weren’t comfortable showing games that might push into that timeslot.  Hence, the series had to start on the weekend, and why a break of eight days couldn’t become five but had to become two.  Detroit was expected to accept the change for the greater good of the league and its partner.

Without the rest, Pavel Datsyuk was too hurt to play, but the Red Wings still won the first two games of the series.  The second of which ended with Penguins star Evgeni Malkin given an instigator penalty for fighting Henrik Zetterberg.  According to new rules adopted that season, the late-game instigator meant that Malkin would be suspended for Game Three.

But the league announced that the rule was never intended for cases like that or players like Malkin and reversed the suspension.  Malkin tallied three assists and was the second star of the game as the Penguins won Game Three, continuing on to rally twice to win the series.

Both the rescheduling of the series and the reversal of Malkin’s suspension make sense in the context of extenuating circumstances.  However, the fact that changing the schedule or reversing the suspension weren’t even known to be options leading up to them actually happening provides room for a different narrative to be supplied.

As such, if the league fails to communicate exactly why the draft lottery is changed this year, if it is at all, and what other options were considered, they will be putting themselves in the position of breeding conspiracy theories.

Of course, in 2009 the Red Wings and their fans were told by many to suck it up because those changes, however they were communicated, were for the good of the league.  I’m sure anyone opposed to the proposed draft lottery changes will happily accept that explanation now.

NHL Suspends Season Amidst Coronavirus Concerns

The National Hockey League announced on Thursday that it is suspending play indefinitely in an attempt to combat the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

Coming on the heels of the NBA suspending play after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz was confirmed to have been infected, and with leagues in many sports across the globe either taking a hiatus or outright ending their seasons, the move is a necessary precaution.

The league made sure to note that this is intended to be a temporary suspension.  That said, with so much uncertainty surrounding the situation, it’s hard not to see a possible cancellation of the remainder of the season.

The last time an NHL season was interrupted in such a manner was in 1992, when a player strike on the eve of the playoffs caused a ten-day gap in games before play was resumed, with the final thirty games of the season rescheduled.  Owner lockouts caused shortened seasons in 1995 and 2013 and cancelled the entirety of the 2004-05 campaign.

In 1919 the Stanley Cup was not awarded due to an outbreak of Spanish Flu.  With the NHL champion Montreal Canadiens visiting the PCHA’s Seattle Metropolitans, the series was called at 2-2-1.

The Red Wings have 11 games remaining on their schedule, including a visit to the Washington Capitals originally slated for tonight.  While Detroit has already clinched last-place overall, making all of them meaningless to the Wings in the standings, many of their scheduled opponents are fighting for playoff position, making cancelling the games outright problematic, unless the playoffs were also cancelled.

More Seattle Domain Updates: Seattle Kraken HC?

I was talking with a friend about the new NHL Seattle team earlier today, grumbling about how, given how many times the name announcement has been delayed, at this rate the team would launch as “Seattle HC,” short for Hockey Club.

After a minute, though, my friend suggested that the “HC” suffix might not be as ridiculous as it was meant to be.  Seattle’s MLS entry is Seattle Sounders FC, after all, though MLS features many teams with “European-style” names that include “FC” or “SC.”  Nonetheless, it seemed like it was worth a look, and something interesting did come up.

SeattleKrakenHC.com was registered privately on November 26, 2019.  While we can’t see who owns it, we can see that it was updated last week, at 5:47 PM (UTC) on February 20, 2020.

That date stuck out to me because it’s the same time that several of the domains confirmed to be owned by the Seattle NHL ownership group were updated.

Those updates were confusing at the time because the names that were updated didn’t seem to match any kind of pattern.  While there is still no apparent pattern, the timing does seem to imply that SeattleKrakenHC.com is also owned by Seattle Hockey Partners, having been updated in a batch with the others.

Given the existence of this domain and the rumors already present about the Kraken team name, we may be looking at the team’s official name being “Seattle Kraken HC.”

It’s worth noting that, of the 13 team names from their original list of domains in 2018, the only other one represented by a domain in the form of SeattleTeamnameHC.com is the Sockeyes.  However, that domain was registered a week after SeattleKrakenHC.com and was not updated on February 20th.  That doesn’t mean the domain is not owned by Seattle Hockey Partners, just that there’s no visible tie there.

It’s also worth noting that the organization does not seem to currently own SeattleKraken.com, though it’s always possible that they’ve reached a deal to acquire that domain.  Naming the team Seattle Kraken HC could help them get around the need for it.

Red Wings Send Athanasiou to Edmonton

With just under two hours left before the NHL’s trade deadline on Monday, the Detroit Red Wings traded winger Andreas Athanasiou to the Edmonton Oilers, along with Ryan Kuffner, for Sam Gagner and two second round picks.

I know there are a lot of people pointing at Athanasiou and saying “What could you expect for a slumping forward who doesn’t play defense?”  And there’s truth to that.

But what I said last night and what I’ve said year after year is that I’m tired of this team not being able to make strong sales at the deadline.  This is going to be the Red Wings’ big move and it brings back two second round picks, probably in the 45th to 55th overall range.

Are there good players available in that range?  Of course.  Yzerman plucked Nikita Kucherov from there in 2011.  But it’s much less of a sure thing.  And, given Detroit’s draft history rather than Yzerman’s, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to pick in a position with a little more confidence than they will be picking.  Because in that same 2011 second round, Detroit had three picks before Yzerman grabbed Kucherov, and the Red Wings came away with Tomas Jurco, Xavier Ouellet, and Ryan Sproul.

In short, I know that two second round picks aren’t a bad return for Athanasiou, but as a fan of the Red Wings, I’ve been burned on the whole idea of picking a bunch of times in the second or third round enough that I don’t trust it.

All that said, two seconds was the price Detroit set, and Edmonton matched it, so I can’t really say the Wings’ got screwed if that was the deal they were always looking for.

As for the rest of the trade…  Kuffner I don’t care about and Gagner is a warm body coming back the other way, clearing some cap space for Edmonton.

Red Wings Send Green to Oilers

The Detroit Red Wings made their first move of the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline with about 14 hours before the deadline itself, sending Mike Green to the Edmonton Oilers for a fourth-round draft pick.

Forward Kyle Brodziak also comes to Detroit, but that part of the transaction is purely paper as Brodziak has been on LTIR all season and will not play for the Red Wings, with his contract expiring this summer.

Per Max Bultman of The Athletic, the fourth-round pick in 2020 becomes a third-round pick in 2021 if the Oilers make the Western Conference Finals with Green playing in at least half of Edmonton’s playoff games in the first two rounds.

The Red Wings will retain 50% of Green’s salary for the remainder of the season.

I think a fourth-round pick was the best the Wings could have expected in return for Green.  Retaining salary is not a problem as the Red Wings have the cap space to accommodate it but I really wish that retaining salary had been enough to get the pick up to a third-rounder.  I don’t think the Oilers will make the Conference Finals so I don’t see the conditions kicking in to do that.

As I wrote just moments ago, it’s disappointing that Green, thought to be able to bring Detroit a first-round pick two years ago, is now only worth a fourth-rounder.  That said, I’m glad they were able to move him at all.

Pre-Deadline Thoughts

We’re about 16 hours away from the NHL trade deadline and the thought that keeps coming into my head is how disappointing it all is.

Traditional thinking about the trade deadline is that rebuilding teams will sell off their expiring veteran contracts in return for assets to help the rebuild.  This is nothing new.  In the coming hours, the Red Wings will attempt to do that.  It’s the NHL’s circle of life.

But while the names of Mike Green and Trevor Daley get thrown around as possible trade targets, the name generating perhaps the most buzz is Andreas Athanasiou.  I can’t help but think that it’s a sign of how dysfunctionally constructed this team is that, because their veterans have so little value, to fuel the rebuild the Red Wings must look at dealing a 25-year-old pending restricted free agent.

Trade deadlines haven’t gone exactly to plan since the Red Wings started their rebuild.

In 2017, the big trade piece out of Detroit was supposed to be Thomas Vanek, who ended up only fetching a third round pick and Dylan McIlrath when a market never developed.  Moving Vanek, Steve Ott, Brendan Smith, and Tomas Jurco cleared roster spots and got at least something in return for a handful of pending free agents, but there were no first-round picks or top prospects coming back.

In 2018 that was supposed to change as Green would be a pending free agent and, clearly, the former NHL All-Star would draw interest.  Instead, Green spent the deadline injured and then-GM Ken Holland was forced to deal Tomas Tatar.

Now, let me be clear, the return for Tatar was fantastic.  But it needed to be in moving a 27-year-old with three more years left on his deal.  And it didn’t negate the disappointment of being unable to move Green.

Last year Gustav Nyquist and Nick Jensen may have been on the younger side of players you’d expect to move out during a rebuild but they were both pending unrestricted free agents, so moving them made sense.  Again, though, no marquee piece came back.  And again, no market formed for other Red Wings veterans such as Jimmy Howard and Niklas Kronwall.

Finally, we come to this year, where the Red Wings have Green again available, as well as Daley.  Howard is again a pending unrestricted free agent, as is Jonathan Ericsson.  But no body seems to want any of them because their games have fallen off a cliff.  So, much like 2018, in order to escape this deadline having acquired anything of value for the rebuild, Athanasiou has to be made available.

Maybe Athanasiou brings back something like Tatar did.  I can’t see it happening, though.  What I don’t want to see is Athanasiou bringing back the third round pick that Vanek got (or even the second and third round picks that Nyquist got) and the Wings feeling forced to make that move simply because they have no other moves to make.

The feeling I’m getting right now, though, is that feeling of disappointment.  The feeling that there won’t be a market for any of the Wings’ players and they’ll have to settle a bad deal just to come out of the deadline with anything.

Red Wings Add Goloubef via Waivers

The Detroit Red Wings acquired veteran defenseman Cody Goloubef from the Ottawa Senators via waivers on Friday.

The move allowed them to send blueliner Brian Lashoff, who had been called up on Thursday night after Filip Hronek was placed on injured reserve, back to the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Given the Red Wings’ injury scenario this season, it’s unsurprising that the team would want to carry eight defensemen right now.  With the trade deadline on Monday, I’m sure the team is hoping to have unloaded some of their defensemen for draft picks.

That said, this feels like the Eric Comrie trade to me.  What good is your farm team if it can’t provide players for short-term injury relief?

I’m sure some would say that there’s value in keeping the Griffins’ lineup together, I just don’t buy it that much.  But, unlike Comrie, Goloubef comes for free, so while I don’t see the need for the claim, I’m also not concerned about it.

On the AHL’s Nationwide Footprint

With this week’s news that the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights had reached an agreement to purchase the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage, intending to relocate the team to the Las Vegas area, I got to thinking about the AHL’s alignment.

I should say I got to thinking about it again, because every year when the league’s schedule comes out, I find myself questioning why the teams of the AHL even bother operating as a single league.

This season the Grand Rapids Griffins play a 76-game schedule.  Of those games, 76% are against teams in their own division.  They play the Milwaukee Admirals and Rockford Ice Hogs ten times each, meaning over a quarter of the Griffins’ schedule is made up of two opponents.  They play eight games against the Pacific Division and ten against the Eastern Conference, with six of those being against relatively-nearby Toronto and Cleveland.

The Springfield Thunderbirds, meanwhile play inside their division for 79% of their games.  They play the entirety of their schedule inside the Eastern Conference, which doesn’t span any further west than Cleveland.

As much as I – as a Griffins fan – might get sick of seeing Milwaukee seemingly every other weekend, this scheduling format makes sense.  The AHL might be a nationwide league but this is still minor-league hockey.  Teams can save money by playing only the opponents closest to them.  At least it’s not as bad as when the Pacific Division was playing a completely different number of games as the rest of the league.

The difference between the divisions is only going to be worse, though, when Seattle’s affiliate in Palm Springs comes on line.  With the Rampage off to Vegas and Palm Springs operating, a four-division alignment would see the Colorado Eagles join the Central Division.  This would give the league one division for the Pacific, two divisions for the Atlantic, and a Central Division spread out over the entire rest of the continent, from Colorado Springs to Grand Rapids and Winnipeg to Austin.

With this in mind, the question to me is, is there a need for a nationwide “AAA”-level hockey league?

To be clear, I’m not saying that the AHL should collapse back to its northeastern roots.  The league got this way because NHL teams want their affiliates in easy-to-reach locations.  What I’m saying is that maybe there doesn’t need to be one league to solve that.  Having the International League and the Pacific Coast League separate works for baseball, after all.

Perhaps the current Pacific Division could become a ten-team league by adding Palm Springs and the Texas teams (with the Rampage having become the Silver Knights along the way), a reborn WCHL.  The remaining Central Division teams could replenish their ranks by adding Cleveland and Charlotte as yet another iteration of the IHL.  This would leave the AHL core from the Eastern Conference intact as a 14-team league.  Toronto and Belleville could join the Central teams to even things out better if needed.

Of course, all of baseball is run under one umbrella, something that is not the case for hockey.  While it’s easy to look at a map and see not one AHL but instead a WCHL, an IHL, and an AHL, the NHL may not want to deal with three individual leagues.  A single league may prevent teams from getting out of line.  Remaining a single league would certainly prevent what happened with the IHL of the 1990s, attempting to rise up to challenge the NHL.

I can’t help but think those issues could be handled, however.  While minor league hockey doesn’t have the umbrella organization that minor league baseball does, perhaps the creation of such an umbrella would be a part of this shift.  In my mind, this would also eliminate the issues that led to the fall of the original WCHL and IHL.

That said, perhaps I’m seeing problems that just don’t exist.  I can’t shake the feeling, though, that the American Hockey League is three smaller leagues in a trenchcoat.