Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Lockout is Here... Now What?

The day that we all dreaded has finally reared its ugly head, along with the news that most of us have anticipated for the majority of this summer. The National Hockey League has locked out the National Hockey League Players' Association.

So, what happens from here? To be honest, there are lots of possibilities, and most of those options depend on the length of the lockout. Some people, teams, and leagues could be affected greatly, while others may not. Regardless of what positive affects this situation may have for some (increased revenue for minor league teams), the fact of the matter is that the lockout is the worst possible scenario for hockey as a whole.

Simply put, every single game lost (not played) is money down the drain, from your tickets, to your concessions, to your souvenirs, and even at some venues, your parking spaces. And that's just the money that the teams are losing. What about the poor souls, who make ten dollars an hour, pouring your sodas, when you attend the games? $10/hour, 5 hours/game (figure an hour to set up, and an hour to clean up), 41 games/year - that's an extra $2,000 that those folks will never see.

But enough about the money, what about the impact on the players, teams, and leagues? As we've seen so far from this past week's transactions, each level of hockey is going to see a significant rise in talent, compared to what they were originally expecting. For example, if you're looking for something to do on October 12th, before the Nailers open the regular season the following night in Cincinnati, a trip to Cleveland may not be a bad choice, as the Lake Erie Monsters will face Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, and the Oklahoma City Barons. Those two, along with a dozen or so other players, will surely give the AHL some top notch players to watch.

With those players being allowed to go to the AHL, along with all of the players on two-way contracts (NHL-AHL or AHL-ECHL), and any of the players who decide to sign an AHL only deal, the roster sizes for AHL training camps have suddenly become rather large. This past week, NHL clubs assigned upwards of 20-25 players each to their AHL affiliates, who are only allowed to dress a maximum of 20 on any given night. This is where the trickle down affect works its way to the ECHL.

For an example close to home, let's look at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The Baby Pens currently have 27 players that will attend training camp, with a possibility of six more, assuming Bortuzzo, MacIntyre, Strait, Tangradi, Thiessen, and Zatkoff all sign AHL contracts. That would make for a total of 33 (to see the full list, check out Jonathan Bombulie's work here: dlvr.it/28qqXk). Now, take into consideration that 20 players are allowed to dress each night, and for the sake of argument, let's say that they keep one full line of extra players (C, LW, RW, D, D) as healthy scratches. That would leave as many as eight players, who could possibly wind up with the Nailers. And that's just one affiliate, out of the two associated with Wheeling. You have to figure that Montreal/Hamilton would also produce somewhere from three to five players.

But wait! The ECHL only allows you to dress 18 per game, and the Nailers already have 12 players under contract (Cianfrini, Corcoran, Darling, Farrer, Fergus, Hansen, Lenes, Merth, Minella, Ross, Schepke, Torquato), with a few more likely on the way. So now, what do you do? Everyone wants to play, so scratching a handful of players each night could be a tricky move. At the same time, Wheeling doesn't have a Single-A affiliate, so if a player were to go elsewhere (CHL, FHL, SPHL, etc.), and the lockout were to end, there's no guarantee of getting said player back.

So, what we're dealing with here is essentially a two-edged sword. Nobody that I have spoken to has any idea how long this work stoppage will last. Some people have said it will be settled by Thanksgiving, others say we could be in for another full season without the NHL, and for the rest, throw a dart at a calendar, and see where it lands. With that being said, teams will have to be as creative as possible, keeping either possibility in the backs of their minds. For those looking for a silver lining in all of that, everyone in the Eastern Conference is on relatively even terms, as all 12 teams have at least one affiliate. The interesting part is that six teams have two affiliates (Wheeling, Cincinnati, Evansville, Florida, Kalamazoo, Toledo), and six teams have one affiliate (Fort Wayne, Greenville, Gwinnett, Reading, South Carolina, Trenton).

And just when you thought things couldn't be crazier, allow me to throw the junior hockey (QMJHL, OHL, WHL) picture into our bowl of lockout stew. Jonathan Huberdeau was selected third overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Florida Panthers, and was basically a lock to make this year's club. However, he's only 19, and he didn't play in the NHL last year, so his only option is juniors. So, the Panthers assigned him back to the Saint John Sea Dogs, with whom he hoisted two President's Cups and a Memorial Cup. Due to that recent success, Saint John is in rebuilding mode, as most of the players involved have moved on to the pros. In a normal season, the Sea Dogs' best option would be to trade Huberdeau to a contender, and get a wealth of young players and draft picks in return. But what if the trade gets made, the Q's trade period closes, the lockout ends, and Huberdeau goes to sunny Florida? Now, Saint John looks like a terrible trading partner, because with the trade period closed, they can't just apologize and give back what they got. Thus, more hands become tied.

In closing, what we have here is one gigantic mess. Of course, the simple solution would be an agreement between the NHL and NHLPA, but your guess is as good as mine, as far as when that will happen. But, with that being said, regardless of what happens at the top, we are less than a month away from the start of the ECHL season, so get ready for hockey in Wheeling, or wherever your local rink might be!

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