Friday, September 17, 2010

Handicapping the 2012 Memorial Cup Host

Earlier today, the QMJHL surprised no one by announcing the teams that have put themselves up for consideration to host the 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup. Cape Breton, Halifax, Saint John and Shawinigan had all been expected to bid for the tournament, and there was no last-minute dark horse to throw everyone off. So as it stands, there’s a three-out-of-four chance that the Memorial Cup will return to the Maritimes. Looking at the Q’s hosting history since 2000, that makes sense; it’s been hosted by Halifax (2000), Quebec (2003), Moncton (2006) and Rimouski (2009), alternating between the Maritimes and Quebec each year. But a three-out-of-four chance is basic stuff; what are the real odds?

There are a number of factors that go into a successful Memorial Cup bid, including things that I can’t rightly determine like marketing and financial plans. Among the things I can look at are the quality of the team, arena, and experience hosting previous events; that adds up to 50% of the criteria and can make or break a team’s bid.

One of the easiest things to determine is the quality of the team, and an easy measuring stick is the NHL Entry Draft. Let’s look at the most recent hosts, the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Wheaties obviously boasted two top picks from the previous draft, as Brayden Schenn and Scott Glennie were chosen 5th and 8th, respectively, in the 2009 draft. They formed a top line along with Matt Calvert, a 5th round pick in 2008. Toni Rajala, a 2009 4th rounder, also added some scoring. The blueline had a pair of 2008 2nd rounders in Colby Robak and Travis Hamonic. In goal was Jake De Serres, a 3rd rounder in ’08. Keep in mind, Hamonic and De Serres were acquired mid-season, after Brandon was already awarded the tournament. So the main core group of the host team was made up of a pair of top-10 picks, two 2nd rounders, a 3rd, a 4th, and a 5th. They also had draft-eligible players in Michael Ferland and Mark Stone, who went in the 5th and 6th rounds, respectively, in June.

With the 2011 Draft still months away, and scouting information tough to find, along with the QMJHL website being in complete shambles, it’s tough to determine exactly what the composition of any one team will be, come the spring of 2012, but let’s have a go at it. And hell, let’s throw some betting odds down while we’re at it.

Cape Breton Screaming Eagles – Odds: 25-1

The Screaming Eagles have been a model of consistency in the league for a while now. The team has won 40 games in 6 of its last 7 seasons, including the last 5 straight. That streak will surely fall this year as they’re poised for a tough season. Captain Morgan Ellis was the only Eagles product drafted in June, in the 4th round by the Habs. The team will rely largely on over-agers Taylor MacDougall and Stephen Horyl this season, so needless to say they’ll be long gone come 2012. They have a few draft eligible players for 2011 but nothing overly notable. Logan Shaw was a high pick in the 2008 Q draft, but, unless he breaks out in a big way, doesn’t figure to be a game-changer going forward. Unless they pick up some beauties in the Q draft in June that can make a big impact right away, their hopes of contending for the title next year, and thus hosting the Memorial Cup, are faint. Their arena seats 4,600, and even after renovations that bring that total to 5,000, it’s still the smallest among the bidders. The long-awaited addition of a video scoreboard is a plus, but it’s not enough, as much as I’d love to see the tournament on the Island.

Shawinigan Cataractes – Odds: 10-1

The Cataractes had six players drafted into the NHL in 2009, including two in the first 2 rounds, and could have been set up beautifully for a bid if the Q were hosting this year rather than next… that is, if they kept those players. Dave Labrecque is the only player from that draft that remains on Shawinigan’s roster. Their only 2010 draftee was Michael Bournival, a 3rd round selection. There hasn’t been much hype about Shawinigan players for the upcoming draft; at a glance, the only ones that stand out are three players chosen in the 1st round of the 2009 Q draft: Yannick Veilleux, Jonathan Racine and Dillon Donnelly. One can assume they’ll be primed for a run in 2012, but they’re yet to break out. Shawinigan’s new arena is one thing it has going for it, with seating for about 5,200. By comparison, Brandon’s arena had capacity for just over 6,000. As for past events, they hosted the Memorial Cup back in 1985, as well as one of last year’s Subway Super Series games between the QMJHL All-Stars and a Russian squad. They’ve also retired Patrick Lalime’s number, which has to be a bad sign when trying to host a playoff tournament.

Halifax Mooseheads – Odds: 4-1

The Mooseheads should have a solid enough team by the time the tournament rolls around. Elite? Maybe not, but definitely very strong. The back end figures to be held down by Mathieu Corbeil in net, a 4th rounder this past June, along with fellow 2010 draftees Konrad Abeltshauser (6th rd) and Sawyer Hannay (7th rd) on the blueline. Add in Garrett Clarke, a talented-if-undisciplined defenseman, and forward Gabriel Desjardins, and you have a couple of players that could be drafted in the 3rd/4th round range come June. Darcy Ashley and Brent Andrews are also talented forwards that should be selected this year. But the real focal point once the 2012 Memorial Cup rolls around, if Halifax is there, would be Czech phenom Martin Frk, an early contender to go first overall in 2012. Luca Ciampini wouldn’t be far behind, either. The Mooseheads could be set up well as a host; obviously their arena is the best of the bunch with a capacity for over 10,000 spectators. The hosting history segment could possibly work against them, though. Obviously they have a good track record with events such as the World Juniors and World Championships, but they also hosted the Memorial Cup only back in 2000. It’s only been to three other Q markets since then, and I can only imagine the backlash if it went back so soon. It wouldn’t be an entirely shocking development, and if Halifax were poised to have the best team on paper in the spring of 2012, I think they’d get it. But they won’t be the best.

Saint John Sea Dogs – Odds: 2-1

Saint John easily has to be head and shoulders above the other three bidders in, at least, team quality. A pair of Sea Dogs were chosen in June: Stanislav Galiev (3rd rd) and Stephen MacAulay (6th rd), along with Steven Anthony, a 7th rounder in 2009, who could return as an over-ager next season. Then you throw three more potential stars into the forward mix, with Jonathan Huberdeau and Tomas Jurco likely being selected in the 1st or 2nd rounds in 2011, and Zach Phillips probably in the 2nd or 3rd round, and you have a mighty potent offense set up. Then there’s Nathan Beaulieu, who drew rave reviews from the research and development camp a few weeks back, to man the point. It’s expected that his name will be called out in the first round as well. Their 6,200 seat arena added a video scoreboard over the summer, and will host the Subway Super Series in November, after hosting it two years ago as well. It seems like everything is coming up Sea Dogs, and it appears that it will continue on that path right up until they’re announced as 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup hosts in April. That’s what I’d bet on, at least.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Return

Well hello there. I’ve dusted off the ol’ blog for the first post in a long, long time. I’m hoping that this marks the end of my inactive (lazy) streak.

So first, I’ll tell you a bit about myself. I’m a 20-year old from Cape Breton, recently graduated from college and working full-time at a radio station in my hometown. The end goal here is to incorporate my two passions: broadcasting and hockey. How, and when, remains to be seen. I’ve donned the alias of everyone’s favourite Czech defenseman with a heart condition who put the Leafs in position to tie the last playoff game they played. Which was 6 years ago. Meaning I went through all of high school and college with no Leafs playoff games. Hold me.

Anyway, with the information I’ve given here and the things I’ve tweeted, it would take about 5 minutes to figure out who I am, not like I wouldn’t tell anyone who asked. The nickname is just to separate my (lacking to this point) blog-type things from my real work.

My hope is to post here regularly from now on, about anything hockey… my views on anything happening in the NHL to things that are going on in the QMJHL, which I plan to cover a lot this season. And to ensure that, I spent two hundy on an online package that gives me access to every Q game this season, plus playoffs and archives. There’s no motivator quite like spending a boatload of money on something.
So on the topic of the Q, I’ll throw out some predictions based on my limited knowledge. See, despite being tabbed by PPP to write a weekly CHL update because of my Q-League Leafs prospect tweets, I don’t really know the Q that well. I know the better players and teams, but not very in-depth. That will change this year. (PS: I likely won’t be contributing those CHL updates this season, unless the Leafs increase their number of Q prospects to one, as I know little about the OHL/WHL and certainly less than a number of other PPP contributors.)

These predictions are based on some knowledge of a few teams and then guesses, some educated and some not, on the rest. Enjoy.


1. Saint John
2. Acadie-Bathurst
3. PEI
4. Moncton
5. Halifax
6. Cape Breton

Telus East:

1. Rimouski
2. Quebec
3. Lewiston
4. Chicoutimi
5. Vicoriaville
6. Baie-Comeau

Telus West:

1. Montreal
2. Drummondville
3. Gatineau
4. Shawinigan
5. Val-d’Or
6. Rouyn-Noranda

Anyone who knows the Q will probably look at these and think I’m on the crack. I’ve spent the last few weeks reading all I can about the league and my knowledge is still minimal, especially outside the Maritimes division. I wasn’t going to do predictions to save embarrassment, but I figured, what the hell. Sometimes with predictions, the less you know, the better. And hopefully this time next year I can make much more educated picks.

I’m inclined to think it will be Rouyn-Noranda and Cape Breton out of the playoffs this year. As for the champ? It’s a tough call between Saint John and Montreal. The Juniors have the best player in the league. Saint John has a great crop of talented kids but lost some firepower from last year. My gut is that the Sea Dogs rep the Q at the Memorial Cup. Even if they don’t, they ought to next year. If there’s any justice in this world, the 2012 Memorial Cup unfolds at Harbour Station. And if by chance they don’t get hosting duties, their team is positioned better than any other in the Q to win the championship next season.

From what I can tell, this is as good a year as any to get interested in the Q. One of the players projected as a potential first overall pick in June, Sean Couturier, plays for Drummondville. Montreal scored themselves the player who has to be the odds-on favourite for the league scoring title when they snagged Louis Leblanc from Harvard. The Saint John Sea Dogs boast four guys who will all be picked in the first two rounds of the draft, probably 2 or 3 in the first round, in Jonathan Huberdeau, Nathan Beaulieu, Tomas Jurco and Zack Phillips. And looking ahead to 2012, Halifax has a couple of potential high picks in Marty Frk and Luca Ciampini, both of whom scored their first Q-League goals tonight, about 30 seconds apart.

There are more great storylines this year than I can remember there ever being in the past. Maybe that’s because I didn’t pay enough attention to the Q before this year. That will change from now on.