Sunday, December 19, 2010

QMJHL Trade Period Musings

The floodgates are about to open on the QMJHL trading period, and an interesting one it will be. This is where the contenders will be definitively separated from the pretenders, but with the Q hosting the Memorial Cup next year, teams will be hesitant to hamstring themselves for the future, because a finals appearance in 2012 may be all that’s needed for a berth in the Mem Cup. So, some random thoughts as things start to ramp up:

Montreal could be the team to watch over the next couple of weeks. Louis Leblanc is their star attraction and they know he’s gone after this season. They won’t have a better chance to gun for it than right now, so they could be very active. Here’s some food for thought: Leblanc and Sean Couturier of Drummondville were linemates at Canada’s World Junior summer camp. If they end up back together for the tournament and strike up some chemistry, you have to think Pascal Vincent will be kicking the tires on that option.

Speaking of Drummondville, they’re in an interesting position themselves. They have the best all-around player in the league in Couturier, and need to decide what to do with him. With the very real possibility that he sticks in the NHL next year, do they sell him off, content with their 2009 title, and build for a run in a year or two? Or do they decide that going for it with Couturier on their side is too good to pass up? They’re having a great season, but that move (or non-move) will make or break it.

Another rumoured destination for Couturier has been Bathurst, mainly based on the fact that A) his father is the general manager and B) they’re in go-for-it mode. You have to think the elder Couturier is going to make a splash, if not by landing his son, then some other way. Olivier Roy is unlikely to be back for his over-age season, and Bathurst didn’t go nuts with trades in the summer just to win a round or two. They need something (or two) to push them over the top.

The Brandon Gormley question is one that needs to be addressed in Moncton in short order. Though injured now, he’s arguably the best defenseman the QMJHL has to offer. This is only his age-18 season, but it’s a possibility that he lands a job in Phoenix full time come October. A quick look at the Coyotes shows Morris, Aucoin, Sauer, Ekman-Larsson and Schlemko under contract for next season, with Yandle and Lepisto scheduled to be RFAs and sure to be back. Does that only leave Gormley as a third pairing guy, or do they make a move to accommodate him if he really impresses? No doubt Danny Flynn will be having some good chats with Don Maloney in the coming days. Neil Hodge has a better breakdown on the Wildcats’ options if you’re interested.

Appropriate to wrap up with the Saint John Sea Dogs, as there are a ton of possibilities there. Like most teams sitting first overall at the break, they’re weighing their options for a run in the spring. But more than any other team, they’re looking to 2012 and their Memorial Cup aspirations, be they hosts or league champs. They already have an impressive group of youngsters that will be the core going forward, but the goaltending situation is one that may need to be dealt with. Do they take a crack at Gusse or Gibson in Chicoutimi to be their go-to guy, thus not using an over-age spot in goal next season? They could also use some grit on the lower lines. A guy like Philippe Paradis could be the answer, but he’s unlikely to be back next year and would be pricey. A poor-man’s option might be Pier-Antoine Dion in Cape Breton, who can chip in some offense while playing an in-your-face physical style, would be affordable, and would be back as an over-ager next season.

These are just a few of the many storylines that expect to unfold over the next two-and-a-half weeks. The landscape of the QMJHL will certainly be shifted once we all come down off our World Junior high, and it will make for an exciting finish to this year and a great precursor to the arrival of the Memorial Cup in 2012.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Prediction: Canada's WJC Team

Photo by Richard Wolowicz, Getty Images

The Team Canada World Junior Selection Camp is a few days along now, with cuts expected Tuesday. I figured I’d take a crack at predicting the lineup before the cuts begin, so here’s one man’s opinion based on the things floating around in my brain. Expect it to be completely correct.

J. Schwartz – B. Schenn – B. Connolly
B. Pirri – S. Couturier – L. Leblanc
C. Eakin – R. Johansen – Z. Kassian
Q. Howden – C. Cizikas – C. Ashton
B. Ross

J. Cowen – R. Ellis
C. de Haan – E. Gudbranson
S. Despres – D. Olsen
R. Murphy

O. Roy
C. Pickard

Basically with this lineup you’ve got a good forward mix of guys with size and skill. The top two lines would be leaned on to score, with the third line made up of big boys who can shake things up physically and chip in offensively. The fourth line would be an energy group, and Ross as the 13th forward can provide a spark in an agitator role. Also, he’s a Leaf which fills the bias quota in the lineup.

Selection camp is heavy with puck movers and offensive-minded guys on the blueline. Despite possessing the skating ability of a dumptruck, Jared Cowen seems to be a lock for a spot, so he gets slotted with Ellis who can bail him out when he forgets that legs are allowed to move. Cowen, Gudbranson and Olsen are all considered of the shutdown-type, so I paired each off with a more offensive-minded partner for my purposes. I originally had Tyson Barrie penciled in as the seventh defenseman, but I think it’s better to get Murphy that experience since Barrie is hardly a big step ahead, if he is at all.

In goal it’s my man-crush Olivier Roy with the starting job, backed up by a guy in Pickard who is used to seeing more rubber than Sasha Grey doing her thing in a tire factory.

All in all, as has been preached for weeks now, this team is not going to come by anything easily. They aren’t stacked with talent like they’ve been used to in some of the previous years and will rely on a balanced attack, strong defensive play, and probably some big performances from their goaltending. However, this team is not completely devoid of scoring ability. Brayden Schenn is the centerpiece, but this could really be a coming out party for Louis Leblanc. Jaden Schwartz and Brett Connolly will also be instrumental in creating offense. This team might compare best to the 2006 squad that won gold in Vancouver with a hard-hitting and hard-working attitude. Ultimately, the biggest factor could be the system that Dave Cameron employs. There’s enough talent here to win gold, but they’ll need to buy in to get past the American juggernaut.