Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fighting Back

Let me preface this post by saying I have absolutely no idea if anything like this is even possible. I suspect there are plenty of reasons that it can't happen, but my mind has been spinning the past couple of days (for obvious reasons) about what the NCAA could do to, if not level the playing field, at least give their teams a little more protection from the John Gibson's of the world.

I don't know all the specifics, but when a player signs with the NTDP it's binding and a settlement is required for the player to break that agreement. Chris from The United States of Hockey  passed along some info to me last night about it. But the gist is that if a kid wants to play in the CHL after he signed with the NTDP, someone is ponying up.

So while colleges may not be bound by the same transfer agreement that kids for the NTDP are, I have a really hard time believing that some of the NCAA lawyers couldn't draw up a National Letter of Intent that would be legally binding and would hold up in court.

Essentially, in my fantasy land, it would go something like this: If you sign this LOI, you are playing for this college team for at least one season. If you break this agreement and go play in the CHL, you will compensate this school for the negative impact on their season by paying $X.

Then I'd open up the signing period. Right now, kids can sign over the course of a week in November and from mid-April through July. What if you just open it up? Say that you can sign anytime beginning with September the year before you are set to enroll? Again, there's probably a good reason it can't happen, but stick with me here.

So now we're a year out and it's time to start finalizing the recruiting class for the following season. You put the LOI in front of the kid and his parents and ask for the signature. The kid signs. Beautiful! He's locked in, and if he bails for the CHL the school is at least going to be compensated in some form. It at least makes it tougher to go. If he doesn't sign, then he's basically saying that he wants to keep his options open. Then the school is able to recruit as if he isn't coming because he's telling you that there's a decent chance that he isn't coming!

At least that way you're going to find out who is serious and who isn't. In the current state of recruiting, a kid isn't solid when he verbals (Jared Knight). He isn't solid when he signs his letter of intent (Alex Legion...ERRRRRR...John Gibson). He isn't necessarily solid when he sets foot on campus (no example, but I'm sure someone can throw one out there). He isn't even solid when he's played a year and change for you (Robbie Czarnik).

Something like the above would at least give the coaches notice if a player is committed to playing college hockey. If they aren't, then you have a year to find a replacement. You're more in a Jack Campbell position than a John Gibson. If they leave late in the game, at least the school is getting compensated.

There are still flaws: 1) I'm not sure it's even possible to do, which, clearly, is the big one. 2) In Gibson's case, I'm sure the Rangers would have had no problem ponying up to get their guy, which still leaves us sans-goalie. But Gibson also may not have ever signed his LOI, which would've been a clue that he wasn't coming.

In the end, these kids are doing what they think is the best for their career and it's hard to fault them for that. At the same time, when you're a guy like Gibson, the school is depending on you. They're passing up the chance to sign another talented goaltender. They're committing a scholarship to you. And really, the kid doesn't ever really have any skin in the game. He can flip at any second and leave the college in a horrible position.

Michigan now has to find at least 1 goalie for the 2012 season. Maybe two, depending on if Janecyk shows enough to count on him as a backup for a second season. What happens if they get left at the alter for a third-straight season? We're absolutely screwed.

At some point your word has to mean something. You're not just making a decision that only impacts yourself. There are people's livelihoods potentially at stake, twenty-five other kids whose team is hurt by your selfishness, plenty of blogging hours down the drain, etc. (I'm kidding about the last one. Kind of.)

The CHL can really do whatever the hell they want. Promise the kid anything. Keep talking to them after they're signed. Keep talking to them while they're playing for the college. Get in their ear during the summers. The NCAA can't do any of that. I'm not advocating that the NCAA open the door to CHL kids, as I agree with the point that it could actually lead to more top-notch players going to Major Junior. But there has to be some way that they can help their teams out, give them some more clarity as to who is coming and who isn't, and compensate them if a kid decides all of a sudden that the CHL is the way to go, even though theoretically they've had years upon years to think about it.

Feel free to tell me why this can't work. The whole premise depends upon being able to find a way to make the LOIs legally binding. Maybe it can't be done. Maybe there's a perfectly good reason not to try to implement something like this. I'm curious to hear what people think: Is there a way to help the NCAA fight back? Should they even try?

A couple of other things:
I mentioned this on Twitter, but I'd like to thank Stephen Nesbitt again for the new banner on the site. I absolutely love it!

The Big Chill was nominated for Best Collegiate Sporting Event by SportsTravel magazine. You can vote for it here. You should also vote for the Indy 500 as the Best Professional Sporting Event because it was amazing and Bryan Herta's driver won.

The Alumni Game will take place on August 5. JMFJ is in!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Having a Seat Over There: Michael Downing

Some good recruiting news has come out this week! 2013 defenseman Michael Downing has committed to Michigan! Downing visited Yost this week and announced on his Twitter feed today that he's "officially a Wolverine".

Downing is a 6'3" 185 lb defenseman that previously played for Detroit Catholic Central. He had 7-16--23 in 26 games this past season with 18 PIMs.

He was the 3rd overall pick (and first defenseman chosen) in the USHL Futures Draft. He was selected by the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

A poster on the Yost Post mentioned him awhile back and said that he played very well at the Select 16 Festival and was supposedly the third-best defenseman there.

An OHL scout that covers Michigan said that he is a "very good skating defender with high-end offensive capabilities". He was selected in the 8th round of the OHL Draft by the Sarnia Sting.

Edit: Downing will also be a member of the USA U-17 Select Team for the Five Nations Tournament that will take place at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube from August 9-13. Target Gabe Guertler will also be on the roster. Stick tap to The United States of Hockey Blog for that one.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

John Gibson to the OHL

For the second straight year, Michigan has lost their incoming goalie recruit to the OHL. Mike Spath has confirmed via text from John Gibson that he'll be headed to the OHL instead of Michigan.
Campbell leaving didn't piss me off that badly, even though at that point we didn't know that Shawn Hunwick was amazing. At least he changed his commitment a full ten months before he was due to set foot on campus. Had Michigan wanted to bring in another goalie for the 2010-11 season, they likely would have been able to. Instead, they focused on Gibson and were able to land him for the 2011-12 season. Or so we thought.
Now, here we are roughly a month from the start of class, and he's opted to go the Major Junior route. Really, really nice timing there. Spath has a call in to Gibson right now, and I can't wait to hear the answer to the question "Why now?"
This leaves the Wolverines with Shawn Hunwick as the starter and Adam Janecyk as the backup. Clearly the Wolverines are fine with Hunwick in net, but instead of having arguably the strongest duo in the country, there's nothing but question marks should Hunwick get injured. Janecyk has USHL experience, which is good, but he played just 1:32 last season, making one save. It also means that the Wolverines will almost definitely be starting a freshman goalie in 2012, unless someone out there is looking to transfer. Also, it means that Red needs to find two goalies for 2012, unless they've seen (or will see) enough in Janecyk to be comfortable with him as the backup for another year. The problem is, if you hitch your wagon to one goalie and you get whammied for the third straight year, you've got Janecyk as the starter and no backup.
On the bright side, this does open the door to look for the "supers" again, if Red is so inclined. There aren't a whole lot of situations that would be more attractive than coming in as, likely, the unquestioned starter (except, evidently, the entire OHL).
This is getting old. Again, I'm trying to keep it in perspective as these kids are making decisions for what they think is in their best interest moving forward. But man, it takes some brass ones to say all along that you're coming, the draft didn't change your status, no, really, I'm coming, Michigan is the place for me, and then bail with a month to go before the start of the season. You knew the OHL was there all along. You told McKeen's in February that you didn't really look into it that much because "Michigan is where I chose to go." You knew Michigan's goaltending situation all along. You knew how many games make up the NCAA schedule all along. It's one thing to back out before you sign your LOI and when the team still has a chance to find a replacement if they want to. It's completely another to bail a month before the season and leave the team hanging.
Just lovely.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Our New White Jerseys are Turrible

The Michigan Hockey twitter account linked out to pictures of the new jerseys today. The blue jersey is basically unchanged. We get a solid block M on the shoulder instead of the hockey-stick M. The M on the shoulders looks really nice. That's a solid looking jersey, even if I'm disappointed they didn't go for a blue version of the whites that they've worn the past few years.

We're back to the maize jersey with a blue M, which, okay, it's nice to have that one every few years.

The whites though? Ugh. After a couple of years with the modernized throwbacks, which I think are the nicest looking jerseys they've had since I've been following the team, they've tweaked them. It looks very similar except the M in "Michigan" is now a block M.
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Un-fan. HSR points out that it could be somewhat based on a jersey from 1976 and that it's somewhat reminiscent of basketball jerseys past. I see it. And maybe I'm being somewhat inconsistent between my views on this jersey (ugh) and my views on the fairly-ugly football "throwbacks" for the Notre Dame game and the Big Chill jerseys (love both of them). I guess my philosophy is that ugly works for a throwback if it's a one-off. If it's the jersey the team is going to wear night-in and night-out, I'm less of a fan of ugly. The old whites were sweet because they were an old design modernized, but more than anything else, they looked sharp. The block M just makes it look kind of lopsided. I feel like something looks off about the arch. Not a fan.

HSR has a post breaking down all three jerseys. I'll echo the sentiment. More than anything else, the change to the whites was unnecessary. The whites of the last couple years were classic. It feels like it loses something with the block M.

That said, Moffie and Spencer Hyman are fans. If not liking one of the three new jerseys is the biggest problem we've got, that's pretty good.

A school with bigger problems: Western Michigan. After coach Jeff Blashill pulled the team from the ashes and brought them to the NCAA Tournament last year, his stock went through the roof. Too much if you're a Bronco fan. Blashill left today to take an assistant coaching position with the Detroit Red Wings. As a Wings fan, I absolutely love the hire. As a college hockey fan who wishes good things for the CCHA teams that aren't FYS, OSU, or Miami, it kills me. I loved seeing Western get it together last season. Hopefully they can land a good coach and keep up their momentum, but man, that's going to be tough....

...especially given the new uncertainty in college hockey. So everyone knows by now that the Big Ten is only a couple of years away. Now it appears the breakup of the CCHA and WCHA will be right behind it. According to reports, Colorado College, North Dakota, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha and Miami are set to break away and form a "super conference" of sorts. Western Michigan and Notre Dame have also been rumored, but are less uncertain.

MGoBlog and MHNet have takes on the situation. Western College Hockey chimes in from a national perspective and CHN has a couple of good takes as well.

Me? I'm just going to stick with what I've said all along, ever since talks of the BTHC started: I'm excited about more games on TV, more games on TV in HD, more exposure for the sport, more games against Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the possibility of re-opening college hockey to expansion due to the conferences having some open slots. But if it causes any of the smaller schools to fold their team, I don't like it at all. It also makes me kind of sad that the CCHA and WCHA entities are possibly going away. I felt the same way when it looked like the Big 12 was going to disband.

With this, I still think we just have to wait and see. There's a lot of uncertainty and depending on scheduling agreements it might still work out. If BGSU still gets some games with the schools that draw well and play in a conference that's down Michigan/FYS/Miami/ND, maybe it's more realistic that they get back to the NCAAs someday. It's hard to not enjoy being a "have" and just think HDGAMESHDGAMESHDGAMESHDGAMESHDGAMES but anything that results in a former national champion folding isn't a good thing. They need to find a way to keep these programs around. If that happens, then I'm all for the Big 10 and whatever Super Conference they can come up with.

Other stuff:
Jeff Tambellini signed a deal to play in Zurich for the next three years. He's a third-generation player for the team, which is kind of cool, but man. I'm not joking about this: Out of all the players that have come through the Michigan program in the past decade, aside from JMFJ, there's not a player that I was more convinced was going to make it in the NHL.

Maybe this will work out for him. He'll get a ton of ice time on a scoring line (instead of playing a 4th-line role that he's not really suited for) and according to the linked article, he'll actually likely be receiving a pay bump. He said that he had other opportunities in the NHL. Hopefully we'll see Tamby back here someday.

His West Qua* roommate, *anny Richmon*, just signe* with the Washington Capitals.

Andrew Ebbett signed with the Canucks and Jed Ortmeyer signed with the Minnesota Wild.