Here we are, just seven days into February, and silly season is in full swing.
With legislative drama going on at USA Hockey, economic realities being faced by professional teams, and greed taking the steering wheel with every opportunity, the world of hockey has turned to the silly season very early this year.
At a time when play-off talk should be on top of the menu, we find ourselves staring at the hockey landscape with a dumbfounded look on our face.
From the National Hockey League in Phoenix to the east coast's International Junior Hockey League, everybody is braced for the fallout of what could be the greatest adjustment in United States hockey history. Our friends in Canada are also left wondering just how everything is going to shake out.
Like a line of dominos, let's start at the top and let the bones hit the floor.
National Hockey League
The Phoenix Coyotes are on the block and could be moved to Portland, Oregon. This would have an obvious effect on the Portland Winterhawks.
Jim Balsillie still wants to bring a team to Hamilton's Copps Coliseum. The dang Buffalo Sabres keep blocking Balsille's efforts but I feel that the Panthers could be leaving Florida in the very near future.
Kansas City's Sprint Center is a brand new facility without an anchor tenant. The city was last used by Super Mario and the Penguins to get a new arena deal done in Pittsburgh. I don't know, but the Kansas City Predators has a nice ring to it. Maybe Mr. Fisher can get his wife to buy the team.
American Hockey League
I think it is fair to say that the AHL's Oklahoma experiment has been a serious failure. Was it the loss of their biggest Central Hockey League rivals in Wichita and Tulsa or the NBA? Either way, what was once the jewel of minor professional hockey may turn into something else entirely? We are hearing rumors of a possible Edmonton Oilers partnership with the owners of the CHL's Ft Wayne Komets to bring the AHL to Indiana.
Wheeling is rumored to be in flux and may not return for the 2012-2013 season and a lot of balls are up in the air with a number of CHL teams looking at other options.
Central Hockey League
My suggestion is for the league to make a sustained effort to become the World's best junior league by operating with sanctioning provided by the Amateur Athletic Union. Ok, you can stop laughing now, so let's take a look at what it is going to take.
1) Complete compliance with the NCAA to be able to give players a $100-$150 per week Per Diem for incidental expenses. The Per Diem, combined with premium independent living, and a professional hockey atmosphere, will go a great distance towards the goal.
2) International flavor to the league by recruiting heavily at World Juniors, in Canada, and here in the United States. Go right at the Hockey Canada and USA Hockey establishment with CHL Entry Camps in Las Vegas, Midwest, New England/NY, Toronto, and Vancouver.
3) Build it and they will come. Maybe this starts out with six teams or twenty, but open up the party to any and all current professional or junior teams that can prove themselves to be viable candidates to join the league.
United States Hockey League
I don't see anything major this season aside from the Indiana Ice trying to find a temporary home.
North American Hockey League
I think Duane Lewis is sitting up to drop a hammer on the NAHL. Mark Frankenfeld put the hurt on the CHL in Texas and it now looks like Lewis is about to return the favor. The end result could see the NAHL down to just a handful of teams scattered from Fairbanks to New York. This could turn into one seriously far-flunged Tier III league before it is all said and done.
Where do we start? How about in New England where Dan Esdale is in position to take his old job back while flexing the muscles of the Eastern Junior Hockey League's brand. Look for a power move where the EJHL expands their brand to the youth levels of play with AAU sanctioning. USA Hockey will not take such a move lightly but the Empire and Eastern States Hockey League will follow the lead of the big brother EJHL.
Meanwhile, the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League lost their appeal to place a team in Sault Ste. Marie and is telling folks that there will be a new team in town with, or without, USA Hockey's approval. We are taking that as a sign that the AAU banner will soon be flying over the GLJHL as well.
Minnesota is not going anywhere and could find themselves as the only league doing battle with the NA3HL.
Out west, the American West Hockey League and NORPAC are currently dancing with AAU's Western States Hockey League in regards to territory rights and player protections. A pair of NORPAC teams even participated in the WSHL Shootout in Las Vegas before Christmas. Does this mean that there could be a merger or expansion of AAU to the Northern Rockies and Pacific northwest? This entirely depends on pending USA Hockey legislation in regards to 16 year-olds eligibility to play on junior rosters.
The Western States Hockey League is making a few big plans of their own. Look for aggressive expansion north of Texas and possibly east towards Missouri. Could we see a new Midwest Division of the WSHL?
How will it all shake out? What do you think?