For the end of May and early June, it has been an unusually busy week in terms of Canes hockey news.
Ulf Samuelsson hired to coach the Charlotte Checkers
With the departure of Mark Morris to coach at St. Lawrence University after only 1 season in Charlotte, Ron Francis was tasked with finding a new AHL coach. He turned to an old friend in Ulf Samuelsson to fill this role. (Team press release can be found HERE.)
Public sentiment seemed nearly unanimously positive on this move. I have much more of a mixed opinion than most.
NHL/near NHL rating level: On the positive side of the ledger, Samuelsson’s name came up when the Canes were looking to hire an NHL bench boss but instead went with Bill Peters. He has been thought to be a candidate for other jobs too. That would suggest that the Canes added a potentially NHL caliber coach for the AHL position which is a positive.
Familiarity and relationship can be helpful for distant AHL relationship: I also think that Francis hiring someone he knows, understands and has a relationship with can be a positive. With the geographic distance from an AHL coach, the previous relationship can help in terms of being on the same page communicating and working together.
Lack of AHL and player development experience: But I do see 2 potential negatives. Previous Checkers coach, Mark Morris was lauded for his experience which included 8 years of head coaching experience developing players at the AHL level and an additional 14 years of head coaching experience working with 18-22 year old players at the college level. Ulf Samuelsson brings only 2 seasons of experience as a head coach at the professional level in Sweden. He has no head coaching experience in the AHL and only 1 season total in the AHL as an assistant coach. His coaching resume is heavy on assistant coaching at the NHL level but very light on player development experience in general but especially at the AHL level.
Hiring friends can be problematic: Especially given that this is a new role for Samuelsson, hiring a friend can be problematic. I have no idea how well Samuelsson will work out, but what if he just does not work out as a player development coach at the AHL level, and it becomes obvious early on? Would Francis be able to move quickly? Or might he be inclined to be patient and offer a much longer leash to a friend?
Netting it out: Thus far Francis’ judgement on personnel matters has been pretty good, so there is significant reason for optimism that this too will be a positive for the organization. That said, I will be watching closely for signs of how quickly Samuelsson adjusts to a different role focused on developing young players not coaching veterans.
Hurricanes ink Josh Wesley to entry-level deal on last day to do so
As a 2014 draftee and Canadian junior player, the Canes maintained Josh Wesley’s rights through June 1, 2016. It went down to the wire, but the Canes signed Wesley to an entry-level contract today which slates him to continue his development.
What’s next for Josh Wesley? With the contract, Wesley will continue his development either in Charlotte (AHL) or possibly Florida (ECHL). He was drafted in the fourth round and has made step-wise progress since then. I think he looked better in terms of skating and overall at the prospect camp last summer (compared to the previous year) but was not quite at the same level as the group of Hanifin, Pesce, Slavin, Fleury and to some degree Carrick and McKeown. But he has good size, pedigree and improvement since being drafted which makes him a good prospect addition to the AHL/ECHL group.
Updated tally on 2014 draft class: Wesley’s signing and the passing of the June 1 deadline mostly moves the 2014 draft class forward to the next stage as 20 year olds. Unless 1 of them pushes up into the NHL mix, Haydn Fleury (1st), Alex Nedeljkovic (2nd), Roland McKeown (2nd from LA), Josh Wesley (4th), Lucas Wallmark (4th) and Clark Bishop (5th) are all signed and should play in Charlotte or Florida next season. Unless I missed it, the Canes gave up their rights to 7th-rounder Kyle Jenkins by not signing him today but still maintain rights to 3rd-rounder Warren Foegele because he was a US college player when drafted. No one from this draft class has jumped to the NHL level yet, but the fact that so many are in play is a positive as are the strong 2015-16 seasons for Fleury, McKeown and Nedeljkovic.
Charlotte blue line following Raleigh’s lead with the youth movement: If all of Fleury, McKeown and Wesley win AHL spots next season, the Checkers will suddenly be much younger. I would expect the Hurricanes organization to keep only a couple of veteran AHLers Danny Biega, Keegan Lowe, Dennis Robertson and Rasmus Rissanen. Rissanen has already signed to play in Finland next season, so that leaves 3. My best guess is that Keegan Lowe and Dennis Robertson will be re-signed to provide veteran help on defense and that Biega could also be let go. If that happens, the Checkers blue line would include 3 20-year olds and also 21-year old Tyler Ganly and 22-year old Trevor Carrick.
Peter Karmanos is sued by his 3 sons for $100 million
Ugh…just ugh! I am inclined to just stop there but will instead press on…
The obvious and I guess scary upshot: At the obvious level, a potential $100 million bill is a hit to Peter Karmanos’ financial situation which could increase the urgency to sell the team. I am not privy to the exact details for Karmanos’ situation, but I guess it is even possible that it could trigger bankruptcy which could take things out of Karmanos’ control and make things move even quicker. It should be old news, but I think it is important to note yet again that the Hurricanes have been for sale in 1 way or another for almost a decade. I wrote up the long and winding chronology on Karmanos’ ownership and attempt to sell part of the team last summer which nicely puts it on the shelf for every other when this comes up again.
But is this really a bad thing at this point? A change of control does have some risk to it, but I am quickly reaching the point where I am ready to get it over with. I do not at all get where people think change of ownership means relocation. A relatively high percentage of professional sports teams both hockey and other are owned by out of town owners. In addition, the NHL has demonstrated a desire to keep teams where they are to the point of pure stubbornness. The Coyotes have been through many years of lack of support from the city, arena issues, ownership issues, bankruptcy issues, attendance issues and more. And yet they are still in Arizona. Moving an NHL team is not as simple as just buying it and then filling out a form with the NHL to put them wherever you want. Though it makes me a bit nervous, I am ready for Karmanos to FINALLY sell a significant stake in the team, ideally all of it, so we can put this to bed for good.