There are some silver linings to the NHL being locked out.
The American Hockey League. the NHL's top development partner, clearly benefits the most. NHL teams are sending their top young stars down to the "A", when they would otherwise be fixtures with the big club. Guys like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Jeff Skinner and Adam Henrique were sent down, boosting interest and the overall talent level in the league. Unfortunately, my hometown of Halifax no longer has an AHL team of their own.
Another silver lining to an NHL lockout follows the same reasoning as my above statement regarding the "A"- some of the NHL's brightest young stars, those who are not AHL-eligible, that is, are sent down to play another year of junior while the league remains locked out. Columbus' young blueline stud Ryan Murray is a prime example of a player who under any other non-CBA circumstance would not be suiting up in the CHL at this point of the season, ordinarily he would be in training camp with his NHL team.
The Canadian Hockey League is the top junior league in the world, and Halifax is home to the Mooseheads, who are primed for a huge season. Let me give you a few reasons why the Mooseheads are more than filling my hockey void while the NHL remains locked out.
The CHL is cyclical. Generally speaking, teams build in three year cycles, aiming to be successful in their third year. Some teams follow that plan to perfection- they stink for a season, draft high, and take baby steps toward season two. In that second season, they still have relatively high draft picks, but teams tend to make more deals to acquire talent. In year three, the homegrown and acquired talent is topped off with a shrewd trade and/or Euro signing (I refuse to refer to it as a draft) and the team makes a push for a title. The teams that can pull this method off tend to be regulars in the playoffs. Other teams either don't draft well, or can't make the right deals or sign the right Euros to compete with the big dogs.
Back in the 2007/2008 season, the Moose were led by former Jacket Jakub Voracek. The team was primed to win it all, but they went all-in to acquire local boy Brad Marchand late in the season. The move backfired, as Marchand was arsenic in the locker room and on the ice, and the Moose were bounced from the playoffs. That season marked the pinnacle of a development cycle, with the following season the start of a new one.
Unfortunately for the Moose, because they sold the farm to get Marchand and his lisp, they couldn't rebuild properly. What resulted was two seasons of misery, where the Moose were statistically the worst team in the entire CHL. A change in the front office and some good drafting prior to last season saw the Moose enter 2010/2011 with more promise. Though they weren't the worst team in the QMJHL again, they barely made the playoffs and were eliminated in the first round.
The summer of 2011 was arguably the most important in Mooseheads history. They had gathered some decent young talent the previous couple of years, but still lacked star power. Going into the 2011 Q Draft, a young forward from Cole Harbour, NS (my hometown that I share with a fellow who plays for Pittsburgh, wearing number 87) named Nathan MacKinnon was the consensus number one pick. The Baie-Comeau Drakkar, one of the league's outposts, held the top pick. MacKinnon had stated publically that he didn't want to play for the Drakkar, and was exploring the US college route. In fact, he was skating with a USHL team during the Q draft.
The Mooseheads held the fourth overall pick, and also acquired the eleventh overall pick in the dispersal draft, which was necessary after the Lewiston MAINEiacs folded. The Mooseheads, seeing a huge opportunity in MacKinnon both on the ice and from a marketing standpoint, worked night and day to acquire the top pick from the Drakkar. Baie-Comeau held firm, however, and drafted MacKinnon anyway. On draft day, the Moose were able to swing a deal to move up to second overall as a consolation, and picked up a forward with a ton of offensive ability in Jonathan Drouin. They kept the eleventh overall pick, and took the first goaltender of the draft, Zach Fucale.
After the draft, when it became abundantly clear that MacKinnon would not report to Baie-Comeau, the Drakkar began shopping him. The Mooseheads swung some side deals, picking up extra first round picks, and put together a package that the Drakkar couldn't resist. MacKinnon was a Moosehead, his hometown team.
Last season, Drouin stayed in Quebec until the midway point of the season, but MacKinnon and Fucale, only 16 years old, led the team early on. When Drouin arrived, he joined his draft mates, and incumbents Marty Frk, Konrad Abeltshauser, Alex Grenier, Matt Boudreau, Darcy Ashley and Cameron Critchlow, among others. The Mooseheads surprised, and ended up going all the way to the Q semis.
This offseason, the Moose made only a few changes, relying on the trio of MacKinnon, Drouin and Fucale to lead them to their first league title, and a berth in the Memorial Cup. This past summer, the trio were a huge part of a gold medal-winning Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka tournament. The three are all in their draft years, and many think they could all go in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft. MacKinnon is considered to be the top overall prospect in the entire draft, while Fucale may be the first goaltender taken.
I'm a partial season ticket holder with the team, and while the NHL remains locked out my focus is solely on the Moose, in what could be a truly historical season. Also, Halifax was named as the host city for the CHL Top Prospects game in January, but here's hoping the NHL is back by then.
How are you going to get your hockey fix?