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NCAA hockey going with new “super conferences” a dangerous route to take

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With college hockey becoming more well known to mainstream sports fans with the proliferation of the Frozen Four and more games appearing on cable TV, many people around the NCAA feel like it’s their time to seize the day. The first shot in this happened when Terry Pegula gave Penn State $80 million to help start the varsity program there that will begin play in 2012.

Penn State joining the varsity ranks helped give rise to the Big Ten Conference in hockey, a group that will pull teams out of both the CCHA and WCHA to form their own little party as Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State will team up with Penn State to form their own league.

That drastic move that awaits in a few years meant that the WCHA lost two of their biggest earning and drawing teams and the CCHA essentially lost their lifeline with the two Michigan schools. Everyone else that will be left behind in 2013-2014 when the Big Ten comes to order would be left trying to figure out what in the world they’re going to do. As it turns out, six schools figured things out on their own and will form a “super conference” of their own that will see North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha, Western Michigan, and Miami University form the Collegiate Hockey Conference that will start in 2013-2014 as well.

Left on the outside looking in are the rest of the teams from the soon-to-be-defunct WCHA and CCHA (St. Cloud, Mankato State, Bemidji State, Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech, Lake Superior State, Ferris State, Western Michigan, Alaska, Alaska-Anchorage; Alabama-Huntsville is already independent) with a future that is uncertain at best. Ryan Lambert from Yahoo’s! Puck Daddy says that the start-up of this new conference along with the Big Ten Conference means that pain is on the way to those who are left behind.

What they’ve essentially done is left other programs for dead. Far be it for me to advocate a welfare system in college hockey, but what the hell, one has existed for years anyway. The NCAA has been giving autobids to shall-we-say undeserving conferences for years, and how much good has it done them? Next to none. Teams and conferences have been folding left and right in the last few years, and no one seems particularly concerned about the state of the sport at the college except for people who want to write weepy eulogies to teams no one cared about at relatively small schools that can’t support the team without the money brought in by bigger teams. Imagine what a weekend’s worth of gate receipts against Minnesota or NoDak means to teams like Michigan Tech.

By creating this new conference, the six teams are ensuring their own insulation from the fallout created by the Big Ten by shoving smaller teams into its path.

On the opposite side of this view, there are those that think by doing things this way that college hockey can become more of a draw for television and that by breaking everyone into this odd sort of caste system will make life better for those who are able to keep up. Minnesota-Duluth radio play-by-play man and former Fanhouse writer Bruce Ciskie makes his case for why this isn’t the death knell for college hockey.

It’s a chance for the schools in Minnesota and upper Michigan to build new rivalries that will excite the fans. It’s a chance for all of them to get into a situation where they are battling peer schools for recruits, as opposed to trying to recruit against North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Michigan.

We could end up not losing programs, giving more teams a real chance of making the NCAA Tournament, and we are setting up a league structure that allows for future expansion if it becomes feasible for someone to add the sport. If this scenario plays out, tell me how this isn’t a good thing for college hockey, a sport that simply needs to find ways to expand.

The possibilities are there for this pan out well and pay off for college hockey, but by creating groups of “haves” and “have nots” which is what this new set up will do is dangerous for a sport that’s both expensive for schools to budget and one without a definitive television presence to help pay the bills. With these conferences all breaking off and doing their own thing, doing so and seemingly having it happen without regard to the schools struggling to stay afloat isn’t wise.

College hockey is the ultimate niche in what’s a niche sport as it is. With the NHL being fourth among the professional sports and college hockey being on very few radars, potentially losing programs to send players to reeks of cutting off the nose to spite the face. You can argue about the merits of the schools that might fail and disappear (Bowling Green and Alabama-Huntsville top the short list) but in a world that sees the number of FBS football programs slowly increasing and the number of D-I college basketball programs on the rise as well, having programs fail and reduce the playing field is brutally unwise.

Perhaps things will work out the way Ciskie sees it and things will work for the betterment of the game and see a rise in the number of programs and a rise in attention for the sport, but with so many things up in the air right now it’s hard to believe that smaller schools can withstand the blow of losing all of their big money conference rivals. Creating a second class in a sport that needs all the help it can get is a dicey proposition. For college hockey fans and supporters, they’ll have to wait to find out who’s right in the end. Here’s to hoping those in charge have their act together and aren’t looking for the neck-saving cash grab.

As the youngest GM in NHL history, Chayka is already making waves

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 25: John Chayka of the Arizona Coyotes attends the 2016 NHL Draft on June 25, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) His time on the ice done, John Chayka would turn to the tape, spending up to 25 hours to break down the game just played.

He tracked every player on the ice, every possession, touch of the puck, calculating the impact of every decision or movement on the ice.

The attention to detail, to making himself and his teammates better, led Chayka to co-found his own hockey analytics company. Now it’s helped him become the youngest general manager in NHL history, a meteoric rise even he didn’t see coming.

“It would be silly to suggest it wasn’t a little surprising,” said Chayka, named GM of the Arizona Coyotes on May 5. “It’s like anything in life; good fortune, good timing, a lot of that plays into it. I always just try to better myself every day, learn every day.”

Related: The Coyotes are going in a ‘new direction,’ and that’s an understatement

Chayka was like most Canadian kids growing up, playing hockey from a young age on a backyard rink in Jordan Station, Ontario. He had some skill, too, as a high-scoring winger who was good enough to be an Ontario Hockey League draft pick.

Instead of becoming a professional hockey player, Chayka took a different route to the highest level. He opted to attend college instead of playing in the OHL and suffered a back injury that ended any chance of a continued playing career.

Chayka liked the analytical aspect of hockey even when he was playing, logging numbers by hand while meticulously going through every play of each game. Once he teamed up with Neil Lane, a friend with an IT background, Chayka was able to vastly expand the data sets he could analyze.

Chayka and Lane co-founded Stathletes in 2009 and built it up, molding the hockey analytics company to serve the needs of NHL teams and players.

But in 2015, Chayka decided to make a change. The business was in good shape and the Coyotes wanted an analytics person, so he joined them as an assistant GM prior to the 2015-16 season.

“The company was in a position for the co-founder to step aside and let it grow, so it was good timing for me to do that,” Chayka said.

Timing worked out for Chayka again this spring.

After missing the playoffs for the fourth straight season, the Coyotes decided to make a change, firing general manager Don Maloney after nine seasons.

Instead of hiring an established hockey front-office man, the Coyotes took a bolder route, hiring the then-26-year-old Chayka, making him the youngest GM in NHL history and the first with a primarily analytical background.

“What people are going to find out about John as he becomes more well-known is he’s a very smart guy, a very intelligent guy,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said.

Those smarts, along with a year of watching the Coyotes operations from the inside out, have allowed Chayka to hit the ground sprinting.

Arizona had one of the highest-rated drafts, landing center Clayton Keller and defenseman Jakob Chychurn, players who could contribute quickly.

The Coyotes signed top-four defenseman Alex Goligoski after trading for his rights and added some scoring depth by signing left wing Jamie McGinn, who set career highs in goals and points last season. Arizona also signed captain Shane Doan to a one-year deal.

Chayka has retooled Arizona’s roster by combining his analytical approach with the traditional methods of evaluating players, dispelling the notion that he would be a numbers-only GM.

“It’s a good holistic approach where you’re weighing both options and ideas,” Chayka said. “Where you have agreements and consistency in your approach, then you have a better decision. When you have those disagreements is where you have real opportunity to learn from it. If the data disagrees with the eye or the eye disagrees with the data, now you have a real opportunity to understand why.”

The need to understand got Chayka to this unprecedented point. It should be the foundation to keep him climbing as well.

Report: Wheat Kings’ McCrimmon likely to be named Las Vegas assistant GM

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The Las Vegas NHL franchise has been in search of an assistant general manager, and that search may be nearing an end.

According to a report from Guy Flaming of The Pipeline Show on TSN 1260, Brandon Wheat Kings owner, GM and coach Kelly McCrimmon is likely to be named assistant GM in Las Vegas.

The report was backed up on Friday from Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.

Last summer, McCrimmon turned down a job with the Toronto Maple Leafs front office.

It was reported last week that Vegas general manager George McPhee had asked the Washington Capitals for permission to speak with that team’s assistant GM Ross Mahoney.

Canucks’ Rodin says he’s ‘not 100 percent but getting close’ after freak knee injury

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Anton Rodin will be among a lengthy list of right wingers looking to compete for a roster spot with the Vancouver Canucks for next season.

Originally selected by the Canucks in 2009, and after having gone back to play professionally in Sweden, where he began to light it up offensively, Rodin signed with Vancouver for one year, and one way at $950,000. He’s listed as a right winger, but has a left shot and could perhaps help the Canucks find some scoring, which was a major problem for them during a dreadful 2015-16 campaign.

General manager Jim Benning, in speaking with The Province newspaper, has already compared Rodin’s style to that of Canucks’ forward Sven Baertschi.

However, he’s still working back from a knee injury that interrupted his 2015-16 season, in which he had 37 points in 33 games for Brynas.

From Sportsnet:

Over the past couple of seasons Rodin found a new level in the SHL and was particularly dominant this season. Wearing a captain’s “C” on his sweater, Rodin was leading the league in scoring by a wide margin before sustaining a gruesome knee ligament tear during a mid-January practice.

That injury sidelined Rodin for the balance of Brynas’ season, but it wasn’t enough to stop him from winning the Guldhjälmen – quite literally “the gold helmet” – which is an MVP award voted on by SHL players, similar to the NHL’s Ted Lindsay Award.

As per News 1130 Sports in Vancouver on Friday, the 25-year-old Rodin will arrive in town next week to have his knee checked out.

Avalanche, Tyson Barrie have arbitration hearing, could still reach a deal before ruling

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 08:  Tyson Barrie #4 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the Minnesota Wild at Pepsi Center on October 8, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Wild defeated the Avalanche 5-4.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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So far, scheduled arbitration hearings around the NHL have been avoided — until Friday.

The Colorado Avalanche and defenseman Tyson Barrie went ahead with the player-elected arbitration hearing on Friday, however, the two sides can still reach a new deal before a decision from arbitrator Elizabeth Neumeier must be provided within 48 hours of the hearing.

Here is what was separating the two sides heading into the hearing, as per Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet:

Last season, the 25-year-old Barrie, who brings an offensive style to Colorado’s blue line, tied his single-season career high in goals with 13. He also had 49 points, which is four shy of his single-season career high from 2014-15.

He also just wrapped up his two-year deal, which came with an average annual value of $2.6 million.

Given his numbers and the position he plays, Barrie is in for a substantial raise. Exactly what dollar figure that comes to has yet to be determined.

From the Denver Post:

The arbitration hearing could get bruising, with the Barrie camp citing his offensive numbers and arguing that as a terrific skater and puckhandler, he is among the top offensive defensemen in the league; but with the Avalanche countering that as an undersized defenseman, he has deficiencies in the Colorado end.

The Avalanche have the option of walking away from the arbitrator’s ruling, but that could make Barrie, a right-shot blue liner, an unrestricted free agent.

Barrie has also been the subject of trade speculation, but Avalanche GM Joe Sakic has already said the Avs are not trading Barrie.

“I’d like to do a long-term deal with Tyson. If that doesn’t work out, it’s expected he’ll go to arbitration,” Sakic told the Denver Post last month. “Either way, he’ll be here.”

Related: Barrie’s agent says no lingering issues with Avs from O’Reilly situation