Discover more from Hockey Unfiltered with Ken Campbell
Monday Musings: The Great One back in junior hockey?
There is speculation Wayne Gretzky will have a small part in the new ownership of the Niagara IceDogs...Plus, the hard-working Zach Hyman bucks a perception, and more
All that stands between Darren Dedobbelaer and ownership of the Niagara IceDogs is approval of the Ontario Hockey League’s board of governors. And while he waits, speculation continues to swirl that a small part of his ownership group will consist of none other than fellow Brantford, Ont., native Wayne Gretzky. (You may have heard of him.)
It’s believed that Gretzky would be a minority owner of the team, with no more than a five percent stake in the operation. In return for his piece of the IceDogs, Gretzky would essentially add his name value and credibility to the franchise and would have nothing to do with the day-to-day operations. When asked by Hockey Unfiltered whether Gretzky was coming on board, Dedobbelaer offered, “no comment.” If Gretzky were to be involved in the OHL, it would not be his first foray into major junior hockey, since he owned the Hull (now Gatineau) Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League from 1985 to 1992.
Dedobbelaer also declined to comment on the purchase price, which is believed to be $18 million, which is actually 10 percent less than the $20 million owners Bill and Denise Burke were seeking for the franchise. And that makes sense, since the league had suspended GM Joey Burke and coach Billy Burke, the sons of the owners, until at least 2024 for violating the league’s harassment, abuse and diversity policy. And while the Burkes were not forced to sell, they were definitely a motivated seller, which served to bring the price down.
(And, once again, the next time you hear these junior hockey owners complain that they have to pay their players poverty wages in order to keep the lights on – and the government of the day agrees with them by allowing them to skirt minimum-wage laws – remember that they do just fine. When their teams are competitive and enjoy long playoff runs, they make plenty of money. And as the Burkes did, they always, always cash out when they sell.)
There was one rumor that Dedobbelaer was more than willing to address, however. He wants to make it clear that he has absolutely no intention of moving the franchise, not to Brantford or anywhere else.
“I’ve heard people saying that,” Dedobbelaer told Hockey Unfiltered. “It’s ludicrous. First, there is no suitable arena in Brantford. Second, the Meridian Centre (in St. Catharines, Ont., where the IceDogs play) is one of the best facilities in the league and it has top-four attendance in the league. It would be ridiculous to even consider it.”
ZACH HYMAN - HARD-WORKING RICH KID
There has long been a perception among scouts that the super-rich kids from Toronto rarely make it to the NHL because, with all the advantages and family money they have, they simply don’t have the motivation to make the sacrifices necessary to play in the best league in the world.
Some – but not all – of them often rise to the top ranks of minor hockey because of those advantages. Not only can they afford to get the best one-on-one coaching and off-ice training, their fathers can simply buy the organization. Or they can offer to pay coaches or the fees of star players whose families might not be able to afford it. Daddy will even sometimes go as far as to buy a Jr. A – or even major junior team – so his son can have a place to play. But sooner or later it ends because the player either runs out of people and things his father can buy or he simply doesn’t have the desire to keep playing the game.
There are, of course, exceptions to this. Eric Lindros was one of them. Another is Zach Hyman of the Edmonton Oilers. Even though he had every advantage at his disposal and a father who was more than willing to throw his money around, there aren’t many players in the NHL today who worked harder to get there than Hyman did. And there are even fewer who work harder in an effort to stay there.
Hyman cashed in when he signed with the Oilers as a free agent last summer. But early in the life of his seven-year, $38.5 million deal, Hyman has proved to be worth every penny of the cap space the Oilers are using on him. As he did with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he drives play and does not look out of place playing with the top players in the world.
You might remember Hyman’s father, Stu. There was a time when he was collecting minor hockey organizations in the Greater Toronto Hockey League as though they were pieces of art or vintage cars. His sons played on those teams, including the Hamilton Red Wings Jr. A team for which Zach played before going to the University of Michigan. Stu, whose net worth is in excess of $100 million, also at one time bought and owned International Scouting Services, an independent scouting operation. There’s no doubt Zach benefitted from all of that, but his ascension to the NHL from Michigan belongs solely to him and his hard work.
In his first three years at Michigan, Hyman scored just 35 points in 114 games before exploding for 22 goals and 54 points in 37 games in his senior year. Rather than lose him for nothing as an unrestricted free agent after drafting him in the fifth round in 2010, the Florida Panthers dealt him to the Leafs in a minor trade in 2015. As a four-year NCAA player, Hyman would have become a UFA later that summer, but signed with the Leafs and has developed into a Swiss Army knife, scoring big goals, playing both ends of the ice and the corners, playing either wing.
And through it all, Hyman has become the antithesis of an entitled rich kid. In fact he’s as humble, personable, determined and as not impressed with himself as the son of a farmer from Saskatchewan or a cop from Calgary. There are some kids who are born on third base and brag they hit a triple. Hyman remains one who took advantage of his leg up, but put in the work to get where he is.
DRIBS AND DRABS
It’s impossible to fathom that Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper has never won a Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach. He’s been a finalist twice – once in 2018-19 when his Tampa Bay Lightning ran roughshod over the league in the regular season and in 2013-14. And he’s not a finalist this season, despite holding together a Lightning team that lost its entire third line and dealt with injuries to key players Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point. And he’s putting on a master class in coaching so far in the playoffs. If the NHL broadcasters, who vote on the Jack Adams, had until the Stanley Cup final to submit their votes the way GMs do for the Jim Gregory Award, Cooper would have won a couple of them by now…It’s been a long time since a single skater has dominated the post-season the way Connor McDavid has. In fact, McDavid has been LeBron James-like in his ability to carry his team. His opponents have no answer for him…The Hamilton Bulldogs are not only 10-0 in the OHL playoffs, they’ve only trailed on only three occasions and in only two games. Of the 601 minutes and 47 seconds they’ve played so far, they’ve trailed for only 36:57…Wild ending to the Telus Cup under-18 national championship on Sunday. Trailing the Moncton Flyers 4-2 late in the third period, the Cantonniers de Magog pulled their goalie and got goals from Eli Baillargeon at 18:56 and 16 seconds later at 19:12, before Moncton sealed the title with a goal from Jack Martin at the 40-second mark of overtime. That’s three goals in a minute and 44 seconds. It marked the first time in tournament history, which dates back to 1974, that a team from New Brunswick has won the national title…The Telus Cup was played at the same time and the same venue as the Esso Cup, which is Canada’s under-18 women’s championship, at the Pason Centennial Arenas in Okotoks, Alta. The Ontario-based Durham West Lightning took the championship and were led offensively by two late-birthday 15-year-olds. Sadie Hotles scored seven goals and 17 points in seven games and teammate Jessica Pellerin notched 10 goals and 15 points.