New York Ships Bellanger to Seattle

New York Night coach Nick Foster has made no secret of his plans to remake his roster in order to build a more balanced and competitive team.  He’s already taken several steps in that direction, shaking up his lines and calling up several players from the minors.  The Night took another step toward rebuilding on Monday, sending RW Daniel Bellanger to the Seattle Sailors in exchange for F Randy O’Connor and a 2nd-round draft pick.

“I’m not afraid of shaking things up for the sake of getting better,” Foster told reporters.  “This deal is an example of that.”

Daniel Bellanger

Bellanger has been in the coach’s crosshairs since the first week of the season.  After New York dropped its first four games of the season, Foster called an unscheduled practice on an off-day.  Bellanger, along with D Teddy Morrison, failed to show for the practice.  The coach responded by benching both players.

Both were ultimately reinstated to the lineup, but as the Night continued to struggle, Foster called for reinforcements from the team’s minor-league affiliate in Utah.  He called up winger Sylvester Catarino, defenseman Rocky Winkle, and goalie Sherman Carter, and started giving them all regular playing time.  Bellanger wound up being a healthy scratch in a number of games, appearing in only 14 games this season with the Night before the trade, recording 4 goals and 2 assists.

Bellanger has a reputation for being talented but temperamental.  He came to New York from Saskatchewan in 2015 after he called his teammates “garbage” and said he was tired of “carrying [the] team.”  Last season, Bellanger left the Night and went home with two games left in the season, an apparent show of displeasure with coach Preston Rivers, who was later fired.

Foster refrained from attacking Bellanger on his way out the door.  “This trade is not a reflection on Daniel as a person or a player,” Foster said.  “He’s a talented hockey player and I wish him well.  But we’re headed in a different direction as a team.”

Bellanger took the trade rather personally.  “I feel that I was never given a chance to succeed,” the winger told reporters.  “I hope to play New York many times in the future and beat them.”  He has gotten off to a hot start in Seattle, putting up a goal and an assist in 3 games since the trade.  Additionally, the Sailors pummeled the Night 9-3 in a game played two days after the trade, although Bellanger scored no points.

Randy O’Connor

The trade reunites O’Connor with his old team.  The 25-year-old forward played for the Night in 2015 before being tabbed by Seattle in the expansion draft.  He had been playing on the Sailors’ third line, posting 10 points (2 goals and 8 assists) in 24 games.

“Back in the Big Apple, baby!” crowed O’Connor.  “I love this deal.”

O’Connor is not expected to start with New York; Bellanger’s playing time is expeted to go to Catarino instead.  For the Night, the draft pick is the most valuable asset in the deal.  In previous seasons, GM Royce McCormick has freely traded away draft picks for established veterans in a futile attempt to become a contender.  But Foster has stressed the importance of a winning culture, and he would rather bring in young players that he can select and mold in his image than try to remake the games of the team’s self-centered, shoot-first veterans.

This deal raises an interesting question, however.  With the trade deadline still a couple of weeks away, this is almost certainly not the last deal New York will make.  Foster’s goal of culture change will require much more than trading away a single disgruntled player.  On the other hand, Night owner Marvin Kingman has reportedly been resistant to a wholesale rebuilding of the roster.  And New York has been playing better lately, and are creeping onto the fringes of contention in the East.

If the Night start to climb into the race before the deadline, will Kingman be pushing for win-now deals instead of the culture-change deals Foster prefers?  Will Foster be willing to sacrifice a shot at winning this season to further his long-term vision?  One thing is for certain: the Night will be a team to watch in the weeks ahead.

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Foster Hints Change Is Coming in New York

When Nick Foster signed on to coach the New York Night this offseason, it was widely assumed that he had a mandate to make changes, potentially sweeping ones, in order to mold the team into a contender.  With the team mired in the Eastern basement with an unsightly 3-7-0 record, Foster held a press conference on Friday to suggest that those changes might be coming sooner rather than later.

Nick Foster

“I’m not the kind of guy to beat around the bush,” said Foster.  “And right now, I’m looking at a team that’s not built to compete, and a team that’s not as good as they think they are.”

These statements were a major departure for Foster, who has responded to most personnel questions so far by saying that he’s “still evaluating.”  But he hasn’t been shy about making moves, and sources close to the coach say that he’s fed up with the team and weighing a major housecleaning, possibly including trades of some of the team’s biggest names.

“Nick was hoping that this was a champion in the rough, one that just needed a few tweaks and a new voice in charge,” said the source.  “But he’s quickly figured out that he’s got a team full of lazy, undisciplined egomaniacs, and that the best solution might be to take a fire hose and clean out the locker room.  The hard part will be getting ownership on board.”

It took Foster all of four games to decide the Night needed a kick in the pants.  After getting shut out by Quebec 1-0 last Wednesday to fall to 0-4-0, Foster called for an unscheduled practice on their off day Thursday.  RW Daniel Bellanger and D Teddy Morrison skipped the practice, and Foster responded by benching both of them for the next day’s game, in which the Night finally recorded a win in an 8-5 romp over Hamilton.

As New York continued to struggle in Week 2, Foster continued tinkering with his lineup.  He booted D Tuomas Nurmi and RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson off the top line, while promoting RW Ivan “Trainwreck” Trujwirnek and D Shane Gladchuk up to that line.  He benched D Jean-Luc Aubin for a couple of games as well.

After Friday’s 4-3 loss to Hershey, Foster finally sounded off publicly for the first time.  He didn’t call out any players by name, but team sources say that the coach is especially disenchanted with Nelson, Bellanger, and goaltending duo of Jesse Clarkson and “Jersey Mike” Ross, who have been roughly equally ineffective.

Foster is reportedly weighing benching Nelson and demoting Bellanger and either Clarkson or Ross to the minors.  “We’re not going to get anywhere unless we try something different,” the coach said at his Friday press conference.  “We’ve been trying the status quo for two seasons, and it’s gotten us nothing but mediocrity.”

The grand plans of Foster may meet resistance, however, from owner Marvin Kingman.   Kingman is eager for a Vandy, but he reportedly believes that the Night can get there with the current roster.  “He spent a lot of money on these guys,” said the team source, “and he want to keep them around.”

Asked on Friday if he expect Kingman to object to his planned shakeup, Foster responded, “Ownership wants to win, same as I do.  We’re all looking for results, and I’m going to keep making moves until we get there.”

Assistant coach Biff Lombardi, who was a finalist for the head job, thinks Foster is on the right track.  “Let me tell you, Nick’s not afraid of nobody,” said Lombardi.  He’s not about talk; he’s all about action.  Everyone’s going to need to get with the program, or they won’t be around long.”

New York Fires Rivers After Tumultuous Year

New York smallIn a move that comes as a surprise to few, the New York Night fired coach Preston Rivers.  The move came at the end of a season of acrimony and disappointment, as the Night slogged to another mediocre season and an enormous and public rift developed between the coach and several key players.

“The only shocker was that he made it all the way to the end of the season,” said one player.

Preston Rivers
Preston Rivers

Rivers finishes his New York career with a record of 54-61-5, not nearly good enough for an organization that makes no secret of its lofty aspirations.  Night GM Royce McCormick focused on the record as the prime driver behind the firing of Rivers.  “Our goal is championships, nothing less,” said McCormick.  “Preston failed to deliver on that expectation, so we decided it was time for a new voice to get to that next level.”

According to team sources, though, Rivers’ record wasn’t the real cause f0r the dismissal; rather, it was the fact that New York’s star players were increasingly open in their disdain for the coach.  It started in midseason, when D Tuomas Nurmi claimed that Night players were being harassed as payback for Rivers’ boasting and taunting.  Later in the season, RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson bashed his coach and called for him to be fired.  The feud ultimately escalated to the point that Nelson and Rivers nearly came to blows in the locker room, after which the star winger left the team for three games.  It took McCormick’s intervention to get Nelson to rejoin the team.

The situation went from bad to worse over the final week of the season.  The entire team boycotted a mandatory practice on Monday as a show of no confidence in Rivers.  The coach stopped addressing the team in the locker room before or after games, preferring to lock himself in his office.  RW Daniel Bellanger went home to Montreal with two games left in the season.  G “Jersey Mike” Ross refused to take the ice for the final two games, although he did attend the games.  And the entire team just went through the motions in the last game, a 6-4 loss to struggling Saskatchewan.

The team announced the firing while Rivers and the Night were still in Saskatoon.  Rivers did not fly back to New York with the team, avoiding a potentially awkward situation.

Predictably, the coach went down swinging.  “I know everyone’s thinking they’ve seen the last of me,” Rivers told reporters.  “But they’d better think again.  You can’t keep a good man down, and you sure as hell can’t keep this man down.  I’ll be back, unless I go to work for Mr. Trump’s administration.  Either way, you haven’t heard the last of me.”

Night, Shockers Make League’s First Trade

New York NightSaskatchewan ShockersThe Saskatchewan Shockers and New York Night completed the SHL’s first trade this week, a deal that was inspired by an ill-advised postgame comment.

Daniel Bellanger
Daniel Bellanger

Last week, Shockers RW Daniel Bellanger was asked for comment on his 6-game pointless streak.  A visibly frustrated Bellanger laid the blame at the feet of his teammates.  “The fact is that this team is garbage,” the winger snapped.  “They can barely stand on their skates.  I have been carrying this team for the whole season, and I am very tired.  I cannot do everything.”

Bellanger’s comments made him persona non grata in Saskatchewan, and the Shockers front office began seeking a trade.  Meanwhile, the Night were seeking an offensive upgrade to move up in the wide-open East.

Shane Gladchuk
Shane Gladchuck

On Monday night, the teams struck a deal to send Bellanger and D Shane Gladchuk to New York in exchange for F Brad Stevens, D Dick Bradshaw, and the Night’s 1st-round draft pick.

“We felt like this was a great opportunity for us,” said Night GM Royce McCormick.  “Daniel is an impact scorer who will fit right in here in New York.  We already have the league’s best attack, but now it’s getting even better.  And in Shane, we get a valuable two-way threat that will firm up our blue line.”

The 28-year-old Bellanger was Saskatchewan’s leading scorer at the time of the trade, having tallied 13 goals and 30 points.  The 26-year-old Gladchuk was a quiet, steady presence on the Shockers’ second line, having started every game and putting 2 goals and 3 assists.

Bellanger expressed delight at the trade.  “I could not be happier to be going to such a great city,” he said.  “Also, I am grateful to be with a team that actually has a chance, with teammates who can play at my level.”

Gladchuk’s reaction was more mixed.  “I’m going to miss my teammates and the great fans here,” the defenseman said.  “But I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do in New York.”

In exchange, the Shockers received the 25-year-old Stevens, a popular reserve who put up 2 goals and 4 assists in limited action with the Night, and the 31-year-old Bradshaw, who had yet to record a point this season and had fallen out of favor with New York coach Preston Rivers.

Brad Stevens
Brad Stevens
Dick Bradshaw
Dick Bradshaw

While the primary goals for the rebuilding Shockers were to unload Bellanger and acquire the pick, GM Cooper Matthews also praised the players coming back in the deal.  “Obviously, we’re looking toward the future, but this deal is also about the present,” said Matthews.  “In Brad, we’ve got a high-energy guy who will have a chance to show what he can do.  With Dick, we’ve got a solid veteran defenseman who can be a leader and teacher.”

Stevens reacted to the trade with a mixture of excitement and confusion.  “Awesome!” said Stevens.  “I’m pumped to get a chance to start, and I look forward to getting to know the… Saskatchewanders?  Saskatchewanians?  Saskatchwanites?  What are they called, anyway?  Guess I’ll find out.”

Bradshaw declined comment on the trade, but his play is doing the talking: in 4 games with the Shockers, Bradshaw has recorded 3 assists.

Three days after the trade, the Night and Shockers faced off at Potash Arena in Saskatoon.  The sellout crowd greeted Gladchuk warmly, but booed Bellanger vociferously.  “I am not surprised,” said the winger after the 5-4 New York win.  “They are mad at me for telling the truth.  They should be booing their own team for being losers, but instead they boo me.  Simple jealousy.”