Night Dismiss GM McCormick, Hire McKay

The New York Night have decided to clean house in their front office.  This week, the Night announced that they would not renew the contract of Royce McCormick, the only general manager the franchise has ever had.  McCormick will be replaced by former Seattle Sailors GM Jay McKay.

“We’ve come a long way in the last couple of seasons,” said Night owner Marvin Kingman.  “But we haven’t gotten to the level I expect.  We haven’t made the playoffs, much less won the Vandy.  And so, it’s time for a new direction.”

Royce McCormick

McCormick exits after five seasons with a record of 140-151-17.  The GM never hesitated to make bold moves or bring in big names, most notably his 2016 trade to acquire C Rod Remington.  But McCormick’s draft record was somewhat spotty, in part due to his penchant for trading away high draft picks.  The Night also struggled to find the additional pieces needed to get the team over the hump and into the postseason.  The top-heavy payroll made it difficult to add quality veteran depth, and McCormick balked at the idea of moving any of the team’s highly-paid stars.

“I felt like we were really close to breaking through here, as soon as next season,” said McCormick.  “But when you don’t deliver the results, you can’t count on unlimited chances.  I think Jay’s coming into a good place, and I wish him the best.”

According to team sources, coach Nick Foster has had an increased hand in personnel decisions over the last couple of seasons, a fact that irked McCormick.  There have been persistent rumors of a power struggle between the two, and this decision indicates that the owner has chosen to side with the coach.

For his part, Foster declined to comment on any role he may have played in McCormick’s dismissal.  “I think Mr. Kingman has made it clear that we have high standards around here, as it should be,” said Foster.  “I’m glad that I’m still around, and I think next season’s going to be huge for us.”

Jay McKay

In hiring McKay, New York adds a GM who is no stranger to big moves.  The 63-year-old calls himself a “hockey vagabond.”  He has spent nearly 30 years in various front-office roles at every level of the game, most recently as general manager of the Sailors.  During his tenure, he built the expansion club from scratch and never shied away from major moves.  Most notably, with the team on the brink of contention at the 2018 trading deadline, McKay made a couple of big deals designed to get the team over the hump.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out, as Seattle missed the postseason and McKay was fired.  This season, though, the Sailors made their first-ever playoff appearance, largely with the same roster he left behind.

“I can’t wait to get started over here,” said McKay.  “We play in the greatest city in the world, and we’ve got a loaded roster.  We’ve got a great coach in Nick Foster.  With a couple of the right moves here and there, I think we can be the champion Mr. Kingman wants to see.”

McKay declined to discuss any specific moves he might have in mind.  “I tell you here, and suddenly the price on the guys I want goes through the roof,” joked the incoming GM.  “But basically, I’m looking to build on our strengths, especially our high-scoring offense, while upgrading our depth and fortifying our D.”

The new boss has a number of big decisions to make right away.  New York has a number of pending free agents, including the entire top line (LW Chase Winchester, C Brock Manning, and RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson), top-pairing defender Tuomas Nurmi, and goaltenders Jesse Clarkson and Sherman Carter.

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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.

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.”