With the current Olympic cycle coming to a rest the time has come for teams to start looking ahead and plan for the next four-year cycle. As we know Year 1 is a throw away year in a sense. Players can jockey (no no not THAT kind of jockey, although for some it might have double meaning) for position and take the free pass tryout with a three new players for one season to see how things are going. The Olympic points race only starts to heat up in Year 2 remember.
A player can now take the risk-free path next season and perhaps play with a few players they have always wanted to play with. Maybe we see players even try different positions and try to catch their slider on a nice path for the future. Who knows? All we know for sure is, as Julie Chen would say on Big Brother, "Expect the Unexpected".
Not all of these teams are parting ways amicably. No they are not all best friends and will be talking and texting one another throughout the upcoming season wishing one another the best. This is not real life. In reality some of these players simply got tired of being around the same group of guys and girls for the past few years and were starting to get on one another's nerves. Quite simply, that's the way the cookie crumbles folks...and that's ok!
Now I am not saying this is a blanket statement for all teams. Some players have stepped away from the game due to personal/family/career choices and have nothing to do with their former teammates and the sport itself. And there is nothing wrong with that. But this is not the case for EVERY team either....be realistic! Do I believe the players truly respect one another and wish one another the best of luck in the future? Of course, they are professional people after all. But do I also believe they will continue to be "best friends" next season with one another? Come on! Do you like everyone you work with at your office? Of course not! Do you still come in and be professional to them on a daily basis because that is what you have to do as an employee? Of course!
Point being....don't come at me for just stating the obvious and what we are all thinking anyways. Team breakups can often mirror real-life relationship breakups. The love for another fizzled out and it is time to move on, the best for both parties involved. Or someone cheated. And that sucks. Nobody likes a cheater! Sometimes it is a true statement "It's not me, its you!"
Now I won't go through all the changes already announced by men's and women's teams. I think CurlingGeek is already doing an outstanding job of tracking all those changes. For full updated information check out the men's and women's new team tracker links. But lets talk about the teams/players who have not made any official big time press release announcement on the future. What is happening with them?
For argument sake I am going to focus more on the men's teams in this blog post as most of the women's teams have made their formal announcements. Although notice no announcement from Team Homan yet....hmmm?! Rumours have been swirling over the past few weeks the dynamo team may not survive the Free Agent Frenzy either. Time will tell I suppose but #StayTuned.
Lets start with taking a look at the Top 30 men's teams on the World Curling Tour rankings. When we take an initial first glance we already know the status of a few of these teams and can make some pretty strong speculations on others.
We already know Gushue, Jacobs and Bottcher are sticking together for, as of right now, another 4 year cycle. I think the announcement from both Brad's is not a huge surprise to anyone. The Bottcher announcement may have surprised a few people but, having watched them play all week at the Brier and given the result of reaching the championship final, I think the decision was sealed....not to mention the fact Team Koe was busting apart already anyways.
Speaking of Koe, we already know Kennedy is retiring and Laing has made his future known (more on that in a second). McEwen and Epping were going to break up as was Team Carruthers so no real shocking announcements there. Pat Simmons is not sticking it out in Manitoba and has left the young bucks needing a skipper (or at least another player). Willy Lyburn has also announced their break up as has Codey Maus.
This really leaves a few question marks with these top teams. Well a few questions have already been answered. The NEW Team Epping has been announced with Epping and Camm staying together in the house and adding the very experienced front end of Laing and Saville (welcome back to competitive curling full-time Savs....we are excited to see you back on the ice!!). Your play now Glenn Howard! Does Howard stick it out another few years and try to make a run against his former teammates? After how well the team performed at the Elite 10 this past weekend, reaching the SF, perhaps another season at least is in the works for them.
The "super" team from Manitoba will be announced shortly as #TeamBFF finally becomes a reality after years of discussion and whispers. McEwen and Carruthers will join forces and you have to imagine they keep their other BFF Hodgson with them. But who completes the team? If we stick with the BFF theme you would have to assume it is Matt Dunstone. He is super close with all three of these guys and would be a perfect second. Of course if Dunstone wants to stay in the back of the house he could re-align himself with his junior champion teammates and rather than sit on the ice with #TeamBFF make it more interesting and take them on next year in Manitoba. The debate (or perhaps hold up on this new team announcement that everyone already knows 3/4 of) could be the debate on where would Dunstone and Carruthers go? Dunny is a natural on the back end and, as per my interview with him last season, he has always stated he will stay back end. This could mean Carruthers would have to go back to second, where he played, and was arguably his most successful, back in his Stoughton team days. But does Carruthers want to give up the back end control? We are safe to assume Mikey is going to be skipping #TeamBFF right? In this instance perhaps Samagalski stays with Carruthers and McEwen is the lone addition after the anticipated Moskowy leaving announcement (nobody was surprised by that right?). Maybe Dunstone pulls the ultimate surprise move and jumps right out of Manitoba and heads to BC. Hmmmm his current girlfriend curls out of BC already right? And BC is WIDE OPEN...but more on that later. Interesting?!?! And can we just agree we want Team Gunnlaugson to stick together after the outstanding season they have had? They could make a real run in the Buffalo Hunt with a full season under their belts!
Lets talk about Moskowy. The former junior champ is now left in the patch looking for a team....but I doubt he will need to go too deep into the wallet buying beers to feel better. Ok sure the ankle injury sucks but that will heal up and no worries. The big question mark is where does he go next? The obvious answer would be back to Saskatchewan. Could he reunite with former teammate Kirk Muyres and try their hand at forming a Sasky Super Team? With the assumption Dunstone is gone from Team Laycock, we already know movement will be afoot on the prairie province. Do the Muyres boys both commit to another four years and team up with Moskowy and add a second or lead along the way? What are you up to now Ben Hebert? Time to come back home to Saskatchewan? Hmmm...what are you up to Colton Flasch? Flasch had a great first season with his new boys but are they going to stay committed to one another, especially if another team (and a power Olympic-esque skip) comes calling? All fair in love and war right? And what happens to Mr. Laycock? Wouldn't you like to see him and Pat Simmons reunite once again? Could the wildcard in this entire conversation be Catlin Schneider? A little birdie tells me Schneider and Simmons have built a solid relationship and perhaps, in a "throw away" year, some mentorship between the two would be a wise decision with Laycock in the mix? But perhaps the smarter move from Schneider is to jump over to the Moskowy/Muyres boys team. Hmmm Moskowy as skip, Kirk as vice, Schneider at second and Dallen at lead? Yup that seems pretty solid right? Don't forget about Adam Casey in Saskatchewan too. Does he stay curling out west, which is a challenge given his residency, or does he return to PEI and form his own team? It would appear Team Mackenzie is no more out in PEI and there could be a void looking to be filled. Although do not be surprised to see guys like Josh Barry and Chris Gallant become vital free agents in their own right and see them make the move out west as well....hmmm perhaps we see Barry in Alberta or BC? Gallant in Manitoba or Saskatchewan?
Back to Moskowy. The other rumour is him moving another province over but this time west to Alberta. Does he join up with the biggest free agent on the market Kevin Koe? Would anyone turn down a phone call from Ku-Dog? What about the Neufeld boys from old Team McEwen joining up with Koe and Moskowy? Imagine them all curling together? Or maybe...just maybe....Hebert sticks it out with Koe and adds fellow Sasky and drinking buddy Moskowy to the table for a season and they pick up a second of their own? My first guess would be Koe and Hebert aligning with the Neufeld brothers BUT I really believe we see a Sasky boy jumping over with Hebert....looking at you Moskowy, Schneider, Muyres or Flasch!! Maybe the Neufeld boys break up as well. Who said they have to curl together? If Hebert is the lead does that mean BJ would jump provinces to play vice for Koe? Muyres, Schneider and Flasch all could play second. Hmmmm!?!?!? But if Moskowy and Muyres are forming the super team in Sask and Schneider joins the party could we see the surprise of Flasch being the Sasky piece at front end with Hebert? Imagine those two big boys, with big personalities, sweeping stones together. With Bottcher being the only top ranked team in Alberta sticking together right now, Koe putting together a strong team and staying in Alberta seems to make the most sense. I don't think we will see the same result we saw in the women's announcements with many top players/teams all sliding into one province (WTF moment for sure?!).
Speaking of other provinces, what is going to happen with #TeamPacific? BC is left with no top men's team staying in tact at this point. Team Cotter and Team Joanisse have already disbanded. If we assume current world junior champions Team Tardi sticks together, they could be the strongest team out west....and they are still juniors! With Team Cotter, John Morris is preparing to get married and be a father so it would be safe to assume if he wants to keep going he stays closer to home. Although, maybe he takes a step off the ice now and focuses on mixed doubles. Could he be the perfect successor to Jeff Stoughton with the national mixed doubles program? One would have to think that would be the ideal position for Johnny Mo! I already mentioned Schneider and cannot see him staying in BC when his home is in Saskatchewan. As for Jimmy Cotter himself, what does he do? Does he join forces with members of Team Joanisse and try his hand at forming a Super Team in BC? Could he convince a few young bucks from out east to move across the country to join him in a wide-open province? My wild card pick here is Cotter and Dunstone join forces and make a pistol of a team in BC. The Dunny/Jimmy pairing would be perfect. Cotter calls the shots but Dunstone throws the final brick. Hmmm haven't we seen a similar playbook like this before from Jim Cotter with success? Add in a few front end players, maybe John Cullen at lead, and see what happens. Sure seems like a strong shot at reaching the Brier with Cotter in BC. And what about current BC champs Team Geall? After their run to the Brier, one has to think they will stick together especially with BC being wide open right now.
Out east we already know shakeups are happening in Ontario. The new Team Epping has stolen the thunder so far but can some of the other players in Ontario join forces and make something happen? Or does someone move to Ontario and try to make a team to challenge the new Epping super team? Teams like Kean and Bice have had strong seasons, do they stick together? And what happens to the former Epping front end? Where do they end up? Hmmmm, perhaps a move for them out of Ontario as well? Don't be surprised....
Quebec has already seen Jean-Michel Menard announce he is stepping away from his current team. Former vice Martin Crete has stepped up to the skip position with most of his old team members in tact and look to be a formidable team in la belle province. But what about #TeamFlow from the Brier? After finally breaking through does Fournier keep his boys in tact for at least another season and try to #defendtheice in Quebec?
In our Atlantic region, things are even more uncertain. Sure Gushue is together but what about everyone else. Greg Smith and his #TeamEnergy seem to be staying together, especially as defending NL champs and knowing they have a strong possibility of repeating next year with Gushue already returning to the Brier as Team Canada. PEI will see some shift in players and teams for sure. As will Nova Scotia. Does Jamie Murphy stick with his current squad? Both Thompson boys in Nova Scotia are gaining traction and what about Chad Stevens and Mark Dacey? Do either of them have gas in the tank to stick out another four year cycle and mount a charge for #TeamBluenose? And what about New Brunswick? James "Jimmy the Kid" Grattan still looks capable of another four year run but who does he curl with? Will free agents move to New Brunswick or PEI and compete in a wide open provincial?
And what happens up north? Does Jamie Koe and his band of #PolarPower stay together? Does Thomas Scoffin make the official move back home to Yukon after a Brier appearance? And does someone try and make a move in Nunavut, perhaps from Ontario or our east? If players already think the Olympic potential is minimal do you at least position yourself to make a few Brier runs over the next few years and check that curling goal off your list? I certainly would be quite happy to make the Brier for the next four years!
Sure the Olympics are the big carrot at the end of the line for the next four years but realistically the pool of potential Olympic contenders is going to continue to shrink as the top teams really just continue the incestual relationship of re-partnering with one another. The ranking points will just be re-allocated to different names but, in general, the top Canadian teams will roughly stay at the top with numbers shifting slightly.
This also raises an interesting question, what happens with our international teams? Given Shuster's gold medal victory at the Olympics it would be shocking to see them break up....nor do I think USA Curling would let that happen. Team Persinger just won the USA championship and will head to their first world championship so perhaps they stay together. And what happens to Team McCormick? These guys are part of the HPP system but have underperformed this year. What does the HPP system do with them? What do these guys do next? And what about Brady Clark? Clark seems to always show potential to emerge out of the US but falters at the wrong time. Does he have another four years left in him?
Heading across the pond, what is going to happen in Europe? Does #KingNiklas have the body to keep the four year Olympic gold dream alive? If so, are his current #SwedishVikings the best bet for him moving forward? Or does someone like Eriksson or Wrana branch off and start setting themselves up for future Olympic success? Wrana is quite young remember and used to be a skip himself. But lets continue to just be honest here...between you and I. We have to feel safe in assuming Team Edin stays together right? They are the #1 team in the world. They won Europeans again. They just won Olympic silver. I cannot see this team blowing up when they are experiencing so much success in the sport. Plus you have to think Swedish curling will want them to stay together (similar to Team Hasselborg). From the personal perspective, I hope so. They look like they are having fun on the ice together, seem to get along great and are one of the best teams on tour...on and off the ice!
How about neighbour Norway? What happens with Team Pants Ulsrud? Do these four guys stick out another four year cycle while retirement rumours and conversations have been sliding up and down the ice all season? If Ulsrud steps back, does Team Walstad stay together or do those two teams join forces to create a new Super Norway? And Scotland could be the ultimate wild card on the international scene. We are seeing movement here in Canada....wait to see what happens in Scotland. Mouat, Smith, Drummond and Brewster are all very strong teams. Do they do some jumping around amongst themselves as well this off-season or stick together? Expect to see some movement in the curling homeland folks!
Heading back to Canada to wrap this #FreeAgentFrenzy blog post up, we can all agree one thing will happen over the next season or two. This whole residency rule will officially fall to the wayside. I mean nobody is following it right now anyways right? Team Koe and Team Homan were perfect examples. They did not have 3 official residents of their host province actually live there this season (or in past seasons) right? Team Cotter from BC. Team Carruthers when they first joined forces. This is nothing new. The players and teams have found a work around system and Curling Canada has been very lax with the ruling. It is now basically just an on-going joke so why bother having it in play? Now perhaps the updated ruling should be something along the lines of should a team wish to participate in their provincial playdowns and be Brier/Scotties eligible, you must have 50% of your team have actual residency in the province you are competing in and representing. If teams want to have 4 players form a Super Team for the Olympic run where they all live in different parts of the country, go for it. You can still rack up your points from #gsoc events but you aren't going to be eligible for the Brier/Scotties. It is time for the governing body of the sport to step into the house and regain control on the athletes. As this blog has always said, it is a fine line between athlete rights and governing body responsibilities. You cannot let either side take 100% control, I get that. However, rules are in place for a reason and the governing body needs to start enforcing them and punishing those who break them. The inmates cannot run the asylum folks....like it or not!
Finally can I just say how much fun the #FreeAgentFrenzy side of the game is right now and how great it can be for the sport? Sure I am not fully supportive of seeing those at the top just swap partners like they are attending a key party but the speculations, debate, conversations and assumptions being made by fans is awesome. People are fully invested! The only other aspect that bothers me is the teams/players not feeding into the monster more. The PR degree in me is just dying watching the lack of engagement from these players. Come on guys and gals....the fans are salivating for info, why not pump it up? If I was a player I would be seizing this opportunity ten-fold. Go out on twitter or facebook and announce you are a free agent. If the team you currently are on is breaking up, why hide that information? Go out and make the story yourself. Put out a post saying "I am adding my name to the #freeagentfrenzy, who do you think I should curl with next season? Who would you want to see me curl with?" Get the fans involved in the conversation even more. Sure behind the scenes we all know all of your phones are lighting up faster than a Luke Bryan country song but that doesn't mean you can't be engaging and take advantage of this PR gold mine! Maybe some of these teams and players need to invest in media training and marketing in addition to sports psychology and training. The sport is not going to succeed just based on the on-ice results and play folks. You want to be competitive with the sports world, feed the beasts who pay your bills....the fans! Missed opportunities sailing by teams faster than a #GunnerRunback here and, from a pure public relations point of view, you shake your head with disappointment!! Sports success also needs strong communication and what is at the centre of the communication venn diagram people? Engagement!! Hmmm seems I also went on a little tangent about this very topic in my post-Brier blog post as well.
On a completely different topic, the Women's World Curling Championships are underway in North Bay. Team Canada is led by Jennifer Jones, looking to collect her second world championship title and #defendtheice after Rachel Homan won gold last season. She will be challenged of course by Olympic gold medal winners Sweden's Team Hasselborg, silver medal winners Korea's Team Kim and former world champion Switzerland's Team Feltscher, just to name a few. #TwineTime wants to know: "Who do you think will win the world title?" Head over to the #TwineTime home page and VOTE NOW!!!
There were some very smart rock heads and stoners who tossed their votes during the Brier poll. In fact 44% of you correctly predicted Team Canada/Team Gushue would walk out of Regina with the title for the second straight year. 21% went with Team Wildcard (the #TwineTime blog pick as well might I add) and 10% sided with eventual finalist Team Alberta. Others receiving votes included: Team Northern Ontario and Team Manitoba (7% each), Team Ontario (5%) and Team Newfoundland (2%). No other team received a vote.
Can you correctly predict the women's world champion now? #VOTEToday!!
And #StayTuned for more #freeagentfrenzy.....