On My Best Guess
Silly Season is Upon Us...Where Are We Headed?
Back in the halcyon days just after the Olympic Trials, I made a stab at predicting where teams would end up when the dust settles after this season. On the men’s side, I think at this point, they are almost all wrong. And I said they might be! It’s tough to know exactly in the wake of a huge tournament exactly what will happen. I mean hell, the Bottcher/Moulding situation hadn’t even happened yet, and that feels like it was a million years ago (though I did say I thought if anyone was leaving that team, it was Darren. Just didn’t think it would be so soon).
So, given we are on the precipice of the Brier and thus, on the edge of a lot of these teams making announcements once the tourney is over, here’s my new best guesses. And again, these are GUESSES. I am trying to dip my toes into the water of becoming curling’s Inside Man (xoxo, gossipcurl), but everything you see here is just an educated guess and has not been confirmed by anyone involved in any of these situations.
If you’re a fan, please keep that in mind and do not treat this post like gospel. If you’re a player and I’m right and you’re mad…don’t be. I’m just lucky!
Before we get to the men’s, I’ll just say that I don’t really have a great handle on the ladies situation. I think there are two big reasons for that: Team Jones and Team Einarson. Those two teams making the Olympics and Worlds has really kicked the can down the road, because if Jenn is retiring, Kaitlyn will skip and will basically have her pick of teammates and that could jostle the Jenga Tower for everyone, and if Einarson decides to part ways (or even loses a single player), that will also create opportunities people will want to wait for. Plus, Laura Walker just announced she is expecting in July so who knows if she’s playing, what is Jocelyn Peterman doing (is she playing out of Alberta?), what is Rachel Homan doing at lead (or is the entire team changing?), etc etc. There’s just too many variables at the very top of the game for teams who are maybe just below their level to be making moves and potentially missing out.
The men’s is a bit different, only because I think that other than a few potential retirements/hiatuses, the teams are all shaking up and the news is gonna come pretty fast and furious after the Brier is over. Plus, I just know more of the men’s teams personally, having been a player and can make more educated guesses. Ok, here we go.
—Let’s start with the big dogs, Team Gushue. I think Brett Gallant is finished with this team. Brad all but admitted it in the wake of the Olympics being over (and even beforehand a little bit), and them not winning the gold medal makes his decision even easier. He’s playing out of Alberta next year for sure, in my view (more on that in a bit). So it really comes down to whether or not Brad and Mark are playing. They’re either both playing, or they’re both not. I don’t see a scenario where one plays without the other. My general assumption was that Geoff Walker would follow Brett somewhere in Alberta, but I’m less sure of that now. So here’s my prediction, if Brad and Mark keep playing. It’s the same team, minus Brett, plus Ryan McNeil Lamswood. He’s a real player, Brad’s already brought him to multiple tournaments, and I’m guessing they’d love to bring in a younger Newfoundland player to mentor. If Geoff IS playing with a team out of Alberta, I think they likely go all Newfoundland and pick up another one of the excellent young players in the province right now.
—Alberta is very complicated, because you have two kingpin skips in Brendan Bottcher and Kevin Koe that will demand attention from everyone across the country. Throughout the start of this silly season once the Moulding split happened, it was easy to imagine a lineup that looked something like Bottcher/Kennedy/Gallant/Walker, but I’ve still always struggled to see Marc Kennedy as a natural pair for Bottcher. I think it’s Tyler Tardi that’s slotting in on the Bottcher rink. I think Tyler leaving his very good team (and brother and dad) would only be for an A+ opportunity. I don’t think Kevin Koe would already be reaching for players (he’ll have the opportunity to sit back after the Brier and see where the chips fall on other teams by virtue of being, well, Kevin Koe) and I know for a fact a lot of the top teams are waiting until after the Brier to have their team talks. You want to give yourselves the best chance to win a national title, and so a lot of teams delay their convo for that reason. This isn’t to say players aren’t talking already, of course they are, but there’s still a lot of non-commitment happening. We know Kevin’s team isn’t back as constructed, but that doesn’t mean he’s already reaching for a player who has an excellent junior pedigree but doesn’t have a men’s provincial title or a Slam appearance (that wasn’t sparing) to his credit yet.
But Bottcher? Well, he already knows he needs a third. Tyler’s team didn’t make the Brier, giving him a chance to engage in conversations as well. It makes too much sense. Plus, we know from some of what Darren said that Bottcher’s going to want a third that subscribes to the program, and bringing in someone younger and untested allows him to do that. I’m actually thinking Bottcher is keeping his team as constructed and adding Tyler at third. There’s an outside chance one or both of the front end players is gone, but I think Thiessen/Martin have been a good combo for Brendan and will stick around, Brad in particular. If Benny is a true free agent, maybe the Bottch Dawg swaps Karrick for him but we’ll see.
—So what does Koe do, then? We know his team is dissolving, but we weren’t given specifics. We can make a pretty educated guess that John Morris is done since he tried to retire LAST quad, but they haven’t said if anyone else is sticking around. Saying the current team is dissolving doesn’t necessarily mean BJ or Benny are gone. One thing I think is that Brett Gallant is slotting in here, without question. The only question is whether it’s to pull a Marc Kennedy-style move up to third, or to remain at second. I think it’s possible Kevin keeps BJ and Brett stays at second. A stealth option at third? Matt Dunstone. I know The Sheriff loves skipping and I think his team sticking together is on the table (an option I outlined back in my original newsletter about this), but you’re telling me if Dunny gets the offer and the team is Koe/him/Gallant/Hebert, he’s not taking that? He’s taking that.
—Another stealth option? Colton Lott. He is another Alberta option for Koe and Bottcher, either at third or second. He has a lot of respect from the top teams.
—Koe is easily the craziest option to me, because as I said, he’ll have his pick. I think you could easily see any of Brett Gallant, Marc Kennedy, BJ Neufeld, Ryan Fry, Matt Dunstone, or Colton Lott playing third for him next season. Maybe even Tyler Tardi! Once Koe moves, everyone else does.
—Moving west, as I said above, I think it’s actually possible everything stays status quo in Saskatchewan. Colton Flasch seems to have hit on his best lineup with Catlin Schneider and making the Brier certainly won’t deter them. He’s best friends with the Marsh twins and I think it’s easy to imagine that team staying together, even if it’s for next season at minimum and then maybe opportunities open up for Colton and Catlin they can’t refuse after the one-year shuffle. I could easily see Team Dunstone staying together as well, though I believe Kirk is moving to Ontario to be with his partner (TSN Ottawa reporter Claire Hanna) and so that could complicate things slightly. That said, the options for Kirk in Ontario aren’t the best (Ottawa isn’t exactly close to where all the best Ontario men’s players are) and he has great relationships with sponsorship partners in Saskatchewan he’d be eager to keep. If Dunstone leaves, then we might see another import skip take over that threesome (Moskowy/Muyres/Kidby) but it could be that they just stay as they are.
—Over in Manitoba, Team McEwen and Team Gunnlaugson are finished, in my estimation. Maybe we see some of the team members stick together (Reid/Samagalski almost assuredly, Gunner/Connor too…wait a minute. Is that a team? Right there? Hm) but I think the pieces will once again be moving. I think Ryan Fry heads back to his birthright province to play with Mike (not sure why, just have a feeling about it…could also see Fry as an option for Koe, as I outlined above and in my earlier predictions post) and we’ll see how they elect to fill out the front end. Colton Lott, Kyle Doering, Matt Wozniak, Braden Calvert(?)…they’ll have options.
—In Northern Ontario, there’s some fun stuff happening, mostly revolving around Brad Jacobs’ team and the question of whether or not they remain a unit, and Tanner Horgan and his brother Jacob potentially returning home to play there. I think Team Beuk is done. Wes Forget has already announced he’s a free agent and when you don’t make playoffs at Ontario provincials…you probably move on. Plus I think the Horgan brothers will have suitors. My gonzo guess for them? Darren Moulding and Colin Hodgson. Colin has been living in Northern Ontario for a while now, and him and Darren are really tight. It’s a lineup that makes sense with Tanner at skip and Jacob at second. Could be fun.
I do think there’s a solid chance Team Jacobs stays together. I also think there’s a possibility that Brad and the Harndens take a year. I can’t speculate on anyone’s retirement or hiatuses, but Brad has a new job that’s a bit more demanding on his time and they’ve been playing at a high level and traveling more than almost anyone else save Gushue for the last two decades. They could take a year. But, you know…they’re my pick to win the Brier and if you get that bye back to the Brier the following season…Marc seems to be a good fit…it could be the one truly top team we see stay the same. If not, then maybe Brad offers Tanner Horgan the opportunity to play third for him and things get more complicated.
—If Marc Kennedy doesn’t stay with Jacobs, the opportunities there will be really interesting. Does he go back and play with Kevin Koe again? I don’t think there’s animosity there. Is he the fit for Bottcher at third? I outlined my thoughts on that above, but he did go to the Worlds with Bottcher last year. Who knows. You know skips would line up to have him, so it’s an interesting thought to ponder.
—Lastly, Ontario. Man. What do you do here? As I said above, I think Epping and Fry at a minimum are done. Brent Laing isn’t getting any younger. Mat Camm has been with John for two quads. It’s complex because there just isn’t anyone else around, other than Team Howard. Are YOU gonna bet on Glenn finally being done? I think you’d get decent odds but would you take them? And every member of Team Howard has played for John at some point. Do they go back? It’s a very strange scenario that I have no great insight on. Maybe John parachutes in to another province to skip something like a Carruthers/Samagalski situation, or picks up the pieces from a Dunstone movement. I don’t know.
—One thing I do know? Scott Howard has emerged as one of the game’s elite players. It was already a fact, but it got even more cemented with his Ontario Tankard win as a skip. Does HE get some nice offers from elsewhere? Mathers/March are also one of the better front ends in the game. If Glenn is finally pulling the chute, do they get a big name skip to come in and take them over? It’s interesting and will be something to watch for sure.
Alright! That’s it. Can’t wait to be wrong about everything over the next month. Disagree with me? Hit me in the comments below or on Twitter at @cullenoncurling. Thanks for reading.