On the 2023 Shuffle
Here we go again....
Last year I posted the two most popular newsletters in the history of this Substack, and both were some fun little speculation posts about where I thought the men’s and women’s teams were headed at the end of the quadrennial. I nailed a few things (Jones + Mack Zack, Horgan + Hodgy/Darren, etc), missed a few (Tardi + Bottcher, Jacobs staying together) but it was a great time had by all. It spawned a whole “xoxo, gossipcurl” meme and while I figured we’d have some team changes after Year One since most of the past quads haven’t placed much emphasis on the Year One points for Olympic Trial qualification, I didn’t think there’d be a ton. I was wrong! So let’s get into it.
As always, the information you’ll see in this post is by no means gospel. Some of it is information that has been passed to me by players that I have their approval to share (often in a specific manner that may not fully reveal their intentions), other info is just blind guessing. So if you’re a fan or a player reading this, please keep that in mind. It’s just for fun. In most cases, I’m probably wrong. But hey…I could also be right. ;)
I think the top teams are going to be pretty boring for both men’s and ladies. Dunstone, Gushue, and Bottcher for me are all locks to stay together, for obvious reasons. Top 3 teams at the Brier and they make up 3 of the top 5 teams in the world. No-brainer.
Kevin Koe I would say is most likely to stay together as well. I think the Koe/Tardi partnership proved to be a good one and I think they’re both happy with how it went in year one. That said, could there be a front end change? Kevin did cut Colton Flasch in the second season after their partnership, only one year removed from a Brier title. It’s hard to say any team is looking for a change after a solid year and a decent Brier, but I wonder if the team was just a shade too sleepy for Kevin. He had some abnormal results for himself at the Brier, and didn’t look fully like “Brier Kev”, which he almost always manages to do even if the team mix is off.
If there is a change, I could see him doing something similar to what he did when he let Colton go, which is add a veteran and/or stronger personality sprinkle to the lineup. Maybe a reunion with Brent Laing, who he got along with very well in the Olympic run and is probably a free agent. Maybe Catlin Schneider becomes a free agent in a potential Flasch change (more on that later). It’s Kevin Koe. He’ll have options.
We already got the scoop on Reid Carruthers' team change, making the lineup with Brad Jacobs official for next year. Two things I thought were interesting: 1) that Brad said publicly that he was “finished” with the skipping position. I ran a few Q&As for Team Jacobs over the last few years with their fans, and Brad made a few references to how mentally demanding the position was for him. I bet he’s gonna be a great third that fully embraces his role; 2) the chemistry. You would’ve expected perhaps both Brad and Reid to be big players in the offseason shopping market, but it’s clear in the one event they played together they loved the mix and I loved that they acted early post-Brier before the whole silly season gets underway.
Make no mistake, Brad would’ve had suitors. I’ve said before that him and Kevin Koe have been close on a number of occasions and I bet if Brad made himself available to Kevin at third, he would’ve loved to take him on, likely moving Tyler down to the 2 hole and pushing either Brad Thiessen or Karrick Martin out of the lineup. I’m also sure that Tanner Horgan would’ve made that phone call too with a lineup spot open and Brad being from the same area of the country.
For Horgan, I think the mix with Darren Moulding proved to be too good and he sticks there. Obviously with Hodgy out of the mix and Darren as an import, finding a lead for that team could be tricky, as the NOCA isn’t exactly a vast place. Two strange guesses? Two boys who now make their home in BC but have Northern Ontario birthright, Cody Johnston and Andrew Nerpin. Both are built like brick walls and great sweepers, and both have nationals experience, Cody at Juniors and Andrew with a few Purple Hearts playing the last few seasons with Jim Cotter. I know Andrew hasn’t played a very intense schedule with Jim and may not want to, but I wonder if the lure of this team is too great to ignore.
I think Karsten Sturmay sticks together. As I wondered aloud in my Brier recap, does JD Lind stay in the fold? I think that’s the only question. They ran a 5-man squad this year and it worked well, but the combining factors of JD having such a busy schedule coaching Japan and Kyle Doering fitting in so well at third, plus not having to work a 5-man rotation might prove to be too great. We’ll see what they decide.
As for the other Alberta emergent team of the season, Aaron Sluchinski, I see no changes there. Why mess with what works? It’s clear the Sluchinski/Harty pairing is strong and you’ve got a good base to work with there now. I think Kyler Kleibrink facing down the barrel of now 4 top-20 Alberta teams (as well as a very strong middle class) means he looks elsewhere. Could he find himself a province over in BC?
Speaking of BC, it’s a bloodbath, as I expected and wrote about in my provincial recap newsletter. I think Jacques Gauthier stays together amidst the chaos, I think the Islanders stay together too, and as for everyone else? Who knows. We know Brent Pierce is done and is looking for a new lineup. Not sure he’s found it yet. As for his team, I’d anticipate Jeff Richard will try to skip a unit and Jared Kolomaya/Nick Meister will stay as a unit with someone else. And much like Glenn Howard, you bet on Jim Cotter fully stepping away from the men’s game at your own peril, but is this the offseason he finally does?
We know Mike McEwen’s team is likely done after the departure of Ryan Fry. Could Mike pick up another Ontario third? Sure, but I don’t see it unless it’s John Epping. The year was a struggle for everyone and while the run at the Brier was inspiring, I think it was just a great last chapter instead of the middle of the book. The problem is, where does Mike go? I can’t imagine he’d be rushing to go back to Manitoba with the twin towers of Dunstone and Carruthers looming and no great options for teammates. I can’t see him pairing with Jason Gunnlaugson and anyone after that would be someone with potential but perhaps not battle-tested. So does he team with John Epping? Does he take a year off? Is there a parachute for him that makes sense in BC, or Nova Scotia, or New Brunswick? Time will tell.
I’m not convinced John Epping’s team is finished, but every time the calendar flips, you wonder if it’s Glenn Howard’s last season and if it is…you have to think John would like to scoop up some (or all) of those pieces. As far as I know, there’s no animosity between Scott Howard, Dave Mathers, Tim March, and John, and he could be looking to flip up the mix after so many years with Mat Camm and missing the Brier and Wild Card this year despite playing a ton of events. If not, then maybe something like John/Mike/Mat/Pat or Scott Chadwick makes sense. In any case, if Glenn Howard and Mike McEwen aren’t in Ontario next year…it’s a good time to be John Epping. I wonder if he knows I have Ontario birthright.
And lastly, I mentioned Colton Flasch earlier, and I wonder what happens there. Just a tragic late part of the season that saw them lose their Wild Card slot at the 11th hour and then a really disappointing showing at the Saskatchewan provincials. All 4 of them are great friends, they had some great results this year, but with Sasky boys like Kirk Muyres and Braeden Moskowy floating in the ether, he’d have options for a change if he wanted it.
As I said up top, I think the top-10 Canadian women’s teams on the world rankings are all staying the same next season. Einarson is obvious, Lawes is obvious, Jones is obvious, and so is Grandy. I know that people always seem eager to bury this version of Team Homan 10 feet under the ground for some reason, but I just don’t see a breakup there. There’s a few reasons for that.
First, Rachel Homan is a sponsorship juggernaut. Don’t see too many players looking to get off that ride. Second, I just don’t see how they had a bad year. The Scotties finish was a bit disappointing, but they won a Slam, they won Red Deer (Slam-level field), and they made the playoffs in every event they were in. They are also currently ranked third in the world. I just can’t get there. IF the change happens and Tracy is out (big “if” in my mind), then perhaps the name that slots in there is Laura Walker. I know her and Rachel were a rumoured item last offseason, and they have history. Laura’s kids will be a year older and she might be ready for a busier schedule. But she might not be.
Obviously if Tracy is available then things might get a bit wild, but otherwise, I see the women’s side of things as being more quiet. We’ve already seen the breakup of Team Walter/Ackland, with the announcement being very specific that Meghan Walter and Mackenzie Elias are moving on to a different opportunity next season together. My lean there is that they are waiting for another team that has broken up but has yet to announce it before they make their own announcement, but I believe they are locked in with two players already. Excited to see where two of the top young players are headed.
As for Abby and Sara Oliver, that’s a tricky one. Manitoba is an absolute death trap but they made the finals there this season. Do they want to try another run with a new mix there? Does a name like Kristy Watling intrigue? Do we see a potential mix-up in the Beth Peterson ranks? Abby has experience skipping and looked good as a third this year too, so she could be a parachute option in a weaker province for a team that needs a jolt. Curious.
Casey Scheidegger is an intriguing one. Tough Scotties, both Casey and Jessie are pregnant and due shortly. I don’t know what to make of it. Knowing the ladies on that squad decently well, I know the mix was good, but I also know Casey’s considered taking a year off before. Does adding another kid to the family make that happen? I don’t like to speculate on stepping back, and it’s possible this team doesn’t break up at all. We’ll see where it goes.
Alberta as a whole will be interesting. Selena Sturmay and her team have parted ways, with Selena and Paige announcing their sticking together. There will be some intriguing middle-lineup players available in Alberta, Danielle Schmiemann chief among them. I wonder if she lands there. We know Jessie Hunkin is looking for a new third, is that where Abby Marks is headed? And I think it’s fairly obvious that the Kayla Skrlik run was great for all involved. They’re staying together.
In BC, it’s a clear top two with Clancy Grandy and Corryn Brown. Is this the year Corryn changes up the mix? I know they were deeply disappointed not to make the Scotties in their hometown of Kamloops, but they also had an undefeated run to the BC final, with a 2-1 record against Grandy in the tournament (they just lost the wrong one to lose). If that’s the case, as I said last year, I think Erin Pincott would get some phone calls. But are those phone calls coming from anywhere that has a clearer path to the provincial final than BC? Unlikely.
I said on Twitter that I wondered how creative Laurie St-Georges might get with some of the third options out there (now that she’s announced Alanna Routledge and the team have parted ways), and she responded with this:
I agree that it’ll be a surprising announcement from the Smiley one, for a few different reasons. I said third because I’m guessing Emily Riley will move down to her more natural position at second, and I said creative because I thought with some of the best options out there, she might have to. Laurie suggesting she’s getting very creative makes me think there might be two players involved here and not just one.
The mid-tier of ladies teams I have no idea on. Is Kerry Galusha actually retiring this offseason? She mentioned it a few times, but that early Scotties run was also very fun. If she does, do Sarah Koltun and Margot Flemming find a home somewhere? Both have been solid players for quite a while now.
We know Chelsea Carey is out there, does she make sense for anyone? Not to mention Jamie Sinclair, Jolene Campbell, and Rachel Erickson would all make good options for teams. What about the Ontario mid-tier? Are Carly Howard’s and Hollie Duncan’s teams going to keep at it? We know Danielle Inglis has lost Cheryl Kreviazuk, who does she replace her with? (Calissa Daly. Duh. Gotta stop writing newsletters at midnight.)
Many questions I don’t have answers to right now, but I think as we push a little further into the offseason, we’ll see these teams tinker just a bit more. The Canadian ladies scene has a very clear top-tier and then a vast middle class, and how those teams decide to reshape their mixes this offseason will be something worth following in the weeks ahead.
Hopefully you enjoy Free Agent Frenzy Part 2! I know I will. As always, thanks so much for reading. If you want this newsletter delivered right to your inbox every time I write one, hit that subscribe button. You can follow me on Twitter for more at @cullenoncurling and you can listen to my podcast, Way Inside, on the Inside Curling podcast feed. John Shuster was awesome on the show last week.