SICHL XX: A Look Back and Forward at the Vikings/Monarchs Franchiseby Michael Oram | August 5, 2017, 9:36 PM ET
The Monarchs franchise entered the SICHL as the Oslo Vikings in the 2006-2007 season. However, the team got its true start in the 2004 entry draft. It was during this draft that the now defunct Les Dragons de Montreal drafted two of the greatest Monarchs/Vikings of all time. Evgeni Malkin went first overall in the draft and Alexander Ovechkin went second. Both would go on to put a significant mark on the franchise that has split time between Oslo and London. Also drafted in this draft was Blake Wheeler, although his stint with the 2006 upstart franchise was much shorter lived.
It was, however, on a late September day in 2006 that the Oslo Vikings came to be. Entering the league through a Dispersal Draft, then GM, Kasim Husain laid the framework for the team that exists today. Speaking on draft day GM Husain spoke about building a team with balance (an approach perhaps overlooked in London) and building a team that was competitive from day one and one that would remain competitive into the future.
In their inaugural entry draft in 2006, the Vikings made Bryan Little the organisations first ever draft pick at 10th overall. The first major trade for the franchise came a year later and saw GM Husain part ways with a first-round pick, a third round pick and then prospects Thomas Greiss and Kyle Cumiskey in exchange for Patrick Marleau. Then in December 2008 Oslo made another splash trading for Chris Pronger. Big trades would later become a staple of the London franchise. Oslo would go on to win the 2008-09 and 2009-10 Commissioner’s Trophy along with the World Conference championship in 2009-10.
Then the unthinkable occurred. In September 2011, the franchise relocated to London and the Monarchs were born. Stepping into the leadership role of the team was Michael Oram. Out went Pronger who was not offered a contract and goaltender Antti Niemi instantly became the subject of trade rumours. Then on October 2nd, 2011 the Monarchs began a reshaping of the franchise. In came Malkin.
In their first game London the Monarchs wasted no time demonstrating how this new team was going to play. Then head coach, Phil Housley, led the London based team to a 5-1 thumping of the Havana Revolution with Little scoring the team’s first goal and Ilya Bryzgalov got the win.
Then in September 2012 the team made another blockbuster deal and laid the foundation for what would become the leagues highest scoring team. Ilya Kovalchuk was brought in to play alongside fellow Russians Malkin and Ovechkin. By December of 2012 the team made another move bringing in future hall of famer Jarome Iginla and furthered the already potent offense of the Monarchs.
It was this 2012-13 season that Malkin re-wrote the franchise and league record books. He posted 223 points, 113 goals, a plus 134, and included 21 power play goals. All records. Kovalchuk added his name to the record books also contributing 113 assists.
In December 2013 the Monarchs unveiled a new look and a new slogan. For the first time the team wore their gold logo on their controversial ‘redcoat’ third jersey. The jersey took inspiration from the England’s military uniforms of the past. It also played homage to the reputation the team had earned for its run and gun style.
In December 2014 the Monarchs made a trade with a familiar face to the franchise. The team sent a first and second round pick, John Klingberg, Reid Duke, and Nate Prosser to GM Husain’s new team, the Montreal Millionaires. Coming back to London: Roman Josi and a fifth round pick. Then in February of 2015 the team continued its tradition of making big trades bringing in another future hall of famer in Joe Thornton and Phil Kessel.
The team reshaped itself completely in 2016 in a frantic series of trades. Out went Malkin along with others and in came a new core group. Included in this group was Matt Duchene, Sami Vatanen, Tyler Myers, and Zack Kassian. However, despite their willingness to make the big moves, London has failed to get past the second round of the playoffs and in 2016-17 failed to qualify for the post season for the first time since moving to London. At the trade deadline of the 2016-17 season the team moved pending UFA Thornton out in exchange for two new pieces to London’s new core, Mikael Backlund and Patrick Maroon.
As we approach the 2017-18 season and the 20th anniversary of the league it is clear that Ovechkin has made his mark on this franchise. He has been the single constant since the team’s inception and currently holds every franchise record for skaters. He has 954 points, 460 goals, 494 assists, 103 power play goals, 7 shorthanded goals, 665 penalty minutes, 70 game wining goals, and is plus 215 all in 856 games. Despite currently being without a contract, do not be surprised if Ovechkin plays his entire career as a Monarch. Rumours have him about to sign a new Franchise Player contract to keep him in England’s capital.
The Monarchs have not had as much success finding stable goaltending. The team has had a new starter just about every year they have been in England. This has led Kari Lehtonen to hold onto the team’s club record for wins (140), games played (240), shots faced (7046) and minutes (13,585). While Jean-Sebastien Giguere holds the shutout record (10) and Bryzgalov assists (14).
The club is currently being run by President of Hockey Operations Michael Oram, GM Housley, and is being coached by Head Coach Theoren Fleury and Associate Coach Valeri Bure. Leading their GHA affiliate, the Liverpool Heirs, is Al MacInnis. In November 2016 the team unveiled their current look on the ice. They simplified their jerseys bringing in a new cleaner and sleeker look and made the gold logo their primary logo. It seemed only fitting that Monarchs would wear gold. Also new third jerseys were brought in to replace the redcoat thirds. These new jerseys also followed the path of simplification and feature a simple stripe of white across a red jersey and an old English style ‘L’ on the chest.
In their quest to make deep runs in the playoffs the Monarchs have sacrificed much in the draft. In four of their first five seasons in London the team only had one first round pick. And that may have been wasted on Stefan Matteau. Despite this the team was able to find a couple of promising, if not long-shot, prospects including Jordan Binnington (the team’s first pick in London), Darren Dietz, Artturi Lehkonen, Jack Dougherty, and Rasmus Andersson. And of course a pre-season front runner for rookie of the year Sebastian Aho. The team did, however, make two first round selections in 2016, Jake Bean and Riley Tufte, which give the team a lot to look forward to in the (hopefully) not to distant future. Now as the team is getting younger, don’t expect them to be so easy to part with picks over the next couple of years as London tries to rebuild on the fly following their disappointing 2016-17 season.
So what comes next for the London Monarchs? When posed with that question President Oram responded with the final word on this chapter of the Vikings/Monarchs franchise:
“We may not appear on paper to be as strong as some of our competition in the World Conference. Which, by the way, is the best conference. We may not be as young or as experienced as teams. We are somewhere in the middle. But do not let that fool you. This team will compete every game, every period, every shift. We will push for a playoff spot and we will not make it easy for any of our competitors. And you better believe we will beat those communists in Cuba, and those ******* who throw our tea in the harbour!”