There is a new player in the Ultimate Fantasy Hockey League — a real player! Ryan Malone, the former NHLer and Olympian, recently joined Ultimate Franchise Fantasy Sports in an ambassador role and became hockey’s first Digital Athlete NFT last week, then became a UFHL franchise owner almost overnight.
Malone, who immediately bought into the UFFS vision of rewarding athletes for their fantasy contributions through digital revenue streams, wanted the hands-on experience of professional fantasy sports by getting involved with the UFHL gameplay. Within the week, he was the proud new owner of the Dynasty franchise as well as their UFAHL affiliate Dawn Patrol and the 100 prospects that were property of their affiliated scouting agency, Azteca Scouting. All told, Malone acquired 172 players for a record-setting 150,000 SCO (equivalent to $72,000 USD at the time of sale). “This league, you don’t get hurt in, so it’ll be fun to be a part of, and I’m very excited for the opportunity to spread the word here and help hockey players everywhere,” Malone said during Friday’s episode of UFHL Now! where he was introduced and revealed that breaking news. “I’m excited to get going — to be one of the owners of the 32 franchises. The previous GM and owners did a great job, they have some big pieces there, and I’m looking forward to the challenge next year of structuring the team and the day-to-day stuff — it’ll be just like owning a real team. We’re going to have to have a team dinner soon … rookie party for everyone!” Don’t laugh, Malone has more than enough connections in the hockey world to make that Dynasty party a reality — only three years removed from his playing career as a former linemate of Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos, among other stars past and present. “I looked at the roster, there are quite a few Minnesota guys … so it’ll be easy for me to say ‘here’s a Dynasty hat, would you like to make an extra few pennies on the side while you’re playing in the digital world,” Malone said. “It’ll be nice to see some of the guys around here in the summer — in The Beauty League here in Minnesota — and I’ll be able to walk up to them and give them a hat and let them know they are on a good team and their owner loves them and wants them to be part of something special.”
Malone’s first move as owner and general manager of the Dynasty franchise was retaining former owner Xavier Smith — the UFHL’s reigning GM of the Year as voted by his peers — as an assistant general manager and Brian Hernandez, who headed up Azteca Scouting and joked that he is now the assistant to the assistant GM. Smith and Hernandez turned a decimated roster into a playoff contender and far exceeded expectations after being ranked 31st (last) by their peers in the UFHL’s preseason Power Rankings. They gradually upgraded their roster with veteran talent — Ryan Getzlaf, Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown, to name a few — and continued to reshape their core with the recent acquisitions of Anders Lee, Vladimir Tarasenko and Drew Doughty but will be tight to the cap going forward with some larger, less desirable contracts like Jeff Skinner and Sergei Bobrovsky. On paper, Dynasty should push for a playoff spot in the Howe Division next season and should get another boost from their youth, which includes Trent Frederic, Nico Sturm, Keegan Kolesar, Arttu Ruotsalainen and Jack Dugan as forwards, Jacob Bryson, Jack Rathbone and Matt Kiersted on defence, and Adin Hill in goal. “It is a sad feeling selling, knowing the amount of hours and effort that went into this franchise to build it from where it was to where it is now,” Smith said of the bittersweet sale. “Being recognized as the first GM of the Year for the UFHL is a tremendous honor … we felt that we did everything we could to set it up for success. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make the playoffs, which was our long-shot goal heading into the season. And was definitely a goal heading into next season. “But I think it was our time (to sell). As for next steps, Bryan and I will be looking at purchasing a franchise in the UFLB (Ultimate Fantasy League Baseball, with those franchise auctions culminating on November 7).”
Malone’s wife, Arielle, will step into the scouting role and take ownership of those 100 prospects — at least on an interim basis, since franchise owners can’t be scouts and vice versa in the UFFS ecosystem. But another family member would be the perfect fit to oversee Dynasty’s feeder system. Ryan’s father, Greg Malone, was director of scouting for the Pittsburgh Penguins from 1989 through 2007 — drafting everyone from Jaromir Jagr to Crosby, along with Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury among that core for the 2009 Stanley Cup champions. Greg also had the honour of drafting his son, Ryan, in the fourth round (115th overall) in 1999. Then in 2003, Ryan became the first Pittsburgh-born and trained player to suit up for the Penguins in an NHL game. And Greg and Ryan accomplished the rare feat of scoring hat tricks for the same NHL team, becoming just the second father-son duo in NHL history. “To pull on those colours and get a chance to really represent Pittsburgh, it meant a great deal,” Ryan recalled. “It was a lot of hard work, but it’s all worth it.” Ryan just missed out on that 2009 celebration, relocating to Tampa Bay after scoring a career-high 27 goals in 2008, and Greg was also gone by then — going on to scout for the Coyotes before reuniting with Ryan as Tampa Bay’s head pro scout from 2009 through 2013 — but Greg got his Cup rings early on with Pittsburgh’s consecutive championships in 1991 and 1992. Better known as Bugsy, Ryan played 11 seasons in the NHL with his hometown Pittsburgh Penguins, the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers — totalling 188 goals, 392 points and 742 penalty minutes over 690 career games. He also represented the United States at the 2010 Olympics and two World Championships. A prototypical power forward, Ryan was an impact player for the Americans on the world’s biggest sporting stage — netting three goals and five points over six games during that Olympic tournament — but settled for silver when Crosby scored the golden goal in overtime for Canada.
Malone comes from quite the hockey family, with the bloodlines also including cousins Brad Malone, who has enjoyed a decade-long pro career and captained the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors this season, and the much younger Cole Huckins, who is a top prospect for this month’s NHL Draft as a 6-foot-3, 200-pound centre for the QMJHL’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan — ranked No. 48 among North American skaters by Central Scouting and No. 48 overall by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, who tends to have a good read on the draft based on feedback from NHL team scouts. It wouldn’t be surprising to see those two among the next wave of Digital Athlete NFTs from the hockey world, but Malone is casting a wide net and anticipates a ton of interest among active and retired players. “I get goosebumps because I feel like this is the deal all the players have been waiting for,” Malone said. It has certainly been a topic of conversation over the years — whether athletes could cash in on the billion dollar industry of fantasy sports. In fact, Malone remembers asking that very question while playing cards on the plane with Tampa teammates Stamkos, Teddy Purcell, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Mike Smith — all of whom were big into fantasy baseball, along with the team’s trainers. “‘Man, is there ever going to be a time where the athlete can leverage their stats to try to make some money?’ Because everyone is using those stats for fantasy stuff and the athletes aren’t seeing anything,” Malone reminisced. “But little did I know this opportunity was coming, that is a real opportunity for the players to now have another revenue source — and your digital career will never end (in the yet-to-be launched Legends League)! “It’s not just the fantasy side or the Legends League, there are plenty of other revenue streams with AO Sports and everything,” Malone continued. “Your participation fee has already been paid (with your career) and we’re here to reward you.” Malone wasn’t part of that baseball league and didn’t partake in any fantasy sports during his playing career but has gotten into fantasy football with his brother and some buddies since retiring. Now, he is jumping in with both feet by joining UFFS — even taking the plunge into franchise ownership, sold on the realism of the UFHL and the potential for Digital Athlete NFTs. “Just understanding what it was all about and how you can really own a franchise, just like you can in the real world, and it’s not really fantasy when you are tying the players to it,” Malone said. “I was honestly just overwhelmed about the opportunity to really pay it forward to all the fellas that worked so hard and are maybe struggling (in retirement). To pay back and try to help people that are in need … the more guys that jump on board, the Legends League can take off. “I have a lot of good friends in the hockey world, so I should be able to build a strong community to help ourselves out and help everyone here at UFF Sports. The hockey community will show its power I think and this is going to be great for everybody.”