A couple things happened this week that significantly strengthens what was already a very deep and talented Hershey team.
Andrew Gordon cleared waivers and Sheldon Souray was loaned to Hershey from Edmonton.
I really thought Gordon might get picked up by another team. He isn't making a ton of money, 500k in the NHL, and is a young talented player with substantial upside. But with so many teams tight against the cap and struggling to get their own rosters down to 23 there was no one to take the gamble.
And Gordon wasn't happy about it but who can blame him. Basically he was passed over for a promotion and a significant raise. If he stays in Washington he #1 gets to play in the NHL and #2 would get paid $500,000 for the season. Being in Hershey he makes $90,000 this season. Definitely nothing to sneeze at but if any of us were up for a promotion and a raise of that magnitude we would be pretty upset too.
Souray is a completely different case. He hasn't played in the AHL since a 6 game stint with Albany in 97-98. He has scored 109 NHL goals including 23 two years ago with Edmonton. Unfortunately he has dealt with some injuries recently and has only played in 144 of a possible 246 games the past 3 seasons.
After a falling out in Edmonton the Oilers placed him on waivers but due to his salary, 5.4 million, no other team wanted to take a chance on him.
It is a very similar situation to Michael Nylander who the Caps are paying almost 4.9 million to play in Rochester this season. With the poor relationships with these players neither team wanted to send them to their minor league affiliate and basically just make the situation worse. So both players were loaned to other teams in the AHL in hopes that they can resurrect their careers and get picked up some other time this season.
Souray, like Nylander, will have to clear re-entry waivers to be called up to the NHL (he is the property of Edmonton and CAN NOT be called up by Washington). I believe (and I am not certain of this so if I am wrong someone please correct me) that if Souray is recalled by Edmonton and claimed on re-entry by another team the claiming team would only owe 50% of his 10-11 salary with Edmonton picking up the other half. So the hope of the Oilers (and Caps with Nylander) is that some team might be interested in doing that at some point this year.
The Capitals did this once before with Ben Clymer. They sent him to Hershey and would do a paper recall of him throughout the season in the hopes of someone taking a chance on him and signing him away. That never happened though and Clymer spent the 07-08 season in Hershey before heading to Europe the following season.
Time will tell what happens with Souray but for now he is a Hershey Bear and hopefully he is determined to help the team and show he can still play.
The rest of the team has been known for a while now and looks very strong. You can find an updated roster on the left side of this page.
Last years team was as talented as any team in recent memory. With Giroux, Bourque, Aucoin, Gordon, Wilson, Perreault, Bouchard, Alzner and Carlson you had 2 to 3 full lines that could score at will and a defense that could shut down anyone.
Well many of those players are gone. Alzner and Carlson are in Washington. Giroux is playing in Oklahoma City at the moment. Wilson is still with Columbus. And Bourque is currently traveling around Europe after leaving his KHL team to play in Switzerland this year.
So are the Bears going to be able to compete.
Umm...yeah I think they will be okay.
In place of the above mentioned players you have Kyle Greentree, Brian Willsie, Brian Fahey, Lawrence Nycholat, Souray, and Dmitri Kugryshev joining forces with Bouch, Perry, Coiner, Gordo, Pinner, Kane, Joudrey, McNeill, and Beags to form what is generally considered the favorite to win the Calder Cup again in 2011.
Here is the Hockey News preseason rankings.
Greentree is probably the highlight of the newcomers. He has scored 64 goals over the past 2 seasons and will now get to play with Aucoin, who routinely helps wingers achieve career years.
Willsie, formerly of the Hershey Bears in 02-03, comes back to Hershey after splitting time between the NHL and AHL over the last 8+ years. In fact last year was really the first time he played a full season in the 'A' since the 2000-01 season in Hershey. And he did okay last year for Lake Erie scoring 26 goals and adding 31 assists.
Souray we talked about already. Fahey is a career AHLer to this point who routinely scores double digit goals and can add triple digit PIMs if needed.
Nycholat, another former Bear, returns to Hershey after spending some time in the NHL with Ottawa and Vancouver. He is a great locker room presence who will help Fahey in solidifying the blue line.
There are lots of young guys who will be making appearances this season in Hershey including Patrick Cullity, Trevor Bruess, Jake Hauswirth, and Nikita Kashirsky but the player who I am most excited to see is Dmitri Kugryshev. He has spent the past 2 years playing in the QMJHL where he totaled 171 points (67 goals) in 132 games. He will be getting good opportunities to show what he can do this year.
The biggest questions facing the Bears this year are in goal and on the blue line. And well the blue line should be okay. Between McNeill, Miscovic, Collins, Fahey, Finley, Souray, Nycholat, Wellar and Cullity I think they will be okay. But when you lose 2 NHLers and 2 veteran players like Helmer and Amadio there will be questions.
The goaltending issue is another one entirely. Last years #1 Michal Neuvirth is in the NHL splitting time with 08-09 #1 Semyon Varlamov. Last years #2 Braden Holtby takes over as the #1 and eventually Dany Sabourin will be in Hershey to be the #2.
Honestly that isn't bad. The problem comes when Varly or Neuvy get hurt, which lets face it, will happen. In fact Varly is already hurt which is why Sabourin is still in Hershey.
Behind Sabourin is Todd Ford and Jared DiMichele. Both are solid prospects but if Hershey has to rely on them for an extended period things could get hairy. I am not saying they can't handle the job but they are both unknowns on this level, although Ford has played 20+ games in the AHL through his career.
For more team and league preview articles check out PennLive.com. Tim Leone did a few articles for the Bears preview section of the Patriot News, which came out today, that you can find on PennLive.com. Definitely worth checking out.
Now lets talk expectations and predictions.
To expect this years team to achieve what last years team accomplished is probably asking a lot. AHL records were set often last year by the Bears and that was likely a once in a lifetime team we got to see.
But this years team can be very good. There is an issue of having too many veterans after the addition of Souray that could result in some lost ice time for players like Nycholat or Kane. Could that disrupt the locker room....maybe.
Will the young players step up and rise to the challenge or buckle under the pressure? Guys like Bruess, Finley, Cullity, Holtby, and Kugryshev are going to be handed some solid minutes and they have to perform.
The team won't use the term '3-peat' as they don't want to think too much about it. I will talk about it today and then probably stash it away until necessary this Spring.
No team has won 3 Calder Cups in a row since the 59-62 Springfield Indians.
Can Hershey do it?
Yeah I think they can but obviously a lot has to fall in to place. Last years East division was not nearly as strong as recent years and it will be better this year. In fact Hershey might not win the division.
Personally I think goaltending is going to be an issue this year. Holtby looked questionable in the playoffs last year and Neuvirth and Varlamov can't stay healthy. Something tells me there will be quite the goaltending shuffle happening in Hershey this season.
And I think it will cost Hershey the division title. Not sure which team beats them out for it but everyone seems to think that Wilkes-Barre will be pretty good again this year. But it doesn't matter as we don't hang Division or Conference Championship banners in Hershey...we only want one thing....
Hershey will raise the Cup again in June...and in October of 2011 we will be watching the 12th Championship banner being raised to the rafters at the GC.
As a disclaimer....I am a believer and an optimist so I will always think they are the favorites to win it all. But I truly do believe that this team could be just as good offensively as last years team and defensively they might be even better. The question comes in goal. As it always does in hockey.
But when you have players like Boyd Kane, who scored 24 goals last season, and Ashton Rome, he added 5 in 26 games, playing on the 4th line you have a definite advantage over 90% of the other teams in the league.
Hershey's depth will again be the difference come May and June.
It is going to be an incredible season and I am hyped for it to get started!!!
LET'S GO BEARS!!!!!!