Friday, September 30, 2011

Caps cut more...preview posts coming soon

Just a quick note this nice fall Friday...

The Caps sent Chris Bourque, Patrick McNeill, and Sean Collins to Hershey yesterday.  Good news is that all three cleared waivers and will report to the Bears officially. 

Both of the defensemen were likely aware that this move was likely coming.  Everyone can read a depth chart and while both surely believe they belong in the NHL (who at this level doesn't truly believe that) they were no doubt prepared for this.

Bourque on the other hand, I think, really had a shot at making the team.  Bruce Boudreau said that the reason for sending Chris down was because “We know what we have in Chris Bourque; I’ve seen him for five years. We could call Chris up tomorrow." 

So, him being sent down should not be looked at as him not getting a chance this year...just not right now. 

While Chris is likely surprised, I am not.  I definitely think he can fill the role they are looking for, but he was the long shot to make it. 

But he is a Bear again and I for one am excited to see him play for the Bears again.

I promised some preview posts leading up to the season opening weekend and my original plan would have been to have some of those up this week.  Unfortunately things got busy at work and home and the posts were delayed. 

But fear not as they will be up next week.
  • Monday will be a preview of the goaltending.  We know who the top 2 are but are they ready to lead this team to the Calder Cup?
  • Tuesday will look at the the defense and will try to identify what type of impact to expect from the newcomers.
  • Wednesday will discuss the forwards and the amount of depth the team has this season.  I have discussed this at length already but I intend to get a different look at it this time.
  • Thursday will preview the East Division and will hopefully discuss some of the new faces we will see on the Bears division rivals.
  • And Friday will be the Opening Night preview as the Bears kick off the season up in Binghamton for a banner raising ceremony.  I expect the Bears to spoil that night for the Sens!

Check back next week as the season finally gets started.


Monday, September 26, 2011

First Look (guess)...Bears 2011-12 Opening Night Roster

Training camp has started, preseason games are coming up shortly.  Bears hockey is back!

Now we want to know which players we will be seeing in Hershey this season.  There are still decisions to be made by the Capitals that will influence that answer and the Bears themselves have many decisions to make before the opening night roster is announced.

But it is hard to do many preview issues without having a roster to base them on.  So in this post I am going to project the opening night roster.  Which will then be used when I preview the team in more posts discussing goaltending, defense, and then the forwards. 
I expect the Bears to open the season with 25 players on the active roster.  The NHL limits clubs to 23, but to my knowledge there is no such limit in the AHL.  Obviously you don't want 10 guys as healthy scratches so many players will get sent to South Carolina or their respective affiliates to begin their seasons.

I envision an opening night roster of 2 goalies, 8 defensemen, and 15 forwards.  It basically extends the 'preseason' a couple more games to give some of the fringe players a chance to prove something else. 

So without further jibber anticipated opening night roster:

  • Braden Holtby
  • Dany Sabourin
That was easy.  Barring injuries I don't see anyway these two start anywhere else.

  • Patrick McNeill
  • Sean Collins
  • Zach Miskovic
  • Patrick Wellar
  • Phil Oreskovic
  • Danny Richmond
  • Paul Baier
  • Julien Brouillette
One name missing from this list is Dmitri Orlov.  I expect him to start in the NHL while John Erskine gets into shape after offseason surgery.  They will want to see him compete at that level for a couple games to start the season.  IF Erskine is ready to go for game 1 then I don't see the Caps keeping him, but I doubt he is ready.

Otherwise this is a solid group.  No one stands out and there doesn't appear to be any weaknesses.  I wish I could put one of the young guys, Dustin Stevenson or Brett Fleming, on this list, but I don't see them beating out the veterans.  They will be early season call ups if there are injuries.

  • Keith Aucoin
  • Boyd Kane
  • Graham Mink
  • Chris Bourque
  • Ryan Potulny
  • Kyle Greentree
  • Matthew Ford
  • Jacob Micflikier
  • Christian Hanson
  • Cody Eakin
  • Francois Bouchard
  • Joel Rechlicz
  • Maxime Lacroix
  • Andrew Carroll
  • Garrett Mitchell
First of all, as I said last week, I think Jay Beagle and Mattias Sjogren make the Caps.  That eliminates them from this list.  Secondly, I don't think Mathieu Perreault clears waivers.  I know he is small and there are questions about his consistency, but there are teams in the NHL that would love to take a chance on a playmaker with his skills.  I think he gets a shot.

You will notice that I don't think Bourque gets picked up on waivers though.  Remember that there wasn't a lot of interest in him a couple years ago and then he played last season overseas.  Teams aren't going to want to save a roster spot for a not so young, small forward that had a shot and didn't make it. 

After that there aren't many surprises.  I think Danick Paquette has a legitimate chance to make the team but I am not certain he has the versatility of a Carroll or Lacroix.  And I think Mitchell is going to be given a shot at the AHL level to see if he is ready.

David de Kastrozza and Tyler Stefishen are destined for South Carolina to open the season. 

Keep in mind that most adjustments after this will be small in effect.  Bourque and/or Eakin could beat out Beagle and/or Sjogren for a spot in the NHL.  Maybe a camp invitee shines and gets an early look by the Bears.  None of those are really going to change too much in my positional previews or the expectations for the club.

The only potential move that could really shake things up would be if Perreault does clear waivers and comes to Hershey.  But that would be a very good change and any effects on Hershey would be positive ones.

So, there you have it. I will check back once the official opening night roster is announced to see how I did. But this will give me a good basis for my preview posts coming soon.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Caps Cuts and More

First of all let's get this out of the way...the following players were cut from Caps camp and will be in Hershey for the start of Bears camp on Sunday:
  • Francois Bouchard
  • David de Kastrozza
  • Kyle Greentree
  • Boyd Kane
  • Maxime Lacroix
  • Graham Mink
  • Garrett Mitchell
  • Danick Paquette
  • Paul Baier
  • Zach Miskovic
  • Phil Oreskovic
  • Dustin Stevenson
Yesterday I put up a post discussing the potential lines and productivity levels. I just wanted to elaborate on that a bit.

I mentioned that 10 or more players could score 20+ goals this year but none will reach 40. I did some research to confirm that and I found the following:

  • No player on the Bears potential roster has scored 40+ in the AHL. Greentree scored 39 a few years ago and Cody Eakin scored 47 in juniors.
  • 9 players have scored 20+ at the AHL level. They are Keith Aucoin, Boyd Kane, Chris Bourque, Francois Bouchard, Greentree, Ryan Potulny, Matt Ford, Graham Mink, and Jacob Micflikier. In addition Mathieu Perreault scored 16 in one season and Jay Beagle scored 19.
  • Of the 9 that have done it...6 have done it multiple times. They are Aucoin, Kane, Bourque, Greentree, Potulny, and Mink. All 6 have done it 3 or more times.
  • Only 4 players have scored 30 or more. Aucoin, Greentree, Potulny and Mink. And they have only done it a combined 6 times.
  • Graham Mink has scored at least 15 goals in all 10 of his AHL seasons.
If you also consider what Eakin did in juniors and consider that Andrew Carroll scored 30 goals in an ECHL season you can see the potential.

Not included in any of that is Christian Hanson and Mattias Sjogren. Hanson's best year gave him 13 goals while Sjogren played in the less offensively focused Swedish Elite League. I can see both getting to 20 if they played full seasons in Hershey.

So in reality there are 9 that have scored 20+, another 3 that have scored 10+ in the AHL, and another 3 (Eakin, Carroll, and Sjogren) that could legitimately get to 20 if given the opportunities.

Of the potential roster of forwards there are 15 guys that are legitimate chances for 20+ goals in a season.

And there are 0 guys who can legitimately score 40.

How it all works out will begin to be figured out on Sunday. Injuries, call ups, and different roles will likely keep some from reaching the 20 goal plateau.

But I honestly think that we will be amazed at the scoring depth that this team will bring this season. And it should not come at the expense of defense as many of these guys were brought in for their defensive play (Bourque, Hanson, Eakin) as much as their offensive play.

I am starting to get excited for the season now!

B - E - A - R - S

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What the Bears Lines Could Be

Recently I talked about the Caps roster and how I envision Jay Beagle and Mattias Sjogren taking the last couple of spots resulting in Chris Bourque, Cody Eakin, and Mathieu Perreault starting the year in Hershey. 

I am legitimately concerned that Perry would get claimed on waivers as he has the skills to compete in the NHL.  For the purposes of this post however, I have included him on the roster.  That could very much change.

So, based on the above assumptions here is my take on what the lines COULD look like:

Bourque - Aucoin - Mink
Greentree - Perreault - Micflikier
Potulny - Eakin - Ford
Kane - Hanson - Paquette
Lacroix - Carroll - Rechlicz
Mitchell - de Kastrozza - Bouchard

That is kind of absurd.  I have Francois Bouchard, only 1 year removed from a 20+ goal season, on what equates to the 6th line.  Obviously the Bears aren't keeping 18 forwards on the roster, but the point of this was to show you the depth this team has this season.

Legitimately, there could be 10 guys with 20+ goals this season.  How do you defend a team like that? 

That being said, also consider that there likely isn't a 40 goal scorer on this team.  In fact I think there might only be a couple 30 goal scorers here, if any.  Which goes back to the point I have made previously...there is NOT a go-to scorer on this team.  Could that hurt them late in the season?  Perhaps.  But it will also make them very tough to defend when benches get shorter in the postseason.

Obviously if I end up being wrong and Eakin, Bourque, or Perreault end up in Washington (or get claimed on waivers) you can fill in different names (Beagle and Sjogren) respectively. 

Either way the depth is impressive and likely unparalleled in the AHL.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Caps Camp Gets Underway

The Washington Capitals kicked off training camp this weekend in what is surely an important year for the Bears NHL affiliate.  The last couple of years saw earlier than anticipated playoff exits and this summer saw an influx of new faces to help the Caps get to the next level.  Without additional success you could see multiple changes of personnel at the higher end of the organization.

Gone are some longtime role players Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon.  In their place are Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer, and Jeff Halpern.  The defense and goaltending also offer some fresh faces as Roman Hamrlik and Tomas Vokoun join the team.

Based on those moves and expectations heading into the season there are approximately 2 roster spots open in Washington.  The following are assumed as Capitals on opening night:

Forwards - Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich, Ward, Brouwer, Mike Knuble, Jason Chimera, Marcus Johannson, Matt Hendricks, Halpern, and D.J. King.

Defense - Mike Green, Dennis Wideman, Hamrlik, Karl Alzner, John Erskine, Jeff Schultz, and John Carlson.

Goalies - Michael Neuvirth and Vokoun.

That is 21.  And that does NOT include Tom Poti who is expected to start the season on long-term IR.  And may never play again due to a groin injury.

That I said before...2 potential spots.  (NHL teams are limited to 23 players on the active roster).

So, a quick run through the lines gives us a rough estimate:

Ovechkin - Backstrom - Knuble
Laich - Johannson - Semin
Ward - OPEN - Brouwer
Chimera - Halpern - Hendricks
OPEN - King

Alzner - Carlson
Green - Schultz
Hamrlik - Wideman


This run through identifies 2 forward spots up for grabs.  Eventually I believe you will see 2 forwards in those spots.  For the immediate future though I could see a defenseman making the club IF Erskine is not able to start the season due to offseason shoulder surgery.  If he can't go the Caps would likely keep a defenseman (Orlov maybe) to fill in.
But for the purposes of this post we are going to focus on the more long term prognosis and figure out which two forwards will make the team.
Neither open spot is really an offensively focused position, although any offensive contribution from those spots would surely be welcome.

What the Caps are looking for are defensive forwards who provide some offense.  Through the development camp back in July and the rookie camp which concluded this past week, I believe they have narrowed it down to a few names.

Across the internet I have seen a few names thrown out there...

Cody Eakin, Mathieu Perreault, and Mattias Sjogren seem to be the most popular.  But I believe 2 other names need to be included in the discussion...Jay Beagle and Chris Bourque.  The first 3 names are the front runners for the 3rd line spot while Bourque and Beags are more than likely only playing for the "extra" forward spot.  (Which might not be filled at the beginning of the season due to Erskine's injury.)

To figure out which players will get the spots let's consider each player.

Cody Eakin - this will be his first pro season after finishing up his junior career with a run towards the Memorial Cup.  His team came up short of the title, but it was a long season that should have helped him prepare for a lengthy pro slate.  His game at this stage is likely to be more defensive than offensive as he masters the speed and physical style at the pro level.  Of the group he has the highest ceiling and is regarded very highly within the organization.

Mathieu Perreault - he got an extended look last season with the Caps but he couldn't quite stick.  Consistency has been the biggest complaint during his multiple call-ups over the past couple of years.  He has produced a little in the NHL, 11 goals and 12 assists in 56 games the past 2 seasons, but he can't do it night in night out.  His offensive skill is undeniable, but at the same time, so are his defensive liabilities.  In all his time in Hershey over the past 3 seasons he rarely plays on the penalty kill and does not draw the bigger defensive assignments.  During the offseason he did put on about 10 lbs of muscle and seems as determined as ever to make the big club. 

Mattias Sjogren - he has spent his entire career to date in Sweden including the last 3 seasons playing the Swedish Elite League.  Now he attempts to make the adjustment to the more restrictive, more physical North American style of play.  His size, 6'0" and 220(ish) lbs, will surely help him.  His game is more defensive in nature and his offensive ceiling is rather low compared to some of the other players being considered.  He is a natural center and has experience taking draws against larger competition.

Jay Beagle - the fan favorite finished last season in the NHL, although he didn't see the ice too much late in the season or in the playoffs.  Overall he played in 31 games for the Caps last year and he scored 2 goals and added 1 assist.  He is a longshot at best for the 3rd line role, but he could be the front-runner for the 4th line-extra man role.  He is even more offensively challenged than Sjogren, although I believe that if given the chance he could surprise some people at the offensive end.  He is willing to drop the gloves, hustles every shift, and is a great locker room presence.

Chris Bourque - he had an extended run in the NHL a few years ago when he got 20 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins before ending the season in Hershey.  The talent has always been there and we assume is still there after a year in Europe.  The questions with him were mainly consistency and size.  Like Perreault he has struggled to show up every night and, also like Perreault, isn't exactly the biggest guy on the ice.  The good thing for Bourque is that he is very good at the defensive and offensive end.  While he might not be the playmaker that Perry is (or that Eakin has the potential to be) he is probably the most consistent performer at both ends of the rink on this list.

The biggest problem for the Caps is that three of these players must clear waivers to come to Hershey.  Perreault, Bourque, and Beagle must clear while Eakin and Sjogren can move freely between the NHL and AHL. That could help Perry stay as he is probably the first guy that teams would claim on waivers.  Bruce Boudreau and company might want to get another extended look at the diminutive center before letting other teams steal him away.
I don't see that happening.  Unless Perry has the best camp of his career and shows up to play (and play very well) in the preseason, I don't see any way that he makes the opening night roster.  I love watching him play and offensively he is one of the most talented players in the organization.  But I don't see him fitting into the roles they are looking for.

Unless of course he beats out Johannson for the #2 center spot with Marcus moving down to the 3.  Which isn't out of the question but is probably unlikely.
So that leaves 4 guys for the 2 spots. 

You see some people mentioning how the Caps aren't afraid to send their young players to the AHL for some seasoning.  My thought on that is...not recently.  Defensemen and goalies...yes.  Forwards...not since Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann. 

How did that work out?

Obviously this is just a shot in the dark, but my projection, at this point, based on the reviews I wrote above and the "word on the street" is...

Sjogren and Beagle open the season in Washington.  Sjogren because he is the most qualified for the 3rd line center position and Beagle because I don't think the Caps want to risk losing him on waivers.  Yes, Bourque needs to clear waivers as well, but let's be honest...the Caps aren't real high on Chris so if he were to get picked up it wouldn't be as big of a deal.

Eakin can freely go from Hershey to Washington and should get at least a partial season in Hershey to get used to the more physical game.  He has the highest upside of the 5 and there is no reason to put him into a role that he isn't 100% ready for. 

The Caps season begins on Saturday, October 8.  We will know by then.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rookie Camp Begins...Season is Close

Rookie camp opened up this past Sunday, signaling the beginning of the hockey season for the Capitals and most teams around the NHL. 

And in turn...the Bears and the AHL.

That also means that this blog will become much more active over the next few weeks in preparation for the season.  I will have preview posts, discussions on the roster, Capitals discussion, and a look around the East Division and the AHL.  So look for all of those things over the next few weeks leading into the first game.

Today...I give you links.  Mostly Bears related.

Dmitri Kugryshev has left the organization and returned to Russia to play in the KHL.  This doesn't entirely surprise me as he was likely headed to South Carolina or the rafters most nights.  He has a lot of talent and I would fully expect him to get a shot somewhere else in the NHL at some point.

Rookie camp schedule and roster.  Camp started on Sunday and goes through tomorrow with the rookie game against the Flyers.

Braden Holtby prepared for a season in Hershey.  Obviously he is hoping to make the Capitals, but he understands the likelihood of that.  More than likely he is headed for a second straight season as the #1 in Hershey and the top call up option in Washington.

Caps announce training camp schedule and roster.  Camp starts on Saturday with the first preseason game coming Tuesday in Baltimore.  Additional names will be added to the roster after rookie camp has concluded.

Dmitri Orlov is managing his biggest hurdle in North America...the language barrier.  With Kugryshev returning to Russia there is no one in Hershey to translate for the young defenseman.  The Caps have helped out by getting him English lessons this summer and into the fall.

Garrett Mitchell looks to make the Hershey roster.  He will have a tough time getting regular playing time on the deep roster, but his style of play (very Matt Hendricks/Jay Beagle like) should help. 

Cody Eakin upset with his development camp performance is looking to make amends during rookie camp.  He has a legitimate shot at the Caps opening night roster.  Even if he ends up in Hershey I can all but guarantee that it will not be for the full season.  He will play in the NHL this season.

John Walton discusses Mitchell as well. 

And finally, the folks over at Sweetest Hockey on Earth did an interview with new Bears play by play announcer Scott Stuccio.  Looking forward to hearing some road games this year and seeing how he does.  It will be different but soon enough it will be normal again.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

New "Voice" of the a Penguin?

That's right folks...the new play by play man of the Hershey Bears is Scott Stuccio, formerly the play by play man of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. 

I am kind of indifferent about this whole situation.  I can't say as though I have listened to many AHL games other than Bears games over the years and I always listened to John Walton's calls for those games.  So I can't say what kind of game he calls.

I will say that the Bears were expected to get tons of applications so if Stuccio is who they feel is the best person for the job then I am willing to give him a chance.

It will be different listening to Bears games without Walton making the calls but I am sure we will all get used to Stuccio at some point.

Scott Stuccio, welcome to the Bears!