It's been a few days now since 7 seconds in the 2nd period ultimately ended the Bears 2011-12 season. The Baby Pens scored 2 goals in 7 seconds, the 2nd on a freak bounce that went Wilkes-Barre's way, to take a 2-0 lead in the deciding game 5 of the series. Hershey would respond well in the 3rd period and make it 2-1, but they never got the tying goal.
So a season that started out with high aspirations ends in the first round of the playoffs. Tim Leone's piece says that the Bears lost 162 man games to injury this season and used 42 different players during the season. Considering a typical roster consists of 23-25 players, 42 is a lot. But considering the constant fluctuation of AHL rosters it isn't really that much.
Unfortunately for the Bears the players that were missed to injury and recall were critical pieces to the team puzzle.
But at the end of the day it doesn't matter. The season is over and whatever reason you want to give, it doesn't change any of it.
The focus shifts to the 2012-13 season which brings immediate uncertainty as the current affiliation with the Capitals is set to expire this summer. I think the general opinion is that the affiliation will be extended as it makes sense for both parties...but until the paperwork is completed and signed, you never know.
In addition, the contracts for the Bears coaching staff, Mark French and Troy Mann, have expired. Here is where I think you need to make a change. I am not a fan of French's and think that his strategic skills could use some improving.
But at the same time he has won a lot of games the past 2 seasons despite dealing with a bunch of injuries and recalls in each season. So maybe he deserves another chance. When he had a fully healthy team he won 60 games and a Calder Cup.
Still, I won't be upset if they go a different way...but I can definitely see his contract being extended.
This decision is not made by Doug Yingst exclusively though. I am sure he gets a say, but the Capitals are also involved in this decision and they may desire to bring in a coach with a similar coaching style to whomever is behind the bench in Washington.
We will find out sometime after the Caps postseason run is over...which hopefully doesn't end until June!
As for the players that will be and won't be back for 2012-13...below are a few lists detailing some information. Keep in mind that any player under contract with Washington will not be in Hershey next season should the affiliation not be extended.
Players Under Contract With Washington for 2012-13:
Players Under Contract With Hershey for 2012-13:
Washington Capitals Restricted Free Agents:
Not included on the above lists but also under contract for 2012-13 are Braden Holtby and Dmitry Orlov. I really doubt either player spends a minute in Hershey next season so for the purposes of this post I don't feel it is necessary to talk about them.
Let's assume that the Caps and Bears extend their affiliation agreement. If that happens I think all of the players listed above will be in Hershey's training camp come September. I don't see the Caps not tendering offers to Carman and Marshall and every other player is already under contract.
Now, you will notice that there are some big names not listed there. Keith Aucoin, Chris Bourque, Jacob Micflikier, Boyd Kane, Dany Sabourin, and plenty more.
I fully expect the Bears to sign a few of either these guys or players like them. Hershey is always willing to spend some money of free agents and I don't expect the 75th anniversary season to be any different.
Aucoin, to me, is a lock to return. The question is...does he go to Washington or Hershey? Based on the minutes that Dale Hunter is giving him in the playoffs right now it wouldn't surprise me at all to see him spend at least parts of the season in Washington.
The Bears will generally pay 1 or 2 players a decent amount of money to play in Hershey. The advantage this year is that Ryan Potulny's contract is a 1-way deal meaning the Caps will pay him to play in Hershey should he be reassigned during the season. That will free up some money for the Bears to spend on additional free agents.
I could obviously speculate for hours on what players the Bears will bring back or look at, but there would not be a science to any of it and it would all just be speculation and rumor starting. I will say two things though...
1. The defense is pretty much set. With McNeill, Schilling, Kundratek, Wellar, Brouillette, and Flemming back and Marshall likely to be back you have your top 7 defensemen. Patty McNeill will be considered a veteran exempt next season as well so you have a veteran presence already on the roster. Don't expect too many signings along the blueline.
2. They need a scorer. One of the biggest problems this entire season was that there were too many passers on the roster and not enough shooters. Guys were always looking to make the extra pass instead of taking an open shot. Not saying guys couldn't shoot or score, but most of the guys were more interested in setting up their linemates than shooting themselves...or at least that's how it felt. Maybe rookie Stanislav Galiev will help in that regard, but I think the Bears will go looking for a proven goal scorer in free agency. Someone you look to in big games to come up with the big goals...such as a huge overtime goal in game 5 of the Calder Cup Finals. Hypothetically speaking of course.
For the second season in a row the offseason is going to be long. Few answers about the roster will be resolved before July and actual hockey won't be back until October. 5 full months.
I agree that we are spoiled as Bears fans...4 Calder Cup Finals in 5 years...but these long summers suck and I am okay with being spoiled. Hopefully the roster put together for next season will allow us to enjoy Bears hockey well into June 2013.