Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Player news in late May...unusual

Typically we don't start hearing about what players will make up the next season's roster until July and August so getting news on one player was surprise enough.  But today news on a second player was made. 

First up, Chris Bourque is no longer affiliated with the Washington Capitals organization.  Since he was drafted 33rd overall by the Capitals in 2004 he has spent roughly 90% of his professional career tied to the organization.  If you discount the 20 games he played for Pittsburgh after being claimed on waivers in 2009-10, he has been a part of the Washington organization his entire career.

*Yes I know he played overseas in 2010-11, but he was still a restricted free agent in the Capitals system and was still technically a Washington Capitals prospect.

That all ended late last week.  A little over 30 days before it was ending anyways.

Chris Bourque believes that he has NHL talent.  And why shouldn't he.  I believe his talent level is NHL quality...the issue has always been his size, or lack thereof.  At 5'8" he is generally considered too short to play in the NHL. 

Well, Chris is looking to disprove that notion and told the Capitals as much.  The organization knew that he was very unlikely to resign with them once he hit unrestricted free agency on July 1 of this summer. 

So he was leaving Hershey one way or another.  The Capitals just decided that they wanted to see if they could get something for him. 

One shouldn't expect to get equal value (or any value for that matter) for a player that has played sparingly in the NHL and is set to be an unrestricted free agent in about 30 days.  You are basically offering teams a player that they would have a shot at signing on July 1 if they chose to wait.  Teams won't give up too much for that chance.

Once in a while you will see a high-end NHL caliber player coming up on free agency get traded in the same situation.  Generally though that is for players that teams are certain will start the following season in the NHL.  No offense to Chris, but I doubt he fits into that category for most teams.

Somehow though the Caps managed to flip him for a player of quality.  The Boston Bruins were apparently tired of waiting for prospect Zach Hamill to pan out and decided to take a chance on Washington's diminutive winger. 

Hamill was the #8 overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft.  He has played 256 games in the AHL since then, scoring 44 goals and adding 95 assists.  Obviously his numbers aren't comparable to Bourque's, but not many are.  (In case you were curious...Chris has 132 goals and and 263 assists in 398 regular season AHL games). 

Hamill has also played in 20 NHL games, recording 3 assists for the big Bruins. 

No one is going to try and tell you the Capitals got equal value (based on past production) for Chris Bourque.  But they did manage to turn nothing into something.  Chris wasn't coming back...Zach will be.

Hamill also fills a need for the Bears (he is a long shot to make the Caps).  He is a center.  And if you remember, the Bears had some injuries at center late in the season and struggled to find capable replacements. 

AND, Chris was a veteran, having played in more than 320 professional games in his career.  Hamill is a veteran exempt, having played in between 260-320 games in his professional career.  Therefore, Hamill is easier to work with on a roster as team is allowed to dress one veteran-exempt player each game in addition to the 5 veterans.

*Note that the NHL collective bargaining agreement is set to expire this summer which could influence rules like the one I just discussed, as well as waiver rules.  So the above paragraph may end up not being true...but based on this past season it is.

It is unfortunate to see Chris leave as he is a good player and seemed to come into his own the past year or so.  Both him and the organization left open the possibility of him returning down the line if it doesn't work out in the NHL, but I for one am hoping to see him succeed and stick with the Bruins.

At the same time though, I am excited to see what Hamill can do in Hershey.  Players routinely came to Hershey and saw their skills really brought out of them and they exploded for big seasons.  Hamill might be the same way. 

So that's one player news item down, one to go.  This one will be much shorter.

Dany Sabourin will likely be a Bear 2012-13.  He resigned with the organization for the upcoming season and barring injuries will be in Hershey for the campaign.

Dany had a solid season this year and it will be great to have him back to help young Philip Grubauer, who is expected to make the jump from the ECHL to the AHL. 

So there you go.  Two players you can expect to see in Hershey this upcoming season that we either didn't know about last week or weren't sure about last week.  And I think both are good for Hershey.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Coaches have been hired

News is rolling in fast here this week.  Just a few minutes after I wrote up the posts you saw about an hour ago, I saw that item #2 on the Bears offseason to-do list was crossed off.

Coaches Mark French and Troy Mann will be returning behind the bench in Hershey for 2012-13. 

I honestly thought the organization would try to better align their coaching strategies this offseason.  Apparently that wasn't their biggest concern.  And considering how well recent Bear 'graduates' have played in the NHL, maybe it shouldn't be.

Personally I am not thrilled with this move, but I am not really upset either.  It doesn't shock me, that's for sure. 

Considering that the past two springs have seen a bunch of injuries and call-ups, I am guessing that the organization wanted to give French and Mann a chance to see what they can do with a full roster at the key time.  It has been hard to put a consistent, balanced roster together the last two springs. 

And in all honesty, considering what happens in most sports, it is nice to see an organization remain patient with a set of coaches and not dismiss them at the first sign of trouble.

Bears and Caps extend affiliation

Item #1 on the Bears offseason to-do list has been crossed off.  I think we all expected this to happen, but everyone knows what happens when you assume.

The Capitals and Bears announced today that they have extended their affiliation agreement through the 2013-14 season.  This is good news for all parties involved I think.  With the teams close together it makes it easier on the players.  And there are obviously plenty of Caps fans in Hershey who enjoy seeing the 'future' Caps before they jump to the NHL.

As a fan watching the players move up it is special.  Watching Braden Holtby become the star of the playoffs was pretty cool.  (I wish he could have been that steady and superb here in Hershey as well...but that's a post for a different time.)

Jay Beagle, Mathieu Perreault, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Jeff Schultz, Brooks Laich, Michael Neuvirth, Cody Eakin, Dmitry Orlov, and (indirectly) Matt Hendricks...they all had playoff success in Hershey before having playoff success in Washington. 

And then there was Keith Aucoin.  He has spent the past 4 years in Hershey, scoring goals and assisting on tons more.  He is arguably one of the best players in the AHL every single year.  To see him get a legitimate look in the NHL and actually play meaningful minutes in meaningful playoff games...that was pretty awesome.  Everyone Bears fan who has seen him the last 4 years know that he can play and it's great to see him get the chance to prove that he can do it on at the highest level.

As much as I wanted to see Coiner (and the rest of them that were eligible) return to Hershey for the Bears run, I was absolutely fine with seeing it not happen as well.  I was really hoping that Keith would have gotten his name on the Stanley Cup after putting in his dues in the AHL for so long.  It wasn't meant to be...this year...but I am sure he wouldn't trade it for anything.

Sorry, kind of went off in a different direction there.

The Caps/Bears affiliation has obviously been successful...7 years, 7 playoff appearances, 4 Calder Cup finals appearances, and 3 Calder Cups. 

Pretty sure ANY franchise in ANY sport would take that kind of success and run with it. 

The past couple of years has seen a lesser influx of talent within the Washington Capitals organization and more in the way of free agent signings.  This trend is not likely to end anytime soon.  Currently the Capitals organizational ranking when it comes to prospects is in the 25-30 range of the NHL.  Meaning they are one of the thinnest franchises in regards to prospect talent.

The nice thing about the affiliation is that the Caps don't look at Hershey and say too bad.  They assist in signing players (Kyle Greentree, Alexandre Giroux, Jacob Micflikier, Brian Fahey, Dany Sabourin) that will help the Bears be a winning team. 

And it doesn't appear that there is much 'influence' on the Bears on who to dress and who not to dress.  If there was then guys like Aucoin and Chris Bourque would see their minutes diminish in favor of players like Eakin or Garrett Mitchell. 

Overall it is a good affiliation that will no doubt continue to assist both teams toward their yearly goals of hoisting a championship trophy. 

Washington Capitals Offseason

After their game seven loss to the New York Rangers on May 12 in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, it is time for the Washington Capitals to hang up their hockey jerseys, store their goalie gloves and face what promises to be a tumultuous off-season.

Numerous players, including Alex Semin, Dennis Wideman, Mike Knuble, Tomas Vokoun, Jeff Halpern, and Keith Aucoin are unrestricted free agents.

Rumor has it that Semin is going to move on, as he should.

Wideman will likely be too expensive considering the Caps will likely have eight defenseman (including Tom Poti) on the roster heading into next season. (I fully expect the Caps to tender offers and likely keep their restricted free agents which include John Carlson and Mike Green.)

Vokoun has already said his stay in Washington was only supposed to be for a year and with the emergence of Braden Holtby there likely wasn’t room even if he wanted to come back.

Halpern’s role was taken by Jay Beagle late in the season and during the playoffs. Assuming the Caps resign the restricted free agent Beagle, I would imagine that the role will be his next season as well.

That leaves Knuble and Aucoin as the only two legitimate options for the Caps to resign. And I could see both happening…assuming the players understand their roles. Knuble would be converted into a 4th line grinder with limited ice time and Aucoin would likely report back to Hershey and be an emergency call up option again.

Who knows what happens but I don’t see too many teams looking at Coiner and giving him a one-way NHL deal so the question for him is would I rather play in Hershey or another AHL city. I suspect he will be back.

The coaching element of this is also intriguing. As in…there is no coach. Coach Dale Hunter has already announced that will be returning to his role as owner and coach of the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League. And GM George McPhee has already said that the team will take it’s time in finding a coach.

This influences multiple things for both the Caps and the Bears. In Washington it obviously means that you don’t know what system will be in place, therefore, you might not know exactly which free agents to target. Do you want to bring in an offensive force that costs a lot of money just to end up in a system like Hunter’s again with limited offensive output? It’s a question the Caps need to figure out.

It also affects Hershey though. Will the Capitals be looking for a similar coach to mold their prospects better for the big club? If I was running the team I would definitely want a coach with a similar strategy coaching my prospects and preparing them for the NHL. That way when they make the jump to the NHL they are at least prepared to play with their teammates even if they aren’t quite physically ready to handle the pounding.

Coach Mark French’s contract also expired this season I believe so now is the time to make a change if you want to.

My guess…expect a new coach in Hershey for the 2012-13 season.

There are plenty of questions to be answered heading into the offseason, probably more than usual. But with the Caps relative success this spring, expectations next year are sure to be high again.

As for expectations in Hershey…well, one only has to look to the Giant Center rafters to understand.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

2011-12 season is over

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:
Ryan Potulny
Cody Eakin
Garrett Mitchell
Mattias Sjogren
Patrick McNeill
Cameran Schilling
Brett Flemming
Tomas Kundratek
Philipp Grubauer
Brandon Anderson

Players Under Contract With Hershey for 2012-13:
David Civitarese
Barry Almeida
TJ Syner
Matt Pope
Julian Brouillette
Patrick Wellar

Washington Capitals Restricted Free Agents:
Mike Carman
Kevin Marshall

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.