Normally, when a season is about to begin for any team, one of the first questions asked is “How many guys are gone from last year’s team?” In the case of the Hamilton Bulldogs, the more appropriate question would “Who’s all left,” with a follow-up of “Who are these other guys?”
The Bulldogs have a total of just 10 players returning from last season, and that includes Cory Urquhart, who played all of 1 game for them last season. The rest are all newbies, which will make life difficult for new Head Coach Don Lever, at least for the first little while.
Before we go into details of who’s back and not, let’s look at a brief offseason review:
Jarvis out, Lever in:
With previous coach Doug Jarvis summoned to Montreal to run the special teams, Bob Gainey spent no time hiring his replacement, actually interviewing him during the previous AHL season. Don Lever, an NHL veteran, comes over from the St. Louis organization, where he spent the past 2 years as the Blues’ assistant coach. He has plenty of AHL coaching experience, winning a title and Coach of the Year with the Rochester Americans in the early 1990’s.
Another year, another affiliation:
With the Dallas Stars placing anchor in Iowa, the Bulldogs quickly welcomed back an old friend in the Edmonton Oilers. Currently, there are 5 Oiler prospects with the team.
4 new teams in the AHL:
As is the case every year, there are a few new teams in the American Hockey League. The St. John’s Maple Leafs moved to Toronto and became the Marlies, St. Louis packed up ship and moved to Peoria to become the Rivermen, Calgary broke off from Lowell and formed the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights, while Dallas placed their team in Iowa. The Edmonton Road Runners have folded, while the Utah Grizzlies have moved to the ECHL.
Year of the youngsters…in Montreal:
No fewer than 6 players who suited up for the Bulldogs at one point or another last season are currently with the parent Canadiens: G Yann Danis, RW Raitis Ivanans, LW Chris Higgins, C Steve Begin, C Tomas Plekanec, and D Mike Komisarek. Also, Alexander Perezhogin, who was expected to rejoin the team this season, has also been retained by the Canadiens.
With the NHL back in operation, the AHL has adapted the rules of its parent league. Gone this season are no-touch icing and the 5-man shootout (to be replaced by the 3-man), while 2-line passes are now allowed. Offensive zones have also been expanded by the NHL dimensions.
Yet another division re-alignment:
As is quickly becoming a yearly tradition, the AHL has re-aligned their division. The following teams will be joining the Bulldogs in the North Division: Rochester Americans, Cleveland Barons, Syracuse Crunch, Grand Rapids Griffins, Manitoba Moose, and the new Toronto Marlies.
Now, here’s the list of who’s back for another go-around, and who’s moved on:
G Dan Ellis – Iowa (AHL)
D/W Benjamin Carpentier – UFA
D Trevor Daley – Dallas (NHL)
D Dan Focht – Rochester (AHL)
D Mike Komisarek – Montreal (NHL)
D Phillipe Plante – Germany
D Matt Shasby – Alaska (ECHL)
C Steve Begin – Montreal (NHL)
C Christian Larrivee – Long Beach (ECHL)
C/W Antti Miettinen – Dallas (NHL)
C Gavin Morgan – UFA
C Tomas Plekanec – Montreal (NHL)
C Steve Ott – Iowa (AHL)
LW Chris Higgins – Montreal (NHL)
LW Marc-Andre Thinel – France
RW Raitis Ivanans – Montreal (NHL)
RW Jason Ward – New York R. (NHL)
Head Coach Doug Jarvis
Welcome to the team:
G Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers – Edmonton (AHL)
D Johnathan Aitken – Manitoba (AHL)
D Andre Benoit – Kitchener (OHL)
D Jeff Paul – Portland (AHL)
D Mathieu Roy – Edmonton (AHL)
D Danny Syvret – London (OHL)
C Maxim Lapierre – PEI (QMJHL)
C Francis Lemieux – Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
C Garth Murray -Hartford (AHL)
LW Jean-Francois Jacques – Baie-Comeau (QMJHL)
LW Marc-Antoine Pouliot – Rimouski (QMJHL)
RW Peter Vandermeer – Grand Rapids (AHL)
Head Coach Don Lever
G Olivier Michaud (called up but did not play)
D Andrew Archer
D J-P Cote
D Ron Hainsey
D James Sanford
C Corey Locke
LW Michael Lambert
LW Cory Urquhart
RW Andrei Kostitsyn
RW Duncan Milroy
RW Jonathan Ferland
Asst. Coach Ron Wilson
Confused as to who could play where? Here’s a preliminary look at what the lineup may look like for next week’s opener. Some players are listed out of position to fill out the roster.
Now, let’s do a brief analysis of the lineup, beginning with the forwards:
Gone are, well, practically everyone who scored for the Bulldogs last season, and they had problems scoring then. In fact, only 2 of the top-10 scorers from last season (Locke, Milroy) are back, and they will be counted on like never before to supply offence. A pair of 1st rounders should flank Locke on the top line in Kostitsyn and Pouliot, so 1 line should be able to score at least. It gets worse from there. LW’s Lambert and Urquhart couldn’t hold a roster spot down last year, but will be counted on to contribute regularly. Jacques and Lapierre are quality prospects, but are in their rookie seasons, so they cannot be expected to produce immediately. Recent Montreal acquisition Murray is a solid checker, and should get a chance to display some of the scoring touch he had in junior, as he is penciled into the 2nd line. Outlook: This group should have no trouble scoring…in 3 years when they’re more acclimated to the league. As for now though, it could be a very long season. Lever and Co. are praying that one or both of Higgins and Perezhogin get sent down at some point or another, if not, Hamilton is in big trouble. Grade: C-
Things are looking better here, as there are plenty of talented new faces to throw into the lineup. Benoit led all OHL d-men in scoring last season, and will team up with Hainsey to form a strong PP back end. Roy was steady in his rookie AHL campaign, and can find the back of the net, as can Sanford who currently is penciled in as the #6 d-man. Cote, finally fully healthy, is the best defensive defenceman on the team, while Paul, Aitken, and Archer add some toughness. Syvret is a huge wildcard here, if he progresses like he did in London last season, he may quickly find himself in the lineup. Outlook: An improvement over last season’s group, will be one of the more underrated groups in the AHL. Grade: B
You want to talk about a wildcard? Look no further than Deslauriers. He’s got a lot to prove this season, after being supplanted by Mike Morrison on the depth chart, and also with 1st rounder Devan Dubnyk waiting in the wings. Michaud struggled as the backup last season…in the ECHL, but still somehow managed to beat out Jaroslav Halak for the current backup spot. The good news? Yann Danis will return to the Bulldogs sometime in the new year when Cristobal Huet has recovered from knee surgery. Outlook: If Deslauriers plays to his potential, the Bulldogs stand a chance to steal a game or 2. Otherwise, they’ll be in or near the basement when Danis returns. Grade: C
As the roster currently stands, it would be a miracle if the Bulldogs actually made the playoffs this season, or for that matter, stay out of last in the tough North Division. But with the potential of a few players being sent down by the Habs at some point or another, there is a bit of hope. Otherwise, it will be a long year in Steeltown.