HabsWorld.net -- 

You may not have noticed, but the Hamilton Bulldogs have seen turnover
resembling that of the Habs last summer.  No fewer than 8 regulars off of
last year’s team have left, resulting in over a third of the roster changing
over.  In this week’s mailbag, we examine some key questions surrounding
the team.

Joining me to answer these questions is our Bulldogs’ writer, Ian Russell, a
long-time season ticket holder.

Question 1: Cedrick Desjardins or Curtis Sanford?  Who would have
been the best option for Hamilton this year?

Brian La Rose: Though it may not have been the popular move, I think
keeping Sanford was best for the Bulldogs as well as serving the best interest
for the Habs.  Sanford showed that he can be a dominating goalie at the AHL
level still (though to his credit Desjardins dominated last year too) and his
veteran presence will help Robert Mayer who now has a place to play as the Habs
are without an ECHL affiliate.  As soon as the Habs determined Desjardins
wasn’t in the team’s plans, it was best to let him move on.  The Bulldogs
would have been best off keeping both, but neither goalie would have been happy
in that situation which made bringing both back basically impossible.

Ian Russell: Without question, Desjardins would have
been the best choice for the Bulldogs this season.  He finished last year
1st overall in the standings as the #1 goalie in the AHL with a 2.00 GAA and a
0.919 SV%.  He set new franchise records for the most wins by a Hamilton
goaltender in one season with 29; he had the longest franchise shutout streak of
212 minutes and 37 seconds; and tied the record for the most shutouts in a
season with six.  He was also chosen as an All-Star goalie for the 2010
Canadian AHL All-Star team, where he
claimed the
Reebok Top Goaltender award by stopping 16 of 19 shots for the Canadian side. He
was also selected as the AHL Goaltender of the Month for December.  All of
these accomplishments speak for themselves and further compliment Cedrick’s
career highlights which also include a Memorial Cup Championship in the QMJHL
and a Kelly Cup Championship in the ECHL.

Question 2: Of the departures this offseason, who will be the biggest
loss?  Of the newcomers, who are you most excited to see?

Brian La Rose: In terms of who’s out, I think losing Shawn Belle is going
to sting more than people realize.  On a defence corps that projects to be
very young, he would have brought a stabilizing presence.  His puck moving
abilities were often underrated; Edmonton’s farm team will greatly benefit from
him joining their club.  P.K. Subban’s loss will hurt a lot as well but I
simply didn’t want to state the obvious.  As for newcomers, I’m quite intrigued by Andreas Engqvist this year.  A
member of Team Sweden at the 2010 Worlds, he’ll bring a stabilizing defensive
presence to the lineup.  I think his offensive game may get a chance to
shine as well.  He won’t be flashy, but it shouldn’t be long for him to be
an important member of the Bulldogs.

Ian Russell:
 If you ask this question to a number of people, I
suspect that P.K. Subban’s name would come as the popular answer. The same could
also be said for Desjardins.  However, as much as I still say that Cedrick
was the better option in goal, the duo of Curtis Sanford and Robert Mayer will
fill in nicely.  As for Subban, Bulldogs fans have already witnessed the
defensive corps coming together to fill in the gap created by Subban’s absence
when PK was called up with the Habs during the playoffs last season.  They
did it then and they can do it again; I have no worries there.  No, the
biggest loss is going to be up front with Brock Trotter quietly slipping away to
play in the KHL.  Trotter was the top scorer on the Bulldogs last season
with 36 goals and was second on the team with 77
points in 75 GP.  Those 36 goals of his placed him 4th overall in the AHL
for scoring.  In the playoffs, he scored 8 goals and had 11 assists. 
It’s going to be difficult to replace the offensive firepower which Brock
Trotter provided to this team.

Of the newcomers, I am probably most excited about the
arrival of Alexander Avtsin.  I have to admit that I really don’t know very
much about the new players coming in at this time, but I have heard good things
about Avtsin and his presence may go a long way to fill the spot vacated by

Question 3: From the players returning, which Bulldog is the most

Brian La Rose: Aaron Palushaj, acquired just before the trade deadline
last year, played better than his season numbers indicated.  The goal
scoring ability wasn’t there, but that’s not entirely unexpected from a rookie. 
What he did bring aside from good assist numbers was blazing speed and a
penchant to score in the shootouts, all areas that are coveted both in Hamilton
and in Montreal.  In discussing all of the prospects in the Habs’ system,
he seems to get overlooked quite a bit.  With a full pro season under his
belt, I expect him to turn some heads this year.

Ian Russell: Frederic St. Denis is my choice in this
category.  He is the player who everyone seems to forget about, as he has
spent a notable portion of his career in the ECHL with the Cincinnati Cyclones.  It may
come as a surprise to some of you, but St. Denis ranked 1st on the Cyclones with
a +28 rating and was 2nd among defencemen on the team in points, despite only
playing 41 games in 2008-2009.  Last season, with the Bulldogs, he finished
with a +20 rating in 59 games played.  Watch for him on the Hamilton blue
line this year.  He might surprise all of us.

Question 4: Conversely, who among the returning players is the most

Brian La Rose: He may be a potential grinder in the future (and I like
him as a decent prospect myself), but Andrew Conboy has a long way to go to get
there; he’s not ready now like some think.  Touted as a tough guy with some
scoring punch, the scoring wasn’t exactly there as he scored just 9 goals in 87
contests, playoffs and regular season combined.  He’s young enough that he
can still improve, but he will need to have much more of a breakout season
offensively to avoid being supplanted on the depth chart.  This year will
be instrumental in determining whether he’ll have an NHL future – a repeat of
09-10 won’t be good enough.

Ian Russell: Yannick Weber is coming off a tough
season with the Bulldogs, compared to his first year back in 2008-2009.

 Despite 7 goals, 25 assists, and 32 points, sometimes I
wonder if his mind is on his game.  There were times that he just appeared
to be completely lost out there on the ice.

Question 5: The new coaching staff – do you see them as an upgrade,
downgrade, or status quo compared to the departed Guy Boucher and his staff?

Brian La Rose: Let me preface this by saying it hurts to lose Boucher
out of the organization, it would have been nice for him to stay with the
Bulldogs; that would have been my preference..  That said, I can’t help but
wonder if Cunneyworth and Ladouceur’s experience could be a real added bonus to
what will be a very young Hamilton team this season.  Both coaches have had
success at various levels and NHL coaching experience which is something they
can draw on.  On the other hand, Boucher and his staff were great at
dealing with the players individually and the team certainly played well in his
system.  Long story short, I’d have to say status quo; some new strengths
and weaknesses have been created as a result of the change. 

Ian Russell: Definitely a downgrade.  I say
this in comparison to the departed coaching staff of Guy Boucher and his
assistants, and even Don Lever and Ron Wilson before them.  Those guys are
tough acts to follow and Randy Cunneyworth has some big shoes to fill as a
result.  Furthermore, Mr. Cunneyworth has a bad reputation with the
Bulldogs fans from when he was the Head Coach of the Rochester Americans. 
It is the popular opinion of the fans that he coaches a dirty style of hockey
consisting of slashes and cheap-shots behind the play, etc.  This is not a
good thing.


Like last season, we’ll offer up some guesses on how
things are going to play out this season.


Brian La Rose

Ian Russell
Most Goals David Desharnais David Desharnais
Most Assists David
Most Points David Desharnais David Desharnais
Top +/- Ryan Russell Ben Maxwell
Conference Rank 4th 3rd
League Rank 7th 4th

Don’t forget that this coming Wednesday, we
will be having a live Q & A session with Hamilton Bulldogs play-by-play voice
Derek Wills.  For more information and links to submit your questions,
please click the link below.