Houston Aeros 1994-2013: Thank you for all the great memories and two decades of great hockey and entertainment.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Solar Bears affiliation and a look ahead

Let's get caught up on some of the stuff that's gone on in Aerosland lately:

Orlando Solar Bears

The most noteworthy of the off-season news is the Wild/Aeros organization aligning with the former-IHL(1995-2001)-revived-as-ECHL(2012) Orlando Solar Bears.

Last season, the Aeros didn't have an ECHL affiliate (and I think that's probably fortunate for whoever would have been the affiliate because all that roster turnover might have trickled down and debilitated that club, too).

Here's a spiffy video from Rich Bocchini to tell you all about it:

And if you like press conferences, executives in suits, awkward jersey presentations, or deciphering echo-y audio, here's the presser in Orlando.

I don't know that this really changes much of anything, though I'm sure it has the potential to make life either easier or harder for GM Jim Mill depending on how the relationships go.

Oh, and thanks to Swamphockey for finding this Solar Bears fan blog and this Solar Bears Fan Forum.

Roster Moves (or lack thereof)

Icevet suggested in the comments of the last post that a better use for our blog than discussing whether we might have a team here in 2 years, would be to talk about the up and coming players for the Aeros. I thought it would be too early to get into that, but after combing the Wild's contracts, I think it's worth at least a high-level look right now.

The Aeros and the Wild had a number of free agents floating around (figuratively for most, but literally for Jeff Taffe) so a lot is still in the air. We'll have some real meat to chew on on or after July 1 when free agency opens.

But here's a quick look at who is definitely back (barring trades, etc.):
  • Matt Hackett - Everything the Wild is saying suggests they want to either keep Harding or find a veteran backup for Backstrom, while letting Hackett get some more seasoning down here. 
  • Darcy Kuemper - He will almost certainly continue his tandem with Hackett. The Wild are close to signing a goalie prospect, Johan Gustafsson, but have said he'll stay in Europe next season regardless. They just have to sign him by June 1 or lose his rights.
  • Drew Bagnall - Last summer he signed a 2 year deal, so of the past two seasons' veteran core, he's the only one who will definitely be back. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see DiSalvatore back, but then I also wouldn't be surprised to see someone else make a better offer for him.
  • Tyler Cuma - Another year on his contract before he's an RFA.
  • Kyle Medvec - Another year for him before RFA, too.
  • Steve Kampfer - One more year on his deal, but he might be up with the Wild all season.
  • Marco Scandella - Same as Kampfer, except I'm almost certain he'll stick with the Wild out of camp.
  • Justin Fontaine - One more year on his current contract. Will be an RFA.
  • Kris Foucault - Two more years before he's an RFA.
  • Joel Broda - One more year on his contract before turning RFA.
Here are the Restricted Free Agents, meaning the Wild get first dibs on re-signing them, but they don't have to. Generally RFAs do get re-signed. I won't make any assumptions either way on these guys and just give you the full list:
  • Dennis Endras (I said I wasn't going to make assumptions, but I'm assuming this experiment is over. I haven't seen his name mentioned anywhere in the plans.)
  • Chay Genoway
  • Justin Falk - Likely will stay with the Wild all season.
  • Kris Fredheim
  • David McIntyre
  • Nick Palmieri
  • Jarod Palmer
  • Cody Almond
  • Carson McMillan
  • Chad Rau
And then behind all these guys are a bunch of youngsters just starting entry level deals. Some of them are signed just to keep their rights (their contracts will push a year if they don't play more than 9 pro games with the Wild next season and are too young to be sent down to the AHL), and some are genuinely turning pro. But then some will stick with the Wild and others will spend some time in Houston. I really have no idea how these kids will shake out this season:
  • Jonas Brodin
  • Josh Caron
  • Bjorn Krupp
  • Jason Zucker
  • Zack Phillips
  • Charlie Coyle
  • Brett Bulmer
  • Johan Larsson
  • Colton Jobke
Not being a student of non-pro prospects (except the goalies), I can't speak any further on any of these guys. The general sense in the organization is excitement for all the new blood after a few good years of drafting (FINALLY), but how much of that actually benefits the Aeros? I have no idea.

By the by, I used Capgeek.com for all the contract info here, so apologies if any of it is a little off. Nothing sent up any red flags for me, though, so hopefully it's accurate.

Generally, my mindset is to not get too excited about the rookies (except the goalies). They're going to develop at whatever pace they develop, while the leadership of the Aeros locker room is what really matters in terms of whether it's an enjoyable season for fans. If a rookie contributes to that enjoyment, hey, the more the merrier, but I tend to expect those guys to just learn the ropes the first year. Or if they're THAT good, they'll just go on up to Minnesota.

So, what I'm looking for is who Mill can snag from the AHL veteran ranks. Who's the glue going to be? Even if DiSalvatore comes back, I think we've seen that he and Bagnall can't "raise the kids" alone.

Equipment Sale

In case you've missed the news thus far, the Aeros are doing their equipment sale Memorial Weekend Saturday (May 26). Get to Sugar Land Ice early if you want some stuff, as lines form before the doors open at 10 a.m. There's a tournament going on that weekend, too, so you can get your hockey itch scratched, too, if you like.


Forecheck said...

Capgeek is a pretty good source.

WRT to the RFAs, I think it is more accurate to say the Wild have a right to match any offer. If the Wild do, the player stays.

Ms. Conduct said...

You're right, it is more accurate. But the reality is, offer sheets for RFAs are so incredibly rare, it's hardly a factor. Particularly with players we're talking about at the AHL level.

ICEVET said...

Ms. Conduct:

Thanks for the overview! Looking past Brett Bulmer and Colton Jobke (whom Aeros fans have seen in action...both with good potential), the other 7 "youngsters" you mention have received spotty comments from Russo, but, hopefully, more to come from your Blog following the late summer scrimmages.

With all due respect, I did not intend to diminish your coverage of the venue issue....however, given the magnitude and (growing) size of the Houston Metro hockey market and BUSH IAH flight mobility, there is simply no rational basis for the Aeros to relocate.

The Solar Bear affiliation is a step in the right direction for talent development and taps into a vibrant Florida hockey market which has well-served the Everblades (now in Kelly Cup Finals), Tampa Bay Lightning Bolts and Florida Panthers.

Few may recall that the Solar Bears have a rich-competitive (IHL) history, with 1 Turner Cup (2001) and twice runner-ups. While defeated by the Aeros in the 1999 Final and the Chicago Wolves in the 2000 Final, the Bears took the Cup in their last IHL season in 2001 when they defeated the Wolves...who, thereafter, went onto win the Calder Cup in 2002. Bears' teams included some names familiar to seasoned Aeros Fans, including KIRBY LAW (110 points in the Aeros 2005-6 season).

Finally, Casey Wellman was recently added to the NY Rangers roster (scratched in Game 1)...it begins to look like a Kings-Rangers Final, with 2 outstanding goalies on display.

Go Aeros!

Forecheck said...

Boy, do the 'Yotes stink in this one. No wonder Tip's hair is turning gray.

ICEVET said...

A final comment on your earlier POST on venue changes:

While the OKC continues to play tough in the Playoffs (with good talent, chemistry and an NHL-type system) their "fragile" fan base continues to erode, suggesting that Edmonton might consider a venue change, sooner v. later. Consider the (average) decline in attendance:

2010-11..~4,150 (v. AHL ~5,400)

2011-12..~3,600 (v. AHL ~5,200)

Playoffs....~2,600 (6 games, with 1 game under 2,000)

While some would attribute this extreme fan "turnoff" to the dominance of popular OKC Thunder basketball and vintage college (OU/OSU) football, it is difficult to see how the Oilers could not find a better hockey venue elsewhere.

Forecheck said...

BTW, the Wild officially signed Mikael Granlund last week. Not that he will ever be in an Aeros sweater, but it might mean someone else spends some time hear before going on to the continuing disaster known as the Minnesota Wild