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.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Things that make you go, Hmmmmmmm

Famous Song? Yes ... Famous catch phrase, yeah ... that, too.
But recent news in the minor league hockey world has to make you think a little bit about where Wild prospects might end up after 2012-13.

SUX (Airport code for Sioux Falls) has a nice arena. 
The Toyota Center lease is up after next season, and Aeros president David Burke confirmed to me late during the season that the team is working with the building to hammer out a new lease. They do play in one of the league's nicest facilities ... and they pay a pretty penny for that.

They are also exploring other places for the team to play ... in Houston. Hey, you're not smart if you're not looking for the best deal, right?

Last week, a minor league sports ownership group (Sioux Falls Sports, LLC) in Sioux Falls announced that it sold out to former the Wild's former owner and that the current COO for Minnesota Sport Entertainment (who own the Aeros) was joining that group, too.

Then, today, SF Group announced the hiring of Tom Garrity as their President and CEO. Who is Tom Garrity? Nobody except the former two-time President of the Aeros.

No, I am not saying the Aeros are going to pack up and get moved to Sioux Falls. But all of this is not a coincidence. Tom Garrity is one of the very best on this planet at putting butts in seats and he has the resume to show that. He also has a good repoire with that group, and I am sure that helped Tom land that pretty sweet gig.

From a business standpoint, the Wild-owned Aeros would benefit tremendously from lowering their operating costs AHL hockey is for-profit hockey. The Wild have every right to get the best deal for their product. But the Aeros are in the top 10 in attendance every year, and because of IAH, they can get their prospects to just about any city in North American before Noon central.

The flight time from IAH to MSP is just 140 minutes, and 1,094 miles is not that big of a deal when you consider relationships like Worcester/San Jose.

Sioux Falls has a brand new hockey arena, seats about 12,000 and would be an attractive proximity facility for the Wild. But it is Sioux falls and long term, I think it would be a complete fail for the AHL.

Moline didn't work, Omaha didn't work, Des Moines didn't work, Abbotsford is not working, OKC is not working ... and the list goes on and on.

Right now is not the time to worry about the Aeros leaving, but the next few months will be key. If the Wild and Toyota Center don't get something worked out before Christmas, then it might be time to get a little nervous.