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

Monday, July 16, 2012

Joel Broda (nearly) steals the show

(Photo by Chris Jerina) 
If many of you are like me, the mere mention of the name Joel Broda may spark a feeling of indifference. After joining the Aeros on a full-time basis, the kid really didn't stand out in a way that'd make you think he'd keep up with some of the sexy rookie names up in Minnesota.

Well, guess what? He did just that and may have been one of the Wild's best during last week's development camp.

According to Kent Youngblood of the Star-Tribune, Broda scored twice in team white's 4-3 regulation winner. Mikael Granlund, who I don't think will ever see the light of day in Houston*, also scored two goals in a losing effort.

John Torchetti had some real nice things to say about Broda, who really has shown some flashes of real talent in his stints with the Aeros. His only problem, to me, is that he does not seem to be able to do that with out some massive skill around him.

I think he's played well enough defensively on the lower lines to stat in the AHL, but he doesn't score enough as he needs to to get real notice from fans, the media and even the opposition. But, when you put him with talent, look out ... Just read Torchetti's quotes about him (again from the paper in St. Paul):

“He has a heavy shot,” Torchetti said. “He knows how to take the puck to the net. Simple things. He cycles, uses his body to protect the puck. He’s close, you know. He’s close. He just needs to keep working on his foot speed.”

Last year, Broda finished with 14 goals and 27 points and took advantage of the playing time and playing with better skill because of injuries throughout the system. We know he has speed, and he earned regular time in the shootout last year because of his hands on the breakaway.

This is a huge year for Broda. If he continues to improve, maybe he becomes a 25-30 goal guy in the AHL. We'll see for sure, but it was nice to see him stand out a bit amid all the starlets in the Twin Cities. 

* How the NHL lockout will affect the AHL, we have yet to really find out. If it goes down anything like it did last time, Aeros fans could see more of the players that otherwise would see ice time with the Wild. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

D Connelly signed, early roster preview

First things first, the Wild signed defenseman Brian Connelly (Rockford/Abbotsford last season) to a two year, two way deal on Friday. He's a puck-moving assist machine and was voted to the All Star Game the last 2 seasons. He finished 2nd among defensemen with 52 points last season and will be a huge asset on the blue line.

Top notch pick-up for the Aeros and great depth for the Wild. He's a Colorado College alum, as are Nate Prosser and Chad Rau, so that club grows a little bigger.

Meanwhile, according to Mr. Russo, that was #49 of the 50 professional contracts the Wild are allowed have on the books.

Teams leave a contract or two open in case something crazy happens later in the season and they need to sign someone (like when Fredheim was signed late last season due to a defenseman crunch). Which tells me that it's very likely the Wild/Aeros are finished with depth signings that will significantly impact the Aeros.

And really, the roster is quite full, where usually there are 2-3 spots to give AHL/ECHL bubble guys a shot. You can see below that there's not really even room for minor league contracts on this team unless they decide to send some of the rookies down to play more minutes in Orlando and plug in some more experienced AHLers. I would lump this in the "Good Problems to Have" bucket.

C Jake Dowell (VET)
C Charlie Coyle
C Zack Phillips
C Chad Rau
C Joel Broda
C David McIntyre (tendered qualifying offer, still needs to be signed)
C Jarod Palmer (tendered qualifying offer, still needs to be signed)

RW Brett Bulmer
RW Justin Fontaine
RW Nick Palmieri (tendered qualifying offer, still needs to be signed)
RW Carson McMillan (tendered qualifying offer, still needs to be signed)

LW Johan Larsson
LW Jason Zucker
LW Stephane Veilleux (VET)
LW Kris Foucault

D Brian Connelly
D Chay Genoway
D Tyler Cuma
D Steven Kampfer
D Drew Bagnall (VET)
D Kyle Medvec
D Josh Caron
D Colton Jobke
D Jonas Brodin (maybe)
D Sean Lorenz (AHL deal)

One thing, right off the bat is that it looks like there won't be any issue with the veteran rule. I didn't do the math on everybody, but Bagnall, Dowell, and Veilleux are the only ones I see that would be considered "veterans" for the purposes of this rule.

Obviously, those qualifying offers have to get sorted out, but I don't see why any of them should be a big deal. Also, while the Wild roster is pretty much full up with 1-way contracts (Scandella and Spurgeon the exceptions, and they've likely secured their spots), there will of course be injuries and whatnot that will send some of the Houston guys up.

Here's a quote from Russo's "Wild Depth Chart" post a few days ago that indicates the teams intentions:
"As I wrote in today's analysis, yesterday's moves to sign Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, as well as signing Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell on July 1, almost assures that the Wild will be patient with its prospects and have them grow together in Houston. That is the way the good teams do it. Be patient, don't force-feed kids into the NHL, promote when they're ready."
One thing is for sure, this is going to be a wicked young team, so there will be a lot of figuring out the pro game, what they can/can't get away with here that they could in junior or college. As we've seen, that can take a good chunk of the season (or seasons) for some guys. And as full as this roster is, some may get to do some of that in Orlando.

The coaches and the older guys will have their hands full doing a lot of teaching, I suspect, and fans will need to be patient through the growing pains. But this team has the potential to be very fast, with a good balance of skill and toughness.

This time last year, a few of these new kids might have expected to get a real chance at skipping Houston altogether, but it really is a luxury to be able to play important minutes in relative anonymity. In prior years, Wild prospects have not always had that good fortune (even though it probably feels lousy at the time).

And Coach Torchetti should be happy as he finally has that all-important internal competition for ice time that he was so desperate for last season and never really got due to all the injuries and call-ups.

As much as I was ho-hum about last season, I'm super excited to see what unfolds this season. If the front office can keep the attendance momentum going, it could turn out to be a really fun year.

So... can we start now? Is it October yet? *sticks hand out door* No, definitely NOT October yet. *sigh*

Up next on the T3I agenda is putting together a little info on each of the new guys so you (and we) have a better sense of what they're all about.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Per Russo, here is Wild's depth chart

Just as I get done writing the other post, I see that Russo provided this to his readers today.
As you can see, the Aeros will have a ton of potential talent available, at least at the start of the season.

Here is a quick look at the depth chart, again per Star-Tribune beat writer Mike Russo. The yellow indicates players that will likely spend at least SOME time in Houston. The purple/pink highlights players who are still yet and probably will be signed.

As you can see, even with the the captain gone, there will be a lot of familiar faces around next season.

Left wing-Center-Right wing
First line: Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Dany Heatley
Second line: Devin Setoguchi -Mikael Granlund-Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Third line: Matt Cullen-Kyle Brodziak-Cal Clutterbuck
Fourth line: Darroll Powe-Zenon Konopka- Torrey Mitchell
Extra: Matt Kassian
Potential other extra: XXXXXX
Vying for spots: Stephane Veilleux, Jake Dowell, Charlie Coyle, Johan Larsson, Brett Bulmer, Jason Zucker, Zack Phillips, Nick Palmieri, Chad Rau, Jarod Palmer, David McIntyre, Carson McMillan, Kris Foucault, Justin Fontaine, Joel Broda

Minor-league restricted free agents still to be signed: McIntyre, Palmieri, Palmer, McMillan
First pair: Ryan Suter-Tom Gilbert
Second pair: Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon
Third pair: Clayton Stoner-Nate Prosser
Extra: Justin Falk
Potential other extra: XXXXXX
Vying for spots: Falk, Prosser, Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Steven Kampfer, Tyler Cuma, Chay Genoway, Drew Bagnall, Kyle Medvec, Josh Caron, Colton Jobke

Restricted free agent still to be signed: Falk
No. 1: Niklas Backstrom
No. 2: Josh Harding
In the wings: Matt Hackett, Darcy Kuemper
Note: XXXXXX signifies open spot.

Wild sign two All-stars; still looking to fill a few holes for Aeros

If yesterday wasn't the best day for Wild fans, it was the second or third best day. Getting the team in the first place has to be up there, and getting to the West finals back in 2003 is also in the top three.

But stealing two All-stars away from the Detroit Red Wings and the rest of the NHL? Wow ... the Wild are now, I think I top five team in the Western Conference. Maybe better.

I talked to Aeros GM Jim Mill today and congratulated he and the rest of the organization on the huge, huge win. He, understandably, was still quite giddy from the news. It has to feel really good to see a lot of hard work pay off like that.

I asked Jim about other free agents he may be going after for the Aeros. After all, they are going to need at least one body to replace what the team lost with the departure of Jon DiSalvatore and Jeff Taffe.

Taffe just didn't have a great year here, but I think that was just a fluke. I think he will have a good year in Hershey.

As for DiSalvatore, that really hurts. He had a chance to become the Aeros AHL everything. He was already the team's all-time leading scorer from the AHL era.

But to be fair, the Aeros/Wild just did not have the means to make him a reasonable offer. They are going to have a ton of forwards as it is (we'll get to that more in the coming weeks) and DiSalvatore earned a good raise for his play under Constantine, Yeo and Torchetti.

Sal goes to a perennial contender and gets the money he so well deserves. There is no chance the Aeros will play Hershey next year, so why not wish them the best of luck? The way Wilkes-Barre and Hershey are loading up on the AHL vets, it's silly not to predict them as top four teams again.

Mill said he is talking to some players and could have some news soon. They need to find a good Ortmeyer-like vet to help guys like Zucker, Bulmer and Phillips, who will all get good AHL time next year, I think.

We talked about the Mike Brodeur signing too. I think that is a good sign for the organization's fifth goalie. Mike will likely start the year in Orlando if Kuemper reports to camp fully healthy. Hackett will get the bulk of the starts, if he is not traded before then. No, I am not hinting that anything is imminent, but the Wild do have room to make such a deal if they so desire.

Jim and I also talked about the new division alignment. He was thrilled about trading Charlotte for Abbotsford. I mean, those trips are brutal, especially if you have to go there twice in the middle of an 11-game road trip (and you're already slumping) ...

I don't think you'll see anything too drastic when the schedule comes out in late August. Same format as last year and you'll play Charlotte 6-8 times and Abbotsford just 2-4 times.

In closing, don't be worried or surprised when you don't see the Aeros all over the transaction sheet in the coming days. The Wild have to get their young guns ready for the NHL, so they will get put into top situations down in the AHL.

If they prospects really are as good as advertised, then the Aeros are going to be really fun to watch. If they are good and move up, the Wild could be a contender for the next 6-8 years. n

Remember all the prime ice time all the young guys got last year because of injuries in Minnesota? Well, we are going to see first hand if that helped the team for 2012-13.

We'll let you know the second we find out who the Wild signs for the Aeros in the coming days. Expect to see a few familiar faced get re-upped and one or two new faces altogether.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Aeros sign G Mike Brodeur; Taffe, DiSalvatore sign with Hershey

The Aeros are reporting on the Twitter that they have signed goaltender Mike Brodeur to an AHL contract. Brodeur was with the team late last season to back up Matt Hackett while Darcy Kuemper was laid up from shoulder surgery.

It was apparent the team was impressed with the veteran netminder at the time, especially given how little he'd played all season (like, virtually none at all, coming off hip surgery, if I remember correctly).

Interesting tie-ins with the Wild/Aeros organization this guy has: Remember the big equipment van fire the Wild had a few years ago in Ottawa? Brodeur was the winning goalie in net for the Senators in the game the following night where much of the team was wearing borrowed or brand new gear and Wild equipment manager Tony DaCosta was wishing he'd become an accountant or something.

Then, year before last, he was with the Binghamton Senators, starting the season in Bingo backing up Robin Lehner. Then he got hurt very early and Brusty basically took his job, and then got on a roll and had that awesome season, while Brodeur sorta toiled in obscurity trying to find a toehold back into the organization and get healthy.

Then, last season, when the Wild were basically down to one NHL-contracted goalie, they unearthed Brodeur and he took the bull by the horns and impressed the right people.

Now it will be interesting to see if the organization plans on Kuemper and Hackett sharing the load in Houston or putting Kuemper in Orlando to see 40 shots a night, ECHL-style. Either way, Brodeur is great insurance for the inevitable goalie injuries that will come down the pipe this season.

(And BTW, from what I understand, he is a very very distant relation to the quite a bit more famous New Jersey Devils Brodeur, but don't quote me on it.)

UPDATE: The Hershey Bears have reportedly signed both Jeff Taffe and former Aeros Captain Jon DiSalvatore to AHL contracts. Kinda thought Sal might be back, but alas.

Updates from the AHL and Free Agency

Heya gang! What do you say we do a little catching up this fine Monday?

AHL News

First, the old news from last week with a few items that were voted into action at the AHL Board of Governor's meetings:
  1. Video Goal Review: Yep, you read that right. Apparently they tested it last season in Bridgeport and feel that video goal review is ready for prime time. There is some additional cost for teams to implement, but it's the right (and long overdue) move. So, now when the Aeros put pucks through the net on goals, the refs can have another look at it and hopefully get them all right.
  2. Realignment: After some deck shuffling last season, a smidge more this season as Abbotsford moves to the North division and Charlotte moves to the South division. So fewer arduous trips to Abby for the Aeros. Maybe a bummer for guys from that area, but also a lot nicer traveling to mild Charlotte instead. And Charlotte gets to spend most of its travel in Texas, which has the potential to be a nice, compact effort for them.
  3. No-Touch Icing: One of the fun things about the AHL is getting to see some rule changes tested at the request of the NHL, and this is one I'm VERY happy to see. You only need to see Kurtis Foster break one femur to be in favor of no-touch icing. This is modified no-touch icing, where the play could continue depending on where the pursuing players are when the puck crosses the goal line. But the idea is to avoid those full speed collisions into the end boards that can really wreck a dude if it goes wrong. The new rule will be in effect for the first month of the season, at which time the board will decide if it's a keeper or not. 
  • Warren Peters is a goner. He signed with the Penguins organization yesterday. 
  • Other than Corey Locke signing in Europe, none of the really big AHL fish have signed anywhere yet, so there's still some intrigue on that front. I'd pay cash money to be a fly on the wall in Jim Mill's office right now.
  • Around the West, the Blues signed underrated veteran goalie Mike McKenna, so we'll likely see him a bit in Peoria in tandem with prospect Jake Allen. They also signed Scott Ford from Milwaukee, much to Chris "You Suck, Ford!" Jerina's delight. 
  • Also, the Barons up in OKC re-signed super-stud goalie Yann Danis for another year, and the Rampage will have another season of C Greg Rallo and G Dov Grumet-Morris as both got 2-way deals from the Panthers. 
  • Aeros D Chay Genoway was re-signed by the Wild for 2 more years. Matt Kassian was, too, but it's 1 way for him, so we won't see him, or if we do, he'll be getting paid an awful lot to beat up AHLers.
  • Free agency opened with a wimper yesterday and the big fish still have yet to be caught (though word is the Wild are on the short list for both Parise and Suter). They did sign two players: Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell. Fourth and third line signings, respectively. Filler guys that bring some grit to the bottom lines and give the Wild depth to hopefully avoid having to call up guys from Houston who aren't ready and/or aren't right for those grittier roles. So as far as Houston is concerned, I like those signings. Kind of "keep the kids in Houston" insurance.
That's also I can think of for the moment, though I'm sure that as soon as I post this, something will be announced.