There is no such thing as an offseason in hockey, and that includes the AHL. Below are the early winners and losers in the AHL summertime marketplace, along with their respective marks at the market's midpoint. Keep in mind, however, that in most cases it is the NHL parent club, not the AHL club, that is calling the shots in terms of player personnel. Other teams may benefit from an infusion of draftees turning pro at the AHL level.
ALBANY (CAROLINA/COLORADO) - After years of a deteriorating relationship with New Jersey, the River Rats are off to an excellent start with their new Carolina/Colorado dual affiliation. After adding a stalwart defenceman and and at least three proven AHL forwards, the Rats are already in better shape by mid-July. Candidates to head to Albany this coming season after inking deals with the Carolina organization are David Gove and Keith Aucoin. Last season in Lowell, Aucoin placed eighth in the AHL scoring race with 29-56-85 numbers. Gove contributed 20-26-46 numbers with Lowell as well. The Hurricanes also signed Derrick Walser, a 28-year-old blueliner coming off two years in the Deutsche Elite League with Berlin, and Walser is quite capable of anchoring an AHL blue line. Potential Colorado additions are dependable centre Ben Guite (22-30-53 with Providence) and Jeff Finger, who will help further solidify the Albany defensive crew. San Jose departee Tim Conboy will be on board, courtesy of the Hurricanes. Maybe even Albany-area native Matt Murley, a recent Colorado pick-up, will find his way to the Rats.
BINGHAMTON (OTTAWA) - Picking up centre Ryan Vesce, a rookie AHL All-Star last season with a mediocre Springfield club, and bringing back defenceman Andy Hedlund from Germany are solid moves, but the Senators have been more or less quiet in comparison with some of their Eastern Conference brethren. Josh Hennessey came over in the Ottawa-Chicago-San Jose three-way swap, so he will help if sent to the AHL, which is very likely. Inked this week, Jamie Allison and Cory Pecker offer organizational depth.
BRIDGEPORT (NY ISLANDERS) - For goodness sake, where does one begin with the Islanders? The Isles unceremoniously dumped loyal head coach Dave Basseggio and his staff, despite Basseggio, a good coach by any measure, having gotten as much out of last season's Sound Tigers as possible. The Islanders filled the vacancy with Sault native Dan Marshall, who spent this past season as the organization's director of player personnel. One day later, there was the Neil Smith-Charles Wang fiasco. Rob Collins is off to Germany. Wyatt Smith left for Minnesota. Journeyman Rick Berry and unproven goaltender Billy Thompson are the lone additions so far. Mark Wotton is likely to captain Marshall's team.
CHICAGO (ATLANTA) - The Thrashers made a big splash in bringing aboard NHL veteran Fred Brathwaite to further add to something of a goaltending glut that should only help matters for the Wolves. Joining Brathwaite with the Thrashers are veteran forwards Darren Haydar, Cory Larose and Jason Krog. Certainly all four are possibilities to stick with Atlanta, but there will probably be AHL implications for at least some of that quartet. Haydar, who led the AHL in Calder Cup playoff scoring this past spring, in the past would have been a likely candidate for Europe, but at 26 and a good fit for the new brand of NHL hockey, he is far too young to resort to such an option. Larose, a member of the 2004-05 Wolves team that went to the Calder Cup final, returns from a season-long stint in Switzerland, and Krog spent last season in Sweden.
GRAND RAPIDS (DETROIT) - Character veteran Dan Smith signed with the Red Wings and should stabilize the Grand Rapids blue line. But losing AHL MVP Donald MacLean and his 56 goals and a good veteran in Eric Manlow leaves the Griffins with gaping holes. Bryan Helmer moved over to Phoenix as well. More than adding Smith and Matt Hussey needs to be done.
HAMILTON (MONTREAL) - Manlow's acquisition is one of Hamilton's biggest signings in years. Bringing Cedrick Desjardins might be a sleeper move.
HARTFORD (NY RANGERS) - Within hours of the NHL's market opening, the Rangers wasted little time in bringing Steve Valiquette back following the goaltender's year abroad in the Russian League with Yaroslavl. In a best-case scenario for the Rangers, Valiquette can push Kevin Weekes for second spot behind Henrik Lundqvist and offer the Rangers a more cost-effective alternative. At worst, Valiquette goes to Hartford and simultaneously pushes and tutors top prospect Al Montoya, who lacked a consistently viable back-up this past season with the Wolf Pack. Valiquette made the difficult transition to the grind that is Russian hockey and compiled a 1.95 goals-against average over 45 regular season games. Valiquette, AHL fans will remember, teamed with current Los Angeles Kings goalie Jason LaBarbera in 2004-05 to provide some of the best goaltending that the AHL has seen in years and posted a 1.77 GAA. J.J. Daigneault replaces Ulf Samuelsson on the Wolf Pack's coaching staff, and it appears that Jim Schoenfeld will remain as head coach. Otherwise, much is quiet.
HERSHEY (WASHINGTON) - Frederic Cassivi, the Calder Cup playoffs' most valuable player, will be back in the Washington Capitals' fold and presumably back in Chocolatetown. Hershey president Doug Yingst termed signing Cassivi the Bears' "number-one priority" for the summer. Head coach Bruce Boudreau should also have the services of Hartford departees Alexandre Giroux and Chad Wiseman and veteran Quintin Laing. The Bears will be without Graham Mink, who is off to the San Jose organization, while captain Boyd Kane signed with the archrival Philadelphia Phantoms. However, the Bears addressed a glaring need for an enforcer by signing the always game, always colourful Peter Vandermeer, who could restore some of the vinegar to the once-fierce Bears-Phantoms rivalry.
HOUSTON (MINNESOTA) - Hopefully your offseason has gone better than the Aeros', who so far have not replaced a massive talent exodus. Kirby Law, the AHL's leading scorer will play in Switzerland this coming season after the Wild did not give him so much as a sniff last season. Erik Westrum's 34 goals are off to Toronto, and sniper Patrick O'Sullivan was lost in the Pavol Demitra trade. Jason Morgan and the Isles' Smith, responsible two-way forwards, have signed with Minnesota, so that is at least something, but this summer has been one big bust so far in Houston.
IOWA (DALLAS) - Veteran defenceman Marty Wilford is the only addition of consequence to date.
LOWELL (NEW JERSEY) - The Lowell (Mass.) Sun reports that Robbie Ftorek will be reassigned within the New Jersey organization, leaving the AHL job open at the moment. You did not think that Lou Lamoriello would be dropping any hints, did you? Mike Rupp should be in Lowell. Mike Mottau is also coming to Lowell.
MANCHESTER (LOS ANGELES) - The Kings have a new front office in place, with Ron Hextall now running the Monarchs' show. Jim Hughes and his staff were let go. The Kings picked up veteran defenceman Brendan Buckley, who spent 2005-06 in Peoria. Monarchs fans will well remember Buckley, who was involved in a controversial hit on former Kings farmhand Yanick Lehoux during the 2004-05 season that sparked a nasty row. Los Angeles also inked Kevin Dallman, who potentially could end up in Manchester as well. Overall, however, this summer has been rather quiet for the Monarchs.
MANITOBA (VANCOUVER) - The Moose always seem to find a way. Replacing Alain Vigneault in Winnipeg will be former Jet and Buffalo assistant Scott Arniel, Lee Goren may be a Moose again and Joe Rullier is a surly defender.
MILWAUKEE (NASHVILLE) - Losing Ray Shero hurts tremendously, but Nashville runs one of the best organizations in the NHL, and the wily Claude Noel is aces. The Calder Cup finalists have had a rough summer so far, having seen their roster terribly picked over. But underrated goalie Karl Goehring, some scoring touch in Ramzi Abid, plus Shane Endicott and Pat Leahy are en route to Milwaukee. The Ads should be fine.
NORFOLK (CHICAGO) - Are the Blackhawks are choosing to remake the Admirals in their own image? Little but the carcass remains from what was a group that went out fast in this past spring's first round. Gone are captain Shawn Thornton, sniper Mark Cullen, back-up goalie Adam Munro, Morgan and checking forward Quintin Laing. Sebastien Caron is onboard, but when is the rest of the cavalry coming?
OMAHA (CALGARY) - It has been very quiet in Omaha this summer. There will be some youngsters likely heading to Omaha, but relying on first-year players is very risky. Brad Ference will help hold together the blue line.
PEORIA (ST. LOUIS) - Basseggio landed on his feet this week, taking over the Peoria head-coaching job. Buckley and Mottau are gone. There have been better offseasons, personnel-wise, but Basseggio is a big addition.
PHILADELPHIA (PHILADELPHIA) - A new head coach and an overhauled player roster are the aftershocks of a raunchy last-place season a year after winning the Calder Cup. The Phantoms found themselves out of the playoff hunt by early March and the 2005-06 season bottomed out as the worst campaign in team history. John Stevens leaves the Phantoms' bench after six seasons to move upward to the Flyers as an assistant on Ken Hitchcock's coaching staff. Replacing Stevens will be Philadelphia favourite Craig Berube, who spent parts of the past two seasons as an assistant on Stevens' staff. Assistant Kjell Samuelsson will remain in his current position. After signing Cullen, who had a breakout season last year in the Chicago organization with 29 goals in 54 AHL games, the Phantoms continued to shuffle. The Phantoms proceeded to re-sign stalwart John Slaney, the AHL's all-time leading scorer among defencemen, and steady centreman Matt Ellison, who can also work the point on the power play. Also joining the organization were veteran forwards Daniel Corso and Kane, a former Phantom who captained the 2005 and 2006 Calder Cup championship teams (the Phantoms and Hershey, respectively). Martin Grenier is another addition. With the likes of Grenier, Riley Cote, Triston Grant and possibly OHL tough guy Gino Pissellini, which team will push around the Phantoms?
PORTLAND (ANAHEIM) - Brian Burke continues to stockpile talent and depth at the AHL level. If the Ducks lacked one thing at the AHL level in 2005-06, it was bona fide goaltending stability, as injuries and inconsistency hampered the Pirates a bit until Jani Hurme arrived. But the Ducks have brought aboard Michael Leighton, who was with the Rochester Americans last season, and his arrival gives the Pirates a clear-cut number-one AHL goaltender. Toughness quite obviously is a still a critical component of the AHL's brand of hockey, and adding Thornton makes the already-tough Pirates that much more rough-and-tumble.
PROVIDENCE (BOSTON) - First off, how does Scott Gordon, a head coach in Providence who has squeezed every last drop of talent from what Boston has afforded him, never even, at least publicly, emerge as a candidate for the Boston job? On Monday, Boston took steps toward putting an adequate, if unspectacular squad together. Jeremy Reich, the AHL's number-one middleweight, re-signed. Joining the Boston organization is former Nashville number-one pick Brian Finley, who badly needs a new start. Bringing on reliable blue liner Bobby Allen, a New Englander, is a sharp move. Former Edmonton farmhand Nate DiCasmirro, a proven commodity, should fit in well under Gordon's system. They like the college products in New England.
ROCHESTER (BUFFALO/FLORIDA) - The Amerks' knowledgeable fan base is demanding, sometimes impatient, and fans looking for progress this summer should be very disappointed thus far.
SAN ANTONIO (PHOENIX) - Though the AHL will be the last place that MacLean will want to be, the Rampage would not mind his presence in the least. MacLean could bring his 56 goals to the Rampage and give the Coyotes' AHL operation, an absolute mess for several seasons, a huge shot in the arm. In Helmer, the Rampage now have a legitimate number-one defenceman. Shortly thereafter the Coyotes added Travis Roche, another elite AHL defenceman, another scorer in Mike Zigomanis and re-signed goaltending prospect David LeNeveu. Any of the group would be a major boost; adding all of them signals a definite commitment on the part of Phoenix management.
SPRINGFIELD (TAMPA BAY) - Other than perhaps San Antonio, has there been a busier, more improved team than Bruce Landon's Falcons? Former Islanders head coach Steve Stirling has been lured to Springfield to help reverse the Falcons' fortunes. Stirling is a master at bringing along young talent. On day one of free-agency, the parent Tampa Bay Lightning brought in Andy Delmore, who won the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL's best defenceman and should be a good bubble player capable of contributing should he end up with the Falcons. In Delmore, Stirling will have himself a proven AHL commodity who was a First-Team All-Star this past season, who can gobble up 25 minutes per game, who can run a power play and who can add stability to what has been an inconsistent Springfield blue line over the past two seasons. Last season with Syracuse, Delmore pumped in 17 goals to go with 55 assists in 66 games with the Crunch. Shortly after the Delmore signing, the Lightning lured Buffalo defenceman Doug Janik, a solid commodity who stepped in admirably during the Stanley Cup playoffs after injuries beset the Sabres' defence. The move is a win-win for Janik, who either sticks with the Lightning or heads to his native Springfield to help anchor the Falcons' blue line. The Lightning also made big moves up front, adding Providence's Eric Healey. Healey is coming off a 29-goal season in which he was also an AHL All-Star. Sniper Eric Perrin and goaltender Johan Holmqvist, returnees from Europe, are good bets to end up in Springfield.
SYRACUSE (COLUMBUS) - The Blue Jackets plucked Gary Agnew out of Syracuse, a well-deserved promotion for the former OHL bench boss who has sent many a player on to Columbus. Assistant Ross Yates will assume the head job in Syracuse. Ty Conklin may very well see AHL time in 2006-07 after the Blue Jackets went out and picked up the former Oiler. The Blue Jackets can use the goaltending depth at the AHL level, and the Crunch should benefit tremendously with Conklin or Frederik Norrena competing for the Columbus back-up slot. The odd man out in that competition should come to Syracuse and stabilize the Blue Jackets' AHL net presence. Losing Delmore hurts, so to somewhat help offset losing him, the Blue Jackets went out and picked up Tomas Kloucek. Now a solid veteran, Kloucek was at one time a very good prospect in the Rangers organization. His prospect days have faded, but the Czech should help out in Syracuse.
TORONTO (TORONTO) - Westrum went 34-64-98 in the Minnesota organization last season, good for second place in the AHL scoring race to now-former teammate Law. Westrum has signed a two-year deal with the Leafs and is a good bet to see time with the Marlies. Greg Gilbert steps behind the Toronto bench.
WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON (PITTSBURGH) - Well, Shero has methodically been dismantling the dead wood from the organization. Some organizational depth needs up top were addressed with the additions of Dominic Moore and Libor Pivko, but Pittsburgh has a jarring lack of capable depth at both the NHL and AHL levels and still no AHL head coach. Adding two very tough defencemen in Wade Skolney and the underrated Matt Carkner, plus Micki Dupont, are solid steps.
WORCESTER (SAN JOSE) - Mink, plus proven AHLers Scott Ferguson, Mathieu Darche and Patrick Traverse, will help, but will this group still be the same hapless team that played in Cleveland last year? Probably not.
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