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Photo Credit: Mrs. Finest

What if Stockton’s Finest ran the Stockton Heat?

With the Calgary Flames ending their season prematurely, the speculation on what the lineup will look like next year is about 90% set already. The same cannot be said for the Stockton Heat. With most players’ contracts expiring at the end of June, the Heat’s roster looks to be only about 10% filled.

Here is a look at who is signed, who I think should be signed from last year’s team, and the needs coming into the 15th year of professional hockey in Stockton.

Since I do not see Brad Pascall’s name anywhere on the Stockton Heat website, time for Stockton’s Finest to play GM and add my two cents on who should be signed from last year’s squad, what areas need attention, and who should be considered to be packaged in a deal to land top talent in Calgary.

Under contract

Forwards: Buddy Robinson (RW), Glenn Gawdin (C), Matthew Phillips (listed as C but played LW all year)

Defensemen: Andrew Nielsen (LD), Rob Hamilton (LD, on AHL Contract)

Netminders: Jon Gillies, Nick Schneider, Tyler Parsons

Entry level contracts (expected to be in Stockton)

Forwards: Adam Ruzicka (C/RW), Luke Philp (C), Dmitri Zavgorodny (C), Martin Pospisil (RW)

Netminder: Artyom Zagidulin

Time to work the phones to re-tool the Heat for an extended Calder Cup playoff run.

Forward thinking

As much as I like Curtis Lazar and Alan Quine, I have a strong feeling they will be filling an NHL roster somewhere not named Calgary. Those two brought experience and leadership, as recognized by their Heat Team MVP (Lazar) and Offensive Player of the Year (Quine) as voted on by the players. I would welcome them back if available.

Kerby Rychel is one I would try to bring back as I think he has bottom six potential. Only 24 years old, he was one of only a few Heat players who excelled in the greasy areas in front of the net. He also has a chippy side to him, willing to throw down if called upon. His resume includes a Calder Cup championship (Lake Erie 2015) along with 28 Calder Cup playoff games.

At 26 years old, Tyler Graovac would bring maturity to a team that so far is very young. Besides his on-ice experience, he is great with the fans and can teach the young players off-ice manners. He would be a great choice for an alternate captain.

Being voted Fan Favorite for the past three years, it seems inevitable that Ryan Lomberg is re-signed. He also has some grit to his game that could be a nice fit for a few games as a fourth line grinder in Calgary. He has tempered his game back since coming into the league, not dropping the mitts as often as his first few years. His PIMs dropped from 127 to 110 to 72, but he has registered 32 minutes in 11 games while with the big club. He should also wear an A for the year. He is great with the fans and is usually the last one around during fan functions.

The Heat have always brought in a career AHL guy to be their captain, from Aaron Johnson to Mike Angelidis to Rod Pelley. All of these guys are over 30 years old. Last year, only three players were 30 or older: Anthony Peluso, Matt Taormina, and Marcus Hogstrom. None of them were captain material, which could have led to head coach Cail MacLean’s decision to not name one. That needs to change next year. In my opinion, the only player who fits the bill: Scott Sabourin. Sabourin, who will turn 27 in July, has eight years of AHL experience on his resume. Being voted “Unsung Hero” for the Heat this season shows his value to the team on and off the ice. He is not going to light up the scoreboard but he will bring grit and stand up for his teammates. He is also Mrs. Finest’s second favorite player, behind Lomberg, so as GM I am forced to sign him.

Of the 11 forwards already signed or listed above, four will be rookies and two will enter their second year as a pro. If you throw in a Dillon Dube, who could begin in Stockton, that leaves seven players with a year of experience or less. Assuming the players mentioned are signed, some additional experience will be required to help these guys along. I would be on the hunt for six forwards.

As GM of the Heat, I move on from the following forwards that were on the roster for the bulk of the year: Spencer Foo, Brett Pollock, Mike McMurtry, and Anthony Peluso. Foo’s game has flattened out. While he played in five more games for the Heat this year, he was a point shy of last year’s totals. He was a team-low minus-19. He just disappears into the ice. Pollock was demoted to fourth line duty when he was on the ice. He went from 20 points in 46 games to just 12 in 53 games. McMurtry only played 26 games and not one after Feb. 24. Peluso is an unrestricted free agent and will be given the opportunity to seek employment elsewhere.

I am not including those ATOs, PTOs, and players who were loaned to the Heat for a game or two.

Defense wins championships

There are two players that absolutely need to be re-signed: Adam Ollas-Mattsson and Rinat Valiev.

AOM was voted as the Heat’s Defensive Player of the year. He was a solid defensive presence that contributed 18 points (6-12). Slated for middle pair assignments at the beginning of the year, he was forced to play top pair minutes at the beginning of the season because of the Rasmus Andersson’s call up. Only 22 years old, he plays a clean game. He needs an ELC now.

It took a little time for Valiev to get settled in, but once he did, he became a very stable blue-liner. He was used on the power play occasionally and showed off an unexpected shot. Wrapping up the year with 21 points (4-17) and a plus-10, he floated between the top two pairs; playing mostly with AOM and Matt Taormina. He should receive at least a two-year, two-way contract.

So where do Juuso Valimaki and/or Oliver Kylington wind up? If Calgary stays pat with their current defensive group, there is going to be a fight for that press box spot. Even if they don’t re-sign Dalton Prout or Oscar Fantenberg, it still leaves eight players for seven spots. I could see either of them in Stockton as the “eighth” defensemen and first call up should something go wrong. If Calgary signs Fantenberg, I can see both in Stockton.

Of the signed players, Hamilton will provide offense while Nielsen will bring, well, a lot of penalty minutes, most not related to fighting. None of the recent signees have a D next to their name, so the Flames will need to trade/shop for some players who can defend while moving the puck. With the cupboard being pretty empty, I would be on the hunt for at least five mid-20-something blueliners, preferably with some experience, to stabilize this unit to get it back in the top half of the league. AOM is a stay at home defender while Valiev is a mix of offense and defensive minded.

Players that should not be invited back include Taormina, Josh Healey, and Andrew O’Brien. Taormina’s game is decreasing. Limited to only 31 games, he failed to light the lamp for the first time in his AHL career. Healey brings a physical presence, but is a defensive liability and undisciplined. O’Brien was limited to 9 games due to concussion protocol (his words).

Hogstrom is an interesting guy, as he did not get a chance to show what he could do due to injuries. With the Flames moving him from Sweden, it will be interesting to see if the Flames give him another shot, and if he wants to stay. I can go either way.

In-crease-d presence in net

Last season was a challenge for the padded ones. Even with Nick Schneider recording a .922 SV%, Jon Gillies and Tyler Parsons brought down the numbers, as the team finished under .900 as a team (.889). The combined goals against average was a putrid 3.63. They allowed 18 short handed goals against, the second-most total in the entire AHL.

The battle for the net in Stockton will be interesting at camp. With four goalies under contract for next year, who will be David Rittich’s backup and who will wind up in Kansas City? Will any of them be part of a trade (Tristan Jarry anyone)? Barring a trade, I believe Jon Gillies will be given every opportunity to be the Flames back up, with Artyom Zagidulin being his biggest challenger. Whoever loses that battle will wind up as Stockton’s #1. There will be another battle between Nick Schneider and Tyler Parsons to see who will stay in Stockton and who will be in Kansas City.

Sum it up

So I assume the Flames and/or Heat will be mailing my check soon. A mid-six figure check will do for the work I have provided throughout the year. I am available to discuss a permanent position if interested.

stocktonfinestFN@gmail.com

    • freethe flames

      Here is something we should all know about SF articles is that they are often written and not published for a few days; so I suspect the Lerby deal was not even signed before the article was sent in. I don’t remember when the Yelesin deal was signed.

    • Beer League Coach

      The only person I can recall mentioning that rumour was an Oiler’s troll who seldom gets anything right anyways.
      Also a move like that would defeat the purpose of the AHL moving into the CA market. They did that to save on travel costs and to get more practice time for teams to develop their stars. Moving the team to Calgary would result in a large increase in travel costs. Another thing to remember is travel costs were way out of whack when the team was in Abbotsford. I really have some serious doubts about a rumoured move out of Stockton.

      • MiamiRedhawks

        I hope you are right. I want the team to stay here. Moving the AHL teams out here made perfect sense, especially putting them closer to their parent teams. Though Calgary owns the team and getting guys up north quickly can be a pain since over half of the trip to Calgary is getting them to SFO. Attendance is abysmal with a lot of credit to rule 46. Just worries me that my source is pretty reliable.

  • freethe flames

    SF: thanks for your insight as always. You know I agree with you that the Heat need to a priority for the Flames as I think you can have a competitive AHL team and still develop your top prospects. I don’t hold out much hope for you seeing much of either Valimaki and Kylington as I fully expect the Flames to move TJ in the off season. I also could see Kylington moved as part bigger package to acquire an NHL need. Dube is also someone who I think will see the NHL right away; again because I think Frolik will be moved and he seems like the heir apparent for him

    My real question for you is do you think either Phillips are Gawdin will make a push for the NHL level next year? Not having seen them play this year I suspect they both need another AHL season.
    I know we have all but given up on MacDonald in net but he seems to have had a good playoff in the ECHL.

  • Derian Hatcher

    I enjoy your insight SF. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought there was indication that Parsons – how should I phrase it – didn’t quite fit in or he was not exactly happy or something like that? Or am I confused and off base here?

    • Cfan in Van

      I think that only came across during the players meet-and-greet event, where he was adverse to mingling and ditched a bit early. I wouldn’t take too much out of one event/situation, but you never know. Parsons does have his hands full with some mental health challenges, so that could contribute to such speculation.

  • Beer League Coach

    I doubt if Dimitri Zavgorodniy goes to Stockton next year. He was drafted from a CHL team and is not eligible to play in AHL next season. With an August 11, 2000 birthday he will only be 19 next season. Not eligible to play in AHL unless he is 20 as of Dec 31. Or has the eligibility rule changed after last season?

      • Beer League Coach

        If he plays 10 games with Flames next season his ELC contract starts. If he doesn’t play 10 games or more the contract will slide and won’t start until the 2020-21 season.

      • Beer League Coach

        Oliver was drafted from the SHL. Zav was drafted from the QMJHL which is one of the leagues under the CHL umbrella. It is a rule that a lot of fans don’t like but was put in to protect the jr leagues from losing star players to the minor pros when they were too good for jr but not quite ready for NHL.

      • SeanCharles

        Its all about the CHL agreement with the NHL. Kylington, although a CHL team held his rights, played in Europe the prior year so he was eligable to play in Europe, the CHL, the AHL or the NHL.

        Players who are drafted in the CHL and have no affiliation with European leagues must wait until their 20th bday year until they can play in the AHL – as the posted stated above if they turn 20 by Dec 31 of the year they enter the AHL it is allowed.

  • SeanCharles

    Phillips-Quine-Lazar
    Zavgorodny-Graovac-Gawdin
    Rychel-Ruzicka-Robinson
    Lomberg-Philp-Pospisil

    AOM-Yelesin
    Valiev-Prout
    Nielsen-Hamilton

    Zagidulin
    Parsons

  • SydScout

    Best headline of a FN article all year. Was laughing before I opened it up. SF is our Backlund, great two-way writer – can make us laugh AND make us think at the same time.

  • The GREAT WW

    If SF ran the Stockton Heat there would be a bunch of drunken drunks sitting around drinking and making decisions about a hockey team…..that model has already been tried by the Oilers with no success…..so no!

    Unless I can be part of it and then; YES….

    WW

      • Beer League Coach

        Can I join you, too. WW probably needs a chaperone! btw I don’t drink beer but a nice glass of red wine will get me going. I made a batch about a year ago with grapes concentrate from Lodi and it turned out really good. Love those Lodi grapes!

          • Beer League Coach

            Been doing it now for about 3 or 4 years. Have done Merlot, Cabernet Merlot, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnary, and Pinot Grigio. The Lodi grapes made a batch of red Zinfandel. Have also done a batch of white Zinfandel (rose). It is a nice hobby and it beats liquor store prices. 30 bottles for about $150 to $170 beats $17 to $20 a bottle at the store.

  • Cheeky

    The goalie situation is the most interesting. Schneider always seems to do well in AHL (not so much in ECHL). Parsons seems like our “new” heir apparent, hopefully whatever issues he’s going through gets sorted out. Gillies I’m done with, unless he blows the door off at training camp and sticks as back up, time to let go. Then there is Zagidulin, where does he fit? Even MacDonald, whom I gave up on a couple yrs ago (or maybe it was during his draft 🤔), was this his breakout year? I think the success of Stockton next year rests on the goaltending, they can’t have a repeat of the past year…