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.
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.
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.