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Hockey talk anyone? I would hear that phrase frequently right about this time of the month for so many years. The Stanley Cup had long since been awarded, the draft and free agency were still weeks away, and the last thing anyone was really interested in talking about were snow, ice, sticks, and pucks. That time is no more. I used to believe pro hockey had a season and an off-season. Now I’m convinced that hockey has become a 365-day sport and business. 2013 is clearly an anomaly because of the NHL lockout and 2014 may even be more so because of the Olympics, but consider this: Should the Bruins and Blackhawks go the full seven games, by the time the Stanley Cup has been handed out there will be roughly 70 days until training camps commence for next season. That’s barely more than two months! And when you factor in those aforementioned events such as the draft and free agency, two months is going to fly by pretty quickly. Even from a Rampage standpoint, Friday marks the three-month mark until the NHL pre-season game between the Panthers and Dallas Stars at the AT&T Center. So unlike previous years, hockey fans starving for news and information about their favorite team aren’t going have to go around asking “hockey talk anyone?”…
…The question I get asked most often during the summer is which players will come back next year? While neither I (nor most people frankly) can be certain until the puck drops, there’s a pretty good road map to figuring out the Rampage roster in 2013-14.
Forwards under contract include:
Defensemen under contract include:
Goalies under contract include:
-Dov Grumet-Morris (AHL)
Restricted Free Agents include:
Unrestricted Free Agents include:
AHL Contract Free Agents include:
So tabulating the numbers, the organization right now has 10 forwards, three defensemen, and two goalies that are currently under contract for both their AHL and ECHL affiliates. That means there are likely 8-10 forward spots, five defensemen spots, and one goalie spot that needs to be filled between now and the time training camps open in September. It is commonplace that teams will either sign or trade most if not all of their restricted free agents, but there are a couple of caveats. Colby Robak and Scott Timmins are entering their fourth seasons on NHL contracts meaning they will have to pass through waivers if they are assigned to the AHL. Similar to what happened with James Wright last season (picked off waivers by Winnipeg in January), that leaves Florida with the decision of either signing both players and risking losing them for nothing, or perhaps trading them to acquire future assets. Additionally, Zach Hamill would fall into the veteran category (320 or more games played) next season while Jon Rheault and Michael Caruso would both fall into the veteran exempt category (260-319 games played), and the organization would need to decide whether those players fit those veteran roles accordingly considering the veteran restrictions (No more than five veterans and one exempt allowed per game, excluding goalies) in the AHL. Again, it’s a very fluid situation and there will be plenty of new bodies that show up in San Antonio in the fall, but this at least gives you a blueprint to work off of as free agency draws near…
…The AHL will return to two cities for the 2013-14 season that it used to call home. In April the Minnesota Wild announced they would be relocating the Houston Aeros to Des Moines, Iowa and the Wells Fargo Arena. This will be Des Moines’ second try with AHL hockey with a third different organization following previous efforts with the Dallas Stars (2005-08) and the Anaheim Ducks (2008-09). Ironically, that franchise is now the one currently playing at Cedar Park Center after being acquired by the Stars back in 2010. Last Friday, the Vancouver Canucks announced a multi-year deal with the city of Utica, New York to place their newly purchased AHL franchise (formerly the Peoria Rivermen) in the Mohawk Valley. Utica has a long hockey history having hosted eight professional teams since 1981, and was the former home of New Jersey’s top affiliate for six years where it was coached by longtime hockey greats Tom McVie, Herb Brooks, and Robbie Ftorek. Other well-known NHL legends that once skated at the Utica Memorial Auditorium (the “AUD” as it is often referred to) include Bill Guerin, Bobby Holik, and Martin Brodeur. While conference re-alignment and schedules will be announced later this summer, expect Des Moines and Utica to both be in the Western Conference and likely opponents of the Rampage giving San Antonio hockey fans a chance to see the league’s newest teams up close and in person.