Another Year at CBGBs…

2 days to go till free agency. While everyone is waiting on whether Zach Parise or Martin Brodeur are re-signing, New Jersey took care of a few unrestricted free agents, signing 5 players for next season: the entire CBGB playoff line of Ryan Carter (2 years), Steve Bernier (2 years), and Albany’s captain Stephen Gionta (2 years, first year 1 way second year 2 way), Cam Janssen (1 year, 2 way), and Peter Harrold (unknown terms). Four out of the five all contributed to the Devils Stanley Cup run…and why Janssen was re-signed, I have no idea. He did not get a lot of playing time, basically being scratched except for Rangers games, and instead of sending him down here where he most likely would have been in the lineup, he sat.

In other news, for those that missed it yesterday the AHL wrapped up their annual Board of Governors meeting in South Carolina with a few minor tweaks:

-The Western Conference was sort of realigned for next season: Abbotsford moves from the West to the North Division, Grand Rapids switches from the North to the Midwest Division, and Charlotte gets bumped to the new South Division, which includes Oklahoma City and the three Texas teams (Houston, San Antonio, Texas). Since the River Rats relocated to North Carolina, the Checkers have switched divisions three times: East, then Midwest, and now South.

-A few rules changes involving handling the puck (it is now a penalty if a player closes their hand on the puck as an opponent tries to play it), faceoffs (both players cannot bat the puck with their hand or face a delay of game penalty), and an experimental run with hybrid icing till mid November.

-But the biggest move of all? VIDEO REPLAY! Finally, finally, goals are subject to video review starting next season. If only there was a war room like the NHL does in Toronto…

Unless there’s any more signings tomorrow, next time you hear from me blog wise will be the free agent tracker Sunday afternoon.


Free Agent Preparations…

Just a couple quick items this afternoon:

-Incase you missed it earlier today, myself and a few others in the Twitterverse linked an article out of Wilkes-Barre and The Citizens Voice with a pretty big list of potential minor league free agents. While everyone else is obsessing over whether Zach Parise gets resigned (it’s a must, can’t let the captain go!), I’ll be keeping an eye on this list.

-Speaking of…the Devils announced that restricted free agents Vladimir Zharkov and Matt Corrente both received qualifying offers. Not sure what’s in the cards for these two, with Corrente having another injury shortened season and all the Free Zharkov cries I heard coming from my Jersey followers. The other two restricted free agents, Kory Nagy and Timo Pielmeier, were not tendered qualifying offers. Pielmeier has already signed with a team in Germany, not to mention the virtual logjam of goalies already in the organization (still including Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg, both free agents). Nagy didn’t really get much playing time while I saw him here, so I’m also not surprised at his status.

Drafting Devils

The annual NHL Draft has come to pass, this year from Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Round 1 took place Friday night in primetime, and rounds 2-7 took place on Saturday. New Jersey had 7 picks total, including #29 in the first round. Time to meet the newest members of the organization:

Round 1, #29: Stefan Matteau, LW, USNTDP

Oh, the irony. The son of former Ranger Stephane (no I will not remind you what he’s most famous for), Matteau has spent the last two seasons with the US National Development Team. In 18 games played this season he scored 10 points (6 G, 4 A) and amassed 93 PIM. He will play next season for Balinville-Boisbriand of the QMJHL, where his father is an assistant coach.

Round 2, #60: Damon Severson, D, Kelowna (WHL)

The Sasketchewan native just completed his second full season with Kelowna, notching 37 points (7 G, 30 A) in 56 games, along with two goals in 4 playoff games for the Rocket.

Round 3, #90: Ben Johnson, LW, Windsor (OHL)

A Michigan native and product of the US Under 18 Development program, Johnson just completed his first season in Windsor, scoring 18 goals and handing out 20 assists in 68 games for the Spitfires, and two assists in 4 playoff games. Fun fact: his cousin, Blake Pietila, is a 2011 Devils draft pick.

Round 4, #96 (via Toronto): Ben Thomson, LW, Kitchener (OHL)

Ontario native with size (checking in at 6’4″ and 206 lbs.) who has spent the last three seasons with the Rangers. Last season he put up 41 points (11 G, 30 A) and 137 penalty minutes in 67 games, and an additional 10 points (5 G, 5 A) in 16 playoff appearances for Kitchener.

Round 5, #135 (via Calgary): Graham Black, C, Swift Current (WHL)

A native of Sasketchewan, Black just finished his first full season with the Broncos, putting up 50 points (17 G, 33 A) in 71 games. He is a teammate of 2011 Devils draft pick Reece Scarlett.

Round 5, #150: Alexander Kerfoot, C, Coquitlam (BCHL)

The native of Vancouver just finished off his second season in Coquitlam, notching 69 points (25 G, 44 A) in 51 games, and an additional 4 goals in 6 playoff appearances. Not a big guy (checks in at 5’9″ and 155 lbs.), but that doesn’t mean much (see either Gionta brother or Joe Whitney).

Round 6, #180: Artur Gavrus, C, Owen Sound (OHL)

A native of Belarus, Gavrus just finished his first season in Canada with the Attack, notching 37 points (15 G, 22 A) in 45 games. He also represented Belarus at the under-18 World Junior Championships the last 3 seasons.

(Note: Clicking on each name will take you to the In Lou We Trust scouting report.)

Earlier on Friday the NHL announced that Prudential Center will be hosting the 2013 Draft, which will be held on June 28th and 29th. Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center will host the draft in 2014.

Free agency begins a week from tomorrow already. I do plan on having the player tracker up as soon as I can on July 1st, just need to confirm names and their statuses.

Mark Your Calendars Accordingly.

The first hint of next season’s schedule has been revealed.

This morning Albany followed suit with other teams and released 6 guaranteed home dates for next season. They are:

Saturday, October 13th (Home Opener)
Friday, November 2nd
Saturday, November 10th
Friday, December 28th
Saturday, January 12th
Saturday, January 26th

From reading other teams’ guaranteed dates, I can already conclude that the Devils first home opponent will not be Adirondack, Binghamton, Springfield, or Syracuse, as those four teams have already scheduled their home openers for the same night.

Only 112 days to go till then…

Hei Suomi!

(got to love Google Translate.)

If you were on Cap Geek or Elite Prospects today, it appears that New Jersey has signed their first free agent of the offseason, forward Harri Pesonen. He was given a one year, two way contract. Pesonen is a native of Muurame, Finland, and played last season for JYP in Finland’s SM-liiga, putting up 35 points (including 21 goals) in 60 games played, plus an additional 11 points in 14 postseason games. John from In Lou We Trust has more information and a scouting report here. (Fun fact: One of Pesonen’s now former teammates on JYP? Former River Rat/Devil prospect Tuomas Pihlman, last seen in Lowell during the 2006-07 season.)

The Devils also noted yesterday that the annual conditioning/prospects camp is set for July 16-21st. I’m sure I’ll have something up about that as it gets closer as far as who will be in attendance.

Finally, from the Worst Kept Secret Ever department: Wednesday afternoon Norfolk celebrated their Calder Cup title with a few thousand close friends (and got their playoff beards shaved off for charity at the same time). Not even 24 hours later, thanks to someone in the Tampa Bay organization spilling the beans so to speak, the Lightning announced a new affiliation agreement with Syracuse beginning next season. It had been widely known since mid season (right around the beginning of the 28 game win streak) that the move was going to happen, with the Tampa Bay-Norfolk contract ending and the Crunch and Anaheim dissolving their partnership after just 2 seasons. Norfolk and Anaheim are expected to team up soon, but nothing official as of yet. The unofficial “silly season” may already be over, since Tampa Bay and Anaheim were the only two NHL teams with AHL affiliation deals coming to an end. Having gone through this kind of move twice since getting involved in River Rats (and now Devils hockey), I can relate to what both sides are going through. Even the “we knew this for months, now it’s finally official” stuff.

In Other News…

Consider this part 2 of my earlier entry. Few more things to catch up on:

-Belated congrats go out to the Norfolk Admirals, who finished off an amazing season by sweeping Toronto in 4 games en route to the franchise’s first Calder Cup. Very happy for my old friend (and former Rat) Mike Angelidis, the captain of the Ads, who I’ve known since he first started in the ’06-’07 season. All this despite rumors that Norfolk’s parent club, Tampa Bay, is about to switch to Syracuse starting next year (the Crunch did not renew their affiliation with Anaheim, and it appears the only other team available was the Lightning, who was in the final year of their affiliation agreement with the Admirals. Put two and two together and there you go, instant rumors). The Admirals closed out the season with a remarkable 43-3 run, including the record 28 game winning streak in the regular season, then a 10 game streak to finish off the playoff run, sweeping St. John’s and Toronto in the process. Forward Alex Picard was named the playoff MVP and recipient of the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy (the AHL’s Conn Smythe, if you will), after leading all playoff scorers with 16 points in 18 games.

-It’s not even officially free agency time yet, but two A-Devils are already headed overseas. Good luck to third goalie Timo Pielmeier, going home to his native Germany (that should help clear up the goaltending situation just a little) and forward Nathan Perkovich, off to Croatia. Team Perky has sadly been broken up.

So…Now What?

Let’s flashback a little, shall we?

It’s March 23rd. Albany had just dropped a 2-1 decision to Norfolk, at the time the Admirals’ 19th win in a row. After the game myself and a few friends were hanging out in downtown Norfolk looking for a place to get a postgame meal. We spot Stephen Gionta, Tim Sestito and Peter Harrold on the street, also looking for a place to wind down after a tough loss. If I had gone up to them and said, just think, two and a half months from now you’ll be battling for a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup, they probably would have looked at me like I was crazy, drunk, or both. (Side note: I was outside a bar when they passed by, so it could be possible.) Funny how things start happening, doesn’t it?

2 wins short of Lord Stanley’s Cup. Don’t think anyone predicted the Devils, a #6 seed in their own conference, to get to that point, especially after a 3-0 hole to start the series. But then Adam Henrique was clutch in Game 4, just as he was when he eliminated both the Panthers and the Rangers with game winning overtime goals. Then Marty came up huge in Game 5, showing everyone why he is Marty Brodeur. Then came Game 6, Steve Bernier’s boarding major…and the momentum switched to the Kings side. Nonetheless, it was still a fun playoff run to watch, just wishing it was a better result.

A big thank you to the entire Devils organization for making the last two months exciting. Even though it wasn’t as successful here as we wanted it to be, it’s a pretty good feeling to see your team captain, who didn’t even get a callup till the last week of the regular season, go up and become a major factor during the playoff run. It’s going to be an interesting summer, with so many vital members going into free agency, and seeing who stays, who leaves, and who from Albany may just get their chance to crack the lineup next year, and maybe become the next Henrique.

And of course I should congratulate the Kings (and their REAL fanbase…I’m sure they’re out there) on winning their first Stanley Cup. I don’t think anyone expected a #8 seed from the West to go on a run like these guys did. I’m sure Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix are still trying to figure out what happened. Special congrats to the newest former River Rat to get his name etched on the Cup, Willie Mitchell. Only took 12 years since he turned pro (I still remember the first day I met him, in April ’99 at a Booster Club function) and 3 NHL stops to finally reach the big stage.

Now that it’s officially the offseason the next question is, what will I doing during the summer to keep myself occupied as I wait for the fall? Other than any free agency updates, schedule hints, and most likely a draft update, there’s a few things going on for me:

1. First and foremost, baseball season. For those new to the blog, from about mid to late June through Labor Day I’m most likely to be at Joe Bruno Stadium for the Tri-City Valleycats, a Class A New York Penn League affiliate of the Houston Astros. I do a lot of pictures (mostly on Facebook, but may possibly put together a Flickr or Tumblr album for the season depending on what I feel like doing), but no live tweeting of games like with hockey (but I may have a few thoughts here and there). So expect an onslaught of all things Cats starting June 20th (the first home game) and lasting through the first week of September. And of course my random thoughts as I watch Yankee games on TV.

2. I started a Biggest Loser type program through my company just after Memorial Day. The basics: form a team of 5 and try to lose weight properly through diet/exercise over a 12 week period. Not revealing what I weigh, but so far I’m starting off well, down 6 pounds after the first 2 weeks. And thanks to a eating right workshop I attended through my health insurance I’m really cutting back on snacking and watching my meal portions.

3. Catching up on my reading: right now it’s the Hunger Games trilogy I’m working on. I started the first book while on my trip to Norfolk, currently in the middle of Catching Fire (the second book). Hoping to have it finished by the fall.

4. Road trips, of course! I already have one mini vacation planned…I’ll be up in Lake George (an hour north of Albany, and about 15 minutes from Glens Falls) for a part of 4th of July week. I still have to plan out my two Yankee Stadium trips, which probably won’t be till late July/early August. And I’ll be hitting a few Cats road games, in Hudson Valley (the stadium is in Wappingers Falls, an hour or so south) and Burlington, Vermont (meaning a ferry trip across Lake Champlain), and possibly out west to Auburn (just outside of Syracuse).

5. Despite all my summer activities, starting the countdown to 12-13. Especially if the Capital Region gets hit with a heat wave. 3 months till Devils-Rangers preseason at the TU Center!