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The 2012-13 Hamilton Bulldogs season is now upon us and while the NHL lockout is ongoing, all eyes will be on the AHL. Over half of last years' squad is gone to make room for one of the most promising group of prospects that the Habs have had in quite some time. As a result there is a lot of optimism and even more questions. Our annual preview mailbag will attempt to answer some of those questions.
1) Of the Bulldogs' departures this offseason, who will be the biggest loss?
Brian La Rose: Garrett Stafford. The Bulldogs' blueline this year will consist of no fewer than four rookies on any given night, not to mention Brendon Nash who has all of one year of experience and is coming off missing an entire year due to injury. Stafford played in every role last season and played very well in each of them. I don't doubt that some of the rookies (particularly Nathan Beaulieu and Morgan Ellis) will be able to play on both special teams' units but they're not ready to do so right away. Having a bridge like Stafford, someone that can ease the youngsters into bigger minutes and who can be leaned on to take extra shifts if someone is struggling isn't exactly an exciting type of player to have around but that's what good teams need to win. Failing to bring him back - or signing a similar type of veteran defenceman - is one of the biggest concerns of the offseason.
Ian Russell: I'm
probably going to get a lot of hate mail for this answer and I can already see
an angry mob gathering in front of my house ready to throw rocks through my
windows, but in my opinion, the biggest loss is going to be the departure of
Alex Henry. He was often the subject of scrutiny from Bulldogs and Canadiens
fans who said Henry was too big and too slow. And with the second half of that
claim, I do not disagree. He certainly was not the fastest skater out there on
the ice. However, what the Bulldogs are going to miss from him is that huge
6-5, 220 lbs body of his. When Henry was out on the ice, nobody from the
visiting team attempted to mess with the elite Bulldogs players. And if they
did, there were two bangs...Henry hitting the opposing player with that long
reach of his and then that player hitting the ice. There have been other
players who have filled that role as well but what is also going to be missed
that those other players cannot provide is the leadership which Henry brought to
the team having played over 600 career games in the AHL, and close to 500 of
those having been played with Hamilton. In that respect, Alex Henry has sort of
become the "franchise player" and he will be missed.
2) Of the newcomers, who are you most excited about?
Brian La Rose: As tempting (and easy) as it would be to say Brendan Gallagher, Michael Bournival is the newcomer I'm most interested in following this year. I've long held the belief that he was the junior prospect who had the best chance to make the Habs last year and a good start to his rookie campaign would certainly put him in the mix whenever the NHL and NHLPA decide to get their act together. Although he's a rookie, I would be surprised if he isn't amongst the team leaders in ice time right off the bat as he should see time on the powerplay and penalty kill. Bournival probably won't be among Hamilton's top few scorers at the end of the year but I am certain he will be one of the most important players on the Bulldogs.
Without a doubt, it has to be the return of Cedrick Desjardins. Hamilton's
goaltending was absolutely awful last season and having Cedrick inserted back
into the Bulldogs roster this year as the starting goalie will make an immediate
guaranteed improvement between the pipes. He previously played 4 seasons for
the Bulldogs, acquiring numerous achievements during that time such as leading
the American Hockey League with the lowest goals against average (2.00); ranking
second in shutouts with 6; fourth in wins with 29; and winning the Top
Goaltender Award at the 2010 AHL All-Star Game. Desjardins was the fan
favourite during his previous seasons with Hamilton, and as a Bulldogs fan who
has held Season Tickets for the past 10 years, I can say that all fans of the
Hamilton Bulldogs are extremely excited to hear the news that Cedrick Desjardins
3) From the players returning, which Bulldog is the most underrated?
Brian La Rose: Admittedly, this is a bit of a hard question as there aren't many returning players to choose from. For me though, it's Joonas Nattinen. Here is a player who found himself on the outside looking in to start last season (although I've no idea why). Once he got into the lineup though, he was there to stay. His role kept increasing until he found himself on the top line while seeing significant minutes on the special teams. Now, the thought seems to be he once again should be on the outside looking in, something I disagree with. He certainly shouldn't be on the top line this year but in a bottom six role, one he is best suited for, he should be an important player for the Bulldogs this season.
Ian Russell: Even though he has been a bust the past couple of years, I have to go with Alexander Avtsin. If he can ever put it all together, he has the potential to dominate. On a young team that doesn't have many proven scorers, there should be a spot for him on this team. He needs to stop slacking in the defensive zone and play with full effort every night but if Alex can do that, he can still be a useful player for the Dogs.
Part 2 of this mailbag will appear later this week.