It’s called the off-season, but for some involved in pro hockey, there is not much off-time in the off-season. Count Craig Heisinger amoung that number.
Heisinger, the general manager of the St. John’s IceCaps and assistant GM of the parent Winnipeg Jets, was in St. John’s this week as the IceCaps’ inaugural season ended with a 4-0 loss to the Norfolk Admirals, a result that gave the Admirals a sweep of their American Hockey League Eastern Conference final.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Heisinger joined head coach Keith McCambridge and assistant coach Mark Morrison in conducting exit meetings with IceCaps players. This week, he will be In Toronto, site of the National Hockey League pre-draft scouting combine and where the Jets will simultaneously hold what’s called pro meetings, an evaluation of player performances in Winnipeg and St. John’s and a look forward to how the team’s might shape up for the coming season.
Of course, free-agent signings and free-agent departures will have much to say about the latter and a look at the list of IceCaps who are set to become free agents of some description on July 1 gives some indication of how different the St. John’s lineup could be in 2012-13.
Potential free agents
More than a dozen of players who were regulars for St. John’s fall into the potential free-agent category, including most of the veteran core. Jason Jaffray, Jason King, Derek Meech and Garth Murray, for example, are all unrestricted free agents. As well, leading scorer Spencer Machacek and top defenceman Paul Postma are both restricted free agents, meaning the Jets have an opportunity to retain some rights for their services through qualifying offers.
While Heisinger indicated the organization’s interest in maintaining that core, he said no decisions have been made and pointed out the free-agent process works two ways, with the players having some control or almost total control over their situations, depending on their status.
“There will be guys who don’t want to come back, whether we want them back or not,” said Heisinger. “There will be guys who think it’s time to change organizations and get an opportunity with somebody else.
“And we might decide to qualify a guy, for example, but he’ll say, ‘Not a chance.’”
For some fans, the most surprising name among those of the potential unrestricted free-agent IceCaps is that of rookie John Albert (see above IceCaps actionphoto), who earned a spot on St. John’s opening-night lineup and held it throughout the season by playing with energy and hustle.
Albert was on a one-year AHL contract, meaning the Jets have no dibs on him as they would a first-year player on a two-way NHL/AHL entry-level deal.
“Obviously, John is going to get some discussion this week at our pro meetings. He’s done a fantastic job and I think he did a lot to open people’s eyes,” said Heisinger.
“But he’s free. Nobody owns his rights. He’s free to come to go. He was drafted by Atlanta and wanted to stay in the organization. Actually, it was his agent who suggested an American league deal. That works at different times and I think it worked for John this season. I think he’s comfortable in the organization, but almost every young player aspires to get on an NHL contract.
“Sometimes an NHL contract is not the be-all and end-all. In John’s case, (not having an NHL deal) this season worked out better for him. He’s had a great season, nobody owns his rights and he’s free as a bird.”
Heisinger said the exit meetings — where players are assessed by the coaches’ and GM and the players provide their perspective on how things went— “were very positive, almost nothing in the way of red flags, really.
“One thing that that should be mentioned, one thing that really resonated in the meetings and I don’t think can be lost is what the players said about the fans’ response Tuesday night (in the season-ending loss to Norfolk).
“Clearly, we’ve been a very consistent, hard-working team for the better part of the year, but Game 4 was clearly not our best effort. Still, I don’t think one person left and they clearly had every reason to leave after the first period.
See HOPES, page B3
Hopes fans continue to trust
But they were standing and cheering with 3:15 left in the game and they didn’t stop until five minutes after the game.
“You can’t overlook that passion and what it means.
“I’ve said it all along — and I don’t think we’ve given any reason for anyone to believe differently — we will always try to win in the American Hockey League. We will try to put the best product out there that we can.
“It seems to be, after one year, we can trust the fans and I hope they can trust us.”
Contract status of players within the Winnipeg Jets and St. John’s IceCaps organizations:
Contracts in effect for 2012-13 (14 total)
Forwards (8) — Andrew Ladd, Nik Antropov, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Alexandre Burmistrov, Antti Mitettinen, Mark Scheifele*, Chris Thorburn
Defencemen (6) — Dustin Byfuglien, Ron Hainsey, Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, Mark Stuart, Grant Clitsome
* — Scheifele will still be junior age and while eligible to play in the NHL, cannot play in the AHL in 2012-12
Restricted Free Agents (3)
Forwards — Evander Kane, Eric Fehr
Goaltender — Ondrej Pavelec
Unrestricted Free Agents (6)
Forwards — Jim Slater, Tanner Glass, Kyle Wellwood
Defencemen — Randy Jones, Mark Flood
Goaltender — Chris Mason
St. John’s IceCaps
Contracts in effect for 2012-13 (15 total, all are two-way NHL entry-level deals except where noted)
Forwards (7) — Kevin Clark (AHL contract), Patrice Cormier, Aaron Gagnon (one-way NHL contract), Jason Gregoire, Carl Klingberg, Eric O’Dell, Ivan Telegin
Defencemen (6) — Ben Chiarot, Julian Melchiori, Will O’Neill, Travis Ramsey (AHL contract), Zach Redmond, Cody Sol
Goaltenders (2)— Chris Carrozzi, Eddie Pasquale
Restricted Free Agents (7)
Forwards — Spencer Machacek, Maxime Macenauer, Ben Maxwell
Defencemen — Brett Festerling, Arturs Kulda, John Negrin, Paul Postma
Unrestricted Free Agents (9)
Forwards — John Albert, Jason Jaffray, Jason King, Kenndal McArdle, Garth Murray, Marco Rosa
Defencemen — Jason DeSantis, Jake Marto, Derek Meech
Goaltenders — David Aebischer, Peter Mannino
Players who ended season with IceCaps, but were officially under contract to other NHL organizations — F Ray Sawada (Dallas, can become an unrestricted free agent), F Brock Trotter (Phoenix, can become a restricted free agent)
Players who ended season with IceCaps while on tryout contracts — F Danny Dries
Note: In any one game, AHL teams are permitted to dress five “veteran” players. An AHL veteran is deemed to be a player who has appeared in a total of 260 or more games in the National Hockey League, American Hockey League, International Hockey League (pre-AHL merger) or European Elite Leagues prior to the start of the season in question. Each team is allowed one exempted veteran, that is a player who has appeared in more than 260, but less than 320 of such games. Goaltenders are exempt from the veteran rule.
Here are players who played with the 2011-12 St. John’s IceCaps who would qualify as AHL veterans in 2012-13 (players with asterisks fall under the 260-320 rule):
Brett Festerling, Aaron Gagnon, Jason King, Arturs Kulda *, Spencer Machacek *, Ben Maxwell *, Derek Meech, Garth Murray, Marco Rosa, Brock Trotter *
Coaches: Both St. John’s had coach Keith McCambridge and assistant coach Mark Morrison will be entering the second year of three-year contracts