Binghamton’s AHL Preview

I wanted to take a look at Binghamton’s chances in the AHL this season, so first a little lay of the land is necessary.  Despite the lockout, most of the AHL’s top scorers remain in the league although there have been a few notable departures: Corey Locke (TPS SM-Liiga), Patrick O’Sullivan (HIFK SM-Liiga), Marco Rosa (Blues SM-Liiga), Alexandre Giroux (Dinamo Riga KHL), Chris Minard (Kolner DEL), Mark Cullen (Vityaz KHL), Paul Szczechura (Dinamo Riga KHL), and Justin Azevedo (Lukko SM-Liiga) to name some of the most prominent.

Binghamton is in the East Division in the Eastern Conference, where 34 of their 76 regular season games will be played.  Their division consists of: Hershey Bears (Washington), Norfolk Admirals (Anaheim; Tampa Bay last season), Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay, Anaheim last season), and Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh).  The rest of the conference includes the farm teams of Los Angeles, Phoenix, Boston, Winnipeg, San Jose, Philadelphia, New Jersey, the Rangers, the Islanders, and Columbus.  The B-Sens were the worst team in the league last season, so they can only improve.

Every team in the league has received an influx of unexpected talent, although the amount added varies from roster to roster.  As fans there’s a tendency to overvalue ones own prospects, although within Binghamton’s division the only forward added who is comparable to Jakob Silfverberg is Brett Connolly in Norfolk.

Turnover in the AHL is even more exaggerated than the NHL, so I’ve tried to keep the rosters focussed on key figures (rookies are in italics, NHL players are in bold, other roster additions are in green; points from last season are in brackets):

Binghamton (29-40-7, 5th division)
Forwards: Mike Hoffman (49), Andre Petersson (44), Hugh Jessiman (44), Pat Cannone (43), Stephane Da Costa (46-36), Jakob Silfverberg (SEL 49-53), Mika Zibanejad (SEL 26-13)
Defence: Jared Cowen (17), Andre Benoit (KHL 53-17), Tyler Eckford (25), Mark Borowiecki (22), Eric Gryba (20), Patrick Wiercioch (57-20)
Goaltenders: Ben Bishop (2.26), Robin Lehner (3.26)

The team is depending on development from a young forward group, but has vastly improved their blueline and solidified their goaltending.  Can they score enough?  They will be a much more competitive team and have an improved record over last year.  I expect at least a .500 record, so spot them for 38 wins (+9 over last season).

Hershey (38-26-12, 3rd division); 8 games against Binghamton
Forwards: Ryan Potulny (65), Jon DiSalvatore (61), Jeff Taffe (53), Boyd Kane (41), Ryan Stoa (36), Zach Hamill (23)
Defence: Dmitry Orlov (60-19), Patrick McNeill (41), Garrett Stafford (28), Tomas Kundratek (23), Julien Brouillette (21)
Goaltenders: Braden Holtby (2.61), Dany Sabourin (2.76)
Key Players Gone: Chris Bourque (91), Keith Aucoin (70), Jacob Micflikier (56), Kyle Greentree (34), Matt Ford (28), Cody Eakin (27)

The Bears have lost offense up front, but with an excellent goaltending tandem they remain a strong team (they are also the oldest team in the division).  I do expect a small step back as the improvements on the blueline are probably not enough to avoid a slip–likely in the 38 win range, but with more bonafide losses.  Here’s a blog that provides a fan’s perspective.

Norfolk (as Syracuse 37-29-10, 4th division); 8 games against Binghamton
Forwards: Devante Smith-Pelly (49-13), Patrick Maroon (74), Peter Holland (60), Kyle Palmieri (58), Dan Sexton (43), Ryan Lasch (SM-Liiga 59-62), Corey Elkins (Czech 26-13), Emerson Etem (WHL 107)
Defence: Matt Smaby (30-9), Nate Guenin (27-5), Jordan Hendry (NLA 29-10), Sami Vatanen (SM-Liiga 49-42), Hampus Lindholm (Allsvenskan 20-4)
Goaltenders: Frederik Andersen (SEL 1.62), Igor Bobkov (OHL 3.64)
Key Players Gone: J. F. Jacques (40), Mathieu Carle (D) (37), Kyle Cumisky (D) (29), Iiro Tarkki (2.45)

The team is depending on youth in net and on defence so I’d expect ups and downs throughout the season.  They have a ton of offence up front, but I’m not sold on their goaltending and expect them to take a step back.  I see them at 33 wins (-4 over last season).

Syracuse (as Norfolk 55-18-3, 1st division, Calder Cup champions); 8 games against Binghamton
Forwards: Brett Connolly (68-15), J. T. Wyman (40-11), Cory Conachar (80), Tyler Johnson (68), Richard Panik (41), Alexander Killorn (NCAA 34-46), Vladislav Namestnikov (OHL 71)
Defence: Matt Taormina (30-7), Keith Aulie (36-3), Mark Barberio (61), Evan Oberg (25), Dmitry Korobov (KHL 39-11)
Goaltenders: Dustin Tokarski (2.23), Riku Helenius (SM-Liiga 1.64)
Key Players Gone: Trevor Smith (69), Michel Ouellet (31), Mike Kostka (D) (32), Jaroslav Janus (2.36)

The best team in the AHL this past season has not lost much of their Calder Cup winning roster and will likely dominate the league again.  I really don’t see any holes on the team and it’s unfortunate for Binghamton that Syracuse is in their division.  I think repeating their phenomenal record is unlikely, but they’ll at least hit the 50 win mark again (-5 from last year).

Wilkes-Barre (44-25-7, 2nd division); 10 games against Binghamton
Forwards: Benn Ferriero (35-8), Trevor Smith (69), Riley Holzapfel (37), Eric Tangradi (37-31), Philippe Dupuis (42-31), Brian Gibbons (30), Beau Bennett (NCAA 10-13)
Defence: Alex Grant (37), Joey Mormina (21), Simon Despres (44-15), Dylan Reese (27-15), Joe Morrow (WHL 62-64)
Goaltenders: Brad Thiessen (2.82), Jeff Zatkoff (2.49)
Key Players Gone: Ben Street (57), Bryan Lerg (53), Colin McDonald (49), Geoff Walker (44), Jason Williams (42), Ryan Craig (30), Alexandre Picard (D) (21), Scott Munroe (2.52)

Heavy turnover among the top group of forwards, although in terms of talent I’m not sure much has changed.  The defence appears to have improved, but I’m not sure it’s enough to make the team meaningfully improved over last season.  The team will have a very similar record this season, so I’ll spot them 44 wins again.  Wilkes-Barre is followed by a couple of blogs for those interested in a fan’s perspective (here and here).

Syracuse will dominate just as it did last year (as Norfolk), Binghamton will be much improved while Wilkes-Barre should be about the same and Hershey and Norfolk will take steps back.  The division will finish as follows:
Syracuse
Wilkes-Barre
Binghamton
Hershey
Norfolk

Hershey and Binghamton may swap spots and I imagine only one will qualify for the playoffs.  It will be an interesting year.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Senators News: October 13th

-Some of tonight’s Binghamton lineup has been announced: Cowen-Benoit, Eckford-Claesson, and Borowiecki-Gryba are the defensive pairings (Lehner gets the start).

-Elmira won 3-2 last night with Marc Cheverie picking up the win; Chris Wideman had an assist and was +2, while Ben Blood had no points and was -1.  Brad Peltz had one SOG while Danny New picked up an assist and was a +1.  Here’s the recap.  The team plays Greenville tonight.

Andre Benoit has been named captain of the Binghamton Senators, which comes as no surprise (Eric Gryba and Mike Hoffman are the assistant captains)–notably, none of these players are expected to challenge for regular spots in Ottawa.

Luke Richardson was on The Team 1200 yesterday and Nichols has transcribed the relevant parts of the interview.  One interesting tidbit is that Ben Bishop is not yet in Binghamton nor has Richardson heard any confirmation that he’s been signed–all that information is coming from Andy Strickland.  Richardson had a lot to say about Jean-Gabriel Pageau:

He has stepped up his offseason conditioning with a lot the guys here around Ottawa and it has really helped. He has been very poised defensively; which is kind of a surprise to me because of his age and his size. At this level, he has played in all three exhibition games and he has contributed offensively, so with the injury to Stephane Da Costa, it has given him an opportunity to start the season with us and he made a real case to make it very difficult to make any movements on him (when Da Costa gets healthy).

This confirms that 1) Pageau is a placeholder for Da Costa, and 2) Da Costa‘s injury is the primary factor in him still being with the team.  Nichols believes these comments mean that Pageau is a serious candidate for Elmira, but I still believe he’ll be returned to the CHL once the team is healthy.  Richardson then talked about Da Costa:

I think working on the strength this summer, he really limits the energy that he spends every shift on skating because he is a great skater. He really can save that strength when he goes into the boards or around the boards into a battle with a big guy. I noticed that he wasn’t afraid at all. He was in there battling with some of the big guys on the other roster in the AHL that were experienced and he showed no signs of backing down or being overpowered, so that’s a great sign because he still has some upside to him to improve in the areas of strength and speed (aspects). He is just a smart hockey player and he’s a great prospect within the Ottawa organization.

There’s nothing surprising in any of this, other than confirming the organisation still thinks highly of Da Costa.  Richardson also talked about the system he’s employing:

It is all about puck movement. We have a very strong defence down here. Some of the guys are bigger and stronger but they can still move the puck well, so that’s great.  So, I think we can run a very similar, if not identical, style [to Paul MacLean’s]. Everybody is just a little bit different, but overall, pretty much close to the same style, so I think the transition will be much easier for players moving up. And really, that’s what it is all about – we want to have that fine line of competitiveness here to win and teach them to win and be unhappy when you lose and learn to fix things when you’re not doing them properly and you don’t have success. At the same time, you want to develop them for the parent club and for the dreams of where those players want to go.

-A comment made by assistant coach Steve Stirling comment worth repeating:

There’s only a handful of teams in the league [AHL] that will have a good team every year, because their goal is to win it every year, and sometimes that may be at the expense of development. Our philosophy is to develop first. We’re here to get prospects ready for the NHL, but at the same time everyone likes to win.

-Here’s my look at Binghamton’s roster and expectations (point projections).  I’ll be posting my thoughts on how the team will perform in the AHL later today.

-Speaking of roster projections, Bobby Kelly weighs in with part two of his own (this time defense and goaltending), which is pretty elementary at this point.  He believes that (when healthy) Eckford and Gryba will form one pair (behind the obvious Cowen-Benoit), while Borowiecki and Wiercioch will form the other.  He suggests seventh defender Fredrik Claesson will get regular playing time, but not at whose expense.  My personal feeling is that Claesson, Blood, and Wideman may transition back and forth between Binghamton and Elmira regularly, although it’s admittedly easier to let the teenage Claesson sit as opposed to the two college grads.

-D. J. Powers provides a CCHA preview, making no mention of Jeff Costello at Notre Dame.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)