Free Agency Is Coming! AHL Possibilities

Forrest Gump wasn't too far off base when he said "Momma always said life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." Paraphrasing, free agent season in the American Hockey League is like a box of chocolates. You never know exactly what you're going to get there, either.

Case in point, the 2010-2011 Springfield Falcons. Entering the first year of an affiliation with the Columbus Blue Jackets and fresh off their third disappointing affiliation in the last seven plus years, the Falcons had reason for optimism. The relationship with Columbus couldn't possibly be as bad as what had happened the previous two seasons under the allegedly watchful eye of the Edmonton Oilers organization.

What did we get?

How about Ben Guite? A leader on the ice as well as in the community, Guite played through pain and led by example. A welcome addition in every sense of the word, Ben was one of the positive free agent signings that played for the Falcons last season.

How about Gustaf Wesslau? Fresh off a great season in the Swedish Elite League, expectations were high as the netminder headed to North America. Injured in training camp and rarely showing the form that brought him the accolades in Sweden, Gustaf has packed his bags and presumably will go back for the upcoming Swedish season.

Where does this leave the Falcons for next season? In a perfect world, there would have been a Calder Cup celebration and no turmoil this off season. Such is not the case, and Columbus GM (and former Springfield Indian) Scott Howson, assistant GM Chris MacFarland and Falcons president Bruce Landon have been working hard, assembling their wish list for the signing period that commences this Friday.

Not to be overlooked, I would like to see the return of both Guite and Trevor Frischmon. Like Guite, Frisch was a leader and was reliable in special team situations. Similarly, with so many talented players looking to move on next season, there are some players who, if they maintain past levels of success, can be a big addition for the Falcons, and possibly the Blue Jackets as well.

Goaltenders:

Martin Gerber
Last year's contract: NHL Sal/cap hit 500K, AHL Sal 200K
Since winning the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes, Gerber has been well travelled, stopping off in Ottawa, Binghamton, Toronto, Mytishchi Atlant of the KHL, and last season he put together a nice year with Edmonton's AHL club in Oklahoma City where in 42 games he authored a 2.60 GAA, .911 save percentage and added 4 shutouts. He also played three games for the Edmonton Oilers, where he went a perfect 3-0-0 with a 1.30 GAA and a .958 save percentage. Not cheap by AHL standards, but if the Jackets are looking for a proven NHL mentor for Allen York, as well as somebody who can be looked at as the #3 goalie, Gerber could be the man.

Mike McKenna
Last year's contract: NHL Sal/cap hit 500k, AHL Sal 85k
For the budget conscious free agent shopper, McKenna has been a steady AHL netminder since going full time in 2007-08 with Portland. Similar to David LeNeveu, McKenna has had a taste of the NHL (15 games with Tampa Bay in 2008-09, 2 with New Jersey in 2010-11). Overall his numbers have not been outstanding, but he has had some decent seasons on his resume:

2007-08 Portland 41G, 2.72GA, .908 SV%
2009-10 Lowell 50G, 2.47GA, .921 SV%

He tailed off this year with a porous Albany Devil defense in front of him with 39G, 3.61, .886 sv%

Justin Pogge
Last year's contract: NHL Sal/cap 500k, AHL sal 85K
The 25 year old Pogge is my sleeper in the bunch. He was the third round pick, 90th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He finally got his chance in the '08-'09 season. In seven games with the Leafs, he went 1-4-1, 4.36 GAA and a .844 save percentage. Granted the Leafs were awful that season, so the stats might not tell the whole story. Nevertheless, they parted ways and 2009-10 became a season that would make Gary "Suitcase" Smith proud. Pogge saw time in Bakersfield, CA of the ECHL before returning to the "A" with the San Antonio Rampage, before settling in with the Albany River Rats. Even with the travel, he managed to play 36 games, keeping his GAA around 2.5 and his save percentage around .920 while posting two shutouts.

I mention him as my sleeper, because this past season, anything I read about the Charlotte Checkers had a positive mention of Pogge. His numbers were a respectable 48G, 3.12 GA, .907 sv%. For the thrifty free agent shopper, Pogge should be a deal.


Forwards (one each, left and right wing and a center)
These three players would not be considered cheap, by AHL FA standards. Each however, brings experience and a scoring touch to the ice. Also, any of the three could be viewed as having call up potential in a time of need in Columbus.

LW-Chad Wiseman

Last year's contract: NHL Sal/cap hit 500k, AHL sal 125K
A member of the offensively challenged 2009-10 Falcons, where he still managed to put together 24-35-59 in 67 games, Wiseman saw limited duty in 2010-11 with the Albany Devils, where he did earn the AHL Performance of the Month award for March.


RW-Ryan Keller

Last year's contract: NHL/Cap hit 525K, AHL Sal 150K
The 27 year old Keller was captain of the Calder Cup champion Binghamton Senators. In their championship run, Keller was also 2nd in AHL playoff scoring this season (10-15-25 in 23 games), trailing only teammate Ryan Potulny.


C-Ben Walter

Last year's contract: NHL/Cap hit $500K, AHL Sal $135K
Walter enjoyed his best season as a pro this past season with Lake Erie, putting up  23-47-70 in 77 games. An AHL veteran, his career numbers in the "A" are: 423 GP, 125 G, 226 A, 351 pts

Defense:

D-Shawn Belle

Last year's contract: NHL/Cap hit $600K, AHL Sal $150K
Belle is a big and strong defender at 6'2", 232 lbs. He scored 26 points in 51 AHL games in 10-11, split between Oklahoma City and Lake Erie.


D-Derek Smith

Last year's contract: NHL/Cap hit $550K, AHL Sal $105K
The rugged Smith just finished his best offensive season for Binghamton where he went 10-44-54 in 71 regular  season games and added 1-1-2 in 6 playoff games, including a goal in the finals against Houston. Smith is the type of puck moving defenseman that the Jackets organization is looking for.


D-Corey Potter

Last year's contract: NHL/Cap hit $500K, AHL Sal $105K
Corey Potter is another puck mover, in 75 GP in 2010-11 Potter put up 7-30-37, with 52 PIM. He was a fixture in the New York Rangers organization for the previous four seasons, where he was always a consistent performer.


Whether or not any of these nine are destined for Union Blue, each could add their own skill to contributing toward ending an eight season playoff drought here in Springfield.

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