Free agency started almost a month ago. A lot of teams have been wheeling and dealing while the Columbus Blue Jackets and Cleveland Monsters have low key been signing players to Cleveland.
Let’s rip the bandaid off and get the bad news out of the way. The Cleveland Monsters lost three players in the first few weeks of free agency.
On the first day of free agency, Jean-Francois Berube signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Philadelphia Flyers. The goalie pool is deep in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization. So, it’s not shocking Berube left. Leading up to free agency, it was made very clear that Elvis Merzlikens and Joonas Korpisalo would be battling out for the top spot with the Jackets. Plus, with Brad Thiessen coming back and Matiss Kivlenieks and Veini Vehvilainen battling for a spot with the Monsters, there wasn’t a place for Berube to be with the team. If Thiessen wasn’t coming back to the Monsters, it would be concerning to lose a veteran like Berube. In my opinion, the Monsters goaltending situation will be just fine.
One of the biggest hits to the Monsters roster happened on July 2nd when Tommy Cross signed a two-year, two-way contract with the Florida Panthers. Cross was a staple to the blue line in Cleveland. He was one of the more consistent players on the ice. You never had to guess what Cross you were going to get that night. One of the best parts of Cross is the way he tries to protect the goalie at all costs.
Mark Letestu signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Winnipeg Jets on July 2nd. Losing Letestu is a tough one to swallow. He was the veteran presence the Monsters needed last season. One of the best things about Letestu was the way he held everyone, including himself, accountable for their actions on the ice. When speaking with the media, Letestu didn’t mince words and was a straight shooter about how the team played.
Eight Monsters from the 2018-19 season signed contracts to return to the organization.
Leading up to free agency, the Blue Jackets re-signed Adam Clendening to a two-year contract. The first year of the contract will be a two-way. While the second year will be a one-way NHL deal. Clendening will be able to fill the hole Cross leaves behind. However, if Clendening stands out at Blue Jackets training camp, I don’t see him making a return to the Monsters.
Nikita Korostelev signed a one-year AHL contract with the Monsters on July 17th, 2019. This was a bit of a head scratcher as he didn’t have the best season last year. They obviously see something in Korostelev or else they wouldn’t have brought him back. Plus, if Korostelev begins to struggle, the Monsters can send him to the ECHL.
Ryan MacInnis accepted the Jackets one-year, two-way qualifying offer on July 16th. He had a strong start to last season but began to trickle off towards the end of November. There are a lot of forwards in the Blue Jackets organization. So, it’s a bit surprising they didn’t let this one walk.
On July 15th, Sonny Milano accepted the Jackets qualifying offer of a one-year, two-way contract. This allows Milano to become an RFA at the end of the 2019-20 season. It’s clear the arrest put Milano into a situation where he couldn’t negotiate with the Jackets or even another team in the league. After a standout performance during the Monsters’ playoff run, Milano was back on everyone’s radar. He had a lot of leverage going into the offseason but it all disappeared with one bad decision. Milano will need to have an all star season if he wants a shot at seeing the Majors anytime during his career. Hopefully, a coach like Mike Eaves will be able to pull the greatness, on and off ice, out of Milano.
Justin Scott will be back for another season. The Blue Jackets signed him to a one-year, two-way deal on July 10th. With an abundance of forwards at their disposal, I was afraid the Jackets wouldn’t offer Scott a contract and let him walk. Thankfully, the Jackets were smart enough to recognize there are many plus sides to having Scott in the organization. The best thing about Scott is the way he fills in when the defense falters. He has no qualms throwing his body in front of a shot to keep it from getting anywhere near the goaltender.
Doyle Somerby was given a one-year, two-way contract extension leading up to free agency. The Monsters need a guy like Somerby on the roster. Somerby is a consistent blue liner who is not afraid to stand up for his teammates. Plus, when playoffs roll around, his skill goes to the next level. Somerby is also a great guy for morale having people over to his place and when he can’t play is the team’s biggest fan.
Brad Thiessen is another one who signed a contract extension leading up to free agency. He’ll be back with the Monsters for another year. In my opinion, Thiessen is the true captain of the team. While he can’t wear the “C” on his sweater, Thiessen possesses a plethora of leadership qualities. Thiessen will never ask a teammate to do something he can’t or won’t do. If you watch closely, Thiessen will take time to communicate with the defense about what’s working or not working during the game. He understands the sport is fluid and adjustments need to be made to be successful. Plus, Thiessen is incredibly humble. Countless times Thiessen has carried the Monsters on his back and refused to give himself all the credit for a win or shutout.
When it came time for qualifying offers, the Blue Jackets didn’t one to Sam Vigneault. However, the Monsters believed Vigneault was still a perfect fit for the squad and brought him back for the 2019-20 season. Vigneault had a shaky start to the 2018-19 season. Nothing seemed to click with him. After being sent down to the ECHL around Thanksgiving, Vigneault started to put the pieces together and became a much stronger player. If Vigneault can keep an upward trajectory, he will show the Jackets what they missed when they let him go.
Through all of the craziness the Monsters gained one player.
On July 15th, the Monsters signed forward Bryan Moore to a one-year, two-way AHL/ECHL contract. Moore spent the bulk of last season playing for the Toledo Walleye (ECHL). He was an integral part of their Kelly Cup run with 18 goals and 24 assists. Moore’s 246 penalty minutes sent a message to the opposition that he was not going to put up with any shenanigans from the opposition. It will be interesting to see if Moore can stay out of the box while with the Monsters. Gritty ECHL players tend to struggle with the transition to the AHL as the refs are a bit tougher with the rules when it comes to heavy hits.