On the record, I think OKC gets their first-ever win tonight, tomorrow is a toss-up as Peoria is the most talented team in the division ... and then on Sunday, the Aeros improve to 1-1 both at home and against the Barons this season.
Matt Hackett goes tonight and suffers a tough loss, a rusty Anton gets drilled tomorrow night and for the sake of getting him some work, I think Mike Yeo has to play Anton again Sunday in what I think will be a win.
As for the rest of the season? Well, to be fair, and I say this every year, you need to see the team 20-25 games before you really know what they are about and what they can be capable of. We know this team is younger, more aggressive team with a new system. But as it has been pointed out before, they did not add any major AHL upgrades when it comes to scoring.
They are going to rely on Jon DiSalvatore's 20-22 goals, Warren Peters' 30-35 assists and the netminding of Anton and Hackett. What they hope to get is breakout years from guys like Joel Broda, Petr Kalus and Robbie Earl.
Who knows, right? Maybe Yeo comes in, changes the entire culture and Hackett ends up the rookie of the year. If that happens, I can see the Aeros not only making the playoffs, but being a serious contender, too.
I think there is hope, and I don't think Yeo is to let anyone off the hook as far as taking a random night off because they don't like being in Houston instead of St. Paul. Or using a ton of excuses about having to play a ridiculous number of three games in three nights.
But here is what worries me.
The Aeros don't have any, not a one, elite AHL player on their roster. There are other teams in the West that have essentially bought a playoff spot. The Aeros have spent the least amount of money in the entire Western Conference on salary, and if you look back at AHL champs of old, you commonly see teams with a mix of AHL snipers and talented rookies. (Excluding Chicago, who often does not even need talented rookies.)
On paper, Peoria, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and Chicago are better teams that the Aeros. I think the Aeros, Milwaukee and Texas will be fighting for a playoff spot. The least talented team in the division is the Rockford IceHogs, and even they spent some money (nearly $2,000,000) and could be a factor when teams start calling up players because of injuries, etc.
Who IS going to carry the weight when injuries happen and when guys get called up? It's the guys you spend some bucks on to play at a high level in the AHL (see Darren Haydar, Alex Giroux, Corey Locke and Joel Perrault).
Here is a chart from another blog that has a wonderful breakdown of what all the AHL teams in the West spent for their teams. It will be interesting to see, at the end of the year, what all this money did or did not do for them.
The Aeros are one of three teams who do not have a $200,000 dollar player.
The Chicago Wolves have a total of 12 (!!!) who make more than $100,000. The Aeros have four.
Just roll that around.
To be fair, I think Jim Mill did a very good job of putting together a decent roster with just $1.4 million. But we'll see how that translates in mid December, when we should have a decent indication of where the Aeros will be come March.
Predictions are meaningless this time of year, but if someone put a gun to my head and told me to give them an order of finish for the AHL west this year, this is how I would go:
Houston (gets in as No. 5 team)
One of my colleagues that covers the West has this as his predicted order of finish for the West:
And then Patrick Williams of The Hockey News has this as his AHL West rankings:
As you can see, there is a fair amount of consistency at the top, and not so much after that. Patrick is a bit more biased toward the North Division and Eastern Conference and he must have done these rankings before Rockford sold the farm. I can see several scenarios where Texas might get in ahead of the Aeros or even Milwaukee, but that is because of Brent Krahn. The Stars lost a ton of their mojo (with four of their key players either joining San Antonio (3) or Houston (1). Crazy.
Again, it's WAY to early to make a good prediction, but I think the Aeros will be good enough to squeak in as the cross-over. I think they will be playing Rochester or Manitoba in the first round of the playoffs, so that would be kind of neat.
What are your thoughts? What do you think of the Aeros going into their 17th season in Houston?