Houston Aeros 1994-2013: Thank you for all the great memories and two decades of great hockey and entertainment.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Post Trade Deadline Wrap-up

Not often the Aeros get a new player who's hoisted the Cup. Steve Kampfer during his day with the Cup. Photo by bostonbruinsTV

In the aftermath of yesterday's NHL trade deadline, the Aeros actually get a pretty good player out of the deal.

The team only made 2 trades but both were significant. The Wild rather shockingly traded away long-time defenseman Nick Schultz in a swap with Edmonton for defenseman Tom Gilbert, which seemed to have punched the locker room up there right in the gut.

Schultz is one of those "good guy" heart and soul types, really solid stay at home defenseman and it's clear the boys in the room and especially the goalies will miss him. Gilbert has more of an offensive gift and the Wild want more puck-moving defensemen to aid the lackluster offensive depth up there.

Reasonable but here's hoping the goalies have eaten their Wheaties because the Wild also traded away shot-blocking crazy man Greg Zanon to Boston for another puck moving d-man Steve Kampfer. However, young Kampfer will start his time in the organization as an Aero.

Seems he's had some injury issues since last season and, while he's back in the saddle, the team wants him to get his game going, his confidence up, etc. before bringing him up to the big club. They have enough d-men up there and Stoner should be healthy soon.

Here's a good (but oldish) article with lots of info on The New Guy, but what jumped out at me was that he used to be paired with Jeff Penner when the two were in Providence, so that's a bit of a reunion there, even though Penner is still out with an injury.

Unlike many anticipated, there was no goalie movement and in fact, GM Chuck Fletcher said Josh Harding could still be in the team's future plans, and moreover, Harding wants to be in Minnesota, so things just got real crowded in the goalie pipeline. 

So, that's that.

In addition, the Wild did some paper transactions yesterday to ensure that Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser, and Nick Palmieri (who was acquired in the Zidlicky trade last week from the Devils) would be eligible to play for the Aeros in the playoffs.

It's looking very unlikely that the Wild will get into the playoffs. I believe Russo calculated that they'd have to win 15 of the next 20 (or maybe it's 14 of the next 19 now?) to get in, which seems far-fetched, so assuming the Aeros do get in, they'd have some real solid help coming down.

And now, that's that.

San Antonio Saturday night, a quick trip to Abbotsford because the Heat miss their whipping boys, and then we all get to go back to the Toy Box and watch Live Hockey again. I won't lie: I've been crazy busy and have enjoyed the break, but it's time for some home ice advantage again.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Weekly Power Rankings: Now it's go time

There is only one clear-cut awesome team in the Western Conference this season. That team, obviously, is the OKC Barons. They will get everyone back for the playoffs, and they it will take a huge, huge upset for them not to play for the Calder Cup in June. And only teams that get to avoid them until the conference finals are the teams that end up winning the other divisions.

If you play in the West Division, and you advance, you're going to see the Barons in round 2.  Statement deleted because it is not factually correct. Many apologies.

PLAYOFFS?
But beyond OKC dominance, there is a ton of parity. From the 2 seed all the way down to the 11 seed, just nine points separates those 10 teams. And I think every one of those teams has a chance to make the playoffs. Unless they win 15 of 20 to close out the year, I just don't think Grand Rapids, Rockford, Hamilton or Texas has a good shot.

The Aeros, for example, don't play again until Saturday and could be in ninth place by after the weekend. They have 21 games left. If they go 11-10 in those games, the Aeros will finish with 86 points. Right now, 9th place Rochester has 61 points and has just 20 games left. They'd need to go 13-7 the rest of the way to pass the Aeros.

Both of those are quite feasible, but I think the Aeros actually have 12-14 wins left in them, unless the Wild are HUGE sellers later today.

Of all the teams battling for a 4-8 seed, the Aeros actually have the best schedule the rest of the way. Later on this week, I will start my playoff seeding spreadsheet that will show you a day-to-day look at the playoff picture. In that I don't really predict who will go ... I just show everyone's remaining schedule and results.

In the poll this week, again, there was not a whole lot of movement. Chicago dropped back a few spots. They are banged up and lost all three games this week. Grand Rapids and Rockford both had really good weeks, so they leapfrog Hamilton and Texas, who both did not play well during the last seven days.

It will be interesting to see which AHL teams are affected the most by the deadline. So far, Peoria is in the lead there with the loss of Ben Bishop. With as bad as they are defensively, they really need that guy ... We'll see what the week holds for them.


2011-12 Western Conference Power Rankings
Edition 5, February 27, 2012

PR
Team
Record
Streak
Last
+/-
For the record …
1
OKC
35-15-2-3
1-0
2-1-0-0
-
Won 20 of 27 on the road
2
TOR
31-19-4-2
1-0
2-1-0-0
-
Hottest team in the West
3
CHA
31-19-2-4
0-1
1-0-0-1
+1
Goals allowed a bit of a concern
4
SAT
30-23-2-1
0-1
2-1-0-0
+1
Dov still saving their bacon
5
CHI
30-20-2-3
0-3
0-2-1-0
-2
Injuries take their toll
6
HOU
26-17-3-9
1-0
1-1-0-0
+1
Snapped 4-game slide vs. TEX
7
PEO
30-24-2-1
1-0
2-2-0-0
-1
Swept in weekend set vs. SA
8
ABB
29-21-3-2
0-1
1-1-0-2
-
Just got Kolanos back *gulp*
9
MKE
28-22-2-2
1-0
2-0-0-1
-
Points in all 3 games last week
10
RCH
26-21-6-3
3-0
3-0-0-0
+1
Won’t go away; bad on road
11
LEM
27-25-2-3
0-1
1-2-0-1
-1
Lost 3 of 4 to fall back
12
GRR
23-21-5-4
3-0
3-0-0-0
+2
Conklin in the fold and winning
13
RFD
24-26-2-4
3-0
3-0-0-0
+2
They own the Wolves lately
14
HAM
25-25-1-4
0-1
1-2-0-0
-2
Falling again. 
15
TEX
24-27-2-2
0-1
1-2-0-0
-2
Just about out of it.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Aeros earn a split, blast Stars 5-2

I didn't see either game live, but I think the Aeros could have had four points this weekend had the real Tyler Beskorowany showed up for both games. The Stars rookie goalie was the real deal on Saturday night, allowing five goals as the Aeros pushed their way to a respectable 3-5 on the 11-game road trip.

I think Superman showed up the night before and traded gear with the netminder. The Aeros pounded shot after shot, especially late, but just could not get the game to overtime.

Really, I think getting down 2-0 was the killer on Friday, but Saturday, the Aeros just dominated from start to finish and really were determined not to leave Cedar Park with out two points.

And boy what a difference a few players make. What wonders skating with a full roster can do for a team that is still in the conference top five, but just four points ahead of the teams that are on the outside looking in.

Now the team will sit and watch the other teams play for a week. With 64 points, the Aeros can't get any better in the standings until next Saturday against one of the hottest teams in the AHL, the San Antonio Rampage.

Most of the other teams behind them in the standings play at least one game between now and then, and it is very likely the Aeros will fall anywhere from 7th to 9th place in the process. Make no mistake, next Satruday's game is going to be an absolute monster for the team that could look a bit different next week.

The NHL trade deadline is Monday, and there are all kids of rumors surrounding the Wild and what they are going to do at the deadline. I think they'd be foolish not to move Josh Harding, and if they do, Aeros fans have likely seen the last of Matt Hackett in bomber gear.

Also, do not expect to get Scandella or Prosser back until the playoffs start. Those guys are staying in Minnesota, and Warren Peters would have to clear waivers before he could be sent back to the Aeros. The Aeros could get a few players from the Wild before the end of the regular season, but it may be a new face.

All three players they got for Marek Zidlicky have spent time in the AHL this season.

Half glass full? The Aeros are getting players back and are still tied for fourth place in the standings. Half glass empty? Well, they very well could lose their best goalie this week, they are just three points ahead of two ninth place teams, and the last three games of their road trip are very, very losable (San Antonio is last years Aeros, and Houston has not beaten Abbotsford one time this season.)

My gut says the Aeros are still good enough to play .500 hockey the rest of the year and make the playoffs. And say what you want about Jim Mill, but if you can find a more competitive guy in the organization, you let me know. I think he, John Torchetti and the rest of the staff have done a very VERY good job of keeping this team afloat in the midst of the Wild gong show.

What do you think? Are the Aeros going to make the playoffs? How much scoreboard watching will you do this week?


Saturday, February 25, 2012

3-2 loss to Texas + a small trade and a huge trade

The Aeros lost 3-2 to the Stars tonight, with 4 of the goals (2 each) scored on the power play. Talk about special teams being the difference, eh?

On the up side, the Aeros outshot the Stars 41-33, but I guess goalie Beskoworany was the best-korowany he could be tonight! (Sorry, that was terrible.)

Also, Kuemper finally got to start because Hackett is still up in Minnesota. In fact, Hack got in tonight's Wild game up in Dallas after Nik Backstrom wasn't getting it done and allowed 3 goals by early in the second period. I had a feeling they should have started Hackett, who closed the door the rest of the way, but what do I know about goaltending, right? ;)

The Aeros played with a full roster tonight, so no excuses re: the short bench, other than they had to play 7 defensemen, including newest Aero Benn Olson (wearing #2).

Olson dukes it out for the Everblades. Photo by Brian Tietz
The team traded "future considerations" for him today with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He's a big dude, and a fighter, and... that's about it. I'm sure he's a very nice guy, but I'm not sure of the point of the trade. The team has plenty of grit and defensemen already.

Also, McMillan was sent down and returned to the line-up.

More good news (look how sunshiny everything really is if you ignore the bad stuff!) is that the Wild traded Grumpy McFumblepuck, er, I mean Marek Zidlicky today for FIVE dudes! Okay, 3 dudes (Kurtis Foster, Stephan Veilleux, and Nick Palmieri) and two picks.

Three dudes suddenly on the roster is a big deal both in Minnesota and here in Houston. Currently, all 3 are going to the Wild (at least their equipment manager has tweeted what their jersey numbers will be), which means the Aeros should get back one or two of Ortmeyer, Rau, or Peters.

Love love love the trade for what it does at both ends of the organization. I'm not sure it changes the trajectory for either team but they'll at least both hopefully finish out the season with some dignity.

Looking ahead: Aeros play Stars again tomorrow night. Yay. Monday is the NHL trade deadline so more deals could be on the horizon, though this one today, at least in terms of unloading Zidlicky, was almost inevitable.

Then, teams can make AHL moves until March 5 at 3 p.m. when they have to submit their Clear Day Rosters. And after that, there's your team for the remainder of the season except in case of injuries or emergencies or "injuries" or "emergencies."

Wish I could say "see you soon!" right here but still 2 more weeks before the boys are home again. Is anybody up in Austin this weekend for the games? Or going to San Antonio next weekend?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Former Player Update: Mitch Love article

Glorious photo by Fred Trask.
Gone are the good ol' days, eh?
Mitch Love will always be one of my favorite Aeros.

Great entertainer, fighter and quote ... he always gave everything he had. Now he is an assistant coach with the Everett Silvertips.

Read this story from a local paper. Good stuff.

When Mitch was a free agent the summer after his one-year stint in Houston, I remember asking management if he was a guy that just had to be back.

The Aeros wanted him back in the fold, but the St. Louis Blue organization made him a financial offer that he could not turn down.

Mitch called Constantine (KC) to ask him what he should do, and Constantine basically told him, "I want you back, but the Wild cannot offer you what St. Louis offered you."

The Aeros Tom Lynn pretty much told me the same thing, and that was in the same conversation about why the Aeros could not afford to bring back Corey Locke.

KC went on to tell Love to basically take the offer and not to make the decision any harder on him.

"You earned that raise, Mitch," said KC. "You deserve it ... "

Mitch was not able to replicate the same success with the Blues, and the next year (last year) he signed a CHL contact to play with the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs. He got hurt, didn't play much and returned to Everett this year to be an Assistant Coach.






Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tony Hrkac Update

Every now and then we like to check up on former Aeros, and today we're checking up on Tony Hrkac, one of the unexpected heros of the 2009 playoff run. Hrkac came out of retirement -- and a new career as college coach -- to join the roster at the tail end of that season.

News comes today that Hrkac no longer has to worry about that career as a head coach as he was dismissed from his job as head coach of Concordia. That frees him up, however, to join the Aeros roster. And with the way the Wild are going through Aeros players left and right, it's possible that he could still end up as the Wild's leading scorer this season (that was said with tongue firmly in cheek. Please use your own sarcasm font) .

And This Means What...

UPDATE - 


Aeros GM Jim Mill confirmed this morning that Josh Harding is injured, forcing the recall of Hackett from the Aeros. 

The timing could not have been better for Hackett. 



I know he is busting his ass out there, but at least during one part of every game, it looks like he wants to pick up one of his teammates, spin them over his head and thrown them headfirst into the short wall. 


We'll keep you posted if we find out more ... 

We were all puzzled this morning when we noticed a report from a Colorado paper that the Aeros had called up a ECHL goalie named Robby Nolan from the Colorado Eagles.  Puzzled since the Aeros had yet to announce anything, since Matt Hackett and Darcy Kuemper were both supposedly healthy, and since both Wild goalies were supposedly healthy.


Things have yet to be totally have been clarified, but because Wild beat writer Michael Russo is reporting that the Wild have recalled Matt Hackett even though Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding are healthy and both of them skated at practice yesterday.  So make of it what you will. because Harding tweaked something in practice yesterday.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Rise of the Wolves continues

If the Vancouver Canucks can stay mostly healthy down the stretch, the Chicago Wolves are a final four AHL team in my opinion. Since the new year, they have done nothing but win, and right now, I'd take them in a best of 7 against just about any team save for maybe the OKC Barons.

Wolves move into Top 4 after an
impressive week on the ice. 
With Climie and Lack in net, the pressure is off to score four goals a game to get a win. The continuity is there to build chemistry and confidence. (In the dictionary, that is a synonym for "Houston Aeros"). Since most of our readers are Aeros fans, be very glad that the Wolves are in a different division this year. Playing the Wolves just two more times this year may be a blessing in disguise.

Other big winners this week were Abbotsford, Hamiltion and Texas .... All three had great weeekend, and the Bulldogs have won four straight. Toronto won two of three last week to keep a hold on the No. 2 spot. They are probably the best home team in the AHL and will be a very tough first round opponent for someone.

Big losers last week were the Rochester Amerks, Grand Rapids and Rockford. King Loser title for the week goes to the Houston Aeros for playing with just 16 skaters on Friday, 17 on Saturday and losing both games to the Abbotsford Heat. Houston lost all three in the stretch, but did play a very good game against Milwaukee on Valentine's Day. The Aeros probably deserved at least a point in that game, but the posts were very kind to the Milwaukee netminder.

The Aeros exist to help the Minnesota Wild, and they have to field what they think is a competitive team in the NHL. Aeros fans will continue to suffer until the ship is righted in St. Paul. When they get their act together, things should stabilize in Houston. That does not mean they'll get better, but that will likely put an end to playing with too few players in big division games.

Minnesota has been a joke for about two months, and the Aeros are only in the top 8 of this poll because they continue to have the fewest regulation losses in the conference.

Right now the Aeros are a team without confidence, and the guys in the locker room, while not publicly, are questioning their stance with the organization. Jim Mill keeps saying that he is trying to do everything he can to make the Aeros better. But his No. 1 priority right now is helping his GM make the Wild better. Things have to change for the better up there, or those guys are only going to have one more year to show they've made some progress.

Don't expect sweeping changes for the better in advance of the trading deadline. The best moves for the Aeros right now is just hoping the Wild get healthier before too long.




2011-12 Western Conference Power Rankings
Edition 4, February 20, 2012

PR
Team
Record
Streak
Last
+/-
For the record …
1
OKC
33-14-2-3
0-1
1-2-0-0
-
Lost 2 of 3 to MKE and SAT
2
TOR
29-18-4-2
0-1
2-1-0-0
-
16-5-3-1 at home
3
CHI
30-18-1-3
4-0
3-0-0-0
+2
Hottest team in the West
4
CLT
30-19-2-3
0-2
1-1-0-1
-
Jumped TOR in standings
5
SAT
28-22-2-1
1-0
1-1-0-1
+1
Lost two straight to Texas
6
PEO
28-22-2-1
1-0
2-1-0-0
+1
Won four of six to stay hot
7
HOU
25-16-3-9
0-3
0-3-0-0
-4
Expect more disappointment
8
ABB
28-20-3-0
2-0
2-0-0-0
+2
Powered past weak HOU
9
MKE
26-22-2-1
0-1
1-2-0-0
-
Split huge series at OKC
10
LEM
26-23-2-2
1-0
2-1-0-0
+1
Keep moving up with wins
11
RCH
23-21-6-3
0-2
1-2-0-0
-3
Have lost 4 of 6 to fall back
12
HAM
24-23-1-4
4-0
3-0-0-0
+2
4 straight wins, but 5-5 in L 10
13
TEX
23-25-2-2
2-0
2-1-0-0
+2
Huge weekend sweep of SAT
14
GRR
20-21-5-4
0-2
0-1-1-0
-2
Played fewest games in West
15
RFD
21-26-2-4
0-3
0-2-1-0
-2
Lost 3 straight in a bad week