Summer Mailbag: Lewington, Free Agents and More
Happy July Hershey Bears fans! A lot has happened since the last time we had our Summer Mailbag. Spencer Carbery was named head coach, the Capitals held Development Camp, some new Bears were signed in free agency, and our schedule was released.
I got A LOT of questions for this rendition of the Summer Mailbag, so we'll have another article coming at you next week. Remember, tweet @zackfisch with your questions, or email me at email@example.com.
In today’s post, I wanted to address the most asked questions I’ve had from fans. We’ll have a little bit more fun and get to plenty of other topics in our next post.
Without further ado, let’s get started….
Now that we know winning in Hershey is not a @Capitals priority...and with Hershey having little control over its roster...how does Bears front office plan to recalibrate the mindset of success in Hershey = Calder Cups...to Stanley Cups for Washington ?
I’ll start with the toughest question, and this will be my longest answer. The goal is still a Calder Cup in Hershey each and every year. The Bears front office and hockey operations department understands that and strives to work towards that goal every day. The high-expectations and the gold standard are part of what makes Hershey so special.
To the points of this question: I know a recent quote from Steve Richmond, Capitals director of player development, in a Mike Vogel article has ruffled some feathers with fans. Certainly, knowing Richmond, who regularly attends Bears games, it was not meant as a knock on Hershey. To me, I see this as everyone is on the same page now. The Capitals control the roster and have the final decision, with Hershey having input on the entire process. Before, the Capitals and the Bears could each have some individuality in their decisions, which had the potential of leading to issues, but now all are aligned.
Let me say this: Absolutely everyone in the Capitals organization knows winning is important in development. It was showcased as 14 former Bears helped the Capitals win the Stanley Cup. Many of those who played a key role, like Christian Djoos, Chandler Stephenson, and Jakub Vrana, helped Hershey to a Calder Cup Final in 2016. Furthermore, guys like Jay Beagle, John Carlson, and Braden Holtby were involved in Calder Cup titles in Hershey. I interviewed a lot of those former Bears while in DC, and everyone mentioned how important playing in big games in Hershey was in their development.
It was satisfying to see 14 former Bears win the Stanley Cup with the Capitals, but it’s not that much fun when you’re sitting on the sidelines. Last year was not a good one in Hershey. The free agent signings didn’t pan out, and some key players stuck in Washington rather than in Chocolatetown. However, since the Capitals took over the affiliation in 2005 (which has seen three Calder Cup wins occur in that time frame) this was the first major setback.
The Capitals have made strides to fix what happened last year. First a coaching change was made. If it was all about development, that never would have happened. So many former Bears coached by Troy Mann flourished in DC this past year, despite this, after a poor season, his contract was not renewed. Enter Spencer Carbery. He’s going to come to work every day trying to help the prospects get better, but most of all, he’s worrying about winning hockey games. The Capitals knocked it out of the park with his hire. “Carbs” is extremely competitive and hates to lose, but most of all, he loves to win.
Secondly, it’ll be a youth movement in Hershey this year, but to me, that’s exciting. There will be a ton of young players, and sure, youth has its ups and downs, but these are talented prospects that Washington is stocking Hershey with. There is always uncertainly with unproven players at the pro level. However, three years ago, Riley Barber and Travis Boyd were unproven rookies, and right before your eyes, they became 50+ point players who were a giant part of a Calder Cup Final team.
It will be a battle in the Atlantic Division again. Video clips don’t tell the full story, but I enjoy getting a glimpse of what is to come. We’re in the dog days of summer, but seeing clips of Garret Pilon’s 80-point season, Shane Gerisch dazzling, Brian Pinho showing offensive flair, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby flying (and doing THIS to Team USA), Juuso Ikonen showcasing off his high skill level, and Ilya Samsonov making saves like this one, I am optimistic about this year. The Capitals prospects coming to Hershey appear to be good ones, and they’ll get a great opportunity to develop here. Furthermore, they’ll be asked to win, and being a playoff club who makes a run will only make them better in the long run.
With a ton of first year players coming in (Gersich, Ikonen, Fjallby, Kammerer etc) and vets departing (Bourque, Graovac) are there plans for more vets to come in on AHL deals?
Do you feel there will be anymore veteran signings? Hear any rumors in the rumor mill towards Hershey and the capitals
Any other news on potential free agent signings for Hershey. Mainly in the wing department?
In case you missed it, the Capitals signed forwards Jayson Megna and Michael Sgarbossa on July 2. Megna is a former 26-goal scorer in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and spent most of 2016-17 in Vancouver before being hampered by injuries. Sgarbossa is someone the Capitals really liked. He had a 40-point year in Manitoba last season, and has NHL experience. Both are veteran players.
Regarding more free agents coming in, I don’t think the Bears are done, if the right opportunity presents itself. There is still an interest to add a veteran scoring winger to the roster. Things have slowed down signing wise as players weigh options, but Hershey would like to add another veteran to the fold who is a proven scorer at the NHL/AHL level and can provide some leadership. I imagine this might come in the form of an AHL deal. Additionally, Hershey is interested in adding a second veteran defender to the mix. Aaron Ness is a back, and the young defenders raved about his leadership, but another experienced blue liner would really help the kids.
Regarding big names in free agency, the Capitals were very active in regards to the Bears. They went after top guys like Austin Czarnik, Ben Street, Buddy Robinson, Matthew Peca, Tommy Cross, and others. However, every team is throwing money around these days. In Czarnik’s case, he got $1.3 million for two years on a one-way deal from Calgary. He got paid, and he’ll get an NHL shot. With the Capitals roster the way it is now, a guy like Czarnik is not going to get a great opportunity to be a top-9 player in Washington. The Capitals have a Stanley Cup winning forward group pretty much locked up. You cannot blame these free agents for looking elsewhere, but Washington was aggressive, and they snagged two of their big targets in Sgarbossa and Megna. Another veteran or two would really go a long way in my opinion, so hopefully something gets done before the puck drops in October.
I see a lot of centers on the depth chart but no obvious #1. How would you apportion minutes between Megna, Sgarbossa, Pinho, Pilon, Kammerer, and Gustafsson? Which of those is most likely to move to wing to break up the logjam
Obviously, we will need to see who of the young guys really proves themselves. I’d rank the centers as this now:
Kammerer will likely play wing. Megna played some wing in the NHL too. That’s just my opinion on the centers as it stands, and a young guy could quickly become a top-6 guy like Travis Boyd did in 2015-16. He was originally penciled in by the Hershey coaching staff as the 4th line center and went on to have a stellar season and earn big minutes.
Is Tobias Geisser jumping to NA next season? He'd add to an already crowded blueline in Hershey where there doesn't seem to be a lot of playing time to go around unless someone makes the Caps out of camp.
Elite Prospects has Geisser coming to North America, and I know he’s done some interviews that say the same. However, the Bears are not anticipating to have him next year based on their conversations with Washington. With a crowded, young blue line here, I imagine playing in Switzerland another year would be helpful to his development. I’m sure he will come to Capitals training camp, but as of now, I don’t anticipate him in Hershey in 2018-19.
Everybody mention johanson, jonas and hobbs as candidates for job in dc, but what about colby williams and lewington odds for that? Do you see them in NHL eventually?
If the NHL season started today, I think Tyler Lewington would be Washington’s seventh defenseman. As of now, they’ve lost Brooks Orpik, but he could be re-signed. Lewington plays a tough, rugged, meat and potatoes style. He’s not going to score, but he’s good in his own zone and doesn’t back down to anyone. If Orpik, or someone else is not brought in, the job could be Lewington’s to lose.
Certainly as you mentioned, those other names are the ones that get all the press clippings as they are highly regarded. However, the Capitals aren’t going to want any of those guys, Williams included, not playing every night as the extra defender, so they’re still a bit off unless one of them has a stellar training camp and things change.
What do you think of Chris Bourque leaving?
Do you think Chris Bourque’s number will be retired? Personally, i believe he’s earned and NO ONE should wear that number again.
Chris Bourque is one of the greatest to ever wear the Chocolate and White. He’s guaranteed to be an AHL Hall of Famer, and I 100% believe #17 will hang in the rafters at Giant Center once his playing career is done.
With that said, the timing for a mutual split was right. With the youth movement at forward, Hershey’s forward spots are thin, and they need veteran leaders up front that not only put the puck in the net, but ones that are also known as mentors and teachers to the youth. From Chris’ perspective, missing the playoffs was frustrating last year. For him, going to Bridgeport gives him a chance to play with his brother Ryan again. Even though it’s been reported Chris signed an AHL deal, with the Islanders lacking talent up front, there is a possibility if he plays well in the AHL he could again get an NHL look. That would not happen in Washington. Going to Bridgeport also puts Chris closer to home.
His points will be tough to replace, and no doubt he will get a standing ovation (rightfully so) when the Sound Tigers visit on Oct. 7.
Will Mitchy be returning?
Nothing is ever completely solidified until the puck drops in October, but I do not believe Garrett Mitchell will return. Mitchell was brought back last season to be a veteran leader, but it was made clear to him by Hershey and Washington that he might not play every game. His stat line only saw him post 8 points in 47 games. With the vast amount of new forwards coming in this year, there is just simply not room for another bottom-six grinder. Garrett and his family are first-class people. He’s one of the best I’ve ever worked with and has gone above and beyond to be helpful in anything I’ve ever needed.
In our next post, we will talk more about Spencer Carbery, the assistant coach search, my favorite AHL arenas, and more. Until then, the countdown to puck drop on the 2018-19 season is on!
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