The season's all over for the Houston Aeros, and a season that started with a defeat in Winnipeg ended with a loss in San Antonio. In between, the wins and losses evened out and the Aeros finished the season with a 34-34-7-5 record (80 points), good enough for last place in the AHL's West Division.
The season was a huge disappointment for the players, coaches, and fans, especially coming off of the 2008-09 season which found the Aeros finishing one game short of playing for the Calder Cup.
Between last season and this, the Aeros underwent a big shakeup, in part fueled by the big shakeup occurring with the parent club, the Minnesota Wild, who were undergoing a massive influx of new players, new coaches, and new management. That in turn resulted in a massive influx of new players in Houston, as well as new front-office management, and if the off-the-record rumors are true, this coming offseason will result in even more player shakeups as well as a new coaching staff.
The Aeros did go out in style in their final home game, on Saturday night, pulling out the 4-2 win over the cross-state rival Texas Stars. The Aeros took the 1-0 lead in the second period on Saturday, a period in which they bombarded Texas goalie Richard Bachman with a total of 24 shots.
Still the Stars took a 2-1 lead early in the third. But the Aeros wanted the win, and they were not going to be denied. But they ended the season by losing 3-2 to San Antonio on Sunday.
Head coach Kevin Constantine said the guys had discussed it throughout last week, and they had pride in themselves, and wanted to put on a good show for the fans on Saturday. The win guaranteed the team of a .500 season, and Constantine said no professional wants to be known as a loser, and the win insured they would not have a losing season.
"Anybody in this profession, you don't get to this level without some pride, it's what kind of motivates you," he said. "There are lots of things along the way that motivate you, and pride's one of them. And sitting there and not making the playoffs, it just wasn't fun. It's never been really a work issue with these guys. They've worked pretty hard all year....we didn't start well, and at times we didn't execute maybe quite as well as we would have liked to get some more goals. But the bottom line is that they worked hard and they want to salvage something out of the year, and they're proud and they put a good effort in tonight."
It's been rumored since the changes with the Wild last off season that Constantine would not be back after this season, when his contract expired. And he wouldn't discuss his return, or non-return to the team, this weekend.
But as often happens with minor league teams, the coaches and staff are subject to the whims of the guys running the big league club, and generally, those guys want their people -- people they've worked with before or with whom their friends -- to come in and run a system that approximates what the big league clubs runs.
Constantine and his top assistant, Troy Ward (also the team's assistant GM) were often handicapped this season in that the Wild did not give them as much freedom over personnel decisions as the previous regime did, and with the Wild often resembling an ER-ward this season, thus necessitating a constant flow of talent from Houston to St. Paul, the Aeros could just never gel as a team.
Along with a possible new coaching staff, the fans should expect to see a lot new names come next season. The only players who spent time on the Aeros roster this season who have contracts with the Wild/Aeros for next season are Max Noreau (who was named to the all-AHL second team last week), Colton Gillies, Marco Scandella, Carson McMillan, Justin Falk, and Cody Almond.
There's another group of players who are restricted free agents, which means the parent club must make a qualifying contract offer to retain negotiating rights to the player. If the qualifying offer is not made, the player is an unrestricted free agent. The qualifying offer allows the player to negotiate with other teams, but gives the original club the right to match the offer. These players are Anton Khudobin, Jaime Fraser, Robbie Earl, Danny Irmen, Petr Kalus, and Matt Kassian.
And like Kevin Constantine and his staff, whose contracts have expired, the rest of the players are either unrestricted free agents, or were on one year AHL contracts.
So that's it for hockey, in Houston, until September. I'll try to keep you updated to the comings-and-goings throughout the spring and summer, and hope to see you inside Toyota Center (where the Aeros were one of the top drawing teams in the AHL with an average of 5,770 per game) next season.