It may be hockey's off-season, but as with all of the other sports, there is no such thing as a true off-season. Coaches are fired and hired. Players are cut and traded and signed as free agents. There's a draft. There are various player camps.
At this time last year, the Houston Aeros were coming off a trip to the AHL's Western Conference Finals, and though they lost many key offensive players, the coaching staff was returning, as were many of the key defensive players.
But with a change in the staff at the Aeros parent club Minnesota Wild, and a change in philosophy with the Wild, the Aeros found themselves struggling through a season in which nothing coach Kevin Constantine tried actually worked.
Constantine and his staff were held responsible for the team's shortcomings and missing the playoffs, and the Wild have brought in a new coach, Mike Yeo, and are continuing to reshape a roster that, last year, just couldn't get the job done.
"We inherited somewhat of a situation last year," Aeros GM/Wild assistant GM Jim Mill said last week. "This year, it'll be our situation -- we're certainly accountable for what happened last year, and we'll be even, quite frankly, more accountable for this year."
While Constantine did a fantastic job to keep the club in playoff contention last year, the roster ultimately lacked the depth and talent of the team's competition, and with injuries and disappointing play being the guiding factor with last year's Wild, the Aeros never stood a chance. But Mill thinks that, in Yeo, the Aeros and Wild will be more in sync in terms of style of play and talent.
"What we're looking for is he's [Yeo's] got to be the right fit for the organization, and the right fit for Mike [Yeo] to believe in what [Wild GM] Chuck [Fletcher] and I and [Wild coach] Todd Richards believe in, and obviously what Mike believes in," Mill said. "That's an aggressive style of hockey..."
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Returning to the club, barring injuries with the Wild or fantastic training camp results, will be youngsters Chad Rau, Cody Almond, and Carson McMillan. Rau was a revelation in his first professional year, finishing as one of the team's top scorers, playing in nearly every game, and never appearing to be out of his element. Almond suffered through some early injuries and some stupid play, but showed the promise that made the Wild high on him in the first place, and McMillan was a good energy guide.
Joining those three will be Jean-Michel Daoust, the team's leading scorer from last season, and one of those guys who is in the mix of any action on the ice, be it a goal, a fight, or any type of action. And last year's captain, Jon DiSalvatore will be returning, as well defenseman Jamie Fraser.
"We're real excited about those two guys because, again, Jon, I've known a long time, and he still believes he can -- and so do we -- that he has a chance," Mill said. "He's also a 600-plus game veteran, and he scores 20-25 goals, 20-30 assists [a year], and he's a leader and a consummate professional. He'll be great for the city of Houston, and he'll be great for our kids and the organization as well."
Joining the team will be free agent signings Warren Peters, who spent last season with the AHL's Texas Stars, and defenseman Drew Bagnall, who played for the Manchester Monarchs.