As hard as it might be to believe, hockey season starts tonight. And for the Houston Aeros, this season starts in the same place that last season's ended. In Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The 2009-10 Aeros are going to be a rather different looking team than what you saw on the ice last year. Krys Kolanos, Corey Locke, Jesse Schultz, and the rest of the team's key offensive talent from last year are gone. Goalie Nolan Schaefer has departed for Russia. As for their replacements, well, decisions are still being made by the Aeros and the Minnesota Wild, so it's probably going to be a few weeks before the final roster is completely and totally in place.
Coming into the season, head coach Kevin Constantine says it's an unknown. There are just so many new players that, right now, it's hard to make a judgment about what the team will be like this season.
"If you look at our team, the goaltending is somewhat the same -- two of the three goalies are the same and [new goalie Wade Dubielewicz and former goalie Nolan Schaefer] have similar resumes experience-wise -- so that should make our goaltending pretty similar," Constantine tells Hair Balls.
On defense, "we've got four guys who were part of our top four. And the guys that have come in, [Ryan] Lannon, [Jamie] Fraser, and [J.P.] Testwuide in the playoffs for us last year, they're all really good D. I think our D is just as good or even better.
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"Our forwards, I don't know. If you look at our playoff roster, seven of our nine guys that were our top point leaders aren't here. That doesn't mean we're going to be less effective offensively. It's just such an unknown."
Those unknowns will probably be led by the newly arrived Nathan Smith and Colton Gillies, and by newly arrived, I mean newly arrived as they were just shipped down from Minnesota to join the team.
Some of you might recognize Gillies as he played with the Aeros for the tail end of the 2007-08 season and spent last year with the Wild. And Smith is an AHL veteran coming off a disappointing 2008-09 season with the Lake Erie Monsters. Also recently arrived from Minnesota is center Andy Hilbert, an NHL veteran and former AHL All-Star. Constantine has said in the past that it often takes him the first quarter of the season to get a real feel and understanding for his team.
And it's often been the case that the Aeros one sees early in the season differs from what one sees at the end. So while it might still be unknown to Constantine what to expect from his team this year, it should be pretty safe for the fans to assume that Constantine will figure it all out and find a way to assemble the jigsaw puzzle of pieces that he has received from the Wild into a team that will reach the AHL playoffs come April.