With the QMJHL draft less than 10 days away, let the speculation begin.
But not the speculation everyone might think about.
There are a few in-house items that need solving first: Who’s the new team president going to be? Who’s this potential new local owner? And who is joining J.F. Houle and Jeff Guay behind the bench this season?
Two of the three ought to be clear next week, before the draft. The third, well, that one’s still up in the air.
It’s fun to speculate, though. For instance, we know the assistant coach comes with little in the way of coaching experience per se, but has played in the NHL, and has worn a letter there. There are dozens of possibilities.
On the ownership side, there are very few people in the community, given the current economic climate, who would want to — or could afford to — give it a go as a minor shareholder. But again, there are a few.
The latter will likely not be as much of a surprise as the former, at least so I am told. I am not going to go out and guess publicly. That would not be very responsible on my end, though I encourage anyone reading this who has ideas (or concrete knowledge, for that matter) to go ahead and do that, if you want.
Meanwhile, there’s the hockey side of all of this.
The first Lewiston pick, currently, is in the third round, and there is speculation that the deal that is ultimately bringing the team a goalie could also involve moving down in the third round.
The long-rumored trade with Cape Breton that sent Eric Gelinas to the Eagles (and then on to Chicoutimi) will likely be made official first thing Friday morning before the draft, along with a couple of other housekeeping trades with picks.
Other rumored deals, involving Billy Lacasse, J-F Plante, Antoine Houde-Caron and Olivier Dame-Malka, if all set in stone, would also likely pass through the league office very early that same morning.
But, the Maineiacs are likely not finished there.
Roy might get flipped, but one source I spoke with said that as of right now, that is not in the works. GM Roger Shannon has got to be looking for a king’s ransom if he plans on trading the player who could be a centerpiece to a run at a cup.
There is also word out there of a potential deal in place with another European player, which would mean that one of the team’s two current skaters from across the pond — either Michal Hlinka or Oskar Orrpars — would have to go.
Any way you slice it, here is a quick rundown of what the Maineiacs’ roster may look like next year. For this exercise, let’s assume that all currently rumored deals not involving a goalie are true.
Antoine Houde-Caron (20)
Pier-Olivier Morin (19)
Michal Hlinka (19)*
Etienne Brodeur (19)
Cameron Critchlow (19)
Nick Huard (19)
Jess Tanguy (18)
Matthew Bissonette (18)
Michael Chaput (18)
Stefan Fournier (18)
Oskar Orrpars (18)*
Francis Beauvillier (17)
Samuel Henley (17)
Eric Bonawitz (20)
Olivier Dame-Malka (20)
Sam Finn (19)
Samuel Carrier (18)
Zach Shannon (18)
Zachary Evans-Renaud (18)
Ian Saab (18)
Olivier Roy (19)
Jordan Kennedy (17)
Note that everything above is without a single trade beyond those already strongly rumored, and without a single addition via the draft, European or otherwise.
Eric Bonawitz is going to have to seriously impress the staff to stick as a 20-year-old. can he do it? Sure. But it won’t be easy. The staff has to weigh his viability this season against possibly grooming another younger defenseman for the team’s stated big run in 2011-12.
The same goes for all of the players on the roster, really.
This team has the potential to be monstrous, not only in 2011-12, but even at the tail end of next season, with the proper moves.
People can clamor for a sniper all they want, but now, this team has a handful, and they’re almost all from within the system from the beginning. Expect big things this year from Bissonette, Chaput and Fournier. But, more importantly to the team and to the ‘big three,’ will be the development of the team’s secondary scoring punch. Players like Beauvillier, Morin and Critchlow are going to have to make it hard for teams to lock down just one line. If Hlinka stays, count him in that combination.
Lewiston fans will have their pick of snipers.
Grinders, too. Brodeur, Critchlow, Houde-Caron, and on ‘D,’ Bonawitz, Saab and Dame-Malka can all be physical with the best of them.
The biggest question mark continues to be the back end. Will this be the year Zach Shannon finally emerges. Remember, he’s one of the youngest in his age group each season, due to his birthday, so even though he is 18 by league standards, he won’t actually be there until well into the season. There is Saab, and Evans-Renaud, both of whom came into the fold last last year in the front end of the Gelinas deal. Both were serviceable last season, and both could figure into the future plans.
This offseason, the Maineiacs have been closely monitoring the players, and making sure all of the players are on personalized workout and diet regimens suited specifically to their needs. That alone is a major hurdle overcome.
Training camp, they say, will be different, too. Focus and emphasis on the players, helping them acclimate to their surroundings, and molding them earlier in the season into a cohesive unit.
The one thing missing in all of this is a clear leader in the front office. That, the team continues to say, is coming. But the team continues to stall, for whatever reason.
There is little cause for concern. Yet.
If, by the time the dust settles from the draft, there is still no word on that situation, then it will be time to start thinking a bit harder about it.
But for now, with a new push toward at least minority ownership from the Twin Cities, with a push to be the best team in the league in the next couple of years, and with obvious talent returning to the roster, there is good reason for the people, for the hockey fans in the area, to be optimistic.
As the next couple of weeks continue to unfold, as the picture comes into focus, hopefully the team will then begin to do what’s been needed all along: Market the heck out of the squad until we’re all sick of hearing about it. This team has never really shoved the product down this region’s throat.
That time is now, if they hope to remain here for the long term. I believe that the team can work here. It’s going to take an innovative approach, and an understanding of what this town is, was and will be. but it can happen.
With the right people in place.
And that reportedly all starts next week.
Also, look in the next few days for an announcement about live draft coverage at sunjournal.com, likely right here in this blog.