Bridgeport used 39 players this year, and all 39 are in those lists below. For the first time, the Sound Tigers did not sign a single player to a pro tryout during the year. Part was a clear desire from up top to stick with the guys they’d signed, making calls to Worcester, only going outside to bring in Andre Benoit from Columbus when their top three power-play defensemen were out. Another (perhaps lesser) part is this: The team finishes with 168 man-games lost to injury, which is the second-fewest in the past decade (and only three off that low, set in 2014-15). On St. Patrick’s Day, though, that number was 101 (1.6 per game over 63 games), and 66 of those were split evenly between Stephen Gionta and Devon Toews. After St. Patrick’s Day, they racked up 67 man-games over 13 games (5.2 per).
What with the playoffs looking doubtful for a few weeks, you might’ve noticed that a lot of off-day stories and even some gamers turned into featurey season status reports. (Stories were and are tweeted here, if you want to go back.) So on Tuesday, our “exit interviews” were kind of differently focused, maybe less-focused, maybe more general in some cases or more team-focused in others.
We managed to get at least a line or two from every player in the house, most of which is below. (This took a while to transcribe. Don’t look at the time stamp.) Andre Benoit and Scott Eansor had departed earlier, and Kellen Jones and Josh Holmstrom were already off to join Worcester.
Your annual contract status: As of April 6 (Quenneville, Rathgeb), 28 NHL contracts for 2018-19 (3 G, 9 D, 16 F). Players listed where they finished; those coming from elsewhere listed with the Islanders. Numbers in parentheses for signed players are years remaining on the contract; those without numbers are signed only through next season. All signed players are NHL deals except AHL deals in italics. Lots of help, as you can surely expect, from the lamented CapGeek (RIP, Matthew Wuest), CapFriendly.com and other sources. Corrections welcomed.
SIGNED: Linus Soderstrom (2), Thomas Greiss (2), Johnny Boychuk (4), Nick Leddy (4), Scott Mayfield (5), Adam Pelech (3), Yannick Rathgeb (2), Josh Bailey (6), Mathew Barzal (2), Anthony Beauvillier, Kieffer Bellows (3), Casey Cizikas (3), Cal Clutterbuck (4), Jordan Eberle, Otto Koivula (3), Andrew Ladd (5), Anders Lee
GROUP 2: Brandon Davidson, Ryan Pulock, Ross Johnston, Brock Nelson, Shane Prince, Alan Quine
GROUP 3: Jaroslav Halak, Calvin de Haan, Thomas Hickey, Dennis Seidenberg, Nikolai Kulemin, John Tavares, Chris Wagner
SIGNED: Eamon McAdam, Sebastian Aho (2), Ryan MacKinnon, David Quenneville (3), Mitch Vande Sompel (2), Parker Wotherspoon (2), Steve Bernier (V), Michael Dal Colle, Scott Eansor (2), Tanner Fritz, Josh Ho-Sang, John Stevens, Yanick Turcotte
GROUP 2: Kyle Burroughs, Devon Toews, Kyle Schempp
GROUP 3: Andre Benoit (Columbus property) (V), Seth Helgeson (V), Kane Lafranchise, Stephen Gionta (V), Connor Jones
GROUP 6: Christopher Gibson, Kristers Gudlevskis
AHL: Mike Cornell, Patrick Cullity, Tyler Mueller, Casey Bailey, Ryan Bourque (V), Matt Gaudreau, Ryan Hitchcock, Ben Holmstrom (V), Josh Holmstrom, Kellen Jones, Jeff Kubiak, Matt Lane, Travis St. Denis
Group 2 players are restricted free agents if given a qualifying offer by 5 p.m. on June 25. The other free agents are all unrestricted. (V) indicates he’ll be a veteran next year by AHL rule. (V-320) means he’ll be a veteran but will qualify as that one exempt player a night who started the season with fewer than 320 qualifying pro games (Seth Helgeson met that for this season but is now up to 344).
Would not be surprised if the status of one of those AHL free agents changes quickly, if it hasn’t changed already.
We will try to keep up with the World Championships and the Calder Cup playoffs (which begin Thursday out in the Rumored Conference) and the Railers in the Kelly Cup playoffs. We’ll try to make it dailyish, or at least frequent, but we’ll see; the bosses are already throwing lacrosse games and feature ideas at me. (A reminder again — hey, twice in one post; must be mid-April — that blog posts are tweeted here and Facebooked here in almost real time.) Worcester is facing elimination after falling in Game 4 in Glens Falls.
The Sound Tigers announced a ticket deal for the NHL exhibition game that includes a voucher for a regular-season Bridgeport ticket.
Thanks to Alan and Mike, to the coaches and players, to Leni and Brent and T.J. and Francis and Dave and Joe, for putting up with me daily.
And particularly, thanks to you guys for reading.
More as warranted.
The usual disclaimer that “questions” or lead-ins here aren’t verbatim what I asked, but the gist of it. I had an angle for the story for the paper, so that’s what I asked a lot of the vets and regulars about.
On a tough season: “It was one to forget. It started with the third game of the year; I tore my meniscus. I was able to rehab that, (then) hurt my shoulder and eventually ended up having surgery. I reaggravated it, and we made the decision at that point it was better to get it done now. I’m a month into rehab. It’ll be healed up and ready to go for training camp.”
“We had a good group of guys. We obviously fell short of the goal. The goal is always the playoffs. You have to have that mindset going into every year. Younger, older, we had a team that worked. We had some injuries, but that’s never an excuse.”
“All the guys were awesome to me. It made it easy. I knew a lot of guys from (Islanders) summer camp. That’s one reason we had chemistry. The coaching staff showed a lot of faith in me.”
(He’ll be on the Island this summer.)
On being that team that could get down 4-0, then come back: “I think we started pretty good. Like I said before, the fact we lost three good players right in the middle of the season, we had to change our game a little bit. I think we tried to do too much sometimes, which is probably why the 4-0 (games) happened.”
“On a positive note, our young D, our young players had to play a lot of minutes. I thought they improved. They played very well by the end.”
On this group: “I was always the first one in the room because I liked being here. It was fun.”
On scoring 21: “All year I’ve been struggling to put the puck in the net. I missed too many chances. I’m happy with 21. I know at the end of the year, I wanted to score more. I played the way I want to play, physical, all the mental things I want to do. I just didn’t finish the way I hoped, but overall it was a good season.”
4-0: “That kind of shows the character of everyone. I think that showed up. It’s not good to get down like that, but we had a lot of guys stick with it. … I thought we were pretty resilient. Those games were kind of small examples. We hung in this whole time. We were close.”
On his season, after having to earn a contract: “Personally, it was a lot different than what I’ve had before. I was a little difficult. It’s something I’ve never had to deal with. We’ll see what happens this summer. … I’ll know a little better how to handle it.”
What stands out about this group: “The character we had in this room. Obviously we came back in those games, won those games. We know the team we had in this locker room. A few games here, a few games there, we’re still playing right now. As a team, we’re not happy packing our bags up today.”
On his season: “I just think it’s another step. … It was tough losing Tazer (Devon Toews) early like that. He’s a great player. He’s missed. We had guys step up, like Spoons (Parker Wotherspoon). He took huge steps. Vandy (Mitch Vande Sompel), we had some really good young players, Sebbe (Aho) was in the National League for a reason. … Helgy (Seth Helgeson), Pat (Cullity), Kaner (Lafranchise), they would go to battle for all of us.”
“As a team, obviously, there’s always positives, Missing the playoffs, it’s tough. We didn’t reach that goal. Overall, it was a good year. Being my first year here, I just kind of built on it from training camp. I kind of felt it out.”
And changing organizations for the first time… “Definitely. I was used to one thing the past four years, where you know going to training camp what to expect. Changing organizations, it’s a step. But the way this organization made me feel welcome, it wasn’t too hard to come over. The guys were great. The coaching staff. … It was an easy transition.”
“The guys on D, you saw them develop, Sebbe, Spoons, Vandy. All three are really great kids.”
“We put ourselves in some tough spots. Coming back in those games, I think we were relentless. We had a really good room, a room of guys that weren’t going to quit. We had a lot of character in those wins. The rest of the year, it kind of showed as well.”
You were banged up down the stretch? “I’ve been dealing with a knee issue for about two months. It’s been getting worse as it wore on. Tommer gave me some time when I needed it. Obviously the three-in-threes were kind of a battles. I don’t think in the end it really hurt me that bad. Obviously it was limiting a little bit.”
Tough year, waiting your turn… “It’s the role I have. It’s kind of what I knew going in. I was the only AHL contract, and older guy. I was biding my time. Once I got in, I helped the team how I could. It was a different role at times. I love playing here, my teammates here, the coaching staff.”
“As the season progressed, it was fun. It’s something I’ll look back on, whether I continue playing or not, it was a good locker room, a lot of fun.”
Um, whether you continue playing… “I’m exploring everything. Talking with the coaches, kind of, everything’s open. … whether it’s hockey, business, sales, I’ll see where there’s a fit. I don’t regret anything. It’s been a fun ride.”
On the second half in the NHL: “I haven’t really had time to really think about it, but getting an opportunity to get to play in the NHL, it’s a dream since I was a little kid. To be able to do it was a great experience. Unfortunately, we didn’t make the playoffs, here or up there. For me personally, it was a special year. I’m hoping to build on it.”
How do you build on it? “I’d just say keeping my foot speed. It’s big in my game. I want to play in the NHL, I have to play a hard-working game, a simple game. I’ve got to get bigger, stronger, faster.”
Personally: “I’d say it was a good year. I’m happy with how I played. I pride myself on being consistent, and I feel I did a good job with that this year. Minus not making the playoffs, it was a good year.”
“This was a good group. Looking back at the year, there were games we just, you know, had mental errors in games, where we weren’t ready. Games we could have easily won and been in the playoffs. Looking back at the course of our year, we were pretty solid as a group, which we could be proud of.”
“I felt good at the start of the year. I felt our team was heading in a really good direction. Unfortunately, a couple of injuries, call-ups, changes, kind of affected the season a little bit.”
“I had confidence in my game, plus playing with Kyle Burroughs is the easiest job in the world. He makes my job really easy, makes everything simple. I felt I was getting shots through. I was using my speed. … It was frustrating, the injury coming when it did. It was unfortunate.”
“Everything I’ve been told, I’m ahead of schedule so far. I got on the ice for two or three weeks. That was a good stepping-stone forward (to take, mentally, into the summer). I’m going to come back 100 percent.”
“The character in the room. It stood out as a hard-working team. … The vets, the leaders in place, it was a good mix. The job the coaches did, everyone, really, it was a good combination.”
“(This season) was some of the most fun hockey I’ve played since, really, I became a professional, seven years. I can’t say enough about the guys, my teammates, the coaches, the organization as a whole.”
What he’s most proud of: “Getting back from injury, for sure, proving to myself that everything’s fine. I think that’s the biggest thing for me, and being able to play in the NHL was a positive for me.”
Proven capable in the NHL?: “I’d like to think so, of course. I still have a lot of things to work on to be able to stay full-time.”
Free agency: “I haven’t thought about it. Right now it’s going home, relaxing a bit and go from there.”
“It’s certainly disappointing not to make the playoffs. I thought we had a good team, a solid season. We never really strung together too many losses in a row. It’s a tough division. We didn’t get the job done. One of my goals in coming here was I wanted to play in the playoffs. I’ve yet to play a professional round in the playoffs. If I’d done better, maybe I could’ve helped us get in. I’m not upset (with the season as a whole) but not ecstatic.”
Personally, came on down the stretch after early struggles: “I definitely had some stretches where I was trying too hard to get those points and I wasn’t focused on smaller things that make me a better player. I think I found that. I was at my best in the latter part of the year.”
TRAVIS ST. DENIS
What stands out about the team: “Just our chemistry together. We had a really tight group this year. We had older guys who took really good care of the younger guys.”
What he’s proudest of personally: “It’s tough to say. I kind of struggled a bit early on. It was nice to reach that 20-plus goal mark. That was big for me. That gives me confidence going to next year. It’s a big summer for me, training.”
What to take out of the year, where you waited your turn sometimes: “I think mentally, being able to deal with being in and out of the lineup.”
This summer: “Strength, especially lower-body strength. I think last summer was tough (after shoulder surgery). That set me back.”
Getting a half a season in the Show: “Yeah, this was a fun year. It went better than I expected. It’s just a shame it ends too early. You always want the playoffs. That’s why you pay the regular season.”
Biggest adjustment coming over? “If I guess, people throw pucks from everywhere toward the net, with the smaller ice It took a couple of games trying to get to know that, to recognize that.”
On his season: “Obviously disappointing we didn’t make the playoffs. That’s the painful part of the season. I feel I learned a lot. I’ll just keep building on that.”
Learned what kinds of things? “More, like, mental stuff, how to prepare.”
MICHAEL DAL COLLE
Who played with a wrist injury: “It’s fine. It got better with treatment. It’s not 100 percent, but it’s getting there.
Looking at his season: “The same stuff. It’s not where I want to be, kind of a down year for me as far as points, nowhere near where I can be.”
Focus for the summer: “Every year’s a big summer. … It’s a speed game. I’ve got to get faster.”
“We were a hard-working team. We competed. Our division’s arguably the best in the league. You look at teams like Providence, like Lehigh, they’re great teams. If we got in, we could’ve done some damage.”
“My game, I just tried to get better and establish my game. During the year, I started getting more chances. My offensive game started to pick up and I scored a bit more”
And while playing that defensive game, the PK: “The same thing with the offensive stuff, I tried to get better every day. My defensive game is something I’ll always a big emphasis on. When I take care of my defensive game, the rest of my game takes care of itself.”
Summer: “Same every summer. I’m planning to focus on skating, to pick up a step or two.”
So what were you dealing with to miss 11 games? “Hip strain. Nothing too serious. … It got better. The guys helped me out. I played the last two, which was huge, mentally, going into the summer.”
What turned your season around? “Not too sure. Maybe just the opportunity. Toews got hurt. Aho went up to the NHL. I got a little bit more playing time, and I tried to take it when I got an opportunity. It’s unfortunate for Toews, fortunate for Aho.”
Looking at this year, what’s the good and the bad? “The good is I’m still alive. The bad is nobody made the playoffs.”
Turn the page on this year? “Yep.”
Summer focus: “Just on me. It’s all I can control.”
MITCH VANDE SOMPEL
Personally: “There were a lot of ups and downs. My first pro year, I came in not knowing what to expect. There was a lot to take in. … There’s so much to take away. I’ll take the next two weeks to look back, refresh and do what I need to do to come back and compete for a spot.”
Team: “Not making the playoffs, it’s brutal. It’s the first time in my life I’m packing up my gear at the end of the season. It sucks. You’ll remember the feeling in the years to come.”
“It was obviously exciting to come in and learn the pace of the game. I know what I need to do as a pro.”
What do you need to do? “I kind of knew how big and strong the guys are. Getting in exhibition games, there were a lot of American League guys in those games. (Can see) what it’s going to take to be an impact guy.”
How much time left at school? “About three weeks.” On target to graduate? “Yes. My teachers have been really good.”
What do you take out of the experience? “I kind of got my feet wet, played a few games, see what the pro schedule is like, the demands of the game. It was a little bit of everything. It was definitely a learning experience, good overall.”
“Probably the biggest positive is the development of the younger players. We had a really young group on defense, and each developed in their own way and their own paces. They’re all better. I’m excited about the group we’ll have next year.”
“Look at Kyle Burroughs, another solid year. Gibby’s comeback year, making the all-star team, an NHL call-up. Tanner Fritz, really coming from nowhere and earning an NHL opportunity, and he took advantage. John Stevens was kind of an unsung hero, if you will, started to make progress through the course of the year, and by the end he was producing offensively, on the power play. I think he got more and more confident with the puck.”
“Bernier had another solid year, leadership. Ben Holmstrom, playing that many games in a row (228), that’s testament to his character.”
“Obviously the one big disappointment is we didn’t make the playoffs and get a Calder Cup. It’s going to eat at a lot of guys over the course of the summer. It’s a little bit of obvious motivation for next year. … We ended up above 500. That’s a plus. At the end of the day, the biggest thing right now is all the individual positives don’t mean a lot if we’re not in the playoffs and fighting for a Calder Cup.”
People ask about Dal Colle and Ho-Sang, so: “They need to have a response season. They’re probably not happy with how the season played out. It’s important they take ownership, move forward and now improve for next year.”