Fahey, Segal signings help boost Rockford


Concerns about Rockford’s lack of size and experience were partially answered last week with two new player acquisitions.

First, the IceHogs signed 30-year old defenseman Brian Fahey on August 31 to a minor league contract.

Fahey (6-1, 215) spent most of this past season in Hershey with the Washington Capitals organization.  Fahey also got his first taste of the NHL with the Capitals in seven games over separate call ups, the final being last December.

A fourth round pick of the Avalanche in 2000, Fahey has since bounced around the minors for Colorado, the Thrashers, Rangers, Capitals and on his own.    Fahey’s best seasons came on stacked Chicago Wolves’ teams (2006-08) and on Hersey in 2010-11. Between those stops, Fahey had a forgettable year in Hartford that led to him getting dealt back to Colorado for bad seed Nigel Williams.  He got back on track that year in Cleveland with the Monsters.

Fahey is a fundamentally sound veteran defender who provides the IceHogs with a strong right-handed shot from the point.  He’ll make a sound pass into the neutral area, one area in dire need of improvement from last season.  He’ll step into Ivan Vishnevskiy’s vacated spot on Rockford’s power play and Fahey will see time on the team’s revamped penalty kill but largely by default of better options.

Fahey’s not an upgrade from either Garnet Exelby or Jassen Cullimore and Rockford’s defense will still be heavily reliant its youth in Brian Connelly, Ryan Stanton and Dylan Olsen.  Joe Lavin could be the smooth, calming partner Shawn Lalonde needs, but that assignment is likely to go to Stanton early.

To beef up the front line and some much-needed proven scoring punch, the Blackhawks signed right winger Brandon Segal on September 1.

Segal, 28, was drafted 104th overall by Nashville in 2002.  He most recently skated for the Dallas Stars.

Although he played in 46 games with Dallas last year, Segal is penciled in for Rockford.  According to information provided at CapGeek.com, Segal agreed to a one-year  two-way contract paying him a $105,000 salary in the AHL (a $25k paycut there from the past two seasons) and the $525,000 league-minimum (also a $25k cut from his previous contract) if he skates at the NHL level.

In 92 career NHL games, Segal has 11 goals and 22 points overall.  In the AHL, Segal has posted 107 goals, 101 assists in 455 regular season affairs.  While still a member of the Predators’ organization during the 2004-05 lockout season, Segal appeared in 10 games as a member of the Rockford IceHogs, then of the United Hockey League.

Segal posted 43 goals for the Calgary Hitmen (WHL) in his draft year season.  After getting selected by the Preds,Segal posted sharp declines in goals (-12) and points (-25) as nineteen year old.  His best pro season came three years ago with Norfolk, then a member of the Lightning organization, scoring 26 goals and 52 points in 69 AHL games.  He has not appeared in a playoff game since 2007 and outside of his stint in the lower-level UHL (11 goals in 11 IceHogs’ playoff games) he’s never been a playoff scorer.

At 6-2 and listed at 212 pounds, Segal is physical and will drop the gloves if necessary, but the latter really isn’t his game.  Rockford will look for him to chip in 20 to 25 goals and be a leader who plays in all situations.  The kind of player who can take the heat off younger forwards in their respective learning curves.

Last season Rockford ranked 25th in AHL scoring (Rockford’s goal differential was minus-29, ranking 23rd in the league) and they’ve done little to improve on that so far this summer.  Segal won’t come close to matching the offense Jeff Taffe provided (30g, 37a).  The rest will have to be made up (and built on) by sophomores Jeremy Morin, Kyle Beach and Brandon Pirri.  While Jimmy Hayes got bigger and stood out this summer against a group of his peers in July’s prospect camp, he’s still an unproven commodity leaving one of the best college programs in the country after three seasons.  In seven games with Rockford in the spring, Hayes was scoreless.  So the offense remains a huge question mark.

Unfortunately for the Hogs, there isn’t much left out in free agency.  Top AHL level talent that could help vault Rockford up from last year’s last place finish (and players the Hawks could afford to buy simply to enhance the AHL team and design a winning atmosphere for prospect to grow in) like Nigel Dawes, Dustin Boyd, Jeff Tambellini, Robbie Earl, Jason Krog and Joel Perreault have all bolted for more money and the lighter schedule European hockey provides.

Players who are still available and would help to boost Rockford’s offense include Andy Hilbert (a one-time Blackhawk center), center Julian Talbot (formerly of Lake Erie) and right wing/center Bill Thomas, most recently of the Florida Panthers’ organization.

With the Segal signing, the Blackhawks have 44 of a possible 50 roster spots in use.  A 45th is being reserved potentially for Ray Emery.  Stan Bowman will leave at 2-3 open for the majority of the season to allow flexibility in trade talks and emergency signings.  So he could possibly have two spots in play right now.

As far as players qualifying as veterans in Rockford – Brett McLean, Brian Fahey and Brandon Segal are the only three who fit under that distinction.  Should he wind up there, John Scott would qualify under the veteran-exemption.  Of the 18 skaters Rockford dresses in any one game, 12 must have no more than 260 games of professional experience and on additional of no more than 320 (regular season only).  The other five skaters can have unlimited pro experience.  Goaltenders are not bound by those guidelines.  Should the Blackhawks drop Rostislav Olesz through waivers and into Rockford at any point, he would be another veteran.

The IceHogs’ roster and depth chart now looks like this… (line and defensive pairing combinations are estimated and probable pending the possible inclusion of Ben Smith and/or John Scott, or further signings).  As last season wore along, Leblanc was groomed for more of a defensive role so look for him to get a shot at Evan Brophey’s old spot.  Until Klinkhammer’s hands can be counted on, he shouldn’t skate regularly on a scoring line.  We’ll see how Ted Dent operates, but in the past the IceHogs haven’t used their fourth line much.

Forwards

Jeremy Morin  –  Brandon Pirri  –  Brandon Segal

Kyle Beach  –  Brett McLean  –  Jimmy Hayes

Rob Klinkhammer  –  Peter Leblanc  –  Philippe Paradis

Brandon Bollig  –  David Gilbert  –  Chris DiDomenico

Rob Flick  –  Andrew Shaw  –  Byron Froese(*)

Paul Zanette

(Wild cards:  C/W- Ben Smith, C-Marcus Kruger)

Defense

Brian Connelly  –  Brian Fahey

Ryan Stanton  –  Shawn Lalonde

Joe Lavin  –  Dylan Olsen

Ben Youds  –  Simon Danis-Pepin

(Wild card: D/W- John Scott)

Goal

Alex Richards

Carter Hutton

(Wild cards: Alexander Salak, possibly Ray Emery)

(*) Byron Froese signed an NHL entry-level deal with the Hawks in May, but does have an overager year of eligibility left in Red Deer and has taken part in their training camp the past few weeks.  So, while Froese does have a contract, he’s not a lock to turn pro just yet.  Given his performance at July’s prospect camp and the chart listed above, he won’t unless he has a dynamite training camp.

AHL contracts: Andrew Shaw, Ben Youds, Brian Fahey, Carter Hutton, Paul Zanette, Peter Leblanc, Rob Flick

One burning question going around this summer is how the Blackhawks got Andrew Shaw and Rob Flick to forgo entry-level NHL deals with guaranteed signing bonus dollars in the sixty to ninety thousand dollar range this year to sign paltry minor league contracts with Rockford?  Sure, it’s a great thing for the Blackhawks, who retain rights of first refusal beyond this season, but for the prospects, on the surface, it’s a huge risk.  The players can sign entries starting next year to no harm – or – they could have poor seasons in Rockford or Toledo and find themselves without a contract (and presumably that signing bonus cash) and looking for a home after 2011-12.

Rob Flick was drafted 120th overall by the Hawks in 2010.  The year prior, Byron Froese was taken 119th by Chicago.  Froese signed a three-year entry with the Hawks back in May that pays Froese $65k up front as a signing bonus and another $67,500 as a minor league salary paid by the Blackhawks.

Andrew Shaw was selected in the fifth round of this summer’s draft, 139th overall.  Marcus Kruger, 2009 draft-149th overall, signed a three-entry that pays him a $90,000 signing bonus up front each year in addition to an AHL salary if he were to play in Rockford.

There is no salary cap or pay structure in the AHL outside of the $39,000 minimum salary (non-NHL contracted talent) for the 2011-12 season.  Actual AHL salaries are not made public other than those you can find on CapGeek because those monies are structured into NHL contracts.  Given Flick and Shaw accepted AHL deals, one would presume they’re each making significantly more than the minimum in lieu of opting out of their entries for at least one season.  However, without assistance, its hard to imagine if the IceHogs can afford to pay for those deals.

The IceHogs hockey club is run as a separate entity financially from the MetroCentre (now BMO Harris Bank Center) that is owned and operated by the Rockford Arena Venues & Entertainment Authority (RAVE).  Last season the IceHogs sold $1.6 million in tickets.  174,418 fans {tickets sold plus comps used} in all attended the team’s 40 home dates making the total-pulled $9.17 a head.  The IceHogs also generated another $700,000 in other revenues (merchandise, sponsorship, licensing, etc) according to the Rockford Register-Star.  Roughly a third of that total revenue went back to the Blackhawks for their annual franchise fee.  This year RAVE officials are banking on attendance and ticket sales increasing by five percent even though there are two less home games scheduled.  To reach that goal at last year’s per-head rate, IceHogs per game attendance must increase by 459 fans [from 4,360 to 4,819].

RAVE Chairman Mike Dunn has already acknowledged this season as crucial for the financial stability of the IceHogs and its arena as city subsidies covering losses decline.  The building itself lost a reported $893,000 according to the Register-Star, which was covered fully by $1.1M in taxpayer funded subsidies.  RAVE hopes the $260,000 in naming rights fees from BMO and added arena bookings will close most of the gap on the facility side.

Last year the IceHogs had seven players full-time under contract.  Garnet Exelby was on a PTO under Rockford until Nov 26 when he was picked up by the Hawks.  We can estimate the IceHogs spent roughly $340,000 on player contracts themselves in 2010-11.  If the ‘Hogs are paying Flick and Shaw the league minimum $39k salaries, then, as of now, they’re about matching or slightly surpassing last season’s player payroll.  If they’re paying those two any more, Rockford is blowing the roof off their player budget.  Which would make the Flick and Shaw signings all the more puzzling given the team’s budget.

This season the team already has seven players under deals.  Three; Carter Hutton, Pete Leblanc and Brain Fahey were signed to play specific roles in Rockford.  Paul Zanette and Ben Youds are depth guys destined for Toledo not unlike Andy Bohmbach, Zach Torquato and Scott Fletcher were a year ago.  The question marks are Shaw and Flick.

As it relates to returning players, the arrival of Shaw and Flick puts immediate heat on two IceHogs.  Chris DiDomenico soured many in the organization upon his arrival last fall as he showed up looking as if he hadn’t touched a weight all summer.  DiDomenico, 22, has talent but there are questions about his head and desire.  Assuming he hit the gym all summer, he’ll have to make an immediate impact in training camp to turn some around and solidify his place on the roster with rookies like Paradis and Gilbert and ahead of Flick and Shaw.  DiDomenico is a natural center who mostly played the wing last year when he did make Rockford’s lineup because of depth down the middle.  The IceHogs could use DiDomenico’s hands but those won’t be effective if he can’t win the one-on-one battles.  Both Shaw and Flick can play either position as well.  DiDomenico appeared in 37 games last season in Toledo scoring 9 goals and 16 assists.  He was a member of the 2009 Team Canada Gold Medal under-20 World Junior Championship squad.

Brandon Bollig had a hard time getting on the ice last season and when he did he was usually dropping the gloves or heading to the penalty box for some other excessively exuberant action.  Bollig’s willingness to stick up for teammates and play the enforcer role gives him one foot on the roster so to speak with the departure of Kyle Hagel to the St. Louis Blues organization.  However, Bollig has to make better decisions and not be a liability shift-to-shift.  He’ll turn 25 this season so it’s a make or break time in his career.  He’ll probably never be anything more than an AHLer, but he’s barely clinging onto that at this point.

As noted above, with the Blackhawks currently having five or six roster spots open on their 50-man, its also entirely possible they could sign Flick and/or Shaw to three-year NHL entry-levels for this season after all since they have the space for it.  Thus taking Rockford off the hook for those two contracts.

–Looking at how the IceHogs core roster checks in as of Opening Night, October 8, you can see this year’s squad is smaller, younger and less-experienced than the previous two groups.

The following chart breaks down each season’s core 26 players who did, or in the case of this upcoming season are projected to; handle most of the IceHogs’ workload.

For the 2011-12 figures, we’ve included Ben Smith, but not Marcus Kruger or Paul Zanette.  If Kruger winds up in Rockford it will be a shock to most and Zanette will be in Toledo unless there team suffers a bunch of injuries up front.

All figures below are computed as of Opening Night of each respective season.

IceHogs’ Season

Avg.  Age

Avg. Height

Avg. Weight

 Avg Pro-GP

Total Pro-GP

Avg NHL-GP

Total NHL-GP

2011-12

23.3

73.2

199.2

110.3

2,867

19.0

494

2010-11

24.3

73.6

202.4

178.6

4,644

64.1

1,667

2009-10

25.1

73.8

204.1

178.3

4,636

36.2

942

2008-09

23.5

73.1

199.5

117.7

3,060

5.7

147

2007-08

24.0

72.7

198.5

126.9

3,298

12.7

329

In the 2011-12 figures, Brett McLean accounts for 385 of the team’s 494 NHL regular season games played and slightly less than a third (819) of the team’s total 2,867 professional game experience.  Last season, Jassen Cullimore accounted for 21.9 percent of the team’s pro game experience (McLean 28.6 as of Sept 5).

Prior to the Fahey/Segal acquisitions, the IceHogs’ average age was 22.7 or nearly two years younger on average than it was a year ago.  The additions also gave the team a slight boost in size it needs.

As you can see, any notion this year’s roster is bigger and stronger than last year’s doesn’t wash.  The 2011-12 roster compares strongly in the noted categories with the ’08-09 team that finished 4th in the West Division (40-34-0-6) under first year head coach Bill Peters.  The Hogs were eliminated from the playoffs in four games by Milwaukee. That team had Tim Brent (captain) and Pascal Pelletier leading the way offensively (Brett McLean is likely to be this year’s captain and compares with Brent at this stage).  Petri Kontiola, Jack Skille and Evan Brophey were the promising young players hope was being balanced on.  Michael Blunden was given up on mid-season and dealt for Adam Pineault.  Blunden went on to play 41 un-noteworthy games in the NHL with Columbus while Pineault found a place the Czech leagues.  Rob Klinkhammer happened upon the scene under an AHL deal and overshadowed draft picks like Adam Berti, Nathan Davis, Adam Hobson, Dan Bertram, Blunden and even Bryan Bickell, who did not perform well that season.  Cam Barker and Troy Brouwer made brief stops before graduating to the NHL full-time.  Niklas Hjalmarsson spent more than a half season there and was the team’s best prospect overall.  Jake Dowell was a fourth liner and Corey Crawford and Antti Niemi were trading turns playing number one goalie, allowing 2.5 goals per game between them.

The time the IceHogs’ won a playoff game was on May 9, 2008 at Allstate Arena.  That team was coached by Mike Haviland (also assisted by Ted Dent) and also had Dave Bolland, Kris Versteeg, Troy Brouwer, Martin St. Pierre, Petri Kontiola, Bryan Bickell, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Colin Fraser, Derek Nesbitt, Corey Crawford and Jack Skille.  So, the inexperienced can succeed if the young talent is all it’s touted to be.

ChrisBlock@TheThirdManIn.com

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2 Responses to Fahey, Segal signings help boost Rockford

  1. “excessively exuberant action” – your begginning to sound like a presidential candidate!

    Thanks for Rockford Files. That chart was interesting on the age, weight, experience. It looks like you layed out the facts – just curious, do you think the Icehogs will fare better this year?

    That May 9, 2008 team had a bit of talent on it.

    • I think how they fare is completely reliant on the second-year guys; Morin, Pirri, Lalonde, Olsen, Stanton and potentially Ben Smith. If they’re all real prospects ready to handle the pressure and perform every night, then I think they’ll at least contend for a playoff spot. Pete Leblanc is an important guy too. And they must get off to a good start. And that largely is in the hands of the veterans and top-liners. As good as Taffe was, and he was red-hot, in the back half of last season, he didn’t provide much offense early on (neither did Potulny, and Jessiman was always hurt) and that was a big reason they struggled early. At first the offense was either there or it wasn’t and they lost handily. From mid November through January they lost a lot of close games. 60 percent of Taffe’s points came after January. Not to pin everything on him, but he was the key vet and scorer Rockford was relying on and that’s how little room they had for error. This time around that pressure is on Segal and Morin. I haven’t seen McLean play in three or four years so I’m not sure what he has left.

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