After a small delay let’s get back to regularly scheduled programming. Apologies for taking a small break but -between (1) family (2) travel fatigue (3) battling a head cold- a small R&R cool down stint was needed on my end. All is well and good now. Let’s plunge into some topics.
~Bus Returning to Milwaukee~
Yesterday the news became official with Mike Liambas signing a one-year, two-way contract with the Nashville Predators. Amusingly, the Predators official news release shows a picture of Liambas face-punching the guy whose job he likely snatches by the name of Jamie Devane.
The more I think about this signing the more I appreciate what it could mean for both Nashville and Milwaukee. Firstly, Nashville should get used to the sight of Cody Bass rumbling along topside. It is a great sight to see someone who has paid his dues in the AHL finally get a chance to get a solid NHL opportunity. I believe that is exactly what Bass now has. He isn’t a one dimensional player. He isn’t someone brought in just to fight when needed. Bass is well respected for how he handles himself on and off the ice, he’s a leader, he keeps a locker room loose and relaxed, does well at the face-off dot and therefore is a quality penalty killer, and -yes- is capable of fending for his teammates when needed. He should start in Nashville and I hope he stays there as well. He’s earned his opportunity and should continue to earn his NHL minutes.
Now, while that role gets filled in Nashville a similar-like role in Milwaukee opens up. No, Liambas isn’t a face-off type of guy like Bass was but he checks every other box listed above. I feel the single biggest factor to this signing actually comes with just how much the coaching staff of the Milwaukee Admirals really do enjoy Liambas. I was there for the 2015-16 regular season finale in Rockford when Liambas performed a bit of gamesmanship and gave Jimmy Oligny his second fighting major to get him ejected from the contest. After interviewing head coach Dean Evason, Liambas came through the visiting locker room area doors, reluctantly said to Evason, “Please don’t be mad at me,” and the two proceeded to have a laugh. Liambas loved the Admirals and the coaching staff then. The team and coaching staff still loved him then. And now he’s back on the right side of the ice.
Liambas is someone who immediately understands the coaching staff, isn’t too far removed from playing as a member of the Admirals, and is a quality locker room presence. I would go as far as saying right now he won’t provide the offense that Devane managed to do on the lower line roles for the Admirals during the 2015-16 season but, guess what, he doesn’t have to. As long as Liambas plays responsible without compromising his intensity on the ice and maintains a smart defensive approach on the lower lines? He’s a table setter for a possible first forward line of Justin Kirkland and Kevin Fiala centered by Vladislav Kamenev to do all that offensive puck work. Set the table with relentless work rate. Push like Hell. Get off the ice for the goal scorers to match the compete level. That’s the aim there. Bass promoted. Liambas reintroduced. It’s a great fit.
~The Other Veteran Minds~
I don’t want to brush off a few of the other names that signed while I was in Nashville because they too should have great on and off-ice impacts. Due for the Milwaukee Admirals in the 2016-17 season will be defenseman Matt Irwin as well as forwards Trevor Smith and Harry Zolnierczyk. I remember a talking point of the Admirals playoff match-up against the Grand Rapids Griffins being experience. These signings, Liambas included, really helps in addressing experience with players who all still have the NHL on their radar.
Let’s start with the oldest of those names, Smith, who is 32-years old and has 106 games of NHL experience as well as 453 games of AHL experience. Smith is an all-out pro and has a trophy cabinet which includes the title Calder Cup Champion. Before departing North America for Europe to play in Switzerland with SC Bern, where he won a Championship, he was a captain for the Toronto Marlies. He also happened to be teammates with Adam Payerl at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins during the 2012-13 season where Smith was an alternate captain at the time. Smith’s numbers over the past two-seasons have fallen off a cliff, true, but a change of setting such as this year’s Admirals team might bring out the best in him. At the very least the Admirals are guaranteed another quality locker room leader and on-ice worker for two-seasons.
At 28-years old Zolnierczyk isn’t that old. Yet, by current Admirals roster standards, he kind of is. Without keeping that close of an eye out on the San Diego Gulls last season I have to assume that Zolnierczyk suffered from injury woes. In the 2015-16 season he only logged 24 games in the AHL and a lone appearance up top for the Anaheim Ducks. His total scoring output ended up being 9 points (6 goals, 3 assists). That’s a far cry from what he did the year prior with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers where he scored 44 points (18 goals, 26 assists) in 60 games. Before that -hey- he was teammates with Payerl with the Baby Pens in the 2013-14 season where Zolnierczyk was an alternate captain. Perhaps a WBS Reunion Line can be formed this season with Zolnierczyk-Smith-Payerl as the third line? Huge point of emphasis for Zolnierczyk will be to put 2015-16 in the past and get right back on track with what he’s capable of. He’s joined a good group to open up offensively. That’s a good start.
How does the 28-year old defenseman Irwin cross paths with Mr. Payerl like everyone else on this section? Well, he doesn’t. Irwin’s career took him from UMass-Amherst right to a five-year spell as a member of the Sharks organization. It wasn’t up until last season when the native of British Columbia, Canada moved back towards the state of Massachusetts where he played with the Bruins. In total, Irwin has 50 points (16 goals, 34 assists) from 155 career games in the NHL as well as 118 points (27 goals, 91 assists) from 245 career games in the AHL. Last season Irwin did very well for the Providence Bruins scoring 30 points (5 goals, 25 assists) in 64 games with a plus/minus rating of +1 and 27 penalty minutes. The question mark with him? He’s a left-handed shot so that side of the ice should be well set on defense with Oligny and Trevor Murphy in-house. I feel a likely defensive pairing for him will be Jack Dougherty which should be great for the first-year pro to have a security blanket such as Irwin covering him.
There are sure to be more signings made down the line. We’ll of course be catching AHL level signings and ECHL level pre-season invitees who might stick around with a solid showing (Payerl reference yet again). I would very much like to see Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau, who impressed during the Rookie Development Camp last week, sign with the Admirals under an AHL contract or to an entry-level contract with the Predators. He showed very well and had a lethal shot. He was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft but it seems like he’s slipped through the cracks for him to end up in Nashville this summer. Other Development Camp possibilities? Kris Bennett, Vinni Lettieri, or Zach Stepan… possibly by season’s end on ATO’s more than anything.
Do you like how the 2016-17 Milwaukee Admirals are forming? What are your thoughts on the veterans that were added by the Nashville Predators?
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