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Summer Of Change Likely For AHL's Top Squad
By Jason Kasiorek

The book closed on the 2005-06 Grand Rapids Griffins in Game 4 on the road in Milwaukee. The team had survived an emotional game seven come from behind win over the Manitoba Moose. That, coupled with the loss of leading scorer Donald MacLean, was too much to overcome. This team set several club records and will be remembered with the top clubs in the history of the league. If this were the NHL, fans would be excited about making a run next year with this group. Being a developmental league, however, the AHL promotes a lot more turnover in the rosters with its restrictive veterans rule. Several of last year's core players have now played enough games to be over that mark, meaning that they all can't come back.

There is also the parent Red Wings to consider as they will look to improve a club that was put out in the first round of the playoffs. Players like Hudler, Kopecky, Filppula, Bootland, MacLean, and Ellis could possibly win jobs with the winged wheel in September. Any time a team has success, other teams look to sign those players, and that may well happen with so many of the Griffins' players contracts expiring this summer.

Here is a look at the state of the team's personnel heading into next season.


This is one area of the club where everyone is under contract, but that doesn't mean there aren't question marks. Jimmy Howard is expected to work on his development as the starter for the Griffins, but who will back him up is anyone's guess. In the mix are incumbent Joey MacDonald who has a year left on his contract, but has been plagued by back injuries that are threatening his career. If Joey can get healthy, he should challenge for the backup job in Detroit. If not, he may find himself on the outside looking in. Stefan Liv was a high profile signing by the Wings. With only a one-year deal, he needs to make a big impact in GR. Also in the mix is forgotten man Drew MacIntyre who has played well in spurts and may have to be loaned out to find AHL playing time. Logan Koopmans will finish out the last year of his contract as the stopper in Toledo (ECHL).


In the mix:
Derek Meech
Kyle Quincey
Jonathan Ericsson

On the fence:
Bryan Helmer
Clay Wilson
Greg Amadio

Terry Virtue - UFA
Brett Lebda - NHL
Travis Richards - retirement
John Adams - UFA
Nick Martens - UFA
Bryce Charpentier - UFA

With the retirement of Mr. Griffin, Travis Richards, this position will take on a different look for the first time in the club's history. Steady veteran Bryan Helmer is an UFA, but the club would probably love to have him back as the senior blueliner working with the organization's young blueliners. Derek Meech hopes to pick up where he left off last year as he enters his third season on the back line. Kyle Quincey will also return and should improve on a successful rookie season. Clay Wilson has been drawing some looks from the Wings and may be back under an entry-level contract with the parent club.

Brett Lebda, despite his playoff debacle, has probably played his way onto the Red Wings' roster for next season. Terry Virtue will likely not be back after a late season stint that led to mixed reviews. The contracts for Nick Martens, Bryce Charpentier and John Adams are up and none are likely to be back. Despite rumors to the contrary, much heralded Euro star Miroslav Blatak was not signed prior to the deadline and won't be in camp this year - or possibly ever. Another European prospect, Ericsson, has been added to the mix. He is huge, but raw, and will take some time to come into his own. Look for the Wings to bring some free agent talent to camp to beef up this position.


In the mix:
Eric Himelfarb
Ryan Oulahen
Evan McGrath

On the fence:
Matt Ellis
Donald MacLean
Kent McDonell
Tomas Kopecky
Valtteri Filppula
Darryl Bootland

Gone: Nate DiCasmirro - returned to the Oilers
Jiri Hudler - NHL
Ryan Keller - UFA
Todd Jackson - RFA
Eric Manlow - UFA

This is where the biggest changes are in store. The AHL veterans rule allows four players who have played 260+ pro games in the lineup. It also allows that one player who has played 450+ AHL games is exempt from the rule. With at least one of those spots filled by a defenseman, a maximum of 4 spots are left open up front. It is likely that MacLean and McDonell will use two of them. Bootland, Ellis, and Kopecky are each just short of the magic number and have one more season of AHL-eligibility. However, any one of the three may win a spot in Detroit this September. Himelfarb and Oulahen will be back again, hoping to take on larger roles with Grand Rapids. Joining them will be rookie center Evan McGrath, an OHL scoring ace in his first pro season. Valtteri Filppula has played well enough to earn an NHL job, but because he still has eligibility, may split the season between the two clubs.

Jiri Hudler, though just 22, will be classified as veteran this season. He will either play in Detroit or another NHL team, as he likely won't clear waivers to play in Grand Rapids. DiCasmirro has been returned to the Oilers after a spectacular season, and veteran Eric Manlow is likely to depart after two seasons. Todd Jackson and Ryan Keller will both likely be gone. At the expiration of their contracts, neither showed enough to earn a new deal in the organization.

The preliminary 2006-07 roster is shaping up like this:

Jimmy Howard G
Stefan Liv G

Bryan Helmer D (UFA)
Derek Meech D
Kyle Quincey D
Jonathan Ericsson D
Clay Wilson D (UFA)

Donald MacLean LW (UFA)
Kent McDonell RW (RFA)
Darryl Bootland RW (RFA)
Matt Ellis C
Valtteri Filppula C
Eric Himelfarb RW
Ryan Oulahen C
Evan McGrath C
Tomas Kopecky LW (UFA)