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Season Of Change
Griffins' Roster Gutted By Mass Exodus of Stars...
By Jason Kasiorek

Change is inevitable in the minor leagues, and even more so when you are successful. After the season that the Griffins put together last year, the rest of the hockey world waited patiently for free agent season to open, and then pounced. In a 10 day span the Grand Rapids roster was savaged and will bear little resemblance to the record setting team that was bounced from the playoffs just a few weeks ago.

League MVP Donald MacLean and veteran blueliner Bryan Helmer left for Phoenix for a shot at the Coyotes. Crafty center Eric Manlow wanted to be closer to home and signed a two-year deal with Hamilton (AHL). The Anaheim Ducks scooped up prized rookie Clay Wilson, and Mr. Grand Rapids, Travis Richards, retired. Scoring Ace Jiri Hudler and Tomas Kopecky have signed one- way deals with the parent Wings, and are expected to either make the club or be out of the organization. Nate DiCasmirro, on loan from Edmonton last season, caught the eye of Wings Pro Scout Dave Lewis who he will now be playing for in Boston (NHL). Wily Kent McDonell is still unsigned, and it is unsure right now whether he will be brought back or not. Darryl Bootland and Valtteri Filppula both are being mention as candidates to make the Wings out of camp, which will further change the face of this club.

The retooling has already begun as Detroit announced a quartet of signings targeted for duty in GR. Veteran defensemen Dan Smith, and Brad Norton, were brought in to address the Griffins biggest weakness last season - the blueline. They will join holdovers Derek Meech, Kyle Quincey, and rookie Jonathan Ericsson. Norton and Smith both bring size and experience, but neither is an offensive wizard ala Helmer or Wilson. Look for the sixth and seventh spot on the blueline to be filled by offensive defensemen, this lineup needs a proven powerplay quarterback.

Up front newcomers Matt Hussey - Wilkes-Barre's leading scorer last season, and former first round pick Krys Kolanos will be asked to replace some of the offense that was last years strength. The only other locks up front are Himelfarb, Oulahen, and first year pivot Evan McGrath. Some combination of Matt Ellis, Bootland and Filppula are likely to see time in GR as well. The left side is pretty bare, and with only one veteran slot left open (barring McDonell re-signing) it will be tough for Jim Nill and Bob McNamara to fill out this lineup with the same quality of players from the previous campaign. Kolanos has had injury and motivation problems in the past, but has the ability to lead the club in scoring while playing a physical, gritty game. Hussey also adds size and strength, and is a great skater who can play anywhere up front; he is not a pure scorer, but more of a grinder ala DiCasmirro or Ellis.