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Hamilton Bulldogs Season Review

The 2012-13 Hamilton Bulldogs season was one plagued by injury, inconsistency, turnover, and losing. What went wrong?

Nathan Beaulieu cleaned up the Bulldogs team awards, winning Top Rookie, team MVP and splitting Top D-Man honours with Jarred Tinordi
Nathan Beaulieu cleaned up the Bulldogs team awards, winning Top Rookie, team MVP and splitting Top D-Man honours with Jarred Tinordi

What is there to say about the Bulldogs season? On the surface it looks like a disappointing season with only 24 wins and a dead last finish in the AHL standings. The question is; how did the Bulldogs do so poorly when the Montreal Canadiens' prospect cupboard is so far from bare?

The first thing we can look at is the competition level in the AHL, because of the lockout the level of competition was much higher than past years and The Bulldogs approached this AHL season as if there was no lockout; let’s take a look at their lineup on opening night.

Positions are taken from the official AHL website, and their age is in brackets beside their name.

C: Michael Bournival (20)
C: Louis Leblanc (22)
C: Gabriel Dumont (22)
C: Darryl Boyce (28)
C: Blake Geoffrion (25)
RW: Zack Stortini (27)
RW: Steve Quailer (23)
RW: Mike Blunden (26)
RW: Brendan Gallagher (20)
RW: Aaron Palushaj (23)
RW: Patrick Holland (21)
LW: Kyle Hagel (28)
D: Greg Pateryn (22)
D: Antoine Corbin (20)
D: Brendon Nash (26)
D: Jarred Tinordi (21)
D: Nathan Beaulieu (20)
D: Frederic St-Denis (27)
G: Robert Mayer (23)
G: Peter Delmas (23)

First thing to look at is the obvious mismanagement of positions. Little to no natural left wingers, Kyle Hagel was actually converted from Defense before he situated as the pugilistic left winger you’ve all come to know and love.

Also, you will notice how young the roster is and the clear absence of a veteran presence. St. Denis was the only player to have played more than one season with the Dogs’, while Nash had played a full season, he missed the entire 2011-12 season rehabbing his shoulder after major surgery. Most of the rest were all rookies.

On the forward front the only veterans were Darryl Boyce, Zack Stortini and Mike Blunden. None of which could be counted on to lead the offense. Not to mention the Dogs’ would continue to get younger when Darryl Boyce, the veteran of 84 NHL games was released from the Bulldogs after only 22 games.

This was far from a recipe for success in a normal season, but this is a season where some teams, most notably the Oklahoma City Barons boasted NHL quality players (Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz).

At the start of the season it seemed as if Louis Leblanc would be the Bulldogs ace, after all, he was a bright spot for the Canadiens in his rookie season, but after suffering an injury in a fight with the Marlies’ Jesse Blacker, Leblanc never seemed to regain the strong play that saw him stick with the big club for 42 games last season.

But don’t worry too much for the Bulldogs; the sagely coaching presence of Sylvain Lefebvre would surely right the ship, after all he’s been a head coach at … umm, never mind, he’s never been a head coach at any professional level. At least they had an assistant coach who had been there before, after all Ron Wilson was in the organization for 9 years, and was an assistant coach when the Bulldogs won the Calder Cup, he’d be able to help the rookie Lefebvre in his first year. Well, here was another idea that looked good on paper but did not work out well. In late January the Bulldogs dismissed Wilson and announced the reason was because, "he was at odds with coach Lefebvre over philosophy". At the time, EOTP examined why Wilson was fired.

Now let’s take a look at the how Bulldogs roster looked in January after losing their leading scorer, Brendan Gallagher to the Canadiens.

Lineup is from January 21 (Players from opening night are marked with a (*)

C: Stefan Chaput (25)
C: Joey Tenute (30)
C: Olivier Fortier (23)
C: Michael Bournival * (20)
C: Louis Leblanc * (22)
C: Gabriel Dumont * (22)
RW: Zack Stortini * (27)
RW: Steve Quailer * (23)
RW: Patrick Holland * (21)
LW: Kyle Hagel * (28)
LW: Philippe Lefebvre (22)
D: Jarred Tinordi * (21)
D: Nathan Beaulieu * (20)
D: Mike Commodore (33)
D: Frederic St-Denis * (27)
D: Morgan Ellis * (was on opening roster, but did not in lineup on opening night) (20)
D: Jason DeSantis (27)
G: Robert Mayer * (23)
G: Cedrick Desjardins * (was out with an injury on opening night) (27)

As you can see, the turnover was pretty high, while the main four losses were Brendon Nash, Brendan Gallagher, Aaron Palushaj and Blake Geoffrion. Nash was exchanged for Jason DeSantis in a minor league move. Nash has now joined his third AHL team this season in the Charlotte Checkers (while his younger brother Riley is with Carolina, but will likely return to Charlotte for the playoffs). Brendan Gallagher is enjoying a fine rookie campaign in the NHL, producing more in the NHL than he was in the AHL. Palushaj is also experiencing some success at the NHL level, but it’s for the Colorado Avalanche, who claimed him off of waivers. Geoffrion’s head injury is well documented after taking a hard hit from former Habs and Bulldogs D-Man JP Cote. Hopefully he can recover to live a normal life before we worry about his hockey career.

The amusing thing about this roster change is that the Bulldogs finally got older and had a bigger vetern presence with the likes of AHL scorers Joey Tenute, Stefan Chaput, to go along with Jason DeSantis and NHL Veteran Mike Commodore on the blueline.

Commodore was a great role model for the likes of Jarred Tinordi, after all he is a Stanley Cup winner who played 483 games in the NHL, but that wasn’t enough of a resume for the Bulldogs who released Commodore after 17 games. Commodore is currently playing for the Eastern Conference’s first place team, the Texas Stars, where he has 2 goals in 5 games.

Fast-forwarding once again, to the final game of the season, the Bulldogs once again had a new roster.

Players from the opening roster are marked with "**" while players from the January 21st lineup are marked with "*"

C: Joey Tenute * (30)
C: Michael Bournival ** (20)
C: Louis Leblanc ** (22)
C: Brady Vail (19)
RW: Zack Stortini ** (27)
RW: Danny Kristo (22)
RW: Petteri Nokelainen (27)
RW: Alex Belzile (21)
RW Sebastian Collberg (19 years old)
LW: Kyle Hagel ** (28)
LW: Charles Hudon (18)
LW: Olivier Archambault (20)
D: Greg Pateryn **(22)
D: Adam Ross (26)
D: Jarred Tinordi ** (21)
D: Nathan Beaulieu **(20)
D: Frederic St-Denis ** (27)
D: Morgan Ellis ** (20)
G: Robert Mayer ** (23)
G: Jacob Gervais-Chouinard (21)
G: Dustin Tokarski (23)

Only 10 players remained with the Bulldogs for the entirety of the AHL season, and perhaps it was the lack of stability, combined with the lack of veteran presence both behind the bench and on it, that led to a disappointing season for the Dogs’. Not to mention that if two of those 10 players are Kyle Hagel and Zack Stortini, you're not in a good situation.

Of course, a player’s goal is never to stay the whole season in the AHL, and a nice chunk of these players did have stints in the NHL. Beaulieu, Tinordi, and Pateryn played valiantly in their brief promotions, gaining valuable experience. The problem is more on the offensive side of things, while Gabriel Dumont and Mike Blunden were the call-ups this season, after those two there is very little as far as depth is concerned, and those guys are certainly not suited for top 6 minutes. In fact the Bulldogs seemed to have no top 6 players for their team, only Gabriel Dumont, Joey Tenute, Alex Belzile, Blake Geoffrion, and Brendan Gallagher averaged over .50 points per game.

As for what’s coming up the pipeline, Leblanc had a disappointing season, and guys like Bournival and Kristo seem to be a ways away before we can reasonably expect them to make an impact in the NHL. Though with an offseason full of training, who knows what can happen. There's no need to rush these guys, let them earn it, ask Brendan Gallagher, it tastes sweeter when nobody expects it.