As he said his goodbyes to teammates on Monday, it wasn’t lost on Abbotsford Heat captain Quintin Laing that next year’s squad will have a vastly different makeup.
“It’s tough walking into the locker room and seeing your stall empty,” he said, “because you know that with a few guys, you’ll never see them again.
“The guys really enjoy each other’s company. With our schedule, we’re on the road a lot, and I’m with these guys more than I am with my family. They’re definitely a second family to me, especially with the young guys. You watch them grow.”
Laing, who wore the ‘C’ for the Heat the past three seasons, is part of a lengthier-than-usual list of Abbotsford players who will be unrestricted free agents as of July 1.
Among them are the team’s top two scorers, Ben Walter and Krys Kolanos (pictured below), and the entire three-headed goalie monster (Danny Taylor, Barry Brust, Leland Irving) employed by the club in 2012-13.
“Right now, it’s just about family,” said Walter, the Heat’s all-time leading point producer (108 in two seasons), explaining his approach to free agency. “I think we’ll sit down in a couple weeks and talk about what we want to do, see what happens. I’ve been through this a number of times now, so we’re kind of used to it.
“At the same time, it’s tough to know you might not be back, or you might not see a lot of the guys that you played with in the last couple years.”
Laing said that he’d love to be back in Abbotsford.
“I love the community, I love the team, I love the organization,” he said. “I’m very excited about the young guys that are here. I think next year is going to be a monster year for the team, so I’d like to be a part of it.”
Beyond the unrestricted free agents, the NHL parent Calgary Flames also have interesting decisions to make on a number of restricted free agents, most notably former first-round pick Greg Nemisz (25th overall in 2008), who saw his scoring production plummet from 29 points in 2011-12 to 10 this season.
Incoming rookies drafted and signed by the Flames include forward Markus Granlund, defencemen Tyler Wotherspoon and John Ramage, and goalie Laurent Brossoit.
“The changeover will be, we’ll go young again,” Heat head coach Troy Ward suggested. “So the integral part of our development will be getting the right people at the right spots that have some experience.”
Ward’s wish list in that respect would include some experienced puck-movers, both on the blueline and, most crucially, at centre.
“If you’re bringing in four or five wingers who are young and they’re prospects, they have to get the puck at the right time in order to develop,” he noted. “And you can only do that if you have good, veteran centremen. That’ll be critical.”
BREEN ON THE MEND
For some players, the off-season focus is on getting healthy.
Chris Breen, the Heat’s all-time games played leader (204), showed up for locker clean-out day with his right arm in a bulky sling. He underwent surgery last month to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder.
“It’s feeling good – there hasn’t been much pain through the whole process,” he said. “The first couple days were pretty rough, but that’s to be expected. Since then it’s been fine – sleeping is pretty much the only thing that bugs me.”
The injury almost certainly robbed Breen of a late-season recall by the Flames, but he said that he hasn’t lost much sleep over having his NHL debut delayed.
“You just kind of live with it,” said Breen, a restricted free agent who is highly likely to be retained by the Flames/Heat organization. “It’s good to know I might have had the chance to go up if not for the injury. But it happened, and I can’t do much about it. I’ve just got to get it better and push for a spot again next year.”
The following is a list of contract statuses for players who spent significant time with the Heat in 2012-13, plus rookies who could figure in next season.
Under contract for next season
Two-way NHL/AHL deals (* = rookie)
F – Ben Street
F – Roman Horak
F – Sven Baertschi
F – Max Reinhart
F – Ryan Howse
F – Michael Ferland
F – David Eddy
F – *Turner Elson
F – *Markus Granlund
D – James Martin
D – *Tyler Wotherspoon
D – *John Ramage
G – Joni Ortio
G – *Laurent Brossoit
One-way NHL contract
F – Blair Jones
D – Drew MacKenzie
Free agents (as of July 1)
F – Greg Nemisz
F – Akim Aliu
F – Lance Bouma
F – Paul Byron
F – Carter Bancks
F – Gaelan Patterson
F – Bryan Cameron
D – Chris Breen
D – Mark Cundari
D – Brady Lamb
F – Ben Walter
F – Krys Kolanos
F – Quintin Laing
F – Dustin Sylvester
F – Tyler Ruegsegger
F – Brett Olson
F – Mike Testwuide
F – Adam Estoclet
F – Carter Rowney (expiring ATO)
D – Joe Callahan
D – Brett Carson
D – Zach McKelvie
D – Nick Tuzzolino
D – Mike Matczak
D – Steven Seigo (expiring ATO)
D – Connor Hardowa (expiring ATO)
G – Danny Taylor
G – Leland Irving
G – Barry Brust