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Triston Grant, Brennan Evans, Jeff Hoggan and Nathan Paetsch celebrate Calder Cup victory
The defending Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins played their last game just six weeks ago, but the Griffins' front office, in conjunction with their NHL parent club Detroit Red Wings, made a series of signings in July to prepare for the 2013-14 season.
Important July signings ensured the return of forwards Jeff Hoggan, Triston Grant and Luke Glendening; defensemen Nathan Paetsch and Brennan Evans; and goalie Thomas McCollum. Joining the Griffins is center David McIntyre.
The Griffins made resigning the team's four elder statesmen--veterans Hoggan, Grant, Paetsch and Evans--a key priority.
Hoggan, 35, served as team captain during the 2012-13 campaign, playing all 76 regular season games and contributing 20 goals and 25 assists for 45 total points, the fourth highest on the club. He also played all 24 playoff games, adding five goals and seven assists.
A veteran of 11 professional seasons, Hoggan has spent most of his career in the American Hockey League, also playing 107 NHL games for four different clubs.
Grant, 29, was the Griffins' main enforcer last season, leading the team with 196 regular season penalty minutes while adding four goals and six assists in 75 games. During the playoff he chipped in two goals and two assists in 24 games.
Grant has played eight professional seasons and has skated in 11 NHL games.
Paetsch, 30, contributed four goals and 27 assists in 70 regular season games, tying for the most assists among Griffins defensemen. His plus-13 plus/minus rating tied for first among Griffins defensemen. He also appeared in all 24 playoff games, adding 11 assists, good for second among team defensemen.
Paetsch has played nine seasons of professional hockey, including four seasons in the NHL. His 167 games of regular-season NHL experience are the most of any returning Griffins player.
Evans, 31, is a 6-foot-4, 230-pound stay-at-home defenseman known for his toughness. An intimidating enforcer, his 148 penalty minutes ranked second on the team. He also contributed seven assists and had a plus-9 rating while playing all 76 regular season games.
Although Evans did not score a single goal during the regular season, he scored two in the playoffs, including the game-winning goal of the final game of the Calder Cup championship against the Syracuse Crunch.
Evans is a veteran of 10 AHL seasons. He also has played in two NHL playoff games.
Speaking Tuesday, Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill said that signing the four veterans was crucial for the team's continued success.
"Signing those four guys is critical for us, both for winning and for developing the younger guys," Blahsill said.
Blashill cited the veterans' character and work ethic, emphasizing that Hoggan, Grant, Paetsch and Evans created a "culture of winning" that helped shape Red Wings prospects.
"Our prospects learned a ton from them," Blashill said.
All four veterans were signed to AHL contracts. Under these contracts, they are not eligible to be called up to the Red Wings, but they can be signed to NHL contracts by the Red Wings or any other NHL team during the regular season.
The Griffins signed Hoggan and Paetsch for two years and Grant and Evans for one year. All four players also played on AHL contracts last season.
Since last season, Red Wings management has increasingly made use of AHL contracts to secure players, especially veterans, to play for the Griffins while not taking NHL contract spots. Under NHL rules, teams can have only 50 players, including those playing in the minor leagues, signed to NHL contracts.
The Griffins also signed goalie Thomas McCollum to a one-year AHL contract.
McCollum's AHL contract is indicative of his unclear future with the Red Wings organization.
The Red Wings' 2008 first-round draft pick, McCollum, 23, had by far his strongest season in 2012-13, posting an 18-11-2 record with a 2.63 goals against average and a .904 save percentage in his fourth AHL campaign.
But McCollum could not beat out rookie Petr Mrazek for the Griffins' top goalie spot.
Mrazek's emergence as the Red Wings' top goalie prospect, combined with McCollum's disappointing first three seasons with the Griffins and the Red Wings' April signing of highly recruited Northern Michigan University goalie Jared Coreau to an NHL contract, made the parent club hesitant to expend one of its 50 NHL contract spots on McCollum.
McCollum will compete with Coreau for the Griffins' number two goalie spot. Should he not outplay Coreau, McCollum will likely play most of the season for the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL. The Walleye are the Red Wings' secondary minor league affiliate.
One Griffins player who has moved from an AHL contract to a two-way NHL contract is East Grand Rapids native Luke Glendening. Glendening, 24, exceeded expectations last season, starting the campaign with the Walleye but later moving up to the Griffins, contributing eight goals and 18 assists in 51 games.
Better known for his gritty defensive play, Glendening's offensive game excelled during the playoffs, where his 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) tied for third on the Griffins and tied for the league lead among rookies.
With his new one-year contract, Glendening becomes an official Red Wings prospect and is eligible to be called up by the Red Wings during the season.
Glendening expressed enthusiasm about his new situation.
"I'm really excited to be part of the Red Wings organization," Glendening said Monday. "Although it may be a long shot for me to play games in Detroit this year, I'm thrilled to be associated with the team I grew up watching. It is a dream come true and I'm truly humbled by it all."
Newly joining the Griffins will be center David McIntyre. McIntyre, 26, was signed as a free agent to a one-year AHL contract. McIntyre brings with him considerable experience, having played three seasons in the AHL and four seasons before that with Colgate University. He also has played seven games in the NHL.
Last season, McIntyre contributed 15 goals, 18 assists and a team-leading plus-19 rating in 68 games for the Houston Aeros. He also played impressively during the Aeros' first-round playoff series against the Griffins, adding two goals and an assist in five games.
Blashill said how challenging McIntyre was to play against, noting, among other things, his ability to win face-offs.
Blashill looks forward to having McIntyre continue his development with the Griffins.
"He's entering the prime of his pro career and his best days are ahead," Blashill said.
McIntyre's signing brings the Griffins an experienced player who nonetheless does not take one of the official veteran spots in their lineup.
AHL rules specify that teams are only allowed to play five veterans--defined as having played more than a combined 260 games in the AHL, NHL or top European leagues--per game. AHL rules also permit teams to play one additional player who has played over 260 but under 320 games.
McIntyre has played in 228 professional games.
The Griffins are likely reserving their fifth veteran spot for a Red Wings player who may be sent to Grand Rapids to pare down the parent club's currently overcrowded roster.
Notable departures include forward Francis Pare, the Griffins' second all-time leading goal scorer, who signed a two-year contract with TPS of the Finnish elite hockey league, SM-liiga; second-leading playoff scorer Jan Mursak, who signed a one-year contract with Amur Khabarovsk of the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League; and top-scoring defenseman Chad Billins, who signed a one-year, two-way NHL contract with the Calgary Flames.
Calder Cup championship forwards Joakim Andersson, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar and defensemen Brian Lashoff and Danny DeKeyser, each of whom spent significant time with the Red Wings last season, are all slated to start the 2013-14 season with the parent club.
The Griffins' home opener is scheduled for Oct. 18 at Van Andel Arena.
David Urban is an English professor at Calvin College. Learn more about him at http://www.calvin.edu/academic/engl/faculty/urban/
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