With just five guys confirmed on the Cardiff Devils roster for 2018/19, some fans are getting a little anxious about who the team may be losing or keeping, and some just want to know who’s signed right now.
But they do say good things come to those who wait, also, who’s to say the Devils have put pen to paper on any other contracts other than Craig Moore, Mark Richardson, Joey Haddad, Joey Martin and Matt Pope.
So with some fans nearing worrying anxiety levels the trick would be to write a nice post about the team that calms everybody down and makes all the worries disappear.
I can’t promise that will happen here.
So to add to the worry, lets remind you all that right now the Devils are without a goalie. You sort of need two of them at some point.
Since the 2014-15 season, Cardiff have relied on British number one Ben Bowns. After he started his career in the EIHL with the Hull Stingrays (god rest their soul), the Devils were quick to snap up the then up and coming British netminder.
However, Bowns is now older than when he first joined and he’s well and truly in his prime. His play over the last couple of years has been outstanding, earning three straight EIHL Netminder of the Year awards, as well as helping GB to back to back World Championships gold medals and helping the nation back to the top division for the first time since the early 1990s.
So all in all, Bowns is a must sign player.
But, Sheffield had a must sign player in Ben O’Connor, in fact he was an already signed player and now he’s left the side and become the first Brit in the KHL ever.
Naturally, worry set in when that deal was announced among Devils fans. If Ben O’Connor can get that type of deal why can’t Bowns?
Don’t get me wrong, there is no way Bowns goes to the KHL in my eyes. He’s good but he’s not starting goalie in the KHL good. If Bowns is to leave Cardiff this summer like some are starting to fear he could, it’s going to be for a league where he’ll still be a starter, the KHL is not that league. We could see Bowns getting offers from Germany, Switzerland, Italy and maybe even in Scandinavia, and if the 27-year-old did leave, I wouldn’t blame him, what an opportunity that would be.
For Bowns though, and for the sake of the GB national team, if he goes he needs to play, he can’t be a back up.
If Bowns left that would leave a gaping hole in the Devils roster, and one they’ll have to fill with an import goalie. Thomas Murdy isn’t the man to take over the job no matter how solid his performances have been, then the rest of the up and coming goalies like Jordan Hedley have already signed elsewhere, and Jordan Lawday who has trained with the Devils last season still needs to start down in the NIHL 1 so perhaps a two-way for him would be good. If Bowns goes, they lose their privilege of having a Brit in goal and an extra import skater.
We already know that Drew Paris has gone, he shipped out to Karlskrona in the Swedish second tier, but other than that there is no news on any other defenceman than Mark Richardson who’s back for his 10,000th season with the team. (Seriously I’ll be fuming if his number isn’t retired when he’s done playing). Craig Moore is also back but he can play as a forward as well.
But other than that there are still a decent number of guys either yet to be announced or yet to be signed.
What’s happening with Andrew Hotham? Rumours suggest retirement but then again, Devils fans and rumours aren’t really a good mix. If you listen to those rumours then Jake Morissette was retiring three years ago and Mike Sullivan was definitely coming to Cardiff and not Dundee. Also, remember Wacey Rabbit? (Yes that’s an actual player)
But if those rumours are true (which they probably are 100% not), are the Devils ready for life without Hotham? If they can keep Gleason Fournier then I don’t see why not? Both are incredible offensive defenceman but both have their own style of play. Hotham to me probably has he edge on his defensive play while Fournier is the more gifted player with the puck.
Realistically for me the Devils can’t afford to lose either or both, but I reckon at least one is going (probably Fournier).
Then you have other guys, Bryce Reddick really started to shine after he was bullied off social media for having an absolutely forgivable slow start and adjustment period that happens to most players. He even earned coaches player of the year so all signs would indicate that Andrew Lord would want him back, and even the fans who wanted him gone now want him back. (Probably time to delete some of those tweets)
Mark Louis is another, to me the team can’t afford to lose a healthy Louis, but after just 30 games last year, you could argue the Devils may have reason to shop elsewhere.
Then, Tyson Strachan is Tyson Strachan so I don’t even need to argue why he needs to stay.
When it comes to the defence, in my eyes the Devils need to do everything they possibly can to keep the group they have together even though that isn’t likely to happen. What they have to their advantage is they don’t need to worry about keeping a Brit to make room for an import elsewhere. Sure they could bring in a young Brit similar to what Nottingham did with Josh Tetlow.
If they do lose some of the guys on D, this is why Devils don’t need to panic, since Lord took over as coach, the team have done a great job with recruitment, that’s why a lot of guys come back year after year.
When it comes to forwards, there are too many to go through one by one, but the fact is last season, most of the guys were already in their 30s or nearly turning 30. Not exactly old but maybe time to start looking at young replacements.
Layne Ulmer is close to getting a bus pass, but he still turns up night in and night out as a very serviceable player. But as he gets nearer and nearer retirement, perhaps it is time to move on and get another import who plays a similar style to replace him.
Joey Martin, Joey Haddad and Matt Pope are already back which is fantastic for the team, Martin has been the best player in the Elite League for quite some time, so having him leading the charge is huge for the Devils and now the focus is getting a solid core around him.
What the Devils could do with to partner with Martin is a guy who plays a similar style to John Dunbar of the Guildford Flames.
Pairing a goal scorer like Martin with a playmaker like Dunbar would make two thirds of the deadliest line in the league.
For me when it comes to the forwards, the Devils like the defence need to keep a similar group of guys around.
Justin Faryna needs to stay otherwise he’ll go somewhere else in the league and punish the Devils with every visit to Ice Arena Wales, Sean Bentivoglio needs to stay to make nearly every Devils fan lose their minds when a certain web stream can’t pronounce his name (he’s a good player too).
For me, this is where the Devils could use some British depth, I have high hopes for Toms Rutkis in the future, he’s not going to be one of the best Brits but his work ethic and energy will make him a great third liner, and Josh Batch needs to be used more (either on the wing or in D). But Cardiff could do with looking at getting more guys on a two-way.
They’ve seemed to have given up on the Calum Buglass two-way experiment after he’s signed full time in Peterborough, but in the NIHL 1 there is a lot of talent that could get even better with ties to an Elite League club.
Ivan Antonov who’ll play for Bracknell next year could be one, he qualifies as British and put up 56 points in 29 games last year. The difference between NIHL and EIHL is so huge though, but getting someone like Antonov who’s 21 in to train with the squad could help that players development and also potentially provide reward for the club a few years down the line.
So do the Devils fans have a right to panic?
When you ask that question about Ben Bowns, then definitely. They need to throw money at Bowns right now, I believe he’d want to stay in South Wales, but until he’s signed it’s always a worry he’ll ship off to mainland Europe or further like Ben O’Connor has.
When it comes to skaters, should Devils fans panic? Not really.
I mean the same guys keep coming back so it’s fair to assume that a decent amount will return anyway, and even when some don’t Lord has a good track record of replacing guys and keeping the team moving forward.
For the rest of the summer, I think the team need to bring in some key returnees and anybody who’s on the fringe, upgrade them.
This past Devils team was absolutely incredible, but the league is getting better and better, other teams are starting to catch up. You can’t win anymore by bringing the same guys back year after year. The rest of the league has sat back and watched the Devils dominate the league and now they’ve had enough, it’s up to the Devils now to continue to set the pace in the EIHL and not spend the season catching up.
And with the ownership group the Devils have, and the management structure they have, Devils fans need to trust them.
Todd Kelman, Andrew Lord and the rest have not let them down yet,