The Hamilton Bulldogs are one of the best teams in the Ontario Hockey League. They sit first in the Eastern Conference and they have a good chance of staying there. As a top team usually does, they made several moves before the Trade Deadline to help them with that goal.
It has definitely worked out. They have won 16 out of their last 20 games and are one of the highest scoring teams in the entire league. Barring any setbacks, they look to have a good chance of at least making it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The thing is, the Bulldogs better succeed this season because this will be their best chance in the next few. The CHL over-age rule is going to absolutely ruin the team in time for next season. Each team can only have three over-agers (20-year-olds) on their roster and the Bulldogs have Justin Lemcke, Connor Walters and Ryan Moore right now. Each of those players will be ineligible to play next season.
The Bulldogs have ten players that were born in 1998. All those players will be considered over-agers to start next season even if their birthday is mid-season. That means the Bulldogs will have to trade or release up to seven players in order to comply with the rule. Now, they could be saved by a few players having their NHL teams send them to the AHL rather than back to the OHL.
Let’s take a look at the list of players and see who might might stick around, who will be playing in the AHL and who might be moved.
This is going to be the most intriguing situation. Fulcher is fifth among OHL goaltenders in goals against average, third in wins and tied for second in shutouts. After a season in which he was replaced by a trade deadline acquisition in Dawson Carty, Fulcher has improved a lot. Whether he sticks around to improve even more is going to be a question.
Fulcher’s NHL rights are held by the Detroit Red Wings after signing with them as a free agent earlier this season. One of the Red Wings AHL goalies, Tom McCollum, is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season so there might be a open spot for Fulcher in Grand Rapids. If not, things will be interesting.
Whether or not the Bulldogs decide to move Fucher might also depend on the readiness of backup Nick Donofrio to take on the starter’s role. Donofrio is 7-1-1 in the games he has played and has given the Bulldogs a reliable backup.
We’ll talk about the defensemen and forwards as separate groups because what the Bulldogs decide to do with them will depend on whether or not they want to keep more blueliners or forwards.
The Bulldogs are definitely going to have an issue with their blue line next season. The team might be in a position to lose half of their defense corps this off-season. So who goes and who stays? Well, this could be a hard decision.
Both Mattinen and Stillman have been drafted but neither have signed a contract. Stillman might have the most value in trade talks and could help the Bulldogs recoup some of the picks they traded away. Mattinen is a question mark and he has already been traded twice this season. If anything, hopefully he can sign a contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs and play with either the Toronto Marlies or Orlando Solar Bears.
Hanley is one of those of defensemen that you don’t really notice and that’s a good thing. However, that might not be enough to have him stick around.
The one d-man I see sticking around is Ben Gleason. He is the hardest-working blueliner that the Bulldogs have and is the type of player they need leading the defense next season. Along with the rest of the team, the defense is going to be young. Gleason is the guy you want leading by example.
This is where the Bulldogs are going to get some help. Caamano will more than likely be playing with the Texas Stars, if not in Dallas. Bitten will be playing with the Laval Rocket. If he’s not, something will have gone vastly wrong.
That leaves Burnell, Saigeon and Studenic. Burnell might be the easiest decision. It’s not that he’s a bad player. It’s just that he has been in and out of the lineup with injuries and the other two are have been much more important to the lineup.
Saigeon is one of the highest-scoring Bulldogs and is another one of the hardest-working players on the team. He is a potential captain should he return next season. He was also recently ranked 143rd in Central Scouting’s Midterm Rankings. He deserves a chance to take the next step.
Studenic is probably the Bulldog that is most creative with the puck. He has been the only Bulldogs’ only player to represent his country (Slovakia) at the World Juniors the past two seasons. Unless New Jersey decides to stick him in the the AHL, like they did with Mississauga’s Nathan Bastian, Studenic should be a big part of the Bulldogs next season.
So, the prediction is that Gleason, Saigeon and Studenic will be the three over-agers the Bulldogs retain. However, that is for next season. There is still plenty to enjoy this season.
Toronto Maple Leafs Writer At The Hockey Writers.