The Herd's Restless Offseason

2022-23 team award winners, draft and UFA updates, and a look ahead
by Geoff King | September 20, 2023, 12:18 PM ET

REGINA

 
“Rollercoaster.” That’s the way GM Geoff King summed up the Regina Bisons’ inaugural 2022-23 season. Many highs and lows, and sadly for the team, it ended on a low note. The Bisons finished with 98 points in 9th place in the cutthroat Canadian conference. 98 points is a lot, and only once before in SICHL history has a team missed with that many (the Vancouver Vipers had 99 pts in 2015-16 and finished 9th in a tiebreaker to the Calgary Mustangs).
 
Yet a record that would have seen the team make the playoffs in prior years wasn’t a success as far as the GM, coaches, and players were concerned. They played meaningful hockey up to the final week of the season, only to fall short in the end. It was a season of “coulda been” as there were many heartbreaking losses that coulda, shoulda, woulda been wins that gave those few extra points to propel the team into the postseason.
 
Not only did missing the playoffs deflate the atmosphere of the Queen City’s fans and players, who had hoped for a Cinderella run at the Cup, but it cost the franchise a chance at postseason revenue, and gave a chance at the 1st overall selection in the entry draft lottery to the Jacksonville Gators, thanks to the Bisons not owning their first round pick that had been traded away by the Brandon Wheat Kings.
 
In the end, the lottery gods were not cruel to Regina, and Toronto won the right to select wunderkind Connor Bedard with their own selection. The Bisons will select 16th overall in the draft with the London Monarchs’ pick, thanks to a shrewd trade last year that saw King acquire it for the 2022 Havana 1st (26th overall, used by Dublin to select Nathan Gaucher). The new GM wasn’t quite ready for the 2022 draft and hadn’t fully scouted the eligible players, so deferred the pick a year and moved up 10 spots in a stronger draft.
 
The season end awards for the 2022-23 season:
 
Team MVP & Top Goalie: Cam Talbot
Though many Talbot’s counting stats weren’t elite among all eligible netminders (Wins:9th-36; GAA:16th-2.59; SO: T3rd-5; Sv%:18th-.915), his record of 36-17-4 was good for a .664 W%, a 109 pt pace. The 5 other goalies who started for the Bisons when he was injured or rested were a collective 9-12-3, or only .438 W% and a 72-pt pace. So a fully healthy Talbot could have seen Regina sneak into the playoffs, and possibly upset a higher seed.
 
Top Skater: Cam Fowler
Eyebrows may be raised at the Cams sweeping the team awards, as centre Auston Matthews put up 89 pts and finished 11th in league scoring, but Fowler was the rock solid #1 dman every team needs, leading both offensively and defensively from the blue line. Fowler’s 66 pts were 3rd most for a defensemen, and his 8 GWG exceeded superstar rearguard Cale Makar’s 6. Fowler was only +6, but played nearly 30 mins a night on the top blue line pair in all situations. Meanwhile Matthews had some prolonged slumps, was exceeded by #2 pivot Brayden Schenn in team scoring in midseason, and was not the offensive force that the team expected (his 8.4 Sh%: 37 goals on a league-high 443 shots speak to some bad luck for the pivot, too).
 
What’s next?
Well the first shocker of the offseason came as King made the tough decision to allow the recently named MVP Talbot go to unrestricted free agency, opting instead to designate pending UFA Schenn as the Franchise Player with a 2-yr $5.5M AAV deal. King said, “It was hard to make the call, but Cam picked up a few injuries during the season, is getting older, and we’re just concerned he won’t be able to maintain last season’s level of play over the 2 year commitment an FP commands. Brayden gives us that solid 2-way play up the middle that we couldn’t afford to lose.”
 
With Talbot and backup Craig Anderson going to free agency, and veteran Carey Price retiring due to injury, only unproven Erik Kallgren and youngster Isaiah Saville are signed to pro contracts for next season, meaning King will have to be active in the trade and free agent market. Kallgren could be a 2B, which means King needs at least 4 netminders: a starter, another backup to compete with Kallgren, and 2 minor-leaguers, based on the injury records for goalies lately.
 
The Bisons made a minor trade in an attempt to improve their goalie pipeline, sending their 2024 6th rounder to Acadia for older (23yo) prospect David Tendeck. Tendeck has been in the minor pros since being drafted, but is young enough and has a decent pedigree of junior success that he could have an outside chance to develop into a decent pro goalie.
 

With that said, rumours are that King has been discussing with ownership the prospect of a full-scale rebuild for the 2023-24 season. Without a starting goalie, and with some regressions expected from aging players, King is pitching to trade away veterans for youth and picks, and accept a losing season. His hand was forced for 2022-23 to go for it without his 1st rounder, but since the team has its own firsts for the next few years, a rebuild may be in order. Blueliners Fowler and Jonathon Merrill, and forwards Gustav Nyquist, Marcus Foligno, and Derek Ryan are all UFAs at season’s end and have reportedly been shopped to the league. King may pursue trades even harder as we head into the draft. Though he wants to keep Matthews through the rebuild since he is young enough, based on last season’s rumours, King is not committed to his superstar forward and would move him if the price was right.

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