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Sunday, February 06, 2011

EIHL Transfer Deadline Passes

So that’s it. January 31st has come and gone, so the roster EIHL teams have now is the one they have for the rest of the season with the IIHF not allowing transfers after this date.  So who has been doing what in this last month to give themselves that final piece of the jigsaw for a push for the playoffs or league championship?

Belfast Giants
Belfast suffered the loss of Mike Bayrack mid-month with a move to Slovenia, but deadline day replacement, Latvian defenseman Kaspars Astasenko. At 35 his best days look behind him, but with 23 NHL games, stints in the old IHL, AHL, SM-Liga and top flight Russian hockey, plus scoring over a point per game two seasons ago in Italy, he is still likely to be one of the better players in the Elite League.  At the start of the season Belfast were pretty much everyone’s favourites for the league, but injuries have played a part in taking the Giants title aspirations a little off track.  Unlike some of their rivals, Giants have been able to stay in the title race by signing some quality replacements, but there is no doubt the injuries have taken their toll. Doug Christiansen will be hoping his side can stay healthy for the run in and make a late push for a league title which is certainly still within their grasp, while you certainly can’t right them off for the playoffs.

Braehead Clan
No a bad first season so far for the Clan who remain in contention for a top five finish. Not surprise then that there are no last minute changes in Braehead, who have shown in a one off game they can compete with the top teams. Could be a dark horse come playoff time.

Cardiff Devils
No changes in Wales, and its hardly a surprise. A 21 game winning streak was finally ended by Dundee in overtime, but with a healthy roster the Devils are right in the thick of things, and on recent form one of the favourites for the title. If it aint broke, don’t fix it.

Coventry Blaze
Coventry have suffered more than most with injuries and unlike some sides have not been able to splash the cash on replacements.  The league title may now be realistically out of reach, but as players start to return to the line up, Paul Thompsons men will look to find a run of form ready for the playoffs.

Dundee Stars
The Stars have re-signed former fan favourite Patric Lochi. For the remainder of the season, should certainly add some offence and help Dundee cement their play-off spot. Finishing any higher than 8th looks unlikely, but the Stars shouldn’t have any problems staying above Edinburgh and Newcastle.

Edinburgh Capitals
Its difficult to know what to say about Edinburgh. In my mid-season review, I wrote about Edinburgh’s financial issues and loss of key players.  What no one expected was the exodus that followed in January leaving the Caps with just three imports. There first game after was an embarrassing 18-0 loss to Sheffield, followed by further similarly large score lines while often giving up around sixty shots per game.  I think its fair to say the Caps are merely cannon fodder for the rest of the league now and have no hope of making the playoffs. Its a tragedy thinks have come to this. I feel sorry for the players still there giving their all every game and more so for their loyal fans, non of who deserve this.  Last minute signings look to do little more than bolster numbers rather than make an impact, though since picking up new goalie Jens Van Pouke the scores are starting to look a little more respectable.  Big changes are needed for next season if the Caps are to stay in the EIHL.

Hull Stingrays
The big change for Hull was the signing of former NHL defenseman Drew Bannister earlier in the season.  Since his arrival the Stingrays have looked a much more solid unit and have gone from battling for a playoff place to potentially pushing for a top 5/6 finish.  No one would have expected that given the club almost didn’t start the season, and with such over achievement its no surprise that Sylvain Cloutier has decided to stick with the players that have got the team to this position.

Newcastle Vipers
Newcastle have faced similar issues to Edinburgh, though not to the same extent and while a post season appearance is looking very unlikely, the Vipers are (at least before last weekend) keeping the games relatively competitive despite a shortened bench.  Lack of funds has made replacing players impossible and like Edinburgh, whether the Vipers have a future in the Elite League beyond this season remains in question.

Nottingham Panthers
Nottingham Panthers lost Penner who is alleged to have cited having no-one left to fight in the Elite League as the main reason for him leaving.  Panthers moved fast to replace him with former NHL 1st round pick Daniel Tkaczuk. Tkaczuk should certainly strengthen the Panthers.  Then just a few days ago Panthers released Jonathan Zion.  There is no doubt that Zion is a very good offensive defensemen, but eyebrows were raised in the summer when he signed in Nottingham. For most team he would be a good signing, but with Neilson already providing offense from the blueline, Zion seemed a strange fit, particularly given his less impressive abilities in his own end. His replacement, the more defensive minded Jeremy Van Hoof should provide more balance. Its probably too little too late to help the Panthers to that elusive league title. When it comes to the one off games of the playoffs though, don’t write them off.

Sheffield Steelers
No changes for the Steelers, but the return of injured captain Jonathan Phillips and Steve Munn makes the Steelers a better team.  Sheffield can now role almost four lines, with no obvious weak links. Still in with a shout for the title, Steelers need to start winning the big games against fellow title rivals if they are to bring a championship back to South Yorkshire.

So as we come to the final stretch, the title seems to be now a three horse race between Cardiff, Sheffield and Belfast, Newcastle and Edinburgh look to be battling it out for the wooden spoon while the rest seem certain of a play-off place, with Hull and Braehead looking to push in to the top half of the league. Hopefully the top three can all keep pace to make the finally run for the title one of the most exciting for years.

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