I am somewhat torn.
Try as I may, I am not sold on the belief that Soo Greyhounds will be better in 2014-2015 than they were in 2013-2014.
To me, the Hounds will be hard-pressed to replace four players in particular.
To be sure, the Greyhounds put up 95 points during the 2013-2014 regular season, totals that trailed only the Guelph Storm, Erie Otters and London Knights in the overall standings of the 20-team Ontario Hockey League.
And despite bowing out in four straight games to Erie in the second round of the playoffs and having lost overage forwards Tyler Gaudet, Andrew Fritsch and Patrick Watling and star goalie Matt Murray to graduation, there are numerous fans within Houndtown who are expecting the Soo to ice an even-better team in 2014-2015.
Maybe the Hounds are headed for bigger and better things next season. I just don’t see it, though.
Gone are Gaudet, Fritsch and Watling and their combined 68 goals and 171 points.
Gone is Murray, who was in net for 32 of the Hounds 44 regular-season wins in 2013-2014.
And 1995 birth-year defenceman Darnell Nurse may or may not be back, depending on what the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers have planned for their plum prospect.
Even with Nurse, I can’t envision — at this stage at least — the Greyhounds being better in 2014-2015 than they were in 2013-2014.
The concerns begin between the pipes with Murray headed for the pro ranks after four full OHL seasons with the Hounds.
According to general manager Kyle Dubas, Brandon Halverson will be given the opportunity to take over as the Hounds no. 1 goalie in his second OHL season.
Halverson, to be sure, has potential to go with size. But can he be expected to give the Hounds what Murray did as a no. 1 goalie?
There are wide-ranging opinions on Halverson and whether or not he has the parts to be a better-than-average OHL goalie — and right now I would say it’s a coin-flip as to whether the big kid from Traverse City can fill the void left by Murray.
If Halverson doesn’t pan out, the Hounds can always trade for a more-experienced goalie you say?
Who will become available and at what price?
It’s not as though there is a supply of Murray-type goalies out there who will become available.
On to the departure of the overage trio.
Who replaces Gaudet, his 25 goals and his blazing speed?
Who replaces Fritsch, his 24 goals and his leadership?
Who replaces Watling, his 18 goals and his team-best, plus-minus rating of +35?
Granted, the Hounds will return impact forward Sergey Tolchinsky and his 91 points along with still-developing forwards Jared McCann, Michael Bunting, David Miller and Blake Speers.
In particular, McCann and Speers are future OHL stars.
McCann, who is a 1996 birth-year, potted 27 goals in 2013-2014.
Speers, who is a 1997 birth-year, dented the twine 19 times in 2013-2014.
But in addition to the subtraction of Murray and the three overagers, there is the fact that despite what he has done over a regular-season-and-a-half as head coach, there is the matter of Sheldon Keefe’s playoff record.
Put in all the factors that you choose but the numbers do not lie.
In two playoff seasons under Keefe, the Hounds have a record of 6-9 including that very-disturbing 0-4 mark against Erie.
Any coach or manager will tell you that the regular season and playoffs are two totally-different animals.
In fact, Keefe himself relayed that to me when we had a discussion about his former Barrie Colts coach, the late, legendary Bert Templeton.
While I was the one who was building up Bert and his regular-season success over the years, it was Keefe who made a point of pointing out the not-as-good playoff record of his old coach Templeton.
So, I am just pointing out Keefe’s playoff record over two seasons as Greyhound coach.
Six wins, nine losses.
One series win, two series losses.
Those are the numbers.
At any rate, Keefe’s relative lack of playoff success aside, there is a lot to like about the Greyhounds with a look ahead to the 2014-2015 season.
I just don’t know if the Hounds of 2014-2015 can top the 95-point total of 2013-2014.
Then again, if the Hounds can go beyond the second round of the playoffs in 2014-2015, the regular-season point totals won’t matter.
PHOTO: Blake Speers had 19 goals for the Greyhounds as a 16-year old rookie in 2013-2014. (Photo by Ali Pearson.)