The off-season is underway and every team faces questions. Today, I look at three questions concerning the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
1. Will Stala return?
He's not a free agent, but after the way the 2012 season played out, one has to wonder if Dave Stala has played his last down as a member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. From a personal perspective, I hope Stala is back next season and the team's firing of George Cortez makes Stala's return possible. This past season was Stala's worst season statistically since arriving in Hamilton from Montreal in 2009. His catches and yards were Hamilton lows, and he scored half as many touchdowns as the year before. Stala was relegated to a backup role out of training camp and seemed to be someone, like Avon Cobourne, that the new coaching staff just never warmed to, but with another new staff coming in this year, it is possible Stala could find himself back in lineup. Stala produced when called upon, but his number was called too infrequently to have any impact. A new coaching staff may feel differently, so while I was doubtful that Stala would return two days ago, I think he'll be back for at least one more year in Hamilton.
2. Can they finally get the first pick right?
The one bright side about finishing with the worst record in the league is that it means you get the top pick in the draft. The downside to that for the Ti-Cats is that their history with first-overall picks (or first-round picks in general) is spotty at best. The Ti-Cats have had the first pick in the draft five times in the last 10 years; they traded one of those picks to Edmonton and the other four players they selected (Wayne Smith, Chris Bauman, Dylan Barker, Simeon Rottier) no longer play for the team. The team has not picked in the first round of the draft since taking Rottier with the first pick in 2009 and just one player they've selected in the first round since 2003 is still with the team (Sam Giguère). With serial pick trader Bob O'Billovich no longer calling the shots, the prospect of the Ti-Cats making the selection went up considerably. Now they just have to nail the pick. Their recent draft history is as terrible as any team in any league in any sport and explains why the Ti-Cats have had ratio issues the last couple of years. If the Ti-Cats hope to take advantage of their horrible 2012 season, they will need to nail their draft picks this year, but none more so than the first pick.
3. How much turnover will there be?
With the firing of George Cortez and the removal of Bob O'Billovich as VP of football operations, the Ti-Cats will have an almost all-new front office structure next season. There will be a new general manager who will hire a new head coach (or perhaps the new GM will also be the head coach) and they will put together a staff and evaluate the players on the roster. There could be a lot of new faces in Hamilton next year both in the office, on the sidelines and on the field. It is entirely possible that Henry Burris has played his last game as a Tiger-Cat or that Avon Cobourne could be the favourite, not Martell Mallett or Chevon Walker, at running back. Anything is possible with a new coaching staff. We saw veterans like Cobourne and Stevie Baggs released last year that likely would not have been let go had Marcel Bellefeuille not been fired. So there will be some players let go that we don't expect and they will likely be some big names on par with both Baggs and Cobourne.