When National Hockey League teams open their respective mini training camps for the abbreviated 2013 season, likely Saturday or Sunday, don’t be surprised if the St. John’s IceCaps will be without the core pieces of their team, at least for the time being.
When word came last Sunday morning an agreement had been reached to end the 113-day NHL lockout, IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge was figuring on losing two defencemen, at least, to the Winnipeg Jets’ camp.
Tuesday, McCambridge altered those numbers, certain they might be low projections.
He’s bang on.
In fact, it says here the IceCaps will find themselves Friday and Saturday night taking on the Toronto Marlies, co-leaders of the Western Conference and tied for second place overall in the American Hockey League, minus two of their top defencemen, Paul Postma and Zach Redmond, and their top forwards of late, Spencer Machacek and Maxime Macenauer.
When Derek Meech gets the OK from doctors that his sore groin is fine, look for the veteran D-man to head west to Manitoba. And toss in Alexander Burmistrov, although the supremely talented Russian — who was among the locked out NHLers — did little in his 22-game stint in St. John’s (Burmistrov was injured the last 14 games).
In Machacek, Postma, Redmond, Meech and Macenauer, the IceCaps will be without five of their top six scorers.
It’s safe to say St. John’s fans will feel a bit of the pain Oklahoma City Barons supporters are experiencing, with Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz back in Edmonton.
So where does this leave St. John’s?
Well, given the team’s popgun offence, even with the six in the lineup, the IceCaps are not in very good shape. Since last weekend, when the IceCaps were swept by the Manchester Monarchs, making it six straight games on home ice without a win, St. John’s has slid to 13th place in the 15-team Eastern Conference, and dead last in their Atlantic Division.
It won’t get any easier this weekend.
Of course, some or all of the six Winnipeg-bound players could be back in St. John’s following camp.
But don’t bet on it. Postma, for certain, is gone. The Jets aren’t likely to pay the slight defenceman what’s remaining on a half-million-dollar contract to play in the American Hockey League.
And we’ll never see Burmistrov again.
As for Machacek, Redmond, Macenauer and Meech, flip a coin.
But those four have been playing hockey during the lockout, while most of the Jets were skating here, there and everywhere. In fact, only Blake Wheeler, Nik Antropov, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Mark Stuart, Antti Miettinen and, for a spell, Evander Kane were playing any kind of organized hockey. That doesn’t include junior-aged Mark Schiefele, who will be given every opportunity to make the Jets.
The St. John’s players are, in short, ready to play now.
To fill the voids in the IceCaps’ lineup, expect Winnipeg management to uncover every stone in an effort to prop up the St. John’s roster. That could involve more call-ups from the ECHL, or perhaps signing an out-of-work free agent or two.
Wonder what Brian Sutherby is up to these days?
To St. John’s hockey fans, trying to keep the faith in trying times, this may seem like a kick in the teeth.
Bad enough the IceCaps went through a rash of injuries, and power outages amongst the alleged go-to players.
Keep this in mind, however, for what good it does: for as much as the Jets, and every other NHL club, try to create a winning culture within the organizations, farm team included, the primary objective of the minor league team is to develop players for the big club.
It’s not about winning championships in the minors.
Robin Short is
The Telegram’s Sports Editor.
He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org