This week’s post-lockout draft of St. John’s IceCaps by the Winnipeg Jets is kind of like the storm hitting us today.
A bit more than we expected, but it’s the middle of January and we’re living on the marge of the North Atlantic, not the South Pacific.
We might not like it (snowblower salespersons excluded), but it’s not that unexpected.
The Jets’ call-up of a half-dozen of St. John’s best players was even a little more than IceCaps’ head coach Keith McCambridge forecasted. But the lockout is over and it was always clear Winnipeg would need roster reinforcement once the NHL season resumed.
IceCaps fans might not like it, but it’s not that unexpected.
In fact, you can almost look upon what has happened as a corrective rationalization of the IceCaps’ roster. This is more or less the team we would have seen had a lockout not occurred.
Paul Postma? We never thought he and his one-way contract would be back. And with Zach Bogosian going under the knife last August, there was always a very good chance another defenceman from St. John’s would be required in Winnipeg. Spencer Machacek? After his showing with the Jets late last season, you kind of figured he had a good shot to stick in the bigs this time. Alex Burmistrov? A little more time in the AHL might not hurt him, but if the NHL had started up as per normal in October, he would have been in Winnipeg.
That’s four players right there, which is precisely how many the Jets might require for a complete 23-man roster. As of today, not counting the IceCap call-ups or the still-recovering Bogosian, they have 18 signed players. It becomes 19 once you throw in junior-age Mark Scheifele, who is coming to camp and will be given every chance to make the Jets.
Signings, tryouts, injuries. They’ll be factors in the final count and St. John’s could even get a couple of players back, although that move might come with a delay switch if — as is rumoured — the NHL is considering allowing short-term expanded rosters for acclimation purposes.
Eventually — all those above factors aside — we’ll get the IceCaps we might have expected early last September: more than OK in the goaltending department, fairly deep up front, pretty young on defence.
Just about every team in the AHL is twitching with post-lockout spasms today. The Toronto Marlies, the IceCaps’ opposition this weekend at Mile Onc Centre, left seven bodies in Toronto for purposes of the parent Leafs. Even the Boston Bruins, who need only a player or two, have tapped Providence for a half-dozen during training camp.
Now, it’s doubtful the knowledge the pain is widely shared will be much of a remedy. If your tooth is aching, finding out the fellow beside you has lost a filling won’t deaden the nerve in your molar.
And there is certainly no Novocaine in this prediction from McCambridge: that with a compacted NHL schedule and so many locked-out players needing to work themselves back into game shape, there’s every reason to expect other AHL players will find themselves promoted before spring comes around.
See POST-LOCKOUT, page C3
That might be good news for the likes of Ray Sawada, Patrice Cormier and Ben Maxwell and other IceCaps who didn’t get summoned to Winnipeg this week. And even McCambridge can see a silvery lining, that an increased possibility of call-ups carries an incentive factor — the better you play, the better chance of you seeing Manitoba in February (that’s not something you see on travel posters).
For IceCaps fans, not so much silver in the cloud, especially when they consider what might be in store for a team that has lost six straight at home, a team that’s struggled to score, but has suddenly lost five of it’s top six point-getters.
But it’s a rationalized team in a rationalized league. In a way, it’s like the NHL, with everyone starting anew in mid-January. And change — any change — might not be a bad thing right now.
But if you're an IceCaps fan and feel like screaming, go right ahead. As said earlier, this may have been expected, but you don’t have to like it.
Try yelling as you shovel. Chances are the neighbours will just think you’re cursing Mother Nature. Or Ryan Snoddon.
In the period between Monday morning and Thursday evening, there were over 60 official transactions of players being promoted from the ECHL to AHL teams. And that is just the beginning.
It will be interesting to see how far the knock-on effect of the lockout’s ending will go. ECHL clubs will likely harvest from teams in the A-level minors, in the Central and International leagues. And those circuits will have to seek out replacements in lower tiers, including the semi-pros.
Would that include the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League, which has more than a few players with recent professional experience or who are recent major junior graduates?
“I think the effect might be felt right down to midget,” said Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts head coach Shane Lukinchuk.
That was said with a bit of a laugh, but Lukinchuk went on to say that he remembers the last time there was an NHL lockout, that even junior teams in his native British Columbia eventually ended up getting dripped on by the trickle-down effect.
One of the more intriguing stories in the AHL will continue to be played out at Mile One this weekend as defenceman Paul Ranger takes to the ice for the Marlies.
The 28-year-old Ranger had been a solid rearguard for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 270 NHL games when he suddenly left hockey in 2009 for unspecified personal reasons, and has since declined interviews about his leave of absence. Except for coaching a bantam team in his native Whitby, Ont., Ranger stayed away from the game until signing an AHL deal with Toronto last fall.
Whatever rust he gathered seems to have been scaled off pretty quickly. Ranger has five goals and 13 assists in 29 games with the Marlies and his plus-16 rating is the best of any player in the AHL’s Western Conference. More than a few observers have suggested that if Ranger had an NHL deal, he would at the Maple Leafs’ training camp this weekend.