Chirps from Center Ice

A fan blog about the AHL's Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins

Slow Bern

It took a month since the regular season ended for the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins, but we finally have our first defection to overseas and it’s a big one.

Chuck Kobasew signed with SC Bern of the Swiss League.

It had been rumored that Kobasew was headed there, the deal just finalized this morning.

For Kobasew, it was NHL or nothing. I didn’t think that he would be seen again here in the AHL and given the fact he was pretty much outcast by the NHL, Europe was a strong option.

I’ve gone ahead and updated the 2014 Offseason Moves List.

2014 Free Agency Recap: Day 1

Like piranhas on a piece of flesh in a pond, NHL Free Agency began at 12 noon today. The moves and press releases were coming in virtually non-stop with who signed where. Here’s the lowdown surrounding the Penguins organization as a whole and the rest of the AHL East Division:

WBS     /     button_pit200

Wilkes-Barre / Pittsburgh

Nick Drazenovic re-signed. Certainly a case of unfinished business for Drazenovic, who could have easily gone elsewhere.

Goaltender Thomas Griess signed. He and Jeff Zatkoff will battle for the backup spot behind Marc Andre-Fleury with the loser most likely ticketed to Wilkes-Barre. Waivers being what they are, since both Greiss and Zatkoff need to pass through them, is something which will need to be dealt with at that time.

Pittsburgh also signed Blake Comeau and Christian Ehrhoff. Comeau is a solid bottom six addition, which could mean that a tweener would be shipped to Wilkes-Barre as a victim of numbers.

Defenseman Taylor Chorney, 65 on the Bombulie big board, 74 points over the last 3 AHL seasons. Chorney captained the Chicago Wolves this past season.

Marcel Goc has re-signed with Pittsburgh as well.

Not a bad day for new General Manager Jim Rutherford. I was worried that with the change in the regime in Pittsburgh that this would come as a detriment to Wilkes-Barre. That does not appear to be the case on Day 1.

Here’s Pittsburgh’s nice recap on the departures and additions.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you can’t win a Calder Cup in July.

Michael Cignoli had an update on Bombulie’s blog. Also, across town, Tom Venesky spoke with John Hynes, who expects less turnover than past years. System wise, it’ll be similar with slight changes, but the style will pretty much remain the same.

Here’s what everyone else in the division did, plus the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, who will be in the division next season:

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HER     /     button_wsh200

Hershey / Washington

Michael Latta re-signs. He gave Wilkes-Barre problems last year.

Goaltender Justin Peters signs. He will back up Braden Holtby in Washington while Philipp Grubauer and Eddie Pasquale (provided he signs his qualifying offer) tend the nets in Chocolatetown.

Jon Landry and Mike Moore. Landry, late of the AHL’s Iowa Wild, is described by Bombulie as a “puck mover with size.” Moore is a leader, has worn a “C” pretty much everywhere he’s been, most recently with the Providence Bruins.

Chris Conner. Needs no introduction. If he gets squeezed out by the Caps, Conner could give teams including Wilkes-Barre, problems in the East Division.

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NOR     /     button_ana200

Norfolk / Anaheim

Re-signed G Igor Bobkov and signed Jason Labarbera. Labarbera, 47 on the big board, is a veteran netminder, underrated and should help stabilize things for Norfolk in net.

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SYR     /     button_tb200

Syracuse / Tampa Bay

Re-signed Mike Angelidis. Angelidis has been the heart and soul of the Crunch now for a few years.

Mike Blunden. A bit of a homecoming for Blunden, as he had previously played with the Crunch. Blunden, late of Hamilton, is a power forward coming off 18 goals this year with the Bulldogs.

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BNG     /     button_ott200

Binghamton / Ottawa

Ottawa shipped Jason Spezza to Dallas for prospects. Those prospects are Nick Paul and Alex Guptill.

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button_lv200     /     button_phi200

Lehigh Valley / Philadelphia

Goaltender Rob Zepp. It was erroneously reported on Twitter that Zepp was headed to Pittsburgh. Zepp comes over from Germany, and has won five titles for his Berlin club. I am more disappointed at all the fun I could have had with the Zepp, if he was heading here, with his name and playing that into punny headlines for the blog.

Blair Jones. A depth forward, 55 on the Big Board, which was a point-a-gamer with Abbotsford last season.

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Departures:

I didn’t link off here. Trust me on these.

Harry Zolnierczyk joined the New York Islanders. The Islanders / Sound Tigers look like the real winners from an AHL perspective because they also picked up ex-Bears goaltender David Leggio and highly ranked Jack Skille as well as top AHL Free Agent TJ Brennan. With pending realignment on the horizon for the AHL, better hope that the Sound Tigers aren’t in the same division as the Penguins this upcoming year.

Penguins to sign elsewhere include Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to Washington, Joe Vitale to Phoenix, Deryk Engelland to Calgary, Jussi Jokinen to Florida, Tanner Glass to the New York Rangers.

Of note, Shavertown product Patrick McGrath re-signed with the Wheeling Nailers.

Oh, also, the 2014 Offseason Moves List has been updated.

Live blog will be back up tomorrow at 8 am Wednesday, and will probably be up all day, as I am traveling to New York City to spend the Fourth of July with my brother and his wife. Depending on travel and relevant moves, I’ll do my best to update the blog at that time. If not, definitely Thursday morning. Latest on Twitter, as always.

Mailing it In; Draft Recap

I wasn’t around Twitter much this weekend, which happened to be the weekend of the NHL Draft in Philadelphia, because family was in and we all went to the local Knoebel’s Amusement park Saturday and spent time together grilling and in the pool Sunday. So my coverage of the NHL Draft this year was nil to non-existent.

Not like I can say with certainty the winners and losers of the draft or even tell you who the players are after the first five picks. The NHL Draft is like the baseball draft, you never know the real winners and losers for another three or more years.

Pittsburgh did a great job of providing a tidy place to go as a one stop shop on all the picks selected. You can have a look here.

Attention turns this week to Free Agency, beginning Tuesday. What we do know is that all pending Unrestricted Free Agents will be allowed to test the open market. For Wilkes-Barre, that’s Brian Gibbons. All restricted guys (Jayson Megna, Bobby Farnham, Simon Despres and Philip Samuelsson) are getting offers, But if another, better one comes along, they can walk if Pittsburgh doesn’t match it.

Jonathan’s Big Board is out. It lists the Top 100 and alphabetizes the best of the rest. It’s a must have list for anyone tracking the free agent frenzy with an eye on the AHL.

One other move to note from our friends an hour south on I-81, Washington acquired the rights to goaltender Eddie Pasquale as what could be assumed a backup to Philip Grubauer in Hershey next season. Pasquale was with St. John’s this past year but had season ending surgery in January. He’s also a Restricted Free Agent, so he’ll need to be signed by the Capitals.

I’ll be back Tuesday morning with a live blog of sorts for the start of NHL Free Agency. My plan is a Twitter list of all 5 AHL East Division teams, their NHL parents along with the media that covers the AHL clubs plus bloggers. Also included this year will be Lehigh Valley, the old Adirondack Phantoms. Nothing has been announced with regards to realignment in the AHL yet, but it’s a foregone conclusion that the Phantoms will be in the Division next year.

Short of anyone taking a late jump to Europe, talk to you Tuesday.

The Pick is In

From the great Jesse Marshall, who does a tremendous job ranking these guys I’ve never heard of…

(click to enlarge)

kapanen

Here are other tweets on the kid….

So we will see what develops with this kid. I am always skeptical of kids coming in to play against men at the AHL level. I’m even more skeptical of European players coming over to play in the AHL. Janne Pesonen anyone?

Oh, one more thing. James Neal was traded to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Hornqvist and Spaling were two forwards that played in the NHL last year. So no initial impact on Wilkes-Barre initially. If anything, it’s two roster spaces filled in Pittsburgh meaning that a bubble guy would get bumped back to Wilkes-Barre. A net gain for WBS as we sit here in late June, but we are three months away from action so way too early to tell.

I’ll be back at some point this weekend wrapping up Pittsburgh’s haul here on the blog late Saturday or Sunday.

Preview of Coming Attractions…

So here is what I expect to happen this week…

I blog now about the lack of news on Coal Street (the end of June isn’t exactly the best time for blog clicks) and how there hasn’t been a single Penguin to bolt for overseas and a bunch of other AHL news and comings and goings.

Watch, this week, we will have our first defection. Or not, who knows.

Anyway, there isn’t much out there, but while you are here….

– Pittsburgh still doesn’t have a coach and it doesn’t look like John Hynes will get the job.

– Norfolk needs a new bench boss as Trent Yawney was promoted to Anaheim. This leaves Norfolk and Hershey both looking for head coaches for the Fall in the East Division as it stands now. Lehigh Valley is a lock to join the East come November, but nothing has been finalized on that front yet.

I advocated strongly for Hynes to get the Pittsburgh job, but now want him to stay.

– The following is week old news, but Pittsburgh does plan to qualify restricted Free Agents Bobby Farnham, Brandon Sutter, Jayson Megna, Philip Samuelsson and Simon Despres. Whether one or all re-sign with Pittsburgh remains to be seen.

– It cost the St. John’s IceCaps a ton to lose in five games to the Texas Stars in the Calder Cup Finals. No, literally.

– Developing Penguin Killer Dustin Gazley re-upped with Hershey.

– Wheeling and Pittsburgh already have their schedules for next year. On Wheeling, and the ECHL, they announced divisional realignment and a bunch of other things including hybrid icing Tuesday.

– NHL Draft is this weekend from Philadelphia and Free Agency starts July 1.

On the draft, I’ll have a recap of who Pittsburgh drafted probably this weekend. My “recap” is basically links to those who have heard of the players selected. On Free Agency, I haven’t decided what I am going to do for that, probably a live blog of sorts like I have in years past along with blog updates as long as long as the situation warrants.

See you tomorrow when the first Penguin bolts overseas to Yikhalvisk Nihmkahbortchalfski of the Borat League because I jinxed it.

West is Best, Again

They have been the Category Five Hurricane since January.

The Texas Stars are the Calder Cup Champions, knocking out the St. John’s IceCaps in five games. The Stars won three games in overtime with Travis Morin netting the two game winning goals in Games 3 and 4 and Patrick Nemeth clinching the title for the Stars in Game 5.

Morin was named MVP.

Ex-Penguins Dustin Jeffrey and Toby Petersen will have their names etched on the Calder Cup this Summer.

Debated, had Wilkes-Barre made it to the Finals, how I would pick the series had it been Wilkes-Barre and Texas. Initial thought was Texas in 5. Heart said Pens in seven. Sadly, I never got to write that preview.

We’ll have our day.

Anyway, Jonathan had his Season in Review broken into parts: Highlights / Graduates / Quotable / Stock Up / Stock Down / Rookies – really worth your time to read.

Hasn’t been much else. WBS has been running a Top 10 Goals of the Year all over their social media platforms. The Gibbons Drop Pass to Conner early in the season, the Gibbons Goal in Game 7 vs. Providence, the Kobasew Goal from “The Shift” and the Zach Sill goal with 15.8 seconds left in Game 5 vs. St. John’s all got my vote.

Nothing on the Europe wire yet. Expect the first shoe to drop any day and then the domino effect to follow after that.

John Hynes interviewed for the Pittsburgh job Monday, according to Mark Divver. I’d expect an announcement from Pittsburgh within days.

That’ll probably be my next blog update. My money is on Hynes. We’ll see.

Keep cool.

An Offseason of Change?

By now you’ve heard of the changes in Pittsburgh. Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma are out, Jim Rutherford is in, leaving a vacancy at the head coaching position.

Rutherford rode into Pittsburgh this past Friday and immediately terminated Bylsma. “Change” was a word that was tossed around. Rutherford has a short list of head coaching candidates that he was going to interview and wants to have someone installed by the end of the month, ideally.

One of those names, is the head coach of the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins, John Hynes.

It is a matter of time before John Hynes will be a head coach in the NHL. He’s too good of a coach at the AHL level not to be.

For those scoffing at the idea of Hynes getting the keys to the Pittsburgh Penguins, citing him unproven, I offer this: Using the inference that the AHL is a breeding ground for players, coaches and staff, Hynes has proven himself more than capable. He’s piloted the AHL Penguins to the Eastern Conference Finals amid roster turnover and juggling a lineup eviscerated by injuries at the NHL level at a non-stop pace for two straight seasons.

Hynes expects a lot from his players. He holds his players accountable. Worried that Hynes would be Dan Bylsma Lite? Ask ex-Penguin Joe Morrow. Morrow, as you’ll recall, was traded to Dallas last year. He said on his way out the door that he was “nit picked.” Now here is Morrow, a high profile name out of the WHL, given no preferential treatment at the next level and broken down and built back up by Hynes and his staff.

Telling a rookie out of the Western Hockey League what to do in his own zone and holding him accountable is a bit different than telling Sidney Crosby what to do and how to do it, but if Pittsburgh wants a new direction, why not Hynes?

By no means am I forcing John Hynes out the door. Hell, selfishly, I hope Hynes stays the coach in Wilkes-Barre for years to come.

But that’s not how things operate in the AHL, it’s not just a developmental league for the players.

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