Chirps from Center Ice

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

2019 AHL Top 100 Free Agents and Beyond – The Big Board

Blogger Note: Big Board will be updated through July 20, 2019 and unstuck from top of blog on July 22, 2019.

Back for another year is an idea cooked up by the great Jonathan Bombulie a long time ago. This is actually Year Five of the on the blog of carrying the tradition that Bombulie conceived which was ranking the top AHL free agents available and putting out a list of the Top 100 and then a second list of the best available after that.

After hemming and hawing on the idea of whether I wanted to invest the time to carry this on for a fifth season, by the time I realized I was “all in” on the concept this year, I was done with half the teams. So I didn’t contract out to anyone this season as I had in seasons past. That’s not to say or suggest that I won’t ask for help in the future, but more of a, “can I do this myself” question that I answered with a resounding ‘yes’ as I was done well in advance of the July 1 start of NHL Free Agency.

Enough about how the idea came about this year and to the subject at hand, the Big Board.

All data compiled was taken from either Elite Prospects, Cap Friendly, the AHL and/or Twitter.

You will see some symbols / identifiers next to some players names. They mean the following:

^ – Group 6 Unrestricted Free Agent. Defined here.
* – Non-tendered Restricted Free Agent (RFA) – essentially a RFA who wasn’t given a qualifying offer.

They really don’t mean anything in the way that the Board was constructed, but in creating the Board I used these identifiers and just carried them over to the final product.

As always, if you spot any errors or omissions, please let me know in the comments. This Board will be updated as Free Agency begins and will be pinned to the top of the blog for a few weeks after the July 1 period.

If you didn’t link in directly from elsewhere, hit the jump and enjoy!

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Blue Powell! Other Notes 7/16

Emptying out the notebook with a bunch of signings and re-signings. Have to hurry before my ice cream melts, so here we go.

Tuesday, the Penguins re-signed Teddy Blueger. Blueger was a restricted free agent and is most likely graduated full time to the NHL next season.

Coal Street also made some news today, signing Myles Powell. Powell scored 31 goals on a pretty stacked Cincinnati Cyclones team in the ECHL last season. That was good enough to lead all ECHL rookies.

With Jarrett Burton defecting to Rochester a few weeks ago, it’s Rochester now kicking themselves on the one that got away.

Powell will probably push for a spot here in Wilkes-Barre, appearing in a few preseason games, but I foresee him as a Wheeling hand. Who knows.

Also, Chris Wideman signed with Anaheim. Wideman, a former AHL Defenseman of the Year, appeared in a handful of games before getting hurt. The Pens acquired him in the trade for J-S Dea.

Adam Johnson re-signed also, signing his qualifying offer. Johnson will most likely start in Wilkes-Barre and get a call after December. He’s the next to ripen on the vine and get a full time call up at some point.

Ben Sexton re-signed with Wilkes-Barre. Good solid signing for the Penguins here when healthy.

That’s pretty much it. Stay cool.

2019-20 AHL Schedule Released

For the third year in a row, the AHL released its playing schedule for the upcoming season in the second week of July instead of late August.

We already know from yesterday three of the 76 games that the Penguins will play in the upcoming season, so it’s time to look at the rest of the schedule that goes all the way to April 2020.

League release here, Penguins release here.

I always do a question and answer session with these schedule releases. They are simple because they are the same questions I ask when unwrap the schedule every season looking at everything. So here we go:

1) Alright, so the Penguins didn’t put out a schedule matrix of opponents this season like they did the last two seasons. Is there one off the hop I can look at?

Yep, here it is.

GAMES vs. OPPONENTS 

(Home/Road)

Atlantic Division

North Division

Central Division

Bridgeport (3/3)

Binghamton (3/3)

San Antonio (2/2)

Charlotte (2/2)

Cleveland (2/2)

Texas (2/2)

Hartford (3/3)

Rochester (1/1)

Hershey (6/6)

Syracuse (1/1)

Lehigh Valley (6/6)

Utica (1/1)

Providence (3/3)

Springfield (3/3)

No games with Belleville, Laval or Toronto this season. No visits this year to Milwaukee, Grand Rapids or Chicago either. And the Pacific Division? Ha! What’s that!?

2) Oh wow, there are some new teams I don’t recognize there!

Right, the Penguins head to Texas in January for four games against both the Texas Stars and San Antonio Rampage. This also includes the Penguins trip to Charlotte to visit the Checkers. The Rampage come in twice in October while the Stars visit in December.

3) Longest road trip? Longest home stand?

It’s the month of January, basically.

Home stand of six straight games (the New Years Eve game against Springfield gets lumped in here) starts off the Penguins home stand which goes to January 11. Then it’s on the road for six straight against the Stars, Rampage and Checkers.

4) How many three in threes?

5) Sunday home games! We know how much you love hate those! How many this year?

Just two. I don’t know how they managed this, but I love them for it. They are in the month of March (8th vs. Binghamton) and April (5th vs. Lehigh Valley) and start at 3:05.

6) Any more charts?

Here you go.

GAMES BY DAY OF THE WEEK

 

GAMES BY MONTH

 

 

Home

Road

Total

 

 

 

Home

Road

Total

Monday

0

0

0

October

4

5

9

Tuesday

1

1

2

November

7

6

13

Wednesday

8

7

15

December

6

6

12

Thursday

0

0

0

January

6

6

12

Friday

12

13

25

February

6

7

13

Saturday

15

13

28

March

6

5

11

Sunday

2

4

6

April

3

3

6

7) Are the Penguins playing any workday afternoon games?

They played in three last year, one in Springfield and two in Bridgeport. They aren’t playing in any this year.

8) The AHL All-Star Classic this year is where again?

That would be in Ontario, California on January 26 and January 27, 2020.

9) Did the Penguins do away with themes? They did away with themes, didn’t they?

It would appear as such since there hasn’t been one in the last three seasons. Other than the first week to ten days of a given season, when was the last time you remember what the theme was for a Penguins season in November or December? Smart marketing strategy if you ask me, why waste summertime brainpower to come up with a gimmick if you aren’t going to follow through on it for the entirety of the season?

10) Are the Penguins playing in any special venues this year?

No, it doesn’t seem to be that much of a fad anymore if you look at the schedule. Other than four dates across town in Toronto at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto that the Marlies are playing against various opponents, everyone is playing their schedule in their home arenas. No outdoor games either.

11) Anything else I need to know?

I can’t think of anything. Pretty standard schedule with your Lehigh Valley’s and Hershey’s dominating the majority of the schedule. I don’t like the fact we don’t play everyone in the Conference, but it’s like that for a lot of teams and but for novelty of seeing a team that you don’t always see, it doesn’t really have that much of an impact on your playoff hopes since everyone plays out of their division to get to the playoffs. Pretty standard start times too but for the New Years Eve 3:05 start and that one Wednesday road game in Providence in April which starts at 6:05.

You can sync the Penguins schedule here and then select whichever platform applies to you.

Now go back to your summer because October will be here before you know it.

Full Schedule Wednesday – Home Opener 10/12 vs. Utica

Everything has been the same these last three years now with AHL teams releasing their opponents for their Opening Night campaigns this time of year, the second week of July and this year is no different. Well, maybe slightly, since the last two seasons we at least had a matrix of opponents. None this year.

Anyway, it will be the Utica Comets Saturday, October 12. No time yet, but assume 7:05.

Also, for the first time ever, the Penguins name is on not one, but two other press releases as home opener opponent.

The Hershey Bears on Saturday, October 5 at 7 p.m.

The Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Saturday, October 19 at 7 p.m. In that release it mentions that the Sound Tigers and Penguins will see each other six times, down from the eight meetings last season. That tells me that either the Pens will be seeing a broader scope of opponents in the way of more Western Conference teams or Belleville and Laval are back on the schedule for 2019-20 after a one year absence last.

I haven’t seen every teams release of who they will be playing on opening night, but the AHL normally runs a piece on their website with all that information. (edit: they have, and the Penguins aren’t any other teams opponent on opening night)

We won’t have to wait long as the full schedule will be released Wednesday at 3 p.m. Wilkes-Barre time. I’ll have my full dissection piece of the when’s, where’s and why’s sometime after on Wednesday afternoon.

Coal Street Signs Dustin Tokarski

No, I won’t give you the Powerball numbers for the next drawing.

Monday morning, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins sent an innocuous tweet teasing a player signing later in the day.

Me, being the fun loving wise guy that I am, responded with the following tweet.

About ninety or so minutes later, my premonition came true.

Absolute heist by General Manager Bill Guerin and Head Coach Mike Vellucci. It’s an AHL only deal.

Dustin Tokarski’s resume:

  • Two time Calder Cup winner.
  • Undefeated in regular season and playoffs last season with the Charlotte Checkers after a mid-season trade with Hartford.

I had him at #46 on the AHL Big Board, and probably in hindsight criminally underrated there. He was the one “wish list” signing that I wanted for Wilkes-Barre with the Vellucci connection and the need for the Penguins to go out and sign a veteran AHL goalie.

On my 2019 Offseason Moves List I have a small chapter dedicated to “Needs” – Let’s Review…

  • Veteran goaltender for Alex D’Orio. Can’t risk losing Tristan Jarry, who is under contract but now must pass through waivers in the Fall, as a backup. I think what happens with Jarry in the summer (trade likely) sets the table for July 1 with the plan in Wilkes-Barre in the Fall.

Check. It doesn’t come any better than a two time Calder Cup winning goaltender in Dustin Tokarski. What happens with Tristan Jarry is now irrelevant because you have an enormous insurance policy here in Wilkes-Barre to mentor incoming rookies Alex D’Orio / Emil Larmi.

  • High impact AHL scorer. The Penguins lacked offensive firepower last season in a big way. Ethan Prow led the team in points, but that’s not really his job to score points. Pittsburgh needs to set up Wilkes-Barre with one or two proven veteran scorers. I joke about players like Chris Bourque, but a player of his caliber would be a perfect fit to compliment the Sam Lafferty’s and Anthony Angello’s already coming back for next year.

Check. I had Andrew Agozzino in my top ten on the AHL Big Board. 60 points with AHL Colorado and a special teams ace. Joseph Blandisi will return as well, with incoming rookies like Kasper Bjorkvist. Scoring shouldn’t be a problem on most nights.

  • One or two defensemen in case one of Chris Summers or Kevin Czuczman don’t re-sign. Blueline is looking really, really young next season from here in May 2019.

Check. Czuczman re-signed, Zach Trotman did too and you have a first round pedigree in P-O Joseph turning pro with the returning Dave Warsofsky.

Try to find holes. All three zones (goal, forward, defense) look solid. You have a head coach that just won a Calder Cup with a team in Charlotte which was a buzzsaw. True, you have to negotiate a 76 game season with call-ups, injuries, trades and the like, but the rebuild looks about done and it looks a lot better than it did before.

Jarrett Burton Defects, Mike Sullivan Extended

After the frenzy of Day One of NHL Free Agency, things fell off a cliff as far as news goes with respect to signings. My Big Board has been updated pretty regularly, but there just hasn’t been enough news this week to fill out a blog post.

Today is as good any to send you off into the weekend (mine started 3pm Wednesday, by the way) with news collected since we last did this Monday.

The Phantoms continued to sign guy after guy, announcing Tuesday that they re-signed a James de Hass and then signed Gerry Fitzgerald and Eric Knodel. Depth pieces, more or less. Knodel is good in shootouts.

Elsewhere, Chris Breen re-signed with Providence and Alex Lintuniemi signed with Carolina. Kale Kessy, he of his astounding 289 PIMs with the ECHL Idaho Steelheads, signed with the Hershey Bears.

Jayson Megna won’t score against the Penguins next season, not unless the Colorado Eagles are on the schedule which should be released next week or the week after, because that’s where he’s headed in the Fall.

Locally, Coal Street re-signed Christopher Brown, who joined the team late in the year last. Joseph Blandisi, who was a restricted free agent, accepted his qualifying offer and re-signed in Pittsburgh.

Burying the lede a bit, but Friday the Rochester Americans announced the signings of four players, one of them being Jarrett Burton. The Jason Botterill poaching of Coal Street continues with this move.

Burton was a fine AHL hand. Rochester has a good player in him.

Mike Sullivan was extended for four more seasons, quelling at least the, “Mike Vellucci is next in line” talks.

Funny.

That’s all, for now. No links on the signings for and around the division, just trust me on those.

Enjoy the weekend.

NHL Free Agency — Day 1

The first day of NHL Free Agency is nearly in the books (calling it a day at 7 pm or thereabouts, but there are always more signings into the evening, so depending on what time you are seeing this, check back for any updates as they warrant) and here’s who signed where and how it affects the AHL’s Atlantic Division:

Pittsburgh Penguins (WBS): David Warsofsky and Andrew Agozzino signed for two years. Two huge offensive threats for the AHL’s Colorado Eagles last season, Agozzino scored 60 points with the Eagles with 19 of those (8 goals, 11 assists) coming on the power play. I had him #9 on my Big Board. Warsofsky you will remember from the Penguins a few seasons ago, he had 15 assists on the power play last year for the Eagles. I had him at #40 on my Board.

There is your big time scorer for Wilkes-Barre. 60 points isn’t anything to sneeze at and anytime you can snag a guy in the top ten on the Board, that’s a really good thing.

(no links with the rest of the signings noted below as they were all scattered, just trust me)

Philadelphia Flyers (Lehigh Valley): Were very active on Day 1, signing ten players, none bigger than Cal O’Reilly who signed an AHL deal straight up with the Phantoms. I had him as my #3 on the Big Board. Lehigh Valley also re-signed Greg Carey (#10) who was far and away their best player last season. The full list includes Andy Andreoff (#16), Kyle Crisculo, J-F Berube (#84), Kurtis Gabriel, Nate Prosser, Andy Welinski, Chris Bigras and Tyler Wotherspoon, these guys signed NHL contracts.

Phantoms are on track to score a boatload of goals next season.

Washington Capitals (Hershey): I thought they lost more than they gained, actually. Yes, they re-signed guys like Liam O’Brien a month or so ago and Mike Sgarbossa (#6) this past weekend but lost Nathan Walker (#44) and Riley Barber (#13) to outside the division as well as their best defenseman Aaron Ness (#17). They did sign Philippe Maillet (#21) from Ontario / Los Angeles. G Vitek Vanecek who was a restricted free agent and hr re-signed Monday afternoon.

New York Rangers (Hartford): Signed Danny O’Regan (#26, 40+ points in three seasons) and Greg McKegg who I had as an NHLer and not part of this years Big Board. Later, they added Harry Zolnierczyk (#25), Vincent LoVerde and Tom McCollum (both unranked vet guys with a Calder Cup to each of their names) Hartford has a lot of holes and these signings come in looking to patch them.

Boston Bruins (Providence): The Bruins signed G Max Lagace (#39), Brendan Gaunce (#51) and Josiah Didier (unranked) – Providence was looking good coming in, these guys show up to make them better.

Florida Panthers (Springfield): Now ex-Penguin Ethan Prow (#8) and Tommy Cross (#66, played for Cleveland, good on PP and 35 points a season) both sign with Florida / Springfield.

Didn’t see anything yet from the Islanders (affecting Bridgeport) or Carolina (affecting Charlotte) yet. The Checkers were pillaged, losing a lot of their key guys that brought them a Calder Cup in June.

..

In other news, the Penguins announced six guaranteed home dates for the upcoming season. All Saturday dates. They are as follows:

Saturday, October 12, 2019
Saturday, December 7, 2019
Saturday, January 11, 2020
Saturday, February 8, 2020
Saturday, March 7, 2020
Saturday, March 28, 2020

The October 12 date makes me believe that the Penguins open the 2019-20 season on the road. For contrast, Hershey announced their home opener for October 5. We’ll see, I’d expect the AHL schedule out late next week if prior history is any indication.

I’ll be back for Day 2 if the situation warrants a blog post. As always, the AHL Big Board will update as free agency keeps on.

Mike Vellucci Named Head Coach of Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins

In a move that came from out of nowhere Friday, AHL Calder Cup Champion Head Coach Mike Vellucci announced that he was leaving the team he guided to the Calder Cup and the undisputed number one overall team in the League last season, the Charlotte Checkers.

Strange, that a guy who had as much success that he had in guiding the Category Five, 51-win regular season team that the Checkers were this past season, would just up and leave as quick as he did, weeks removed from winning the Calder Cup championship over the Chicago Wolves in mid-June.

Then, this tweet from an NHL insider got the gears moving.

I saw this, then started to dig deeper. I found this tweet from the AHL which I expounded on via a series of tweets.

I’ll die on that hill that Clark Donatelli was not the problem for the team. It’s been explained here on the blog in the post mortem of the past season. Hell, Donatelli was in Pittsburgh this week for the Penguins Development Camp.

I continued…

Had no idea that it would take Coal Street three hours and ten minutes later to announce it formally.

Clark Donatelli resigns and J.D. Forrest and Jarrod Skalde stay on with the team as assistants.

Is Vellucci, who has long been rumored as next in line to graduate up to the NHL as a Head Coach one day just waiting in the wings if/when Mike Sullivan gets shown the door one day? Why would Vellucci leave the Carolina organization and take a job in the Pittsburgh organization when it would appear that the two franchises are headed in separate directions?

Those answers to those questions won’t be known for some time, if at all. But it would appear that the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins have acquired the biggest off ice Free Agent this summer.

Time will tell.

Elsewhere, Linus Ölund was loaded to Brynäs in the Swedish League. Press release here if you can read Swedish and the 2019 Offseason Moves List was updated.

The AHL Big Board will get stuck to the top of the blog with this next post succeeding it, probably some time Saturday as this news has to marinate for a bit.