Chirps from Center Ice

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

Draft Roundup – Sundqvist Dealt to St. Louis

The 2017 NHL Draft has come and gone and the immediate impact felt by the Penguins was a trade on Day 1 on Friday that saw Oskar Sundqvist get dealt to the St. Louis Blues for Ryan Reaves.

Set aside whether or not you think Reaves is a serviceable NHL player. I think, as was pointed out by many last night in the wake of this news, that the Penguins organization are sending a strong message to both the NHL and the rest of the league that they need to protect their stars. Sidney Crosby and Evegni Malkin take massive abuse shift after shift. You don’t need me to rehash for you the games missed by both superstars. Reaves was brought in as a protector and an enforcer, and with the emergence of Carter Rowney at center, made a player like Sundqvist expendable.

I did see some rejoicing from other teams in the AHL Atlantic Division, but as pointed out by Jason Chaimovitch, the Blues don’t have a full time AHL affiliate with Vegas coming into the NHL and scooping up the Chicago Wolves as their primary, so Sundqvist could, hypothetically, land on any AHL team if that is indeed the direction that the Blues take.

That was the big, immediate, news. There were players drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday…

Lauzon played for Rouyn-Noranda last season and was named QMJHL’s best defensive defenseman. The same accolade that Kris Letang won while playing for the QMJHL during his time there.

Phillips is an offensive defenseman who can skate and will head to the University of Minnesota this fall.

Pittsburgh went bang bang at 152 and 155 and selected Jan Drozg and Linus Ölund respectively. Of the two, Ölund is closer to NHL work at age 20. He played in the Swedish leage last year and had a decent season offensively.

And finally, with the last overall pick, Pittsburgh went with….

Another defender who put up 15 points in 35 games during his freshman season at RPI. Reilly was the OJHL’s top prospect in 2015 with the Nanaimo Clippers.

I preferred the recap / live blog that Penguins color man Nick Hart put together during the two day draft which you can check out here.

I will be back this week with the AHL Big Board.

Don’t Get Your Britches in a Tiffel…

Coupla things to share on this Thursday….

Pittsburgh signed forward Freddie Tiffels to an entry level contract Thursday and last week signed goaltender Filip Gustavsson. Tiffels should be in the organization next year and Gustavsson will stay and play in Sweden again next season.

Press releases on Gustavsson here and Tiffels here.

Tiffels is a good skater with speed that finished his junior season at Western Michigan. He tied a career high 21 points. I’d project him starting on a third or fourth line in WIlkes-Barre and maybe even see some Wheeling time next season to start.

Pittsburgh also re-signed Chad Ruhwedel to a two year contract Thursday as well. Ruhwedel helped Wilkes-Barre get out ahead of the Atlantic Division and then earned the trust of Mike Sullivan in Pittsburgh enough for a permanent NHL spot as a seventh defenseman. I really don’t see an option where Ruhwedel makes it back to Wilkes-Barre again next season.

The Penguins lost Marc-Andre Fleury to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft Wednesday. Fleury was a cornerstone piece in Pittsburgh’s turnaround as an organization and you can make an argument that the Penguins don’t win three Stanley Cups in the past decade if it weren’t for Fleury. But it’s a business, and with the stellar play of Matt Murray, Fleury became expendable.

NHL Draft this weekend and the fine folks at 40 Coal Street have a great primer of what to expect this weekend here.

I need two more teams, the San Jose Sharks and the Vancouver Canucks, before all the free agent names I am going to be working on next week for the AHL Big Board are ready for their capsules. The plan is to put out a Top 30 of each teams best free agent then work on capsules on each player and a Top 100 ranking before the best of the rest. Once word gets out of which restricted free agent was tendered a qualifying offer thereby cutting down the list, will I then be able to push towards completion of the Big Board.

If you want to volunteer a team or two, please let me know. The sooner this comes together the sooner it gets out there for all to see.

I’ll probably have a draft recap this weekend then the Big Board next weekend.

Stay cool and remember to hydrate.

New GM; Same Griffin in the Crown, Other Stuff

First off, congratulations to the Grand Rapids Griffins for winning the Calder Cup for the second time in five years against the Syracuse Crunch who, for the second time in five years, have been runner up to Griffins. Both teams, when you think about it, have flown under the radar for the past five seasons and really can be considered powerhouse AHL franchises.

Speaking of a powerhouse franchise, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup for the second time in as many seasons, first team to go back to back since most of you were in diapers or had more hair. A large group of names who were molded on Coal Street helped Pittsburgh to its second Stanley Cup and fifth as a franchise. It’s easy to get caught up at the fact Wilkes-Barre doesn’t have a Calder Cup yet but the main purpose of an AHL franchise is to develop for the next level. Pittsburgh is good at it. Wilkes-Barre benefits from it in most ways and its day will come.

Maybe that day will come in the Bill Guerin Era. Guerin was announced as the new General Manager of the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins and will be joined by Jason Karmanos as Assistant GM. Mark Recchi will serve as the Player Development director. So all names that are already familiar with the way things are run on Coal Street.

Tom had some quotes from the new AHL Penguins GM today…

Marc-Andre Fleury waived his no-trade clause and is penciled in as the new Las Vegas Golden Knights starting goaltender. That obviously will have a trickle down effect to Wilkes-Barre. Here’s what I think, Matt Murray is the #1 goaltender for Pittsburgh, who signs a veteran backup while Tristan Jarry gets the lion share of starts on Coal Street with a veteran AHL goaltender backing him up. Sean Maguire gets another year in the ECHL getting all the starts down there with a capable ECHL backup there. That’s the perfect scenario, in my opinion. Does it happen? Anyone’s guess. If not, there is a backup plan in place….

If you would like more information on how Vegas affects all of this, Derrick Graffius put this well thought out piece together which you should read.

I am going to start cobbling together the AHL Free Agent Big Board likely this weekend. I am crowdsourcing it again and have contributions from Hershey and San Antonio done already. If you would like a team, just let me know via some form of social media and we will work out the logistics. That is probably going to the be the next blog piece to come, provided there isn’t some form of big news worthy of a blog post. Look for it the last week of June.

Stay cool.

Second One Re-Signed — McGrath is Back

I really haven’t had much of anything to blog about since the last time I blogged in mid-May. To catch you up, here are eight things that have happened and below my takes on each….

1) Syracuse beat Providence in five games to advance to the Calder Cup Finals to face Grand Rapids, who did the same to San Jose in five games.

2) Grand Rapids leads Syracuse 2-0 in their best of seven as the series shifts to Syracuse for Game 3 Wednesday night.

3) You can stream the Calder Cup Finals for free on AHL Live by selecting the finals package and using the promo code “FINALS17”

4) Pittsburgh is tied 2-2 with Nashville in the Stanley Cup Finals with the series shifting back to Pittsburgh for a pivotal Game 5 on Thursday.

5) Doug Davidson and Kyle Moore are headed to Las Vegas. Moore served as a trainer and Davidson as strength and conditioning coach here in Wilkes-Barre.

6) Jason Botterhill is the new General Manager of the Buffalo Sabres. He had previously worked for Pittsburgh as an assistant general manager and had a hand in building the roster here in Wilkes-Barre.

7) Seth Lakso is returning to New England to continue his education. Tyler Picotti is the new Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins beat writer for the The Citizens’ Voice.

8) Finally, Patrick McGrath is back, having re-signed with the Penguins in June 7.

Analysis

1) Providence went through the meat grinder known as the Atlantic Division to get to the conference finals and didn’t have an answer to what Syracuse, who was tops in their division all season, brought to the table. The result was not surprising in hindsight. Makes me wonder if Wilkes-Barre, Hershey or Leigh Valley would have suffered the same fate.

2) Grand Rapids has been elite all season and has only lost twice in the postseason. It isn’t surprising to see them leading the Crunch like this. I picked them in six over Syracuse, but it could easily end in a sweep, or five games. Crunch desperately need a win Wednesday night.

3) Second highest hockey league in the world and they are relegated to giving away their games on the internet instead of being able to line up a broadcast partner. With that said, I fully realize that putting games on TV is easier said than done. However, everyone in Springfield and around the league gets upset when their league is passed over by a national audience, but it’s kind of hard to be taken seriously as a league when viewing said league is next to impossible for the casual fan.

4) The home team has won every game so far, with Pittsburgh and Nashville defending home ice. It isn’t a series until the home team loses.

5) The AHL develops much more than just players and coaches.

6) If you are thinking that losing Botterhill is going to be a big problem, don’t. I am not insinuating guys like him are a dime a dozen, but whoever Pittsburgh names as a replacement will be highly qualified to carry on the mission Botterhill created. Also, expect the list of candidates to be long as Wilkes-Barre is seen as a premier destination in the hockey world.

7) Seth admirably filled Jonathan Bombulie’s shoes and from what I have seen so far from Tyler, I am confident he will do the same.

8) No brainer for both involved. McGrath wasn’t going to sign any place else and get buried and forgotten about and Wilkes-Barre gets to boast home grown talent for another season.

I am going to wait until the end of the Stanley Cup Finals to put out the Offseason Moves Chart. I am also going to get an early jump on the Offseason AHL Big Board. If you want to volunteer to help, please contact me.

Now, back to summer.

2017 Conference Final Previews

A couple people asked for it, so here it is. My stab at predicting the 2017 Eastern and Western Conference Finals which will include the San Jose Barracuda vs. the Grand Rapids Griffins in the Western Conference and the Providence Bruins against the Syracuse Crunch in the Eastern Conference. Here goes, starting in the Western Conference…

     San Jose (P1) vs. Grand Rapids (C2)     

How the Barracuda got here: They beat the pesky Stockton Heat in five games in Round 1 and dismantled a stronger San Diego Gulls side in just five games in Round 2. Barracuda have been a consistently great team now for months.

How the Griffins got here: Swept Milwaukee in Round 1 and dispatched the Central Division Champion Chicago Wolves in five games. The only team left which hasn’t been tested yet.

How they match up: The Barracuda own a regulation and shootout victory over the Griffins from the regular season.

Key player so far for San Jose: Ryan Carpenter leads the way for the Barracuda with 10 points in 13 games.

Key player so far for Grand Rapids: Jared Coreau is a quiet 7-1 in the postseason for Grand Rapids in net.

Prediction: San Jose in six. Griffins will put up a fight and may jump out to a 1-0 series lead or a 2-0 lead in a game, but Roy Sommer’s group overcomes and advances against a Grand Rapids group who finally get a challenge here in the Calder Cup Playoffs that they cannot overcome.

     Providence (A4) vs. Syracuse (N1)     

How the Bruins got here: Playing out of the four seed in the dangerous Atlantic Division, the Bruins went on the road four times in elimination games and won all four games, the first team in AHL history to accomplish such a feat. They beat Wilkes-Barre twice on the road to win Round 1 in five games and beat Hershey twice on the road in Round 2 to beat the Bears in seven games. Providence was a team which limped into the playoffs as a four seed but had a complete transformation as the best, most complete team in the Eastern Conference, and you could argue overall of the four teams left.

How the Crunch got here: They beat St. John’s in four games in Round 1 and used home ice advantage to dispose of Toronto in seven in Round 2 in a series which saw the home team win every game. The fact that Syracuse, who won the North Division, does not have home ice advantage over a four seed playing out of the Atlantic in Providence, is more of an outrage than it is anything else.

How they match up: Both split a win and a loss in two meetings during the regular season.

Key player so far for Providence: Remains Zane McIntyre. His timely saves in big moments for the Bruins against Hershey in Round 2 energized his side and got them rolling in the right direction.

Key player so far for Syracuse: Cory Conacher had seven points in the Toronto series. He missed out on a chance to bring home a Calder Cup for Syracuse a few seasons ago. He doesn’t want to miss this time.

Prediction: Providence in six. You have Syracuse, who have battled adversity all season long and has played the role of underdog and come away clean as a whistle in the end. But regardless of who came out of the Atlantic, advantage was going to lie with that team because they came out of a den of hornets in the regular season and played out of a pool of fire in the postseason. Syracuse steals a game in overtime, but Providence is a team firing on all cylinders at the right time and not rattled by a thing and make it to the Calder Cup Finals.

So that’s how I see it boiling off. If you are a fan of one of the four, good luck and enjoy the games.

Go West, Young Man! Go West!

I have yearned for the day that the Penguins would announce that they have mixed in a Western Conference opponent onto the schedule for the coming year and year after year I have been left disappointed.

Not this year.

The Penguins announced Thursday afternoon the schedule of opponents for the 2017-18 season. Along with the usual suspects in Hershey and Allentown you can also add the Rockford IceHogs, the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Milwaukee Admirals to the list of opponents that Wilkes-Barre will face-off with in 2017-18.

The Hershey Bears will follow suit with the Penguins in taking on Rockford, Milwaukee and Grand Rapids. I didn’t see any other Eastern Conference teams mention any Western Conference flavor.

As to when, my guess is a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday date starting in Rockford, traveling to Grand Rapids then Milwaukee and flying out of Milwaukee Sunday afternoon for the Penguins. The full schedule will be announced in the summertime.

The American Hockey League also announced divisional reformatting again with the losses of St. John’s and Albany and the additions of Belleville and Laval. The Penguins divisional opponents shall be the following:

Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Charlotte Checkers
Hartford Wolf Pack
Hershey Bears
Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Providence Bruins
Springfield Thunderbirds

Yes, Virginia, the Charlotte Checkers are back and are in the same division as the Penguins. The last time we saw the Checkers in Wilkes-Barre was six years ago when the Penguins collapsed in Game Six and lost to the Checkers. It will be good to see Charlotte come home to the East where they belong and in the Penguins division.

On Bellevelle and Laval, the Penguins will be heading there too as the Senators (Belleville) and Rocket (Laval) are the two teams that replaced essentially Albany and St. John’s. Along with those two teams, the Penguins will also face the Marlies, Binghamton Devils, Crunch, Americans and Comets to fill out their schedule.

Coal Street did not put out a matrix of how many times the Penguins will face off against the opponents on the schedule for next year but I did see that Charlotte will play the Penguins four times, Binghamton six times and Hershey twelve times. Wilkes-Barre will probably play the IceHogs, Griffins and Admirals twice, once at home and once on the road.

With the way that the divisions are uneven, you are probably looking at the crossover coming back for next season. The League didn’t specify details on playoff format for next year other than to say that an announcement will come in July.

One more thing before I go out the door, Jason Botterill was named as the General Manager of the Buffalo Sabres today. Botterill was one of the guys behind the scenes that built the roster on Coal Street. His departure will be missed, but I have the full faith that Jim Rutherford will name an individual who will step in his place and pick up where he left off.

Fumanta Bianca – Kostopoulos is Back

You may delay, but time will not. – Benjamin Franklin

Someone forgot to tell Tom Kostopoulos.

The Penguins captain confirmed Monday morning that he is coming back for a 19th season of professional hockey.

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

These lyrics rattled around in my head when the Penguins went out in five games to the Providence Bruins in five games as I wondered, we all wondered, whether this was the last of Tom Kostopoulos as a Penguin. If you recognize those lyrics, leave the name of the song and artist in the comment section.

That someone to show the way is Kostopoulos, who still clearly has the desire to play another season and who deeply wants a long playoff run to the Calder Cup, something which has eluded Kostopoulos and Penguins faithful to date.

Haven’t gotten to the Offseason Moves List yet, something which will go up at the end of Pittsburgh’s playoff run, but it’s good to know that Kostopoulos’ name won’t have to be on the list of players not yet confirmed on returning.

Oh, and for extra, extra credit, if you know the meaning of the headline, leave that in the comment section as well.