Chirps from Center Ice

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

Category Archives: The AHL

AHL Power Rankings: Mid-October 2019

You know as I was doing these first Chirps from Center Ice AHL Power Rankings for the 2019-20 season, I kind of missed doing these weekly. However, for now, I am committed to running these bi-weekly as opposed to weekly to start. If you really want these to go back to weekly, let me know down in the comments section and I’ll see what I can do. The Power Rankings portion of the blog content is the most up in the air feature I have here. It isn’t going away, I just don’t know where to put it or when to run it anymore.

Anyway, with that out of the way, it’s time to see where your favorite team sits two weeks into the season. There are two undefeated teams and two teams still sitting on preseason points (0).

The Marlies, of course, are the early class of the field. Toronto is out to a 4-0 start after a pair of wins over Manitoba and victories over Belleville and Hershey to start the season.

The San Antonio Rampage, yes, the Rampage, are out to a 3-0-0-1 start and lead the Central Division which is as wide open as far as where you’d expect contenders to be early on.

Utica is the other undefeated team in the league and are third. You have to like the early start that the Comets are on.

Iowa hits the ground running and are out to a great start as well and are fourth and the surprise leader at the top of the Atlantic are the Hartford Wolf Pack which round out the top five.

Hit the jump past the Wolf Pack if you didn’t link in direct to see where your favorite team sits just two weeks into this early season.

1

Last Games: BEL 1 @ TOR 4, TOR 3 @ MTB 2, TOR 4 @ MTB 0, HER 3 @ TOR 4
Toronto debuts at number one this season after a 4-0 start, tying a franchise record. The Marlies are beating all types of teams. Monsters stop by this weekend.

Next Games: vs. CLE 10/19, vs. CLE 10/20, @ BNG 10/26, @ SYR 10/27
Record: 4-0-0-0

2

Last Games: MTB 1 @ SA 2, TUC 2 @ SA 5, CHI 0 @ SA 3, CHI 2 @ SA 1 (SO)
Raise your hand if you thought that the Rampage would have points in all of their contests. Now put your hand down, you liar.

Next Games: @ TUC 10/18, @ TUC 10/19, @ WBS 10/25, @ WBS 10/26, @ RFD 10/30
Record: 3-0-0-1

3

Last Games: UTI 4 @ BNG 3, UTI 4 @ WBS 3 (OT), SYR 2 @ UTI 6
Comets are 3-0 and off to an undefeated start. Utica stays busy over the next two weeks against some good competition.

Next Games: vs. CHA 10/18, vs. RCH 10/19, vs. BNG 10/25, @ HER 10/26, vs. BNG 10/30
Record: 3-0-0-0

4

Last Games: RFD 2 @ IA 3, MIL 2 @ IA 5, TEX 4 @ IA 5 (SO), TEX 2 @ IA 1 (SO)
Points in all of their games, which have been four at this point, has to feel good for Tim Army’s crew as the season kicks off. No rest for the weary, as Iowa has five games inbound in the next two weeks.

Next Games: @ MTB 10/18, @ MTB 10/19, @ TUC 10/25, @ TUC 10/26, @ GR 10/30
Record: 3-0-0-1

5

Last Games: CHA 3 @ HFD 5, BRI 3 @ HFD 4 (OT), SPR 1 @ HFD 3, RCH 3 @ HFD 2 (SO)
Hartford are still unbeaten in regulation. How long does this run continue? Busy week with some healthy competition coming up for the Wolf Pack.

Next Games: vs. SPR 10/18, @ BNG 10/19, vs. LAV 10/25, vs. BRI 10/26, @ BRI 10/27, @ LAV 10/30
Record: 3-0-0-1

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Lafferty and Agozzino Recalled – More News

I’m late with this by more than a day, but figured I would drop in here and note that Sam Lafferty and Andrew Agozzino were recalled to Pittsburgh on Monday in the wake of Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstead’s lower body injuries that will keep them out of action for a while.

Through the course of investigating because, you know, in this niche sport known as hockey they don’t divulge what the injury is like in every other sport, it looks like Malkin has a leg injury that will have him on the shelf for about six weeks. Bjugstead should be back before Malkin.

Locally, Tyler reported that D Justin Almeida and G Dustin Tokarski are back to 100%. I am speculating that both should be available for the three in three this weekend. Tyler also had lines from practice Tuesday:

I will concur with this statement by Tyler. Injuries happen, Wilkes-Barre is insulated somewhat because there is depth across all positions.

For now.

In other news, Michael Leighton retired Monday. A sure fire AHL Hall of Famer someday, Leighton played for 13 AHL franchises over the course of 18 seasons as a professional. From the release, they include the Norfolk Admirals (2001-05), Rochester Americans (2005-06), Portland Pirates (2006-07), Philadelphia Phantoms (2006-07), Albany River Rats (2007-08), Adirondack Phantoms (2010-13), Rockford IceHogs (2014-16), Charlotte Checkers (2016-17), Syracuse Crunch (2017-18), Chicago Wolves (2017-18), Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (2017-18), Ontario Reign (2018-19) and Utica Comets (2018-19).

Other Penguins alumni in the news include a pair of defensemen and a forward, Joe Morrow signed with the New Jersey Devils Monday and was placed on waivers for the purpose of a Binghamton assignment. If he clears, you’ll probably see him next Wednesday when the Penguins host the Devils at 7:05. D Reid McNeill was released from his PTO with the Charlotte Checkers and Cedric Lacroix, a forward with a handful of games with Wilkes-Barre last year, was assigned with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits.

That’s all I have. Remember, no charts or Power Rankings this week. Both will debut next week, with the charts again the week following and then staggering them each week going forward. But for anything else breaking, talk to you Friday at 3 getting you set for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

2019 Opponent Outlooks

I decided to go in a different direction this season with what I guess you could consider a season preview for the AHL. Instead of dedicating an entire day and an entire post to the AHL’s Pacific Division, a division that the Penguins will never see in the regular season, or have to look up the name of the arena that the Iowa Wild play in¹, I decided to dedicate this seasons previews to the teams that the Penguins face off against in the regular season.

So that’s everyone in the Atlantic, everyone in the North Division but for Toronto, Laval and Belleville and Texas and San Antonio in the Central.

I’ve slimmed it down this season, giving you the parent team, last seasons record and playoffs and the outlook. Less is more, I suppose you could say.

Let me know what you like, you don’t like and if you’d like for me to bring back who the Bakersfield Condors broadcaster is² in next years version of this.

Here goes, starting in the Central, traversing through the North and ending in familiar territory in the Atlantic. Note that for the “vs. WBS:” section, Penguins home games are listed in bold.

Texas Stars

NHL Affiliation: Dallas Stars
Record and Playoffs: 37-31-4-4 (82 pts., 6th place Central, no playoffs)
Outlook: The Stars did not make playoffs last season after representing the Western Conference in the Calder Cup Finals the season before. The prognosis for this season is kind of up in the air. Nothing really to write home about signings wise either. Are the days of the Stars being the best AHL team in Texas over?
vs. WBS: 12/6, 12/7, 1/15, 1/17

San Antonio Rampage

NHL Affiliation: St. Louis Blues
Record and Playoffs: 31-38-6-1 (69 pts., 8th place Central, no playoffs)
Outlook: Everyone was competitive in the Central Division last year but for the Rampage, who finished with 69 points, 11 points back of the seventh place team who were just seven points out of a playoff spot. That obviously needs to change this season and we think it will with some solid additions made in the offseason.
vs. WBS: 10/25, 10/26, 1/18, 1/21

Binghamton Devils

NHL Affiliation: New Jersey Devils
Record and Playoffs: 28-41-7-0 (63 pts., 8th place North, no playoffs)
Outlook: The Devils rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic this season. A team that finished in last place last year comes into the campaign with marginal upgrades across the board with the biggest question in goal. For a team that gave up the most goals against (278) last year faces a steep challenge in a loaded division.
vs. WBS: 10/16, 10/23, 2/5, 3/6, 3/8, 3/27

Cleveland Monsters

NHL Affiliation: Columbus Blue Jackets
Record and Playoffs: 37-29-8-2 (84 pts., 4th place North, lost in four games to Toronto in North Division Finals)
Outlook: It is shaping up to be another good season for a fairly solid Cleveland side who yo-yo’d in and out of a playoff spot down the stretch last season. If they can improve and run with the Toronto’s and Syracuse’s of the division, they may be able to make a deep playoff run with a talented group of players.
vs. WBS: 12/13, 12/14, 3/18, 3/20

Rochester Americans

NHL Affiliation: Buffalo Sabres
Record and Playoffs: 46-23-5-2 (99 pts., 2nd place North, lost in three games to Toronto in the North Division Semifinals)
Outlook: The Amerks laid an egg in round one of the playoffs last year, getting swept by rival Toronto. A solid offseason of veteran signings should get them to playoff consideration again this season and Rochester could challenge for the division crown.
vs. WBS: 12/11, 3/28

Syracuse Crunch

NHL Affiliation: Tampa Bay Lightning
Record and Playoffs: 47-21-4-4 (102 pts., 1st place North, lost in four games to Cleveland in the North Division Semifinals)
Outlook: The Crunch had a disappointing end of the season when they went out in four games to Cleveland in Round 1 unceremoniously. They were, at one point, without any goaltending prospects for a short time during the offseason. They have a decent crop of players who will most likely get Syracuse to another playoff appearance.
vs. WBS: 11/9, 2/28

Utica Comets

NHL Affiliation: Vancouver Canucks
Record and Playoffs: 34-34-6-2 (6th place North, no playoffs)
Outlook: Utica played bland, .500, uninspiring hockey last season and it didn’t translate to a playoff spot. Nice upgrades in goal with Zane McIntyre and up front with Carter Camper give Comets fans hope on what could be a season where Utica pushes back to the playoffs.
vs. WBS: 10/12, 11/8

Bridgeport Sound Tigers

NHL Affiliation: New York Islanders
Record and Playoffs: 43-24-6-3 (95 pts., 2nd place Atlantic, lost in five games to Hershey in the Atlantic Division Semifinals)
Outlook: You can expect Bridgeport to contend again, with the additions of Colin McDonald over from Lehigh Valley as the shoe-in captain with returning players which helped the Sound Tigers to second in the Atlantic Division last season. If things break the right way, Bridgeport can be a contender for a division title and definitely a team you can pencil in for playoffs.
vs. WBS: 10/19, 11/30, 12/21, 2/1, 2/15, 3/7

Charlotte Checkers

NHL Affiliation: Carolina Hurricanes
Record and Playoffs: 51-17-7-1 (110 pts., 1st place Atlantic, won Calder Cup in five games over Chicago)
Outlook: This team buzzed its way to the Calder Cup with a chainsaw and then turned the chainsaw on themselves and were ripped apart after the parade and trophy celebration. Most of, if not all of, the key cogs which got the Checkers to the pinnacle last season have defected or graduated. The biggest name was their head coach Mike Vellucci, who took the head gig and GM position with the Penguins. The Checkers will struggle this season. Don’t expect them to see playoffs and don’t be surprised if they finish last overall in the division.
vs. WBS: 11/23, 1/8, 1/24, 1/25

Hartford Wolf Pack

NHL Affiliation: New York Rangers
Record and Playoffs: 29-36-7-4 (69 pts., 8th place Atlantic, no playoffs)
Outlook: The rebuild continues in the Connecticut capital. The Wolf Pack should improve this season and could be a late contender for a playoff spot, but it seems like an amalgamation of a lot of good players, and not a single great player.
vs. WBS: 1/11, 2/12, 2/22, 4/3, 4/4, 4/11

Hershey Bears

NHL Affiliation: Washington Capitals
Record and Playoffs: 43-25-4-4 (94 pts., 3rd place Atlantic, lost in four games to Charlotte in the Atlantic Division Finals)
Outlook: It’s going to be interesting to see how the Bears start the season, as they left off last year as one of the hottest teams in the second half. The pieces are there with a lot of solid veterans mixed in with hungry first and second year players. It could very well be a three horse Pennsylvania race for the top spot in the division with the Bears leading the charge.
vs. WBS: 10/5, 10/13, 11/13, 12/8, 12/28, 1/3, 1/10, 2/7, 2/21, 2/29, 3/14, 3/21

Lehigh Valley Phantoms

NHL Affiliation: Philadelphia Flyers
Record and Playoffs: 39-30-4-3 (85 pts., 5th place Atlantic, no playoffs)
Outlook: The Phantoms signed tons of solid scoring in the offseason and should, on paper, have one of the best offenses in the AHL this upcoming season. Consistency bit the Phantoms all season last and as a result Lehigh Valley failed to qualify for the playoffs. Head Coach Scott Gordon has the key elements to win a lot of games in Allentown this season. Phantoms have to execute, which is something they lacked consistently last season.
vs. WBS: 10/11, 11/1, 11/6, 11/16, 11/27, 11/29, 12/27, 1/31, 2/8, 3/11, 3/13, 4/5

Providence Bruins

NHL Affiliation: Boston Bruins
Record and Playoffs: 38-37-8-3 (87 pts., 4th place Atlantic, lost in four games to Charlotte in the Atlantic Division Semifinals)
Outlook: They always field competitive teams in the Rhode Island capital and this year shouldn’t be any different. Do we see the Bruins as head of the class? No, but they aren’t the school dunce either. Expect another 85-95 point campaign and another playoff appearance from Jay Leach’s crew.
vs. WBS: 12/18, 12/20, 2/14, 2/23, 2/26, 4/8

Springfield Thunderbirds

NHL Affiliation: Florida Panthers
Record and Playoffs: 33-29-9-5 (8- pts., 7th place Atlantic, no playoffs)
Outlook: The Thunderbirds were an average hockey team in an above average division last year, and don’t expect that to change this season. There isn’t really a lot that jumps off of the page here when you look at their lineup, and compared to the Lehigh Valley’s and Bridgeport’s of the division, spells another season looking outside of the playoff picture.
vs. WBS: 11/2, 11/15, 11/22, 12/31, 1/4, 4/10

 

Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins

NHL Affiliation: Pittsburgh Penguins
Record and Playoffs: 36-30-7-3 (82 pts., 6th place Atlantic, no playoffs)
Outlook: Disappointing finish to a disappointing season for the Penguins, who come in rebuilt top to bottom with reigning AHL Coach of the Year Mike Vellucci ready to guide the Penguins back to the playoffs. Decent signings like Andrew Agozzino, David Warsofsky and Dustin Tokarski coupled with returning prospects should have Wilkes-Barre back in the playoff hunt come the Spring. Navigating through the divisional opponents may prove to be a challenge, but one that Vellucci & Company may be up for.

If you have a team going Friday good luck, but not too much if it’s one of the teams encapsulated above when facing off against the Penguins. Pens open up their 21st season of hockey in Northeastern Pennsylvania Saturday night in Hershey. The first Gameday setup of the season hits the blog Saturday afternoon at 3.

¹ – Wells Fargo Arena
² – Ryan Holt

DeSmith, Tokarski, Warsofsky, New CBA, More

Alright so, a lot has happened this week in the run up to the regular season opener in Hershey Saturday.

G Casey DeSmith was placed on and cleared waivers and was assigned to Wilkes-Barre this week. He and Emil Larmi are the 1-2 combo in goal right now. That’s because Dustin Tokarski has picked up a knock and won’t be ready for Saturday’s game with the Hershey Bears. Also, Alex D’Orio was sent to Wheeling with Ryan Scarfo this week.

The goaltending position is the deepest position right now. You have quality depth with DeSmith (for now) and Tokarski. The Pens play four games in the next two weeks, so there is plenty of time for Tokarski to fully heal and be ready for next weekend’s three in three.

— David Warsofsky was named captain of the team with Andrew Agozzino and Kevin Czuczman serving as his alternates.

Really can’t go wrong with that veteran group.

— The AHL and the Professional Hockey Players Association (PHPA) announced Thursday they have a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place for five years.

Labor piece is always a good thing.

I thought when I sat down to hammer this piece out that it would be a long, 500+ word piece. It should check in at just under 200 words.

I’ll be back at noon Friday for a look at the Penguins opponents for the upcoming season.

2019-20 Chirps from Center Ice Reader Survey

It’s been a few years since I did one of these, but I am interested your input on the blog and what, if anything I can do to improve for the upcoming season. So, with that said, I created a Reader Survey for you to complete. I have a couple things I would like to change up this season, but before I run anything out there unannounced, now is as good a time as ever to get input on my ideas.

But before I get to the form, let me offload one bit of news from Tuesday. I saw the Laval Rocket tweet it this afternoon so you may not know about it yet because I don’t think anyone else did, but the 2019-20 pricing structure is out for the AHL’s streaming platform, AHLTV.

In summary, the only changes are to the Daily Pass, a $1 increase to $7.99 a day from $6.99 a day. The other pricing structures didn’t change at all.

New this year is the option to purchase a regular season and playoff pass for $99.99 which gets you every AHL home and away game including playoffs. The playoff package was separate last year and cost $24.99, so if you are confident enough that your team is going to make the playoffs, you can pay the extra $20 upfront and enjoy the entirety of the AHL season from October to June.

That’s pretty much it for now. Rookie tournaments start this weekend. News will be sparse this week so it’s actually a great time to do a survey.

Click here to be brought to the survey. Thank you in advance for your input.

Friday Potpourri

Couple of loose ends to tie off before the start of the Labor Day Weekend…

In a move that shouldn’t surprise you, Mike Vellucci was named General Manager of the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins this week. It is a dual capacity role that the reigning AHL Coach of the Year is familiar with, having served in the same position with the Charlotte Checkers last season.

Coal Street went hard on the Vellucci news this week. He’s here to win, and they have a series of video interviews where he says the right things to give fans of the AHL team hope for this season. Who am I to doubt a coach who was elected best last year who also led the AHL’s best team to the Calder Cup?

The Penguins are running the video series on their Twitter page and have the first two up. I’m likely not going to edit in the third or fourth here for the blog but if you want to see them, just watch their Twitter feed.

Ben Lovejoy retired this week. I have three all time favorite Penguins. He is one of them. The other two are Wade Brookbank and Casey DeSmith. Lovejoy came through Wilkes-Barre where he learned the pro game and was a likable, personable player. I’m hoping now that with the cloud of an extension agreement cleared that Coal Street starts adding to their Hall of Fame and that Lovejoy is one of the names who gets enshrined someday.

Patrick McGrath has found himself work. It’s with the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL. That news was announced Thursday. McGrath plans on reporting to the Grizzlies AHL affiliate Colorado’s camp in the hopes of picking up an AHL contract. McGrath was an extremely popular player whom a lot of fans related to here in Wilkes-Barre. I wish him nothing but the best with the Grizzlies. Utah actually makes a visit to Wheeling on November 15 of this year and one has to guess that a lot of Nailers fans will want to see that one.

In other AHL news, Phantoms captain Colin McDoland signed with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. It’s assumed that McDonald will wear the “C” for the Sound Tigers this year as their long time captain Ben Holmstrom signed an ECHL deal with Norfolk earlier in the week.

Pittsburgh announced details on their prospect tournament for next weekend complete with a roster which Jonathan Bombulie dissected. A lot of these names you can look for in Wilkes-Barre at some point in the immediate or near future, when eligible.

AHL had this nice graphic.

I’m no math major, but that’s five weeks. Enjoy what’s left of summer until then.

Bill Guerin Named General Manager of Minnesota Wild

Usually when things like this happen, it’s the worst kept secret in town. Well on Wednesday, it was made official. Bill Guerin was named the General Manager of the Minnesota Wild.

That news obviously leaves a vacancy now in Wilkes-Barre as the AHL Penguins are without a General Manager, the spot previously filled by Guerin.

My guess for a replacement is Mike Vellucci, the current head coach of the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins. He would make the most logical choice as natural replacement as he had experience in the position with the Charlotte Checkers.

This piece, buried behind a paywall, notes Vellucci as well as Scott Young and Tom Kostopoulos as candidates for the GM position in Wilkes-Barre.

These things normally come about fairly quickly as contingency plans are in place weeks before news becomes official, so we probably won’t have to wait long for the name of the person who will fill the role that Guerin left behind.

Other news…

– Jeff Taylor has found a home in 2019-20, signing this past Tuesday with the Hartford Wolf Pack. Taylor was a non-tendered restricted free agent Pittsburgh did not qualify.

If you read the blog last week, you knew about the home dates for the preseason action the Penguins will be participating in, well on Monday they filled us in on the road schedule. Saturday, September 28 in Hershey at 7; Sunday in Allentown against Lehigh Valley at 3:05.

That’s all for now.