Chirps from Center Ice

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

Category Archives: WBS

Wednesday Notes 5/15

Some news for Wednesday.

First, if you are a Penguins Season Ticket Holder (erm, Member) of any kind, check your e-mail. The Penguins have a new online account manager you can use to manage your tickets. For me, as a five year Member, my invoice for my seats are there on their portal. I can opt to pay now or wait for the actual invoice to come in the mail next week. I spoke to my ticket rep Brandon this morning about it. Here’s the page which has a little booklet on how to sign up for the portal. The Penguins have to have your e-mail in order for you to have access to the portal as that’s the only way to log in. It’s housed through Ticketmaster, so if you are comfortable giving your credit or bank card through there, you can get started.

Second, Anthony Peters is the first name off of the 2019 Offseason Moves List (tab above) as he has signed with the Isterholn Roosters in the DEL. Tyler had some nice words about Peters you can read here.

Peters, as a person, was probably a hell of a guy. Let’s just leave it there.

Third, the Penguins signed Kasper Bjorkvist to his two year entry level deal. Some words on him…

And then Jonathan had a thread that starts here:

I would guess that Bjorkvist, provided his shoulder doesn’t hinder him this summer, pushes for a good look in Pittsburgh before he’s sent here to tear up the AHL for a little bit before going up for good. Put him on a Jake Guentzel (his last season here) trajectory vs. a Teddy Blueger (overripened here) one, meaning that Bjorkvist is here for two months, maybe three, before going up for good in January or February 2020.

Or he could get a whole season here with a few looks here and there in the NHL. Who knows. This is professional hockey now. They aren’t kids anymore.

Finally, the Buffalo Sabres have their new head coach and it’s not Clark Donatelli. There had been some scuttlebutt recently due to the Jason Botterill connection that Donatelli was a candidate for the position based off of an article I saw from The Athletic Buffalo a while ago.

I think that’s everything. I signed up for Elite Prospects Premium to help cobble together the AHL Big Board this summer and to stay on top of the signings before during and after the free agent frenzy. I also found a way to easily (well, it takes some work) to port all the names into a spreadsheet to work off of in the build. Cobbling together all the names is the hardest part. Work smart, not hard.

More as it comes, as always. I didn’t see anything on a schedule matrix of opponents and there wasn’t anything from the League on division changes out of their Meetings last week, so you didn’t miss anything on that front. If I see something, it will run here.

Oh, Charlotte, Toronto, Chicago and San Diego are your final four. I still like the Checkers and Wolves chances of advancing to the Finals.

Have a great rest of the week.

Done Deal With Details 5/8

On Wednesday the Luzerne County Convention Center Authority held their monthly meeting on the second Wednesday of the month and in it they checked off one of their to-do’s on their plate for well over a year.

They voted unanimously to approve a 10 year contract lease extension between themselves and the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins.

Here are some of the highlights:

– New lease agreement kicks in with the Penguins when the current one expires. It will run from July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2029.

– SMG will continue to manage the facility for that same time frame. Their food vendor Savor, remains as well.

– Will Beekman takes over for Brian Sipe who is leaving for Rupp Arena in Kentucky as the new Arena GM. Beekman starts Monday. He used to work for the Penguins from 2002 to 2008 before taking over as executive director of the Kirby Center.

– The Arena / Authority consider the Penguins a partner and not a tenant.

– The Penguins are committing nearly $900,000 towards improving the locker rooms and other, “back of house” areas.

– The Arena will be installing ribbon boards.

– They will also be installing brand new LED lighting.

– The Arena is committing $1 Million towards the building which will be achieved / concluded by the fifth year of the lease. These improvements would include a new team store inside the Arena and possibly a lounge area.

– The WiFi will be improved / upgraded. This has been known for a few months now.

– Penguins CEO Jeff Barrett took two questions. One of them was on ticket prices and the possibility of increases as a result of the new deal. Barrett confirmed that there would be no ticket increases as a result of the new ten year lease.

Those are the particulars, filled in with the Pens release with some finer details and quotes.

The Pens did a Periscope of the press conference that you can watch here:

If I see anything else from Tyler or otherwise, I’ll drop in and make the appropriate edits, but those were the particulars worth mentioning. There wasn’t anything said about new Zambonis or any mumbo jumbo about transferal of who owns the team to who or if there are opt outs in the contract.

More as it comes. Probably the schedule matrix will be the next line of notable news once the Spring meetings conclude in Chicago later this week.

Extension Announced in Principle 5/6

“Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated” – Mark Twain

In a joint statement made around noon on Monday, the Luzerne County Convention Center Authority and the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins jointly announced this morning that both parties have reached an agreement in principle on a 10-year contract lease extension to keep the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League in Northeast Pennsylvania. Terms of the deal were not immediately disclosed, with that coming Wednesday, May 8 at a press conference after the regularly scheduled Authority meeting.

If you have been following the story since the beginning, I am sure you have heard and maybe even shared some rumors as to the fate of the team. I sure have heard a lot. In part and in some form or fashion, I’ve heard the following:

– The New Jersey Devils are coming in and placing their AHL affiliate here. This one came up a lot during the season. They allegedly toured the Arena a couple times.

– Clark Donatelli’s maid works with someone who has tickets to games and he came home mad one day that he had to pull his kids out of school and move them back to Wheeling, West Virginia because the teams higher ups told him they were moving the franchise to Wheeling.

That was a good one.

– The Penguins were moving the AHL affiliate either to Johnstown, the Penguins practice facility, Wheeling, West Virginia, Youngstown, Ohio, State College, Altoona or some other ridiculous outlier territory.

I heard my fair share.

Someone in Pittsburgh told one of our Booster Club members that the team was moving. It was heard either in a restaurant, a parking lot, at the actual game, in the street, the hotel or otherwise. Pittsburgh Penguins Head Coach Mike Sullivan can see one of his players go down in the first ten minutes of a game and when asked two hours later what the status of said player is he would respond, “I don’t know.” – so you are telling me and want me to believe that a team that is so tight lipped about injuries is somehow going to let leak what the status is with its top farm team and actual contract negotiations?

P.T. Barnum was right, there is a sucker born every minute.

Best one I saw that caused a lot of stir was that because the team store out in Pittsburgh wasn’t selling Wilkes-Barre merchandise was a sure sign that the team was pulling out. I still laugh at that one, as if the part time associate selling pins and stickers really has a pulse on top level, behind closed doors, non-disclosured negotiations.

As. If.

I could go on and I can pile on, but the fact of the matter is this. No one has it better than we do. No one. There is going to be hockey in the 2019-2020 season here in Wilkes-Barre and beyond, foreseeable for the next ten seasons.

I didn’t believe a thing anyone one told me regarding negotiations because a) Hello! Non-disclosure! And, b) What they were slinging at me was easily discounted when you apply common sense. The cities presented didn’t make any sense. Wheeling’s building is 40 years old and the one in Johnstown is older than that, and explain to me again how you can play AHL hockey in Altoona next year when there’s no building to play in again? Or did you mean Erie? Or was it Altoona? Oil City? What a pity….

Exactly.

I’ll leave you with this. It’s a song from the most successful all female rock band of all time, The Go-Go’s. It’s the song, “Our Lips Are Sealed,” and it’s kind of apropos when you think of it, because you didn’t hear a peep, chirp or single squeak from anyone on, associated with or employed by 40 Coal Street, which is where the Wilkes-Barre / Penguins offices are located regarding lease negotiations. I listened to and consumed pretty much every product that the team put out this season in print, audio, visual or otherwise. No one said a thing, leaked a thing or led on to anything. Their lips were indeed sealed.

Meanwhile, the noise. The Devils are moving in, the team is moving, because of this, means that, or whatever. I took it all in. I read the nonsense, heard the rumors. I applied logic. Give this a spin, read the lyrics, and think of the last six to nine months and all the ridiculousness you’ve heard.

We are here. We are staying here. No one has it better than we do. And now, to play me off my soapbox, ladies and gentlemen, The Go-Go’s……..

Can you hear them?
They talk about us
Telling lies
Well, that’s no surprise

Can you see them?
See right through them
They have no shield
No secrets to reveal

It doesn’t matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed

There’s a weapon
That we must use
In our defense
Silence reveals

When you look at them
Look right through them
That’s when they’ll disappear
That’s when we’ll be feared

It doesn’t matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed

Pay no mind to what they say
It doesn’t matter anyway
Our lips are sealed

Hush, my darling
Don’t you cry
Quiet, angel
Forget their lies

Can you hear them?
They talk about us
Telling lies
Well, that’s no surprise

Can you see them?
See right through them
They have no shield
No secrets to reveal

It doesn’t matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed

Pay no mind to what they say
It doesn’t matter anyway

Our lips are sealed
Our lips are sealed
Our lips are sealed

Di Pauli Re-Signs 4/30

Some more signing news as it was announced Tuesday that Thomas Di Pauli re-signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Di Pauli, considered “week to week” since going down with an injury in late December against Bridgeport is the second signing made by Pittsburgh to set up their farm team in 2019-20* in the wake of Joseph Cramarossa signing last week.

Di Pauli has battled injuries for most of his professional career. He was limited to just 29 games last year. He’s a decent penalty killer and always scores against Hershey it seems. His trajectory was pointing upward until his season was derailed from whatever his “week to week” injury was that cost him the final 15 weeks of the season.

The gamble is that the injury issues are behind the Notre Dame product and he’ll shape out to be one of the better players on the AHL roster for next season. It’s a low risk, potential for high reward signing.

* – still no announcement on a lease agreement for 2019-2020 and beyond between the Penguins and the Arena Authority. It is going to be May 1 on Wednesday. The next arena meeting is May 8. Are we going to get more, “we are negotiating” and “the sides are close” or is this really going to drag out yet another month coming into the month of June and the 11th hour when the lease expires on June 30? I am honestly tired of waiting, am about all out of patience and would like some closure on this in some form or fashion as it has been percolating since the season began in October 2018. 

We’ll wait as we have been, non-disclosures be damned, but as Benjamin Franklin once said, “You may delay, but time will not.”

Cramarossa Re-Signs 4/27

The Pittsburgh Penguins first order of business in their offseason was a re-signing for their AHL affiliate* for the 2019-20 season.

Joseph Cramarossa re-signed for 2019-20.

16 points for the veteran forward in Wilkes-Barre in 2018-19. The signing doesn’t jump off the page to me and I let my opinion known on Twitter on Friday when the unofficial news started breaking.

Quickly, I was told that Cramarossa was one of the Penguins best penalty killers. A penalty kill that finished in the bottom third of the AHL overall last season (26th), but a solid penalty killer nevertheless.

I suppose.

A fair point. I don’t suppose that anyone necessarily stood out from the others on a team that finished sixth in an eight team division and missed the playoffs for the first time in over fifteen years.

It is what it is.

Calder Cup Playoffs are continuing. Charlotte beat Providence in four games in the only series I got right in my predictions from last week. The rest? Yuck.

* – no announcement on a lease yet. League normally puts out a release on alignment changes in the second week of May and teams start releasing their schedule matrices around the same time (May 11 last year and the year before) so you would think that we are up against the gun here on an announcement. That will probably be the next blog post. Hopefully. Stay tuned.

Boil Your Water on Two — A 2018-19 Autopsy

A lot of people came up to me in the past few days asking me what went wrong with the 2018-19 Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins season. Best explanation I could give each person that came up to me was imagine trying to boil a pot of water on your stove on a setting of two. The water will get warm, borderline hot, you may see a few bubbles here and there but it will never come to a boil.

That’s the best inference I could give you in an attempt to break the season down. The 2018-19 Penguins got warm, in stretches, but never came to a full boil.

What follows below is an autopsy of the 2018-19 Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins season, which will be the first in seventeen years without a postseason appearance.

So let’s dive in, shall we? First, let’s take a look at the teams that were in the Penguins division in order of finishing order.

Division Opponents

1) Charlotte Checkers – class of the league all season long, will be odds on favorites for the Calder Cup. They had the division, conference and pretty much the entire league on lockdown for months and anything less than a championship in June will be a disappointment.

2) Bridgeport Sound Tigers – An above average team after the housecleaning in the front office on Long Island last summer. Look at the success that the parent team is experiencing now and how it’s trickling down to the Sound Tigers.

3) Hershey Bears – Started out poorly, reversed course around Christmas, went on a long winning streak in early 2019 and rode that momentum to a playoff berth.

4) Providence Bruins – Consistently good team that is well coached and deep.

5) Lehigh Valley Phantoms – Probably the AHL’s most inconsistent team. They build a lead, and blow it. They go on a winning streak then drop like a stone. 

6) Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins – see below

7) Springfield Thunderbirds – started hot, but never changed course and other teams adjusted and moved past the Thunderbirds. I expected them to compete yet after Thanksgiving they were an afterthought.

8) Hartford Wolf Pack – The Rangers are rebuilding and that’s trickled down to their primary affiliate in Hartford. They had flashes, but just couldn’t compete in this division.

Coaching

Sorry to break it to you, but Clark Donatelli isn’t getting fired. He guided this team through tumult of a season that never really got out of the gates the right way with the way the team was constructed from the start of the season. The Pens played competitive, yet inconsistent hockey and came up short on their bid for a playoff berth for the seventeenth straight season two weeks before the end of the regular season. Donatelli’s faith in and Tristan Jarry’s play in the weeks leading up to the end of the season are to be lauded, not met with a one way ticket out the door to unemployment.

Special Teams 

The Penguins finished in the bottom third in power play and penalty kill this season and a lot of those times it was these areas that cost the Penguins points. This all will funnel into my next, most salient point.

Player Personnel

Hindsight is a funny thing. Garrett Wilson was the de facto captain in waiting when Tom Kostopoulos announced his retirement late last season. Wilson only played in 18 games for the Penguins this season before getting the call to Pittsburgh where he has been ever since. Thing is, he should have never been named captain or, when the brass on Coal Street knew he was going to be up for the duration a new captain should have been named because this team lacked leadership and in the same breath an identity. Ryan Haggerty would have been my choice to succeed Wilson as the player to wear the “C”

Zach Aston-Reese was a rental player. Pittsburgh wanted him to start the season in Wilkes-Barre to find his game, get his wind back and then they would re-assess. In 11 games he had nine points including a hat trick in his swan song game in a throttling the Sound Tigers laid on the Penguins on November 4.

The same could be said about Teddy Blueger, the Penguins best overall player this season and someone who over ripened on the vine in the AHL and was long overdue for a recall when his came about a month ago. 

Players involved in trades in some form or another like J-S Dea, Stefan Elliott, Will O’Neill, Tobias Lindberg, Derek Grant, Troy Josephs and Ryan Horvat were all pretty much dime a dozen fillers that, but for Dea and Grant in a small sample size, never made much of an impact on the team.

Rookies were Sam Lafferty, Sam Miletic, Anthony Angello, Linus Ölund, Matt Abt, Ryan Scarfo, and Cam Brown. Lafferty was head and shoulders the best out of this group in his freshman year. Miletic and Ölund were too inconsistent to be regulars in the lineup and Angello hit a rookie wall and stopped producing in the second half of the season before getting injured. Abt was a guy that made the team out of camp on a tryout and Scarfo and Brown had flashes but never had enough consistency to get excited about.

On regular players, Ethan Prow will be in the NHL soon, possibly as soon as next season. He was named to the AHL’s second all-star team last week. Ryan Haggerty earned himself an NHL contract at the start of the season and was good, Joseph Blandisi came in on a trade for Derek Grant to try and help the offensive punch here in Wilkes-Barre with flashy numbers and had just that, flashy times of brilliance with little or no support staff to take the offensive burden off of him. Adam Johnson will take the path of Teddy Blueger, a guy who got a taste of NHL action but will probably start in the AHL next year, before going up full time at some point during.

Jimmy Hayes and Joseph Cramarossa were veteran hands that didn’t really, but for a push from Hayes late in the season, have much of an impact for the Penguins in the offensive category. Hayes was a painstakingly slow skater and Cramarossa somehow managed to get an NHL contract late in the year by scoring fewer than 20 points in the AHL this season. Gritty heart and soul type players on a team that lacked an identity or anything resembling an offensive punch.

Kevin Czuczman and Chris Summers were OK defensively, Jarrett Burton had another OK year just like Jeff Taylor, Tim Erixon and Macoy Erkamps. Extremely average. Consistent, everyday players, but nothing more than just average. Zach Trotman was higher on the defensive depth chart at the start of the season over Prow but injuries limited his time before healing up and getting the call up to Pittsburgh late in the season.

Thomas DiPauli was injured for pretty much the entire season and only appeared in 29 games. The Penguins were a better team with him in the lineup. Other guys came and went on the injury list, but DiPauli’s absence was the most missed as he was an integral part of the team when he was on the ice.

Everyone else were pretty much fillers, support guys who either came in on trades or were here up from Wheeling. Blake Siebenaler, Chris Wideman, and a bunch of other guys that made little to no impact. Patrick McGrath is a local favorite who played in 24 contests, but is a one trick pony who fights. With the league cracking down on players like McGrath, what is his future, really?

The Anthony Peters experiment was a disaster this season. He had a good season for the Penguins last year, but due to the fact that Wilkes-Barre basically plucked him from ECHL Cincinnati last year when the team was dealing with injuries to goaltenders, the Penguins could not send Peters back to the ECHL because he would have went to the Cyclones, not Wilkes-Barre’s ECHL affiliate in Wheeling. The Nailers and Cyclones play in the same division. After starting out this season OK, Peters would start getting shelled in games and hasn’t appeared in net for the Pens since February 9, with his last win coming December 8 against the Sound Tigers. All the while John Muse, signed to an NHL deal in July, ended up the odd man out going to the Nailers and got shelled in games down there before the Pens decided to uncharacteristically carry three goaltenders in the final two months of the season. 

Tristan Jarry was this teams MVP, just on the sheer fact that in 47 games played this season he got the Penguins to within two weeks of possibly making playoffs before being recalled in the final week of the regular season. John Muse played in just ten games. Muse was a guy that came off of an excellent season prior with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and ended up getting the shaft because the Pens had to keep Peters around like an unwanted house guest. If I am Muse this week after breakup day, I drive as far away as I can from Wilkes-Barre and never return.

All of the above leads me into my next point.

Management

Bill Guerin built this team. It was a disaster. To be fair, he was handcuffed because the Pittsburgh Penguins won two Stanley Cups in the past three seasons and there wasn’t anything that General Manager Jim Rutherford left for him. Guerin’s gambles with guys like Jimmy Hayes, Joseph Cramarossa and his disaster trades like J-S Dea for Chris Wideman where Dea caught fire and was the Thunderbirds best player down the stretch while Wideman played in just three games for the Pens before suffering a mystery injury was just a long line of decisions made that failed. He will get the benefit of the doubt this season, but he clearly needs to improve this team for 2019-20. Not naming a captain after Wilson departed, Will O’Neill even being considered as a reclamation project from his disaster season with Lehigh Valley last year, Troy Josephs quitting for Europe after getting passed over for lineup fillers were just a few of the many terrible decisions that Guerin made in building and maintaining this team. 

You can’t blame Clark Donatelli for this. He can’t get blood from a stone. He tried and got close, but he was handed a clunker of a team that he got maximum miles out of before running out of gas before the finish line. That’s the fault of the general manager, not the head coach.

The Future

You got a glimpse of it late in the season with names like Chase Berger, Jake Lucchini, Brandon Hawkins and others. Jordy Bellerive should be here next season. Alex D’Orio will be the real deal based off of what I have seen / what I have read on him. It’s a really good group of rookies coming in who, with solid, sound veteran leadership, can take the Penguins to much better things in 2019-2020. 

I do have the faith in the braintrust that they will regroup, finally with the pressure of maintaining one of the longest playoff streaks in North America out the window, and the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins will be back and better than ever in the Fall set to compete for the teams first ever Calder Cup Championship.

Tomorrow I will be here with the AHL Power Rankings.

On a Winning Note — Pens WIN 5-2

       vs.     

  2                                          5

The goal for any hockey club is to win the last game of the season.

The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins did that Sunday afternoon, 5-2 over the Binghamton Devils. Sadly, they don’t qualify for a playoff berth and that’s all she wrote on the season.

Clark Donatelli put a lineup out Sunday that looked like this:

Felt like a preseason game with all of the rookies, unheard of kids and Wheeling guys in the lineup, but it was the fourth line of the Penguins that did the most damage Sunday with Cedric Lacroix scoring a pair of goals in the Penguins win. Nice win for 6’6 Matt O’Connor and the ATO guys continue to look promising.

Binghamton jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first when Ryan Schmelzer deflected a Nick Lappiun shot that gave the Devils a 1-0 lead.

Penguins trailed at the end of the first and after a zamboni breakdown in the first intermission that delayed the start of the second period by ten minutes when it was decided to simply skate on the ice from the first period, the Penguins offense roared to life.

Sam Lafferty kept it on a two on one rush and the Penguins tied it at one…

Then Cedric Lacroix stepped in to a Binghamton clear, took it in deep fired and scored his first AHL goal to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead.

Seconds after, Sam Miletic scored to make it 3-1.

To add to a long period, referees Beau Halkidis and Matt Menniti took a long look at a Binghamton would be goal that lasted well over five minutes. After the lengthy review it was deemed to be no goal and play continued.

Penguins scored three times in the span of 3:25 in the second period and capitalized on Binghamtion’s mistakes.

In the third, Jake Lucchini added a power play goal which made it 4-1.

Then Yushi Hirano, the first ever Japanese skater to play in the AHL, put a shot on that Lacroix was there to put the Pens ahead 5-1.

John Ramage added a power play goal for Binghamton that made it 5-2.

And that was all she wrote.

They will end the season in sixth place, a 36-30-7-3 record, good for 82 points. That is five off of Providence for the last playoff spot which was already decided on Friday. Lehigh Valley won five straight games to close out their season and get fifth place.

Video highlights….

It ended a lot sooner than we would have liked, but this concludes yet another season of blogging up this team, my first where playoffs do not occur. It’s been fun, as always and my pleasure to bring you my insights of this team from Northeastern Pennsylvania. Thank you for engaging with me on Twitter, Facebook, in person or e-mail.

I’ll be by Monday with my autopsy of the team and season, then Tuesday I will have the final AHL Power Rankings. Wednesday I will preview the Calder Cup Playoffs all the way to the Finals. Maybe I will come back in June to see how right or wrong I was.

And of course, most important, I will have my thoughts on the lease goings on between the Arena and the Penguins. I joked with a few people today that the main hangup on lease negotiations is who pays for the badly needed two zambonis.

Thanks again for reading, have a great summer and Let’s Go Pens!