Chirps from Center Ice

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

Leach Defects 8/3

With the announcement earlier this week of the assistant coaches named to the bench with Clark Donatelli manning the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins ship for 2016-17, it wasn’t a matter of if Jay Leach would land on his feet with another team, but when.

It happened Thursday. What was wildly reported on for weeks was made official. Leach is heading to Providence to serve as assistant coach with Trent Whitfield. Leach and Whitfield will serve as assistants to Kevin Dean.

It’s a bit of a monkey see, monkey do bit with the P-Bruins, who are the second team this week to name two assistant coaches. I think that you will see that become the norm. Your ideal situation is to run your AHL bench like you do in the NHL.

Kevin Dean on Whitfield and Leach as told to Mark Divver of The Providence Journal

Back home, Mike O’Brien and Nick Hart sat down with new Penguins assistant coach J.D. Forrest and podcaster about it. You can check that out and give it a listen here.

Enjoy August. Remember to apply sunscreen.

Clark Finds Taylor With a Nikkel in the Forrest

Today, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins filled out their coaching staff for the 2016-17 season.

Chris Taylor and J.D. Forrest join Clark Donatelli behind the bench as assistant coaches. In addition, Coal Street announced the hire of Madison Nikkel as video coach.

Release here with information on each. Taylor comes over from Rochester where he was an assistant coach with Amerks after he retired. Forrest coached in Austria last season and was an assistant with the U.S. National Team Developmental Program in 2014-15. Nikkel comes from the college ranks, recently with Boston College.

Wait a second, what happened to Jay Leach…

So there is that.

One other thing that I saw across the Coal Street media platforms I will leave you with…

You'll be seeing a bit of this guy at the arena this year.

A video posted by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (@wbspenguins) on

I have no idea. They didn’t explain.

Schedule for the 2016-17 AHL season will be out a few days after the NBA schedule is out later this month. Here’s a preview: Hershey and Lehigh Valley 12 times, everyone else in the division a couple times, a few games with the North Division teams here and there and nothing scheduled against any Western Conference teams.

Enjoy your August.

No, You Haven’t Missed Anything

It’s the middle of summer. The Top 100 AHL Free Agent Big Board and Beyond is pretty well picked over with players signing with teams. There is nothing out there in the hockey world that is worth noting. You haven’t missed anything.

Barry Goers was the Friday re-signing by the Penguins back on July 8. Since then, nothing but tumbleweeds.

Even the AHL is running retread news on its Twitter feed this morning….

Possible news includes a new assistant coach on Coal Street….

Down 81, ex-Penguin Reid Cashman was named assistant coach of the Hershey Bears filling the role of Bryan Helmer who took the position of VP of Hockey Operations for the departing Doug Yingst.

That’s about it. We are probably about five weeks away from an AHL schedule. If / when Coal Street makes an announcement on a new assistant coach, I’ll have a blog here. But otherwise, go outside and enjoy the warm weather.

Thursday Notebook 7/7

Couple more things of note this week as, for the beginning of July, it’s been busy.

The run on signings by Coal Street continue. After announcing Casey DeSmith on Tuesday, the Penguins announced they have re-signed Adam Krause on Wednesday and Sahir Gill on Thursday.

Down Interstate 81, Hershey announced the re-signings of Dustin Gazley and Ryan Bourque to AHL deals. In addition, they announced they have signed G Parker Milner and D Hubert Labrie to AHL deals. Milner had gaudy numbers playing in the ECHL for the Missouri Mavericks last season, the Mavericks were a very good team. Labrie has bounced around from team to team and is a third pair defender. Hershey also announced they have re-signed Joey Leach and Dominic Monardo. Monardo was with the Bears in their playoff run.

Pittsburgh signed Garrett Wilson on Thursday. Wilson, who was not ranked in the Top 100 of the AHL Big Board, played 29 NHL games last season with Florida. He had 38 points with San Antonio in 2014-15. Expect him to be the first or second call-up for Pittsburgh next season once the inevitable injury bug starts biting the Stanley Cup Champions.

Ex-Penguin Matt Carkner announced his retirement.

The annual Board of Governors meeting wrapped up this week in Hilton Head, South Carolina. With this, normally comes realignment and rules changes. This year was no different. From the release, the divisions look like this heading into 2016-17:

Penguins remain in the same division with the same divisional foes, sans Portland, who is now Springfield, who is now Tucson, playing 68 games in the Pacific Division.

If I was running things, I would keep all 68 game teams (every team in the Pacific except San Antonio and Texas) in their own division, I’d move San Antonio and Texas to the Central and move Lake Erie to the North Division and Charlotte to the East. But that’s just me editorializing.

Other rule changes include,

Playing Schedule/Standings 

• The 2016-17 regular season will consist of 1,116 games, played between Oct. 12 and Apr. 16. All teams will play 76 games each with the exception Bakersfield, Ontario, San Diego, San Jose, Stockton and Tucson, who will play 68 games each. The full league schedule will be announced later this summer.

• Teams will receive two points for a win and one point for an overtime or shootout loss. The top four teams in each division ranked by points percentage (points earned divided by points available) will qualify for the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs.

• The 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs will feature a divisional playoff format, leading to conference finals and ultimately the Calder Cup Finals. The division semifinals are best-of-five series; all subsequent rounds are best-of-seven.

• Teams will wear light jerseys at home until the Christmas break, and dark jerseys at home after the Christmas break.

Rule 46 (“Fighting”)/Rule 23 (“Game Misconducts”) 
• Players who enter into a fight prior to, at, or immediately following the drop of the puck for a faceoff will be assessed an automatic game misconduct in addition to other penalties assessed.

• During the regular season, any player who incurs his 10th fighting major shall be suspended automatically for one (1) game. For each subsequent fighting major up to 13, the player shall also be suspended automatically for one (1) game.

• During the regular season, any player who incurs his 14th fighting major shall be suspended automatically for two (2) games. For each subsequent fighting major, the player shall also be suspended automatically for two (2) games.

• In any instance where the opposing player was assessed an instigator penalty, the fighting major shall not count towards the player’s total for this rule.

Rule 82 (“Icing”)
• In addition to not being permitted to make player substitutions, the offending team on an icing violation also may not use its team time-out.

Rule 1.10 (“Ice Cleaning”)
• The ice cleaning procedures used during promotional timeouts will also be used prior to overtime during the regular season, replacing the “dry scrape.”

In layman’s terms:

– No more crossover. The top four teams in each division make playoffs, based off of percentage. This will have no bearing on the Eastern Conference teams since they all play the same amount of games.

– White jerseys at home until Christmas then black, or dark jerseys, from there on out. They do this in the ECHL. I think it is a dumb rule and the Leagues meddling with things better left alone.

– No more time outs after icings. Another dumb rule. Teams will find a way around this. A goaltenders pad may fall off. A skate blade may fall off. A stick will break. Something.

– No more dry scrape. This I like. There was no standard from AHL arena to AHL arena on how exactly to clean the ice after overtime. Some places it would last up to 5 minutes. Now, the off-ice crew will simply shovel away the snow in the attacking zones like they do at the 14, 10 and 6 minute stoppages during the period. You’ll be in and out of games in a jiffy.

– The other rule involves convoluted words regarding fighting. Gone are the staged fights. If you do that you are thrown out of the game. Once you fight ten times, you are suspended a game. Do it again up to 13 times, and you are suspended again. After your fourteenth fight and every fight after that, you are suspended for two games. If you are in a fight and the guy gets an instigator that fights you, that fight does not count towards the ten that gets you sat a game.

If the League is going to trip over itself sideways to implement these rules to curb fighting, it should simply just be banned. Fight once and get an automatic ten games. Make it simple. You obviously want to eliminate this aspect of the game, so simply come out and do it, rather than confusing the common fan that doesn’t understand why staged fights are gone.

I’ll have updates to the AHL Big Board and my 2016 Offseason Moves List later this evening. Have a nice weekend if there isn’t a Friday Coal Street Signing worth firing the blog up over.

I Ain’t Scared of No Ghost

After a pretty meek Day 2 and beyond of the NHL Free Agency, business picked up again on the day after the Fourth of July.

It was the Philadelphia Flyers who made the most noise in bolstering their AHL affiliate about an hour down the PA Turnpike in Lehigh Valley.

The number one name on the AHL Big Board, T.J. Brennan, signed with the Philadelphia Flyers today. The Phantoms on their own a few hours later announced the signing of Mark Zengerle and Martin Ouelette to AHL contracts.

First, T.J. Brennan. Two time defensive player of the year. He is the real deal. Pairing him with Will O’Neill, the second best defensemen I had on the board will give teams fits. Couple that in with Mark Zengerle, who centered the Grand Rapids Griffins top line of Anthony Mantha and Eric Tangradi last year and you have a recipe for success considering other signings made by the Flyers such as O’Neill and Andy Miele, the top forward available on the big board.

That is, however, if the Phantoms even make playoffs. Lehigh Valley has done nothing but disappoint in its two seasons in Allentown with lineups that look in October that they can compete in June but are out of it in December and a laughingstock in March.

Long and short, I’ll believe all this July hype about the Phantoms and playoffs it when I see it in mid-April next year.

There were other signings today affecting a lot of other AHL teams that I will update on the Big Board in a bit.

The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins today announced the re-signing of Goaltender Casey DeSmith. DeSmith, while playing on a PTO in the playoffs with the Penguins, took over the starters role in the playoffs and was one overtime Game 7 shot away from advancing to the Conference Finals against Toronto. The tandem as it stands in the beginning of July appears to be Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith. I see this as healthy competition between the two. DeSmith will be gunning for the starters role over the NHL contracted Jarry and Jarry will be looking to re-claim his undisputed number one role on Coal Street and become the next Matt Murray.

My 2016 Offseason Moves List will be updated later too, as I am hammering off this blog post, dinner is on the grill. Pork chops if you are scoring at home.

NHL Free Agency: Day 1

In the first hour of NHL Free Agency Friday, names were flying across the National Hockey League and some of those moves may have a direct affect on the American Hockey League affiliate in the near future.

Breaking the moves down as they affect the AHL’s Atlantic Division as things stand as of about 8 p.m. Friday…

button_16pit200   Pittsburgh / Wilkes-Barre / Scranton   WBS

Perhaps the biggest movers on Day 1, the Penguins announced the re-signings of Tom Sestito and Steve Oleksy before noon. Sestito brings much needed toughness in a pinch for the NHL team and Oleksy did hint on exit day that he would be open to returning.

Then the signings started.

First signing was Stuart Percy, a former first round pick from the Toronto Maple Leafs who was not tendered a qualifying offer by the Leafs. Best described as a two-way defenseman. Has battled injuries. 64 points (10-54-64) in 177 games with the Marlies.

Then Pittsburgh re-signed David Warsofsky. You will remember Warsofsky starting the season in Wilkes-Barre, getting called up and concussed in a freak accident with referee Tim Peel in an NHL game, his recovery and exposure to waivers where the New Jersey Devils claimed him and kept him on their NHL roster.

Third signing was Cameron Gaunce. I had Gaunce as 58 on my AHL Big Board. Gaunce was named a replacement to Derrick Pouliot in the AHL All-Star Classic in Syracuse. Gaunce led the Portland Pirates defenders in points last season.

Gaunce played with Percy for a season in the Ontario Hockey League.

The fourth signing was yet another defender (!!!) in Chad Ruhwedel. I didn’t have Ruhwedel ranked in the Top 100 on the Board but he is at least a half a point a game player for Rochester last year. A bit undersized, he will likely see a good majority of time with Wilkes-Barre. Back to back 10 goal seasons for Ruhwedel.

So the Penguins defense is stacked for next season:

button_wsh200   Washington / Hershey   HER

The Caps lost more than they gained today depending on who you talk to. They signed Christian Thomas, Joe Cannata and Darren Dietz. A forward, goaltender and defender, respectively. Thomas was a non-qualified Arizona piece that is a good skater. He had 10 goals between St. John’s and Springfield last season. Joe Cannata, the fourth best goaltender o by Big Board, is a calm, cool goaltender that had 20 wins in a split role with the Utica Comets. There are only a handful of goaltenders that won 20 games last year in the AHL. Solid signing by Hershey in my opinion. The other signing, Darren Dietz, is a two-way defender that saw some NHL action last year with Montreal. He, too, was not qualified by Montreal.

Hershey lost Justin Peters to Arizona and Carter Camper to New Jersey. No linking there, just trust me on those.

button_bos200   Boston / Providence   PRO

Signed Anton Khudobin, a goaltender that was with them a few years ago. He won 19 games in 31 games for a stacked San Diego Gulls team. Khudobin will replace Jeremy Smith, who signed with Colorado.

Tommy Cross re-signed and the Bruins also signed Tim Schaller. I had both in the 60 range on the Big Board.

button_nyr200   New York Rangers / Hartford Wolf Pack   button_hfd200

Adam Clendening came over from Calgary. Clendening had a few games with Wilkes-Barre during a conditioning stint. When he was called up to Pittsburgh and then exposed to waivers, he was claimed. It will be interesting to see if Clendening finds his way to Hartford this season.

Michael Paliotta was a non-qualified defender from Columbus. I didn’t have him ranked in the Top 100.

button_phi200   Philadelphia / Lehigh Valley   button_lv200

The Flyers made the biggest noise with some of the biggest signings this afternoon. They signed Andy Miele, Will O’Neill and Greg Carey, all Top 50 names on the AHL Big Board. Miele was the best forward available and O’Neill was the second best defenseman available. Carey was in the Top 50 and second in points on a terrible Springfield team.

Miele is a one way contract. That just means that he makes the same no matter where he plays. If he doesn’t get picked up on waivers should the Flyers expose him to them, he should bolster a Phantoms team that really disappointed last season.

The Florida Panthers and New York Islanders were silent on Day 1 as far as signings go for their AHL teams in Springfield and Bridgeport, respectively.

Some other out the door stuff…

Jim Rutherford signed a three year extension as General Manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Winning the Stanley Cup is like the fountain of youth.

Jonathan had a blog post on the guys that Pittsburgh signed today. Seth too.

Patrick Williams had a roundup of all the moves today affecting all 30 AHL teams worth a look.

My 2016 Offseason Moves List will be updated.

I am off to New York City for the weekend. Not to see my beloved Mets, but to visit my brother and his wife and see a Brooklyn Cyclones game on Sunday. The Cyclones are the proud Short-A affiliate of the New York Mets though and will be wearing these jerseys Sunday.

Look at that hat!

I’ll be around tomorrow on Twitter and will update Day 2 from New York City tomorrow as signings occur and affect the AHL’s Atlantic Division.

Happy Fourth!

Frenzy Eve

A couple of things to touch on before free agency begins Friday and the bedrock of a teams success starts building towards the Fall…

First, I am pinning the AHL Big Board to the top of the site so that it stays front and center for about a month and a handy reference tool to any that want to use it as free agency wears on. The changeover will be made tonight. You won’t notice anything other than the Big Board will be on the top of the site for the first month or so. Just scroll down to see the newer content.

Wilkes-Barre made a second signing this week, a kid by the name of Christian Hilbrich. A giant 6’7 forward that captained the Cornell Big Red last season. 27 goals and 21 assists in 111 collegiate games.

Pittsburgh, fresh off of winning a Stanley Cup about two weeks ago, opened their NHL Prospect Camp. The Skating on the Susquehanna blog, the team run WBS Penguins blog, has all the good stuff on local kids trying looking to make an impact, especially one from Kingston and more on Hilbrich’s signing.

Bookmark that blog and read it often.

Mattias Plachta went back to his German team, Adler Mannheim, and got a four year deal.

There was a goofy rumor about the Penguins breaking up with Wilkes-Barre and moving their affiliation to Hershey. Not only is that a nonsensical rumor this late in the season, it’s also an asinine thing to even assume. Wilkes-Barre will be playing as the AHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins until at least 2019. The Pittsburgh Penguins just won the Stanley Cup with a group of players developed in Wilkes-Barre. They got their coach from Wilkes-Barre too. Washington places their prospects in the oldest, most historic and decorated team in the American Hockey League which has led the 30 team league in attendance for years. The idea that Pittsburgh would want to uproot their affiliate, itself a shining star of its own right with the longest playoff record in the AHL, premier facilities and a passionate fanbase and place it someplace else, is nonsense. That Washington would even consider it is nonsense itself. You may not get along with the Bears fan sitting next to you at the game on Friday or that Penguins fan that is loud and obnoxious at the Bears game but trust me, it’s good for one another. This rivalry that we have is not only good for Hershey and Wilkes-Barre but Washington and Pittsburgh, playing competitive hockey in hostile environments 12 tines a year. It’s also good for the AHL, two healthy, passionate fanbases drive revenue and all that other stuff that makes this whole developmental thing successful.

240 words on a bunch of nonsense. Anything for clicks these days, I assume. File this one under the rarely used, “Just Rambling” blog category.


#57 is off of the Big Board, as Zach Sill has re-signed with the Washington Capitals.

The fun starts noon Friday. I will have a blog Friday night recapping the days events and how they affect the Penguins, Bears, Phantoms, Wolf Pack, Sound Tigers, Bruins and Thunderbirds. This weekend I am going to New York City, so I will do my best to update the Big Board and blog about any additions to any of the teams in the AHL’s Atlantic Division as time allows. Probably in the evening hours. Just keep it locked here this weekend.

Oh, and out the door, I don’t know if you heard the news but Scott Stuccio announced this week that effective this past Monday his services with Hershey Entertainment and Resorts (the corporate name of the group that runs the Bears) has been eliminated. Suffice to say, this news was shocking. Scott is a top notch broadcaster and better individual. Rest assured that he will not be unemployed for very long. Some other team will snatch him up sooner rather than later.

Back tomorrow with a recap of Free Agency Day 1.


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