Before making an appearance on Penalty Box Radio last night I was scanning through stats and various figures on the decline of the Milwaukee Admirals in the late stages of the 2014-15 season. What I started keying in on was the date of February 15th. The importance of that date was the loss of two key Admirals forwards for the rest of the season.
Early on February 15th, the Nashville Predators decided to pull the trigger on a big trade that would see them acquire Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The repercussions of that trade for the Admirals was that Brendan Leipsic was part of the transfer back to Toronto.
At the time of the trade, Leipsic was second on the Admirals in scoring behind Viktor Arvidsson. Leipsic had 35 points (7 goals, 28 assists) in 47 games, a plus/minus rating of +2, 16 penalty minutes, and was averaging 2.04 shots on goal per game.
That alone was a small reminder of the way things work in the AHL level. The Admirals are a prospect pool for the Predators and boasted a quality group of young prospects to start the 2014-15 season. There was the aforementioned Leipsic and Arvidsson making their North American pro debuts. There was also Pontus Åberg. Those names were three new additions to a young mix that didn’t even include Kevin Fiala yet.
Out of the players the Maple Leafs scouted they had their heart set on Leipsic as someone they would want if the Predators were looking to wheel and deal. To the Predators, they wanted to make a move to bolster their squad in an effort to improve an already stellar team. Their eyes went to help the now and, in doing so, sell a part of their future plans. That’s business and business that helps the Predators and hurt the Admirals. That’s what being an AHL affiliate is like sometimes.
Still, on the positive moving forward from that move, the Admirals were losing Leipsic and in the process of getting the Predators fifteenth overall selection in the NHL Draft, Fiala, acclimatized to the North American pro game. The good ol’ give and take of AHL hockey. In the same way it hurt to see Leipsic come and go the Admirals would be seeing a high level prospect that could just have easily developed overseas before making the leap to the NHL. The idea would be that Fiala would instantly fill in the gap of Leipsic. And, for his skill set, that seemed like it would work well enough even with some speed bumps in his learning process taking place.
As February 15th trucked forward the Admirals had a game to be played in Milwaukee still. They were facing the Lake Erie Monsters and would come away with a 5-2 victory. That game was solid. And, as said above, Fiala filled Leipsic’s role and did so brilliantly. He scored twice in that game and set up another. So what was so important about that game? It was the final game of the 2014-15 season for Miikka Salomäki.
Salomäki, who had suffered a concussion and a dislocated shoulder earlier in the season, had once again suffered a dislocated shoulder in the win over Lake Erie. Rather than go through the probability of coming back and that happening again, which had already happened once, Salomäki ended up going the surgery route to ensure that his shoulder would be 100% moving forward.
What the Admirals lost in that game was a heart and soul type of player on the ice. Salomäki had 18 points (7 goals, 11 assists) in 38 games, a plus/minus of +15, 30 penalty minutes, and was averaging 2.2 shots on goal per game. In an additional bummer, the Predators lost out on a seasoned player they could rely on in the need of a call up from the AHL. He had made his NHL debut in early-January and scored a goal while registering a game-high 7 hits.
In one day, the Admirals lost both Leipsic and Salomäki for the rest of the season. Those were roles that players needed to step up into and contribute accordingly. What has the result been? The Admirals record the night of February 15th was 29-14-3-4 (65 points). Since? The Admirals record has been 4-13-4-2 (14 points).
Has the impact of what went down on February 15th been the knockout blow on the Admirals 2014-15 season? Truth is, it really shouldn’t be. There should be no excuses for the loss of Leipsic and Salomäki contributing directly to the Admirals down turn. The thing is. That date, and their subsequent absence moving forward, says otherwise. The Admirals lost two players on the ice who packed a lot of energy, spark, and bite to their game. It’s safe to say right now that is something the Admirals have desperately been lacking. No one has filled those sorts of roles. The depth, which seemed so strong early in the season, has wilted. The question as to why that has been the case is defining this season.
How big were the losses of Leipsic and Salomäki to the Admirals? Has the loss of one or both been a major factor down the team’s fall down the standings?