The entire Western Conference has its second round of the playoffs set. The Lake Erie Monsters will be hosting the Grand Rapids Griffins. And the Ontario Reign will be hosting the San Diego Gulls in a best of seven game series format that will laughably go 1-1-1-1-1-1-1. The second round officially gets underway this coming Wednesday when the Toronto Marlies host the Albany Devils.
Enough time has officially passed where it’s safe to really plunge back into how the Milwaukee Admirals 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs ended as quickly as it did. With the Admirals having such an incredible regular season, that saw them claim their first divisional title since 2010-11, expectations for a long playoff run were high. It instead came and went as quickly as it possibly could making the playoff experience something of a blur to the landscape of everything the regular season provided. What went wrong? It isn’t a one-sentence answer.
For as much internal complaining as there could be done there isn’t enough credit in the world that could be given to the Griffins. The opening round playoff series was a microcosm of how the head-to-head series between the two teams went in the regular season. Combine what happened in the playoffs and the Griffins went 8-3-0-0 with the Admirals never once having won consecutive games against the Griffins and only once having won two out of three games. There couldn’t have been a worse opening round opponent for the Admirals than the Griffins.
Another item worthy of bringing up is experience. I made mention prior to the start of the series that there were going to be nineteen returning names from the Griffins 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs roster. That meant having a little under 60% of a team that nearly punched a ticket to the 2015 Calder Cup Finals squaring up with an Admirals team that would give the pro debuts to Anthony Richard and Yakov Trenin in the series. As much as the Admirals looked to be playing playoff hockey in the closing stages of the regular season the actual playoff experience that the Griffins had wasn’t anything to be taken lightly. The Admirals looked to get through the playoffs on talent alone. The Griffins looked to get through the playoffs as a team that previously went to the Western Conference Finals a year ago. That’s a very real thing that made a difference in the series.
Another area that was a slight issue for the Admirals that wasn’t really the case on the opposite side of the rink was the missing names of higher ranking players. It’s hard to say anything against when the Nashville Predators have a need for their cause in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is, and that’s the slight unfortunate grey area of being the AHL affiliate that is also competing in a playoff run. But the lack of even someone such as a Cody Bass was a very real thing.
The Admirals captains at the start of the season went as follows: Colton Sissons (C), Cody Bass (A), and Conor Allen (A). Sissons would go up to the Predators. Bass would go up to the Predators. Allen would get traded mid-season to acquire Patrick Mullen. Your initial leadership group wasn’t available for the playoffs. This pushed the captains to be: Max Reinhart (A), Félix Girard (A), and Jamie Devane (A). The coaching staff has made mention that the leadership group of the room has been great, so you can’t really have any gripes with that, but there is something to be said of losing out on the on and off-ice abilities that a Bass or Sissons provides.
I’m very happy to see Bass taking part of the Predators playoff run. I’ve long been a proponent of calling up the veteran AHL talent to fill a lower line role than having one of your high energy scoring prospects be subjected to a lesser role where they are tasked with playing outside of their comfort zone and be mistake free and defensive. That’s why having a Bass up with the Predators, and not a Kevin Fiala, is a good thing. What I do question though is what’s going on in the head of Austin Watson when you’re technically that bridge gap and being superseded by Bass. You would think the two could be contributing to the NHL and AHL causes all the same during the playoffs but, instead, Watson -someone who wasn’t playoff eligible to the Admirals- is being kept low on the totem pole. He’ll be seeing his contract kick up to a one-way deal next season but is being treated less of a Black Ace than Pontus Åberg who, for a brief half-hour period, looked as though he would be making his NHL debut in Game 1 of the Predators playoff series against the San Jose Sharks. I’m not sure how that inspires confidence nor helps the entire organization be at their optimum.
Then there is “Mr. Elephant in the Room” Taylor Aronson who, according to Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason, left the team due to personal reasons with three-games remaining in the regular season. He never ended up returning for the playoff run so the Admirals were without their best defenseman this season against the Griffins. That was a massive loss considering how many situations Aronson contributes for the Admirals. In the Admirals last six-games of the season without him they went 1-5-0-0 with five straight losses to end the season. Aronson is always the first man over the boards for the Admirals power-play. In those six-games without him they were 5/31 (16.1%) on the power-play including 2/17 (11.8%) during the playoff series against the Griffins. The Admirals ended the regular season with the second best power-play in the entire AHL (21.2%). Losing Aronson, who provided 18 assists on the power-play from 64 games in the regular season games, was huge.
~Zebras and Rule Books~
It is 100% inescapable that this topic would come. In fact, this may have been the hardest pill for all fans to swallow as the Admirals were given the unceremonious exit from the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs. The chaos and drama of the Admirals and Griffins opening round series didn’t come entirely from the on-ice product that the two teams dished up as much as the embarrassing flaws and ineptitude of AHL officiating and rules were exposed in broad daylight.
For the absolute hell of it allow me to copy and paste AHL Rule 79 Video Review:
79.1 Video Review – It shall be the Referee’s sole discretion as to whether the use of the video review system shall be utilized for any apparent goal or non-goal that takes place during the course of the game.
Any potential goal requiring video review must be reviewed prior to or during the next stoppage of play. No goal may be awarded (or disallowed) as a result of video review once the puck has been dropped and play has resumed.
When a team scores an apparent goal that is not immediately awarded by the on-officials and play continues, the play shall be reviewed at the next stoppage of play only at the sole discretion of the on-ice officials. If the goal is confirmed by video review, the clock
(including penalty time clocks, if applicable) shall be re-set to the time the goal was scored. If the goal is not confirmed by video review, no adjustment is required to the game clock time.
Only one goal can be awarded at any stoppage of play. If the apparent goal was scored by Team A, and is subsequently confirmed as a goal through use of video replay, any goal scored by Team B during the period of time between the apparent goal by Team A and the stoppage of play (Team B’s goal), the Team B goal would not be awarded. However, if the apparent goal by Team A is deemed to have entered the goal, albeit illegally, the goal shall be disallowed and since the play should have been stopped for this disallowed goal, no goal can be awarded to Team B on the same play. The clock (including penalty time clocks, if applicable), must be re-set to the time of the disallowed Team A goal and play resumed.
Any penalties signaled during the period of time between the apparent goal and the next stoppage of play shall be assessed in the normal manner, except when a minor penalty is to be assessed to the team scored upon, and is therefore nullified by the scoring of the goal. Refer to Rules 16.2 and 18.2. If an infraction happens after the first stoppage of play following an apparent goal (infraction after the whistle) by either team, it is assessed and served in the normal manner regardless as to the decision rendered by the video review.
79.2 Procedure – If the Referee determines the use of the video review system is necessary, the referee shall inform the off-ice official at ice level and the Public Address Announcer shall announce that “The play is now under review”. Once the play has been reviewed and deemed a goal, the goal will be announced in the normal manner. If the review reveals that the goal must be disallowed, the Public Address Announcer shall announce the reason for the disallowed goal as reported by the Referee.
When the Referee indicates there is to be a video review, all players (with the exception of the goalkeepers) will go to their respective players’ bench immediately. During the period of video review, no replay of the situation may be shown on the arena video
screen or any other public video monitor.
79.3 Situations Subject to Video Review – The following are the only situations subject to video review by the Referee:
(i) Puck crossing the goal line.
(ii) Puck crossing the goal line prior to the goal frame being dislodged.
(iii) Puck crossing the goal line prior to, or after expiration of time, at the end of the period.
(iv) Puck directed or batted into the net by a hand or foot or deliberately batted with any part of the attacking player’s body. With the use of a foot/skate, was a distinct kicking motion evident? If so, the apparent goal must be disallowed. A distinct kicking motion is one which the player propels the puck with his skate into the net. If the Referee determines that it was put into the net by an attacking player using a distinct kicking motion, it must be ruled no goal. This would also be true even if the puck, after being kicked, deflects off any other player of either team and then into the net. This is still no goal. However, a puck that enters the goal after deflecting off an attacking player’s skate or that deflects off his skate while he is in the process of stopping, shall be ruled a good goal. See also 49.2.
(v) To determine whether the puck entered the net by going through the net meshing.
(vi) To determine whether the puck entered the net from underneath the net frame.
(vii) Any situation in which the puck may have entered the net undetected by the Referee.
79.4 Coach’s Challenge – A team may request a formal Coach’s Challenge if they have their time-out available. The Coach’s Challenge must be effectively initiated prior to the resumption of play.
Only the situations subject to video review as outlined under
Rule 79.3 may be challenged.
If the Coach’s Challenge does not result in the original call on the ice being overturned, the team exercising such challenge will forfeit its time-out.
If the Coach’s Challenge does result in the call on the ice being overturned, the team successfully exercising such challenge will retain its time-out, which may be used for another challenge.
79.5 Video Review Assistant – The position of Video Review Assistant shall be recognized as an official off-ice officials position required for each League game to assist the Referee in the timely review of any situation subject to video review as outlined under Rule 79.3.
79.6 Logistics and Equipment – The video review monitor and controls shall be located at the scorer’s table positioned between the penalty boxes. The Referee shall have full control of the video review system at all times with the assistance of the Video Review Assistant.
79.7 Final Decision – If the Referee determines the use of video review is necessary, or it is utilized as a result of a Coach’s Challenge, the Referee shall not be required to consult with the Goal Judge. In determining whether to award an apparent goal, the video review must conclusively show the entire puck entered the net legally with regard to the situations subject to review as outlined above. After the play has been reviewed with the use of the video review system, the Referee shall make the final decision.
79.8 Reports – Following any game in which the video review system was utilized, the Referee must report to the League all video reviews conducted during the game.
You get all that? Great, because now we can rant a bit. There is a human element to the game of hockey. That shouldn’t mean that standard is limited to just the players. Officials get one real solid look to make a determination of a call on the ice in a game that happens at incredible speed and ferocity. Mistakes happen. They’re always going to happen. But when those mistakes happen in such a way they can drastically impact the game itself there is a problem that far exceeds an issue of on-ice officiating. The league itself must be held accountable.
Looking at how the series played out you’ll have no doubt been angry when seeing Rule 79.3 (v). It happened in quick succession during Game 3 in Grand Rapids and on both occasions saw the Griffins be awarded goals. Now comes the hard part to say that some might still be hot over: they were goals. Yes, they were goals. There is nothing wrong with saying that those were goals and video replay afforded the officials a chance to make what should have been right on the ice – right. That’s a good thing to have the game held accountable. It’s great that the officials have a chance to use the technology around them to see major points of a game be correctly handled if it wasn’t done appropriately in the moment when it happened.
Now comes the inexcusable parts…
For the AHL to not allow for video review of goaltender interference. For the AHL to have nothing in the rule book in connection to the maintenance of their goals and nets by teams or officials being obstructed to inspect goals and nets before a game, before a period, or after a game is inexcusable.
In Game 2, the Admirals were trailing 2-0 to the Griffins in the second period when Max Gortz deflected a shot by Corey Potter. The crowd finally had something to get loud about and the game was 2-1 with all kinds of momentum set to finally go the way of the Admirals. It was then waved off. Why? Goaltender Interference. It’s an unreviewable play by AHL standards yet the disallowed goal could have been quickly amended with something as simple as the jumbotron feed showing that not only was Tom McCollum not interfered with but that there wasn’t anyone within two feet of him.
What’s the point of video review if you can’t review something? What’s the point of the coach’s challenge if they can’t challenge a play on the ice? It’s as if the AHL has what they have in place to come across as professional as possible. Like looking at someone in the distance who looks to be wearing a tuxedo and a coat. Yet, the closer you get – the more you get into the details – all you’re looking at is a clown in a tuxedo t-shirt. You cannot have rules in place while ignoring other major points of conflict that can arise in the game of hockey. The AHL did. The officials made a mistake and then proceeded to stick to the letter of the rule book. And the victim of the situation, the Admirals, get nothing more than potentially being the sacrificial lamb to significant rule changes that should have been in place already. It’s inept. It’s embarrassing. And the worst thing of it all was that it was all avoidable.
I went into the BMO Harris Bradley Center the day after the Admirals playoff exit. It was the team’s last day together and I had the chance to speak with a great deal of the players. Time and time again I found myself saying that it wasn’t the end to the season that everyone wanted and hoped for but it doesn’t detract from how special of a season it was for the Admirals. It’s right, too. This season the Admirals were absolutely terrific. There were so many bright spots, great performances, unexpected stars, signs of great promise for the future of the Predators, and all of that is something that shouldn’t be lost on you – the fans. Even better, there is no reason why what you saw this season shouldn’t be just as good or better next season. The Admirals were an incredibly young team in 2015-16. That remains true for 2016-17. What should be exciting is the returning name talent that there will be coming back to the Admirals that took in the 2015-16 season. The close of the Bradley Center was special. The return to the Admirals original home next season will be too.
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