There were three-games remaining in the Milwaukee Admirals regular season when they officially clinched the Central Division title. The team had just completed a power house of a four-game road trip that saw them sweep through Manitoba and Charlotte and riding a six-game winning and twelve-game point streak back to Milwaukee. Something that wouldn’t return to Milwaukee from that moment forward though would be defenseman Taylor Aronson. Why? Well, the simplest answer, he quit.
The Trojan Horse has been burned on the subject as to what the personal reasons were that ended with Aronson’s absence with the Admirals in their final regular season games and opening round playoff series. At the Nashville Predators end-season press conference that was conducted today General Manager David Poile stated the following when asked by Penalty Box Radio‘s Justin Bradford on the situation and whether or not he’ll be receiving a contract as a pending restricted free agent this off-season:
“It’s a grey area right now. I mean, it was a situation where we actually called someone else up, and he thought it should be him, and he left the team. So, we suspended him. And he is currently suspended. So, we need to have some discussions and see whether it makes sense that we bring him back, he wants to be back, that type of situation. It was an unfortunate.. probably little bit of an immature move on his part but that’s my opinion. So we’ll have to see in time whether we make up or not.” ~Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile
To figure out where this all starts is a long story but one that perhaps is best told as it happened. That four-game road trip that the Admirals had, Manitoba to Charlotte, is your starting point for the story and official end point for Aronson’s season. At the time the Admirals were flying back to Milwaukee from Charlotte Aronson was one of the Admirals top defenseman during the 2015-16 season. He had produced 40 points (4 goals, 36 assists) from 64 games with a plus/minus rating of +5 and 24 penalty minutes. It was the first time the Admirals had a defenseman produce 40 points since Roman Josi did it in the 2010-11 season and the most assists by an Admirals defenseman since Robert Dietrich produced 37 assists in the 2009-10 season.
What could cause someone at the height of such a highly successful team and individual season to abandon everything? There isn’t one specific item but rather a collection of circumstances. Some of which go untold and extend far beyond this past playing season.
During the Fifteen interview that I conducted with Aronson at the end of the season I was taken aback by when he was critical of his time spent with the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL. During the time in which I asked what was the most embarrassing moment of his hockey career to this point he quickly responded with his playing time in the ECHL.
“When you come out of juniors or when you’re doing anything the [ECHL] is so frowned upon – looked so down upon. Once you go there you’ll never make it, you’ll never do anything apparently. That’s what the stigma is. So, that’s what I didn’t want and it happened.” ~Taylor Aronson (4/1/16)
That surprised me in the sense that many players have been able to utilize the extra time that the ECHL can afford them, that won’t be available at the AHL level at the given time, and use it to propel themselves. Anthony Bitetto‘s stint with the Cyclones during the 2012-13 season really made a positive impact in his development and saw him grow off of that spell in the ECHL to the point where he is now locked in with the Nashville Predators until 2018.
When Aronson was entering his 2013-14 season with the organization he had only logged 26 games at the AHL level with 3 assists and 12 penalty minutes to his name. The bulk of his time was spent as a member of the Cyclones. In his first pro season he played 40 games in the ECHL while scoring 18 points (6 goals, 12 assist). The following season he would log 38 games in the ECHL and score 13 points (1 goal, 12 assists). Those ECHL spells came interspersed with time in Milwaukee at the AHL level.
In Aronson’s 2013-14 season he never saw one breath taken at the AHL level. His entire season was spent as a member of the Cyclones where he exploded for 38 points (6 goals, 32 assists) in 65 games with a plus/minus rating of +28. This ECHL run included taking part in an amazing playoff journey for the Cyclones that ended in the 2014 Kelly Cup Finals where they would fall just short of glory losing 4-2 to the Alaska Aces.
The next season Aronson arrived to the Admirals as a completely rejuvenated player. He didn’t make the Admirals due to him being the lone right-handed shooting defenseman in pre-season camp he made it because he earned it. Aronson, a year after spending all his time in the ECHL, spent the entirety of the 2014-15 season as a member of the Admirals in the AHL where he scored 32 points (3 goals, 29 assists) from 73 games. From being the top scoring defenseman on the Cyclones one year to the top scoring defenseman on the Admirals the next. What’s to be embarrassed about?
“I think that if I would have got chances here beforehand it may have been a little bit different. There was also things going behind the scenes that people don’t know about. So, it’s a give and take thing. Some people may not see my first two years as doing anything but it was a lot different going on.” ~Taylor Aronson (4/1/16)
There is where you can find strike one for Aronson: behind the scenes politics leading to resentment. You would feel all of that would have been dropped by the time Aronson earned his first career NHL call-up during that fantastic 2014-15 season. He re-signed with the organization in mid-July last summer and did more than just go about his business for the 2015-16 season. He was doing everything for the Admirals on defense and special teams this past season. So, what could have damaged things? Probably that last sentence combined with acquisition of Petter Granberg (strike two) and the end-season recalls of mid-season acquisitions Stefan Elliott and Corey Potter (strike three) by the Predators.
By all accounts, the Predators have to have one of the most difficult defensive groups to break into in the NHL. Their defense isn’t just loaded with talent but young talent at that. The proverbial glass ceiling is a thick one to break through but, given the injuries that crop up during the course of a hockey season, chances are there to make an impression given a recall opportunity. Aronson’s recall in February of 2015 came when Shea Weber was battling an illness, it was under emergency conditions, and Weber ended up playing while Aronson came and went without the NHL in-game experience. Earlier this past season the Predators claimed Granberg off of waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs and Granberg would go on to fulfill a role with the Predators as a depth option. Glass ceiling thickens. Then came the Admirals defensive shake-up that saw great impacts to the way the team performed moving forward. Of the three defensemen acquired from January to the NHL’s Trade Deadline only Elliott and Potter would log NHL time. All that happening while a 24-year old Aronson questioned whether his time would ever come. By the time Potter was recalled for the Predators last regular season game, a game that offered nothing of value and saw many key regulars sitting out, it was 4/9/16. That same night Aronson was with the Admirals in Charlotte for the first of two-games in two-days. Aronson completed the trip and wasn’t seen in an Admirals uniform for the rest of the regular season or playoffs.
By now, everyone knows how the Admirals season came to an end. Following Aronson’s desertion the Admirals played three more regular season games and featured in the 2016 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs with an opening round series against the Grand Rapids Griffins. The Admirals won their first game without Aronson, a 3-1 victory over the Chicago Wolves, but then proceeded to lose their last five straight games including a three-game sweep by the Griffins to send the Admirals, the second best team in the AHL’s Western Conference this season based on points percentage, out of the playoffs in the opening round.
If there is anything that should send chills down your spine it isn’t the fact that Aronson quit, it shouldn’t be his abandonment and parallel to team performance drop off, it should be this. At a time when everyone on the team, returning from Charlotte to Milwaukee, was celebrating the fact that they just clinched the Central Division title Aronson was thinking about how fast he could pack up and go home. Per sources close to the situation Aronson cited that he had an offer from a team in Russia, didn’t want to get hurt considering he wasn’t going to be playing in Nashville anyways, and left. The team and Aronson proceeded to not have communications from the moment he left to, at the best of my knowledge, season’s end for the Admirals.
When viewing the Aronson story from a distance there is another former Predators defenseman that comes to mind: Jonathon Blum. While Aronson was a third round draft choice by the Predators in 2010 Blum was a first round draft selection by the Predators in 2007. The defensive core for the Predators might not have been as incredibly deep as it is now but the same story basically played itself out in the form of a glass ceiling too thick to crack and stay on top of. Blum’s time in the organization can get summed up in his last season where he split the deck between the NHL and AHL during the 2012-13 lockout season. Whether it be his own individual performance or being passed over in favor of other up and coming defensive talents the simple gist was that a regular role wasn’t there for him. What did he do? He became a free agent and signed with an organization where the path to get into the NHL on a more regular basis was available, the Minnesota Wild. That ended up being a two-year odyssey in which Blum’s NHL playing time still wasn’t coming. He gave it a fair go. He then set his sights, as most longer tenured AHL players do, to playing professionally in Europe. For those that haven’t kept track, Blum’s 2015-16 season as part of Admiral Vladivostok in Russia’s KHL was fantastic. He scored 30 points (8 goals, 22 assists) in 55 games with a plus/minus rating of +13 and 45 penalty minutes. His performance was such that the KHL outfit rewarded him with a two-year contract extension.
Where do the Blum and Aronson stories meet then you ask? Well, look at the way Blum went about his business. The place for Blum in Nashville, despite being a first round draft choice by the organization, wasn’t there for him to have and he just wasn’t earning it as perhaps others might have. Rather than stew over the situation he elected to give another NHL organization a shot. That didn’t work so he did what you’d expect by traveling to Europe and taking in the professional leagues overseas. That did work very well and he now has something called options. His first option he took which was to sign a contract extension with the team that he performed so well for in Russia. His next option is where Aronson comes in because it is something that Aronson will struggle to ever come across again: returning to play professional hockey in North America. Should Blum continue to put together structured and solid efforts in the KHL he is still someone who hasn’t burned any bridges, maintained a professional attitude, and can still provide teams in the NHL or even AHL with what would be a solid -now- veteran presence.
Aronson left the Admirals and has made playing in Europe his first and only option while abandoning the organization that drafted him, the team that coached him up to the professional hockey player he is today, and the teammates he shared a locker room with. There really isn’t a simple apology that can account for that. It’s selfish and, as the Predators General Manager stated, immature. It’s something of a rarity to come across in a sport that is all about the “we” over “me” approach. If the road back to North America for someone like Blum looks rough at this moment it is a freshly asphalted one in comparison to the Wisconsin-esque pot hole infested misery that Aronson just constructed for himself.
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