Welcome to the first installment of Ramblings for the Summer of 2016. For new readers the title should be self explanatory. This is just my weekly column to pepper in some thoughts or musings throughout the off-season as to keep things moving here at Admirals Roundtable. Along the way I’d love to do some mailbag segments but, for today, let’s comb over a few topics.
~More Questions Than Answers~
Another year and another two off-season stories that are identical for the Milwaukee Admirals. What’s going on in net? Who are the main men defending around the net? Last season saw Magnus Hellberg leave and Juuse Saros join as well as Joe Piskula leaving with a veteran defensive void that wouldn’t get filled until mid-season trades came along. We’re pretty much in that same boat again.
The goaltending saga this year is more Nashville specific. Who is going to be Pekka Rinne‘s back-up next season: Carter Hutton or Marek Mazanec? That seems to be the question rattling in my head right alongside why did the Predators sign Jonas Gunnarsson instead of Janne Juvonen? No matter, Gunnarsson should be the battery-mate of Saros in Milwaukee next season. But what about Nashville? Who ends up being the odd man out between Hutton or Mazanec? Or could Nashville actually throw as big of a curveball like Gunnarsson with that job interview and sign someone else completely?
Another big question that faces the Admirals coming into the 2016-17 season will be the defense. Yes, Saros will be good and I’m eager to see how Gunnarsson handles the North American game but both need the help out in front of them to make life easier. Jimmy Oligny being back, barring another NHL team opting to pen him to an entry level contract (hint hint, Nashville), will help a lot. Who else is really going to be around though? Trevor Murphy? Jack Dougherty? Alexandre Carrier? Jonathan Diaby? That’s not exactly a group that inspires confidence. Murphy will be a sophomore looking to make strides. That’s good. Dougherty entered late into the 2015-16 season to make his pro debut. He got a look around and should be good project to watch grow in his first full-season. Carrier will hope to echo some of what Murphy supplied in his first professional playing season. Unlike Dougherty he didn’t get into a game to make his pro debut, he only participated in a handful of practices, but if he can perform Murphy levels of first year success that would be great. Diaby…
My point is that a focal point of the 2015-16 season was reorganizing the defense to include a right-handed shooting balance as well as bring in veteran minds to the on and off ice chemistry. Patrick Mullen, Stefan Elliott, and Corey Potter all did really well for the team with the latter two names getting NHL time at the end of the season. Yet, Potter has already moved on. Taylor Aronson moved on before the season even ended. And I’m curious if the Predators are interested in bringing back Elliott or Mullen.
There are of course possible options keeping some other names that are RFA’s such as Elliott. Petter Granberg could be a good option on a two-way contract that could fill into Potter’s role alongside Oligny nicely. I feel Garrett Noonan is due to be unleashed properly at the AHL level after a great ECHL season for the Cincinnati Cyclones and could be what Kristian Näkyvä was thought to be for this past season – next season.
Still, that leaves the veteran role (possibly even roles) that the team would want to have on defense. The entire 2015-16 season should have provided a learning experience to the powers that be. The Admirals were critical to have a defense that saw an even balance of three right-handed shots and three left-handed shots. Why that wasn’t communicated well in advance so a signing such as Conor Allen could have been spent straight for what you are actually looking for (a veteran right-handed shot) confuses me but it would be worse if the ball gets dropped a second time this off-season.
The entire organization should know what they’re looking for at defense in the AHL in terms of making a competitive AHL team, providing NHL depth, and providing future NHL talent. There shouldn’t be a need for a mid-season blow up to add three AHL defensemen like this past season. Get the right candidates lined up and signed. The lefties of the organization seem set. Some veteran right-handed shooting defensemen will need to be given a deep look at come free agency time. After all, it is an important measure of depth for the NHL level as much as it is for the Admirals in the AHL. Should a Shea Weber or Ryan Ellis go down long-term next season who do you have in the pipeline on the right-side to fill that void? Perhaps all the more reason to shoot hard for Elliott and Granberg on two-way contracts.
~2016 Calder Cup Finals~
I’m not sure how many are still highly tuned to the AHL post-playoff exit for the Admirals. Those that aren’t might see the Lake Erie Monsters in the spot that they are and raise an eyebrow. This was a team that the Admirals did alright against during the regular season: 5-2-1-0 record. Where did this journey for Lake Erie to the Finals take off?
To me, the Monsters are living out what I had hoped the Admirals do in the playoffs this year. I wanted the Admirals to knock off the Grand Rapids Griffins, show the Ontario Reign that they weren’t as good as their points percentage or record in the Pacific Division might have indicated, and then knock off the best that the Eastern Conference had to offer en route to a Calder Cup.
I had fully expected the Toronto Marlies to make it on the Eastern side of the playoffs. That didn’t happen as the Hershey Bears took the Marlies out in a five-game series. The Bears clawed out full-distance series in the opening two rounds of the playoffs against the Portland Pirates and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Through that adversity all that stood in front of them was -the- favorite of these playoffs, the Marlies, and they throttled them.
Tonight is Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals. The Monsters took both games in Hershey and are set for three straight games on home ice. The opportunity is there for the franchise to win a championship in the Quicken Loans Arena before LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers do. The Monsters have had two separate six-game winning streaks during the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs. When you dip back into the regular season the Monsters have gone 25-5-1-0 in their last 31 games played. It has been an absolutely spectacular run for them.
What are some of the off-season storylines that you are most intrigued by? What should the Nashville Predators do with their back-up goaltending role?
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