After a few days to reflect and to enjoy the outdoors - it is High School Baseball season, don't you know, and it didn't snow during L.V. Rogers annual spring tournament in Nelson over the weekend, and Mt. Baker won it, but I digress - lets have a look at the end of 2013-2014 for the Ice.
Video is here.
1. Game 7 had some real intensity and high tempo play that you would expect from a Game 7, tied going into the third period and actually out-shooting the Tigers for the first time since Game 1, the early go-ahead goal in the third off an ill-advise pinch sprung Trevor Cox. A perfect shot by Cox beat Skapski as he picked the corner. The Ice pushed but couldn't convert as Cox notched another one ten minutes later.
2. In an opposite display to the first round, the difference in this series was the inability of Reinhart-Descheneau-Franko (and Philp) to continue the scoring magic displayed against the Calgary Hitmen. That and the club couldn't shut down Valk-Sanford-Cox when it counted.
3. The Tigers won the series and got the right to play the well-rested, 8-1 Oil Kings and promptly lost game 1 8-3. It was 7-0 after two periods of play. Barring something crazy happening, the Oil Kings will see the survivor of the Rockets-Winterhawks war in the Western Conference.
4. So let's look ahead to next year shall we? First, the graduation of F Zach McPhee, F Zach Franko and D Jagger Dirk will leave the Ice some big holes to fill but not catastrophic by any means. The bigger question is what do you do with the possibly 6 overage candidates to fill the 3 spots next year.
5.G Mackenzie Skapski, D Landon Cross, D Landon Peel, F Levi Cable, F Austin Vetterl and F Tim Bozon. It may be an easier decision than first thought. If Skapski signs with the Rangers he won't return and will likely turn pro, although being drafted last year, the Rangers have two years to sign him and could sign him or not and wait until next year and leave him play junior for his 20-year-old season. The bigger question if Skapski returns is will G Wyatt Hoflin, who will be 19, settle for second fiddle again next season? I doubt it. Meaning one should be traded with one of G Declan Hobbs, 16, G Jeffrey Veitch, 17 and Jayden Sittler, 18 hoping to fill the void.
6. The Blueline - I think that'll be the key position next year for the club. If D Tanner Faith returns to play big minutes despite the season-ending shoulder injury; If his former Bantam D-partner Tyler King, 19, can play big minutes; If D Rinat Valiev returns for a second season, which he should but with import players anything is possible; If D Troy Murray can step up and play even more as a 17-year-old and if players like D Jordan Steenburgen can transition back to his natural position on the blueline after a season as a 4th line injury fill-in; That gives the Ice some options for the question marks of D Landon Cross and D Landon Peel returning as overage players. One or both could return and shore up a deep blueline if they play.
7. The last statement hinges on a couple things; if the rehab of F Tim Bozon progresses enough for him to return to the game and if he wants to return to junior hockey in Canada. The former I hope occurs for the dynamic player to return to the game. It would be a shame for him to leave it after the scary bout with Meningitis. The latter, I think, is a valid question. The desire to play the game aside, the insurance issue - an estimated outstanding balance of $100,000 left over from his month-long treatment of the life-threatening virus - presents a problem for the import players coming over to North America and the teams obtaining the proper medical insurance. The great and truly inspiring response of the fans and teams of the WHL notwithstanding - raising thousands of dollars to help with the cost - doesn't hide the fact that junior hockey has a serious issue with making sure there's coverage for import players in this country (and the U.S.). If you're a parent and player - and an agent - what is the first question asked of junior hockey teams wanting you to join them?
8. That being said - and really, there's a whole other column to write on the above subject - if Bozon recovers enough to play I'm sure that the Montreal Canadiens (64th overall; 2012 NHL Draft) would like him to play another season in junior given the circumstances. However, he is signed (May 30, 2013) and could be placed with the Habs AHL or ECHL affiliate. My feeling is that, again, if he recovers enough to play again, he doesn't return to play junior.
9. What's left? Skapki, Cross, Peel, Cable, Vetterl. So we're no further along. That's because the club will wait with baited breath of the status of F Sam Reinhart. A likely top-3 pick for the NHL Draft in June, the argument of whether or not he's ready will be front and center most of the summer/fall. In today's NHL world of salary cap impact first round picks that might not have made the big club right out of the draft are now making it for lots of reasons but one that stands out is that they're usually cheaper 4th-line guys than the veterans that might or do command more. That being said, the Tampa Bay Lightning sent dynamic forward Jonathon Drouin back to Halifax of the QMJHL to light it up and play a big role with the World Junior team over Christmas. In fact, last year's draft - deeper by the opinion of NHL scouts than this year - saw only 6 selections Mackinnon (Colorado), Barkov (Florida), Jones (Nashville), Lindholm (Carolina), Monahan (Calgary) and Zadorov (Buffalo) stick with their NHL teams as rookies. So, the will-he or won't-he discussion will go on until the fall for sure.
10. If Reinhart returns the up front depth deepens considerably. Reinhart, Descheneau, Philp, along with Jon Martin with the likes of Levi Cable and Austin Vetterl gives the club a deep top two lines. Keeping Cable and Vetterl means room for one of only Skapski, Cross or Peel. If Reinhart doesn't come back I think keeping Vetterl and Cable is a sure thing. Trouble is the club may not know what Reinhart's status is until after the 20-year-old deadline October 10.
Reinhart's also been nominated as the Eastern Conference MVP and will go head-to-head with Spokane's Mitch Holmberg, 20, for WHL MVP. Holmberg finished the season as the WHL's top scorer with 62 goals and 118 points in 72 games. Reinhart played 12 fewer games and finished with 105 points. The two players are also up for WHL Most Sportsmanlike Player of the year.
Overtime - Many thought the club was built for next year but really, with the acquisition of Tim Bozon and Landon Cross the team was betting high on this year. The injuries/illness to both as the season ended threw a wrench into those plans and present a ton of question marks for next season that only time will vet out.
If memory serves, Ice head coach Ryan McGill signed a two-year deal with a club option for a 3rd. Given the success he's had with the young club, along with coach-of-the-year honors last season, I'm sure he'll be back next season.
F Zak Zborosky, F Matt Alfaro and F Kyle O'Connor will get lots of opportunity to fill that 3rd unit next season with F Jared Legien and F Vince Loschiavo looking for spots as 16-year-old forwards along with F Drew Warkentine, F Austin Wellsby and D Andy Stevens, 16 and D Dylan Overdyk, 17. Where F Ryan Chynoweth - missed the last month and a half of the season and playoffs with a concussion (although unreported, my opinion only) - fits in next year as a 19-year-old remains to be seen.
Lastly, there continues to be a ton of local speculation (READ: rumour mill, coffee shop row talk; scuttlebutt around the rink) that a sale to local interests by the Chynoweths is imminent. It's just rumours and innuendo for now so the speculation will remain just that.
Over at Gregg Drinnan's WHL Blog (link on the right) he speculates by process of elimination which franchise would be logical to relocate (given no WHL expansion) to the recently vacated Abbotsford Sports and Entertainment Centre which will lose the Calgary Flames AHL affiliate Abbotsford Heat once the season ends. That speculation naturally landed with only one team and that's the Ice so take it for what you will.
Attendance in Cranbrook dropped to 2232 averaged through the season - a drop of 179/game from last season's 2411 and a drop of 573/game from the 2805 the club drew in 2011-12. That number increased to 2629 through six playoff home dates this season but the 2232 is the lowest in the 16-year history of the Ice being in Cranbrook, save for the first two seasons in the Memorial Arena (1700 a year approximately for those two seasons). It has to be a major concern for the Chynoweths if they plan to keep the club. If it's sold to local interests, the concern still has to be there. I would argue a break even point based on the minimum cost structure sits around the 2500 mark. With six home playoff dates the club will likely be on the positive side of the ledger regardless but I'm sure losing money in the regular season will have cause for concern for any owner. The team has been successful in the playoffs and that certainly makes the bottom line shine brighter. Over the 16 seasons in Cranbrook the club has played 81 home playoff dates, averaging just over 5 per season. Base that on an average ticket cost, a conservative estimate gives you about $200,000 average in playoff income on top of the regular season budget. But that's because the on-ice product has been stellar over the 16 seasons in Cranbrook.
If the club hits a spell like Lethbridge, Moose Jaw or Saskatoon - who haven't had a lot of success over that same 16 year span - you can see the cause for concern for any investor locally. If you lose that on-ice success the picture changes dramatically for the small-market Ice and their chance of success in Cranbrook going forward.
Anyway, lots to digest for the off-season that's never dull during the season or the summer in the Kootenays. Unless there's some dramatic announcement forthcoming (I'm not convinced there will be as secrets in this town, like most, aren't easily kept) about the sale of the club, this post will be it until the WHL and NHL Drafts.
Enjoy the summer!