Chirping the Bench: Crunchy Ducks

ALLOKAGO:

It's been a pretty exciting summer for Crunch fans. To be honest, in terms of both potential and added depth, I think this off season has been the best the team has seen in the eight seasons I've been paying attention,. There's always a lot of questions about who will make the big club and who won't. Its those questions that usually end up making or breaking the Crunch.

In our past experience, it's usually been the latter which creates that always-famous mid-season scramble for quick-fixes and band-aides. However, this year, the depth the Ducks have created is great news for both teams. Hopefully some of the names that have popped up will provide great 4th liners for Anaheim. The rest will provide veteran leadership for the younger Ducklings on the Crunch squad, not to mention excellent call up fodder. Among the many roster names that have been thrown back and forth, there's been new coaching staff added to the Crunch. All of this feeds development. But what other questions are out there? Can the Crunch and the Ducks continue to work together and play nice?

All appearances indicate that the two teams have come to some kind of working agreement, one that seems to be better in terms of stability and commitment than the one put in place at the beginning of last season. The Ducks' brass have admitted to the Crunch their embarrassment over what happened last season in the AHL, and their actions have clearly indicated a pledge for this year to be different. They've said they didn't get what they wanted out of the younger guys. They've pushed for changes and they've made them. But, what do these answers do all of these questions add up to?

We have a lot of new names floating around the organization. I did some gathering for Chairman How's last week, and came up with this potential roster list for the Crunch. To be clear: this isn't what I expect our roster will look like opening night. Pure speculation. Training camp, the overseas game, and beginning of the season rehabs for NHL'ers will trim names from this list to be added to the Ducks. Right now, these are the names that will be back from last year or have been added by the Ducks this summer. Newcomers are in bold-faced font.

Forwards
Defense
Goaltending
Coaching
Mark Bell (C) Nate Guenin Jeff Deslauriers Mark Holick
Nick Bonino (C) Bryan Rodney Iiro Tarkki Brad Lauer
Rick Schofield (C) Mathieu Carle Igor Bobkov
Marty Wilford
Peter Holland (C) Matt Smaby

Maxime Macenauer (C) Mat Clark

Patrick Maroon (LW) Nick Schaus

Nicolas Deschamps (LW) Jake Newton

John Mitchell (LW) Sean Zimmerman

Kevin King (LW)


J.F. Jacques (LW)


Josh Brittain (LW)


Kyle Palmieri (RW)


Brian McGrattan (RW)


Andrew Gordon (RW)


Matt Kennedy (RW)


Dan Sexton (RW)


 

As you can see, the organizational depth has been fortified in many different ways. Some notables here:

RW Andrew Gordon: Gordon has won two Calder Cups with Hershey. Gordon brings a ton of AHL experience, leadership, and the drive for a championship to Syracuse. Gordon has also logged some NHL time, all with the Washington Capitals. He's played 12 games, scoring 1 goal and 1 assist total. Although his NHL time has been short, he could be a solid call up choice.

LW J.F. Jacques: Jacques is one of those bubble players. I personally had him pegged for the Ducks when he was first signed, but a quick warm up lap around the Internet shows varying opinions on where Jacques will end up. If he has a strong training camp, he could end up staying with ANA. He could also bounce between the two clubs for a bit, until he proves himself one way or the other. Any time spent in the AHL will be a bonus to Crunch players who will benefit from his experience. In total, he's played 160 NHL games, with 9 goals and 8 assists. 

D Mathieu Carle: Last month, the Ducks acquired Carle in exchange for struggling d-man Mark Mitera. This was a huge upgrade to the defensive core of this organization. Huge. Mitera wasn't getting the job. He desperately needed a change of scenery and Crunch fans are only happy to see him go.  Last season, Mitera went 6-16, -15, while Carle  went 11-18, +19.

D Bryan Rodney: Rodney has spent most of his career in the Hurricanes’ system. Last year, he was the top defensive scorer for the Charlotte Checkers’ (AHL), 7th on the team over-all. He was their captain and, more importantly, their power play quarterback. A man-up QB was something the Crunch needed desperately last year but never got. It was a position that had to be addressed for the '11-'12 season, there's no question. Rodney is an exciting addition to the Crunch, and someone who can be a reliable fill-in when needed.

G Jeff Deslauriers: Deslauriers has had an up and down career. Crunch fans are hoping that a fresh start with a new organization will be what he needs to jump-start a run at success again. He's played 53 NHL games with a 19-28-3 record. His AHL time has been limited due to a variety of situations where he was mostly limited to a back up role, so a solid year in the minors could really be what Jeff needs to get himself back on track. It's assumed that he and newcomer Iiro Tarkki will be fighting it out for the third and fourth slots in the organization, but I wouldn't count Bobkov out of the hunt, either. Bobkov put up two wins when he stepped in with the Crunch at the end of last season, showing some impressive skill for someone thrust into the AHL for the first time.

Coach Brad Lauer: One of the issues that hindered the Crunch last year was that they were given two rookie AHL coaches in Mark Holick and Mike Stapleton. With Stapleton leaving the Crunch to helm an OHL team, the organization had the perfect opportunity to give the Crunch what it needed in terms of experience behind the bench. Lauer gives Syracuse exactly that. He is the former assistant coach of the Ottawa Senators. Before that, he was assistant coach with the Milwaukee Admirals (AHL) for two seasons. He also spent quite a bit of time coaching the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League. He was with them from 2002-03 to 2006-07 as assistant coach. He clearly has the coaching pedigree to help the young prospects on the Crunch squad, while also being in a good position to nudge Holick. Although I wish Lauer had been given the head position over Holick, having him on the squad in any position is a huge benefit.

All in all, the personnel changes have been extremely positive and enthusiastically received. Since the main commodity of hockey is the players, names have to be signed and contracts need to be take care of in order for teams to be built and trust to be re-built. But is it enough?

We all know about the bit of drama that happened last year between Crunch owner Howard Dolgon and Anaheim. Howie is not really someone who handles things quietly, privately, or with reserve. Anyone who deals with the AHL in general is probably aware of this. But he has good reasons for how he handles this situations. He appreciates transparency and knows how to get things done.

Being an AHL team is tough. I know, I know, whine, whine, moan. But stay with me here for a minute, okay?

There are very few AHL teams who make enough money to sign their own players, and even fewer who have parent clubs who allow those players ice time. Our job is to develop the prospects of our parent club - period. It would be fantastic if we could load our team with 30 year old AHL veterans who will win nearly every game and put out a great effort, simply because they're thankful they can still play. There's one team in the AHL that somehow manages this. They make the playoffs nearly every year. Hey, that's great for them. But for the rest of us, their plan doesn't work. Even if we could sign our own players, we wouldn't be able to give them ice time. Ice time belongs to Anaheim's prospects. We wouldn't be doing our job if we allowed our own players to have their ice time. Because of this, when things start to go wrong, our fate is only in the hands of our NHL affiliate. We just have to hope that someone is paying attention. Last year, it didn't seem like anyone was until it was too late.

But I know for a fact the Crunch's front office and the Ducks' front office talked a lot at the beginning of the off season. I can also say with a high degree of certainty the reports of the Crunch looking for a new NHL affiliate for '11-'12 were blown way out of proportion by a certain news affiliate. I'm pretty sure said news affiliate is in hot water with the front office for their actions. I believe what the Ducks said to the Crunch made quite the impression, and I also believe their actions have made even greater impressions. If promises continue to be honored, if the team is built up with the amazing potential we're seeing now, there's no reason this affiliation can't work this season.

I'm not going to lie: I want this to work. Syracuse hasn't had a winning season in a long time. We haven't seen playoffs since 2008. But I want this to work for both fan bases. I really think that as long as respect continues on both sides, this partnership can work and bring a lot of exciting hockey for this season. Now, if only October would get here already!

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