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Admirals' Stat-urday: Moving.....In the Right Direction

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This week was a good one for Norfolk, taking five of a possible six points from last Saturday through Friday night. Even more incredible, the Admirals managed to win two on the road! It's almost as if someone flipped a switch...

Charlie Sarault 2014-20115 Norfolk Admirals
Charlie Sarault 2014-20115 Norfolk Admirals
Courtesy John Wright/Norfolk Admirals

1 Jason LaBarbera stood tall for his first shutout since Feb 2007 Friday night against the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh Penguins).  LaBarbera has been stellar in Jan--in three games he has a .96 Goals Against Average and a .967 Save Percentage.

2 Defenseman Brendan Bell added two assists this week, bringing his impressive total to 17.  Bell is third on the Admirals in scoring and leads the team in assists.

3 Defenseman Marc Cantin, signed earlier this season to a Professional Tryout, scored his first AHL goal Friday against the Pens.  Cantin has three points this season in 17 games (1G,2A).

4 Norfolk won it's fourth and fifth road games this season, both in WBS, to complete the week sweep.  The Admirals are now 5-12-0-1 on the road.

5 Emerson Etem's first short-handed goal, his fifth goal of season and his first game winner, came Friday against the Penguins.  He has six points in his last four games.

6 Max Friberg scored his second Game Winning Goal, his sixth goal of season, Tuesday night in Wilkes Barre.  Friberg has 14 points in 18 games for the Admirals and is fifth in scoring (6G,8A)

7 Center Charlie Sarault scored his second goal of the season Tuesday in WBS.  Sarault, who has garnered much praise over the past few weeks for his play on the fourth line, has seven points in 25 games (2G,5A)

8 William Karlsson FINALLY netted a goal last Saturday against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers).  In 19 games played he has just eight points (4G,4A).  Before Saturday's goal, Karlsson had gone nine games without finding the back of the net.

9
Chris Wagner added his ninth assist of the season on Tuesday, his 18th point.  (9G,9A).

10 While they still sit nine points out of a playoff spot and haven't made a lot of upward progress in the standings, the Admirals seemed to have stopped their slide.  Norfolk has points in points in four straight games and seven of its last ten, going 4-3-1-2.

--I'm going to avoid the elephant in the room until later.

--John Gibson is sick with an "unknown illness."  No official word on what it is, and it must have hit either Sunday or Monday since Gibson backed up LaBarbera Saturday night.  For now, LaBarbera is carrying the load and doing quite well, and Igor Bobkov gets to watch AHL hockey a few more times.

--For the money, LaBarbera's play has been worth his contract.  I mentioned his stats in January, but on the season he's played in 11 games going 5-4-1-1 with a 2.25 Goals Against Average and a .922 Save Percentage.  He and John Gibson have kept the Admirals in very close games and have given Norfolk a chance to win every night.  While fans want to see Gibson because of his pedigree, there is no doubt in their minds that the goaltending is solid whether it's Gibson or LaBarbera between the pipes.  It took some stupidity on the part of management but they finally got the tandems right.

--I think Dany Heatley will be paid by the Ducks for the entire season, and I think that entire season will be spent in Norfolk.  Heatley has two goals and no assists in six games so far this season and has shot the puck just 17 times in those 6 games (just under three shots per game).  He's a big guy who gets bumped off the puck a lot and still plays on the perimeter instead of going in to the corners for puck battles.  I don't see any reason why Anaheim would want to recall him as they already have enough players that fit that profile....

--Depth guys are getting it done lately.  While players like Etem and Friberg have had success this week in finding the back of the net, names like Sarault and Cantin, John Kurtz and Dave Steckel, are starting to creep their way back in to the conversation.  "Defenseman" Kevin Gagne has been put on the fourth line as a winger the past several games and has fit in wonderfully, especially given that his speed and offensive upside can have him shift immediately to running the second power-play unit on the point.  Secondary scoring is coming, and it's there because the first line for Norfolk is making space for them, taking opposing teams best shut down guys on and allowing for better match-ups.  It's how professional hockey teams are supposed to play, and with the depth guys providing offense Coach Skalde can confidently roll four lines a night.

--The biggest news of the week coming out of Norfolk came from a local television sports reporter who can't name three players from the Admirals' roster.  In it he stated the Ducks were buying the Admirals franchise and moving it to California, calling it a "done deal."  Subsequent newspapers and other media outlets picked up on the story and made their reports, all the while fans here in Norfolk wondering what happened and why did they feel like they got punched in the stomach by the team, again.

For those not aware, the Admirals' previous NHL parent team was the Tampa Bay Lightning.  TB management was concerned with the travel conditions its prospects were subject to playing in Norfolk, with divisional rivals being five to twelve hours away by bus.  Rumors began circulating when the owner of the Syracuse Crunch decided to "leak" that a new affiliation had been reached about 3/4 of the way through the season.  Between social media, loud-mouthed owners, and the ability for fans in Norfolk to put two and two together, fans realized that the new affiliation in Syracuse with with the Lightning, and the players and coach they had grown extremely fond of were going to leave.  There was no official word from either the Admirals or the Lightning during this entire period, meaning fans had to scrounge for whatever information they could find, living on rumor and innuendo, not knowing what the future would hold.

Despite the rumors of a move, fans witnessed a 28-game winning streak, the longest in North American Professional Hockey History, and a Calder Cup Championship brought home to Norfolk.  The team that season was the best in AHL history, and fans showed up in great numbers for the parade through downtown.  Without wasting any time, news reports came out the VERY NEXT DAY that Tampa had a new affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch.  Things settled down a bit when fans were told it was an affiliation "swap" with Anaheim, but that didn't do much to resolved the anger at Tampa for "stealing" their players right after winning a championship.

And so here we are again, with reports of the Admirals' franchise being sold, AHL hockey being ripped from the area after 15 years and three affiliations.  Fans in Norfolk watched players that started here in Norfolk win a Stanley Cup with Chicago (first affiliate), are watching "their" players and coach do extremely well in Tampa, and currently watching guys like Pat Maroon, Devante Smith-Pelly, Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm, Emerson Etem, Frederik Andersen, John Gibson, Rickard Rakell, heck even Rene Bourque from the Chicago era, all of whom played here in Norfolk, all of whom made significant impressions on the fans, all of whom fans will say are their players.

With all that being said, here are the FACTS as of today and through the remainder of the month:

-Anaheim is pushing to purchase the Admirals franchise and move it west.

-Norfolk would be without an AHL franchise unless another NHL team would want to move theirs here.

-No deal has been reached, no paperwork signed.  As of right now, the Ducks DO NOT own the Admirals.

-Despite any stories to the contrary, there is no change and won't be any change in that status until after the AHL Board of Governors meeting at the end of January.  That meeting will determine not only the fate of the Admirals but of the "West Coast Initiative."  Not every west coast NHL team has its ducks in a row yet (pardon the pun) so while it would seem to be a foregone conclusion, there is nothing set in stone yet.

Do I believe the Ducks will have their affiliate out on the west coast?  Yes, at some point.  I'm not predicting it will be next season--if I were the AHL I'd want to give myself plenty of time for teams to hire staff, design and market new logos, sign leases, get schedules ready, etc.

The argument about recalling guys from the AHL being easier if they are close is flawed and honestly not the primary reason for the move.  If the Ducks are rolling through the east coast and need to recall someone, they have to stick them on a plane.  If they are in Nashville, Chicago, Dallas, etc, they aren't a "quick drive" down the road.  Sure, if they have an injury the day of a home game, someone can hop in their car and drive up the road.  But as it stands now, whether it's a home game or an away game, players from Norfolk are jumping on a plane, meaning travel is still an issue.  Instead, the idea of having them on the west coast is to put them closer to the other AHL teams being moved to the west coast, thus reducing the time on the bus between their home rinks and the other rinks.  This is the same logic Tampa used when moving to Syracuse.

There is still a chance Norfolk could find another dance partner in the AHL.  I'm still not sure why this deal MUST go through--neither the NHL or AHL are expanding, so it would seem that if the Admirals' owners don't want to sell, the Ducks would be forced to try and buy another club.  I suppose Dave Andrews is going to bend to the will of the NHL and that's what makes this even worse as Andrews was once quoted as saying "As long as I'm commissioner there will be AHL hockey in Norfolk."

At this point, fans are just waiting for the other shoe to drop.  But for now and through the end of this season at least, Norfolk still has AHL hockey.  That is, of course, until another sports reporter who can't spell hockey decides to leak another story.

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