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Some Bones To Pick

04/30/2010 11:03 AM - Mike Peck
I have a couple of beefs as the playoffs go on in both the American Hockey League and National Hockey League. First off, I usually take the stand of “don’t complain to complain, make a suggestion” and in both of these scenarios, I’m not sure what a good antidote would be.

My first is with the NHL. Not with the play on the ice or how the Stanley Cup Playoffs has played out so far, but with the way the scheduling was handled for the second round of the postseason.  The NHL didn’t announce the potential schedules for the second round until Wednesday evening.

I know the argument was made that the league was waiting for the Montreal-Washington series to conclude and I’m sure that Washington’s (and Alexander Ovechkin’s) existence in the playoffs was going to severely alter the national TV schedule.  From an exposure standpoint, the league is really pushing its stars and wants them on national television.

But the schedule was released before the Habs-Caps even started, so my question is, why in the heck was it not released earlier in the day? Say around noon eastern time.  If you do it then, you still catch all the national sports talk shows on radio and evening news casts.

Why such a big deal? I believe that it is absolutely critical for a league to be able to exhaust its marketing resources for its championship tournament.  Detroit and San Jose played Game 1 of their second round series on Thursday night, which wasn’t announced until Wednesday evening.  Kind of hard to build up any excitement to casual hockey fans when you only have 24 hours to get the word out.

My next peeve comes with the AHL and the scheduling of the Calder Cup Playoffs, and I know exactly what the argument is against my point.

The Hershey Bears topped the Albany River Rats in overtime on Thursday night, sweeping the Rats to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. That’s great, except the Texas Stars and Chicago Wolves have yet to even play a game in their West Division Semifinals series.

How weird is that? A team has already advanced through a best-of-seven round before another series in the same round has even started!

Now the reason for this is scheduling and building conflicts. Few buildings in the AHL have carte-blanche when it comes to scheduling, let alone in the postseason. So whenever possible, teams in the AHL will try to get postseason games in.

Kind of the same reason that Detroit and San Jose had to play on Thursday night. San Jose’s building is booked Friday and Saturday for an Eagles concert. So I guess it also occurs in the NHL as well!

Scheduling is a challenge but it is very odd to all of sudden have a postseason staggered.

Season 11 In The Books

04/27/2010 9:35 AM - Mike Peck
One thing that I’ve learned being in this business for nine years is that unless you win a championship, you are more than likely going to have a very sour taste in your mouth once the season ends.  This sour taste usually masks all the positives from the season just completed.

I think the way this season ended, it has done that to many, myself included.  The only problem with that is that you tend to overlook all the positives from the season gone by. There were a lot great moments from 2009-10 for the IceHogs and unfortunately, a loud thud in the playoffs initially negated those moments from Hogs fans memory banks.

Looking back at the West Division Semifinals series, the IceHogs needed to do just about everything perfect to beat the Texas Stars. Not that I didn’t believe that Rockford could take down the Stars in the series, but the numbers just didn’t add up to it, especially with Brent Krahn in goal. But with all that being said, a sweep for the second consecutive season was very disappointing.

Now to the positives! Some players had breakout years for Rockford. Bracken Kearns and Richard Petiot top that list for sure and they were the only two on the roster not to miss a game this season. For the first time in his AHL career, Kearns was put in a position to contribute a lot on the offensive side. And that he did as he racked up 51 points, 25 points more than his previous AHL career best set with Milwaukee in 2006-07.

Another great aspect to Kearns’ game this season was his versatility.  Not only did he produce offensively, but he was a top-line penalty killer and bounced back-and-forth on the IceHogs top two power-play lines.

As for Petiot, he easily topped his career point total in ’09-10 as well. With 36 points, Petiot bested his previous career high of 14, accomplished twice (2005-06 and 2008-09). And he led the IceHogs with a plus/minus rating of +20.

Petiot’s accomplishments are significant because heading into the season the defense was a big question mark, especially from a point production standpoint.  Petiot stepped up and really led the way on the blueline for the IceHogs this season.

Both Kearns and Petiot are free-agents-to-be this summer and they are two players that I would really like to see under contract in this organization next season. I think they are two pieces of the puzzle that fit well in this scheme and it would be a nice reward for the seasons they had this year.

That leads us into the next topic: What will the IceHogs look like in 2010-11.

The following players are under contract for next fall: F Kyle Beach (through 2012-13), D Ryan Stanton (through 2012-13), G Alec Richards, D Brian Connelly, D Simon Danis-Pepin (through 2011-12), F Akim Aliu (through 2011-12), F Ben Smith (through 2011-12), G Corey Crawford, D Shaw Lalonde (through 2012-13), D Jonathan Carlsson (through 2011-12), F Brandon Bollig (through 2011-12), F Jake Dowell and F Rob Klinkhammer.

I think it would be fair to assume that the entire above list will end up in Rockford next fall with the exception of Crawford and Dowell. So to begin with, Rockford’s roster would have a goalie, five defenseman and four forwards.

Then you add in the Restricted Free Agents: F Evan Brophey, D Mike Brennan, F Kyle Greentree, G Hannu Toivonen, F Pete MacArthur, F Bryan Bickell, F Jack Skille, F Nathan Davis, D Danny Richmond, D J.C. Sawyer and F Adam Hobson.

If Bickell and Skille get re-signed by Chicago, logic says they make the Blackhawks in September. Evan Brophey would be a logical player to extend a qualifying offer to this summer. A team must extend a "qualifying offer" to its restricted free agent to retain negotiating rights to that player.  I think another solid season in the AHL would help make a serviceable NHL player and he might even be ready to see a little time in the show next year.

MacArthur is another guy that I would really like to see back in the organization next fall. He’s a gritty player who showed great improvement on the ice and that was evident in his production as he went from 25 points as a rookie to 42 this season.  Brennan, Hobson, Davis and Sawyer’s decision will probably come down to the hockey operations evaluation of their developmental progress over the past two or three seasons and the other options that are on the market.

Unrestricted Free Agents from this season’s team include Jassen Cullimore, Petiot, Mark Cullen and Danny Bois.  Not sure if Cullimore would settle for another AHL season and I think it’s pretty clear that Petiot, Cullen and Bois would be valuable assets for next year.

Other free-agents from ’09-10 include Derek Nesbitt, Kearns, Maxime Tanguay, David Phillips and Matt Keith as they were all under AHL contracts.  Usually these players will seek the best opportunity for their career. The most intriguing out of this group is Keith.  After spending a season in Europe, the veteran winger came back to North America and really proved that he can still play at the AHL level. After fighting to get into the lineup for the first three months of the regular season, Keith finished the final 44 games with 17g-18a-35pts.

The tough part of moving onto a new season is seeing key players depart for new opportunities. The Blackhawks organization won’t be able to retain all the key players from ’09-10 in Rockford, but if they want to continue to be committed to developing and subscribing by the theory that “winning is a great developmental tool”, then the organization will bring in key free agents for 2010-11.