Things were rough last season for the Syracuse Crunch. A lot has been said on the topic, both through my entries at Raw Charge that chronicled last season and, more recently, in Kyle Alexander‘s amazingly thorough Analytical Year in Review. A playoff-less season is never in a team’s plans, and it is certainly never in Tampa Bay’s big picture for their farm team. The Lightning organization has been huge on winning at the AHL level during the past few seasons, and it’s probably an understatement to say that both organizations are looking forward to a more successful campaign this fall.
However, the formula for success in the AHL is generally a hard one to nail down. Last fall, the Crunch seemed fairly prepared to play some competitive hockey after coming off of their best season in their 20 year history, but then Murphy’s Law came into play in basically every way possible. Things went off the rails. Injuries at both levels put a severe strain on system depth, goalie drama affected the net, and a general feeling of woe surrounded the team.
This season, Syracuse fans are hoping for a big, fat, juicy rebound, and there are several reasons to be optimistic about that happening. But, as with all AHL seasons, there are also some potential question marks that may cause trouble for the Crunch.
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Syracuse Crunch and Tampa Bay Lightning extend affiliation
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – The Syracuse Crunch and Tampa Bay Lightning jointly announce an extension of their affiliation agreement, which is entering its third season.
The extension guarantees Tampa Bay’s top prospects will be developing their talents in Syracuse through the 2016-17 American Hockey League season. The Lightning prospect pipeline was recently ranked the second best in the NHL by ESPN and features the number one overall goaltending prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“We are thrilled to be extending our partnership with the Tampa Bay Lightning and continuing to grow our strong relationships with Steve Yzerman, Julien Brisebois and the entire Lightning organization,” said Crunch owner Howard Dolgon.
“We are pleased to be announcing the extension of our affiliation with the Crunch,” Lightning vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman said. “The support of the Syracuse community and as well as from Howard Dolgon and his group has been fantastic these past two seasons and we look forward to continuing to build on these relationships for the coming years.”
During the 2012-13 season, the Crunch’s first season as the Lightning’s top affiliate, the Crunch completed their most successful season to date, making their first appearance in the Calder Cup Finals. Since the start of the affiliation, 26 former or current Crunch players have played for the Bolts. The Crunch own a record of 74-54-10-14 over the two seasons they’ve been affiliated with the Lightning.
“The partnership with the Crunch has been of tremendous help in improving our minor league development program,” Lightning assistant general manager Julien BriseBois said. “The support fromHoward Dolgon‘s group, the facilities at our players’ disposal, the travel and the local fan support have all contributed to us graduating many players to the NHL these past two years and we are happy to know we will be developing future Lightning players in Syracuse for the coming seasons.”
The Syracuse Crunch are entering their 21st year of operation in the American Hockey League and boast the longest, current independent ownership group, led by Howard Dolgon. The Crunch have the sixth-longest tenure of any AHL team. The Lightning are the fourth primary NHL affiliate of the Crunch, who previously partnered with Vancouver (1994-1999), Columbus (2000-2009) and Anaheim (2010-2012). Syracuse had a dual affiliation with Vancouver and Pittsburgh from 1997 to 1999. The Crunch have played their home games in the Onondaga County owned War Memorial Arena since their inaugural season.
“The Tampa Bay Lightning have been an excellent partner for the Syracuse Crunch and for Onondaga County,” said Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney. “Congratulations to Howard Dolgon and his management team for continuing this strong partnership and thank you to the Tampa Bay Lightning for contributing to and recognizing how successful the Syracuse Crunch are and can be.”
The Lightning joined the National Hockey League as an expansion franchise in 1992 and 12 years later, in 2004, were crowned Stanley Cup Champions. In addition to their Stanley Cup the Lightning have made six other post-season appearances (1996, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2014). Beginning with the 2010-11 season the Lightning and their AHL affiliate have been run by vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman and assistant general manager Julien BriseBois.
There she is, the press release we’ve been waiting/hoping for. Isn’t she beautiful?
One could successfully argue that the Lightning affiliation has, in two short years, brought us more memories than all of the parent clubs the Crunch had in the 19 years prior to Tampa Bay coming on board combined. It’s been a rollercoaster, but AHL hockey usually is. I’m sure we’d all agree that riding that ‘coaster with the likes of Tyler Johnson, Radko Gudas, Kristers Gudlevskis, Cedric Paquette, and Vladislav Namestnikov made the downs a little less painful and the ups that much more exhilarating.
In talking with ESPN Radio CNY, Syracuse Crunch owner Howard Dolgon had the following to say:
The word I’m going to use is “inclusiveness.” And that goes both ways. When it comes to the hockey side of it, they have no problem keeping us in the loop, asking us questions, getting our opinions on things. Likewise, when it comes to the marketing and business side of it, we’ve learned a lot from them….I think, unlike some other relationships, they treat their team in Syracuse exactly the same way as their team in Tampa.
The folks in Tampa understand that to best develop players, is to place them in an environment that gives them the best chance to win and succeed.
If you look at the roster (for the upcoming season), it (has those call up guys), but it’s also laden with some veteran players that may no longer be considered “prospects” but can make the young players in Syracuse develop quicker, better, and can understand what it means to be a pro.
In my view, we’re going to have a real strong team this coming season, both with our young players and our veteran players.
Also looking to the future, my colleague at Raw Charge had this to point out:
The 2014-15 season for the Bolts top minor league affiliate should be an interesting one, as former 1st round draft picks Slater Koekkoek and Andrei Vasilevskiy will be among other Lightning prospects who make their AHL debuts this season.
I missed most of the action today, but many other people were able to cover it in my stead. Since they’ve all pretty much said what I would, it seems silly for me to sit here and dissect the Syracuse Crunch’s schedule since you’ve all probably been there and done that already. However, just in case you missed something, here’s some links and some reaction tweets from today.
My reaction is basically one of pleasure, in that I was glad to see competition against our new Northeast Division rivals increase. From the official release linked to above:
The Crunch will face 14 opponents from four divisions during the 2014-15 season. Rochester and Binghamton join the Crunch’s division rivals, Albany, Bridgeport, Hartford and Springfield as the club’s most frequent opponent with eight games each. The Crunch will play 32 of their 76 games against Northeast Division opponents (Albany 8, Bridgeport 8, Hartford 8 and Springfield 8). Syracuse has 22 contests against the East Division (Binghamton 8, Hershey 4, Norfolk 4, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 4 and Lehigh Valley 2) and 18 games against the Western Conference’s North Division (Adirondack 4, Rochester 8, and Utica 6).
I don’t ever remember a divisional schedule that equal before. That’s awesome, because it gives us the best chance at gaining crucial divisional points. While I am disappointed in the continued heavy presence of Rochester on our schedule, it’s more of a resigned disappointment than anything else. I get why we play Rochester with the frequency that we do, and I know it won’t change. With the divisional realignment, we are now in the same boat with Binghamton, to some extent, although at least the B-Sens are still an Eastern Conference rival. I AM happy that we will only be seeing each team 8 times, as opposed to the 10 or 12 it’s been in the past.
Also in the “resigned disappointment” category is the lack of true Western Conference teams. But, again, I get it. The schedule will never please anyone totally, and understandable concessions need to made.
As my colleague over at RC pointed out in those tweets linked here, Syracuse has a lot of back-to-backs this season, something that will push the conditioning of a fairly young team to the limit. But, the Crunch also has plenty of AHL workhorses in JP Cote, Mike Blunden, Jerome Samson, Mike Angelidis, Eric Neilson, Joey Mormina, etc. Those players know how this league works and should have the conditioning needed to carry some of the younger guys if needed.
Forward Jeff Costello was originally a bit of question mark for the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. He seemed to be a bit if a throw in player when the Lightning traded for defenseman Jason Garrison. Tampa Bay’s exclusivity rights to Costello expired on August 15, and assistant general manager Julien BriseBois originally said that the organization liked what they saw during the Lightning’s summer prospect camp in Brandon, Florida, but wasn’t quite ready to pull the trigger on signing the forward. The thought process was that Costello would be invited to the Lightning’s training camp in fall and the that brass would see from there whether they wanted to offer him a contract.
For whatever reason, that process has been skipped ahead, and the result is a pretty solid depth signing for Syracuse. Costello was signed to an AHL contract today, per the Syracuse Crunch:
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – The Syracuse Crunch have signed left wing Jeff Costello to a one-year, AHL contract Crunch General Manager Julien BriseBois announced today.
Costello, 23, recently completed a four-year career at the University of Notre Dame (Hockey East). As a captain during the 2013-14 season the winger posted 22 points (13g, 9a) in 40 games for the Irish. During his collegiate career Costello totaled 82 points (41g, 41a) in 145 games. A native of Milwaukee, Wis., Costello was drafted in the fifth round, 146th overall, of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft by the Ottawa Senators. The Lightning acquired the rights to Costello on June 27 as part of a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.
Costello earned a bit of a name for himself this past summer when he shattered the glass during the Lightning’s prospect camp. Costello was also a part of the winning team during that camp’s 3-on-3 tourney.
If you’ve been following any AHL bloggers at all within the past few weeks, you’ve might have heard some kind of hubbub about the AHL expanding west. You also may have heard rebuttals/refusals to believe from people like myself, supported by those that actually work for the league, about it all being a bunch of crap. Certain writers and bloggers have been citing random sources that AHL teams have been purchased by NHL clubs, with those clubs then having an intent to move their team west. Mixed in with this all has been rumors and speculation about the CHL/ECHL/AHL switching cities, teams, joining forces, building the perfect Justice League and going off to fight crime. Or something.
Well, not-so-surprisingly, it certainly seems as though certain people have let their imagination run away with them. Chris Roy of The Maine Hockey Journal published this article today, citing several real sources (with names and everything!!) debunking every single rumor we’ve heard. It’s absolutely worth your time. Read, share, and preach.
(By the way: hi, everyone. I’m not dead.)
From the show’s official episode synopsis:
Alex made her return to the Power Play Post Show to talk about the Syracuse Crunch‘s very off 2013-14 season which included many injuries, call-ups and situations that left the Crunch struggling most of the season. Alex also talked about late AHL trade deadline acquisitions by the Crunch and how a player like Jonathan Marchessault will help the Crunch in this upcoming season. Lastly Alex and Bob talked about the Crunch’s move from the East Division to the Northeast Division for the upcoming season and effects that it will now have on the scheduling for East and Northeast teams.
If I remember correctly, I also rambled about the Tampa Bay Lightning, the relationship we have in this affiliation in comparison to previews affiliations, Ryan Callahan, smaller rink sizes and physicality, our previous problems with Russian players, Mike Blunden, and a couple of defensemen in a pear tree. I also continued my tradition of absolutely butchering players’ names, except this time I got to do it where everyone could hear me.
(Again, so many apologies, Andrei Vasilevski)
In addition to my rambles, hosts Bob and Megan discussed the new AHL divisions and the rules changes for the upcoming AHL season. They gave their views on the new overtime, fighting and helmet rules (you can read my views on this here). They also took a look at the eight (holy crap, EIGHT?!) AHL head coaching changes that have occurred during this off season.
If you haven’t clicked the link yet, please do so and support the show by giving it a listen! You can follow the Bob and the Power Play Post Show on Twitter, and you can also give Megan a follow as well. You can also like the Show on Facebook. Big thanks to the show for having me on again, it was great to be back!