Now that the season is over, I will play armchair general manager and provide my thoughts on the current roster and coaching staff. I have categorized them by position and whom I think should be in Calgary. This is based solely on the players that I was able to observe this year.
Who should be in Calgary
Rasmus Andersson, Spencer Foo, David Rittich and Tyler Wotherspoon
Andersson took control of the defense this season. He and Wotherspoon were steady and both were among league leaders in points. This tandem was the steady force all year for the most solid core of the team. Andersson can easily be a constant 5/6 and Wotherspoon can fill Bartkowski’s skates being a 6/7.
Foo fills the need for a right wing, probably on either the second or third line. He drives the net while playing a two-way game. He may start in Stockton, but will finish the year in Calgary. He would be better prepared by adding some muscle.
Rittich needs a steady camp. He needs to know he has a solid shot at the back up position. He needs meaningful preseason games and a solid schedule of between 20 and 25 starts next year. I have commented before and I will re-state here: I would expect something like a 10-7-2-3 record with a .910 save percentage and a 2.50 GAA. Getting 25 points in 22 games is respectable.
Assuming Andersson and Wotherspoon are in Calgary, here are the remaining defensemen.
Keepers: Josh Healey, Oliver Kylington, Cody Goloubef, Dalton Prout, Kayle Doetzel, Colby Robak
Both Healey and Kylington are under contract. Both should return to the Heat.
I would bring back Goloubef on a one-year, two-way contract. He led all Heat defensemen with eight goals. He has a hard shot and plays a good defensive game. He is the Yin to Kylington’s Yang. They mesh well together. He doesn’t throw his body around, but he is effective. I can see him and Kylington as top defensive pairing next season.
I would sign Robak to an AHL deal. I thought he was the better of the two rotating sixth defensemen (Healey being the other). His offensive game is better than Healey’s. He does not throw as many hits as Healey, but is a better skater. He just needs to be a little more consistent, but that comes with playing every night.
I would sign Prout to a one-year AHL contract. You don’t notice him that much, which is sometimes good for a defensemen. He finishes his checks, he moves people out of the crease, and he has a good shot when he takes it. I could see him and Robak as second pair next season.
Doetzel should be brought back on an AHL contract only. He would make a good bottom pair player.
Tweener: Adam Ollas-Mattsson
When he played, he was a solid number five defensemen. But after 14 games, he was hurt and did not see the ice the remainder of the year. He is 21, which bodes well for a return. But does he want to return and does the Flames organization want him back?
Do not sign: Oleg Yevenko
I would personally drive Yevenko to the airport. He is big and can fight but he is a defensive liability on the ice. He is often out of position and is very slow to recover.
On the current roster the Heat show nine centers. Some are clearly wingers, so I will just mention the ones I know are centers for sure. Glenn Gawdin will be ticketed for a spot in Stockton, but because he was not here, he is exempt from this list. I did not actually see Brodie Dupont play, so have no idea of his game.
Keepers: Colin Smith, Mike McMurtry, Marek Hrivik
Since coming over from Wilkes-Barre, Smith has shown he can fill top line center. He has good vision, a flat pass, and can shoot. I would sign him to a one-year, two-way contract.
McMurtry is bigger, plays a heavier game than Smith, has a good shot, and has experience. An AHL-only contract is not out of the question.
Hrivik brings experience that will be needed for the young wingers. He could also be a candidate for a letter. A one-year, two-way contract is warranted.
Do not sign: Rod Pelley, Brett Findlay
Pelley was named captain solely based on his age and experience. On the ice, he is a good faceoff guy. Other than that, he was the fourth line checking center with eight points (four goals, four assists).
Findlay had his moments, but was scratched for 18 games. He ended with 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) but was invisible most nights and not memorable.
This team is void of right wingers. On the final roster, there are three listed. All others are either listed as left wing or centers. Let’s have some fun!
Keepers: Morgan Klimchuk, Dillon Dube, Emile Poirier, Brett Pollock, Andrew Mangiapane, Ryan Lomberg, Luke Gazdic
Klimchuk is an RFA and quietly produced a 40-point season. I say quietly because I cannot remember a single game where I said “Wow.” He goes about his business without flash. Interesting that he sat the final three games though. [Editor’s note: all indications are that Klimchuk’s absences were due to injury.]
Dube played right wing on the top line during his six games here. He charged the net, skated fast, got into the dirty areas, and really fit in well. Listed as a center, he may be better as top line RW. He is signed to a three-year entry-level contract.
Poirier (RFA) is a strange bird. There are days he looks like he owns the ice and other days he looks like he doesn’t want to be there. He has speed and crisp shot, but he cherrypicks a lot. And I mean a lot! There are times when it appears the team is playing 5-on-4 as he is cruising around the opposing blue line looking for a breakaway. He was a healthy scratch during the Cleveland road trip and came back into the line up on fire. If he plays like he did the final 15 or so games, he is worth re-signing to no longer than a one-year, two-way deal.
Pollock broke out of his shell while in Texas. His hat trick lit a fire and he became a consistent player from that point. Listed as a center, he found a home and flourished on the wing. He is signed through next season.
Mangiapane finished the year on injured reserve. He will start the season in Stockton and become the first call-up. He is signed through next season.
Lomberg is the heart and soul of the team. He spent most of the first quarter of the season playing center. After his move back to wing, it felt like his game returned to what is was last year. He is signed through next season.
Gazdic (UFA) is my controversial signing, as long as it is an AHL contract only. He can fight, which is something this team needs. He is a fourth line winger and penalty killer only. He is a good locker room guy and off-ice player. He can teach the younger players how to act both on and off the ice. When he was signed at the beginning of the season, I heard the first thing he did was go to the Heat and ask what and where he can volunteer. He earned his A and could be a candidate for either the C or an A next season if signed.
One side note about both Gazdic and Lomberg: at the Season Ticket Holder BBQ, both players were more involved with the fans instead of congregating with other players. I also noticed Gazdic surveying the crowd keeping track of the other players to make sure they were interacting with the fans.
Tweeners: Hunter Shinkaruk, Austin Carroll, Darren Nowick
Shinkaruk (RFA) is like Jekyll and Hyde. There are days when he is the best player and days he seems like it is his first day on the team. When he loses focus, he plays recklessly. If they brought him back, it would have to be a one-year deal only (and I could wear my game worn jersey). But if he was to be let go, I would not be heartbroken, besides limiting my jersey wearing.
Carroll’s story is a bit mind-boggling. He started the preseason game on the top line. The next week, at the opening game, he was a healthy scratch and continued to be for the next 20 games or so. So what happened during the week between preseason and start of the season? To this day, it hasn’t been revealed what happened. Last season Carroll was a consistent contributor. He played in 41 games this season, mostly on the fourth line with Pelley and Gazdic, but seeing time on the top two lines at times. He is a 21-year-old RFA right wing. I would like him back, but don’t know what damage he did at the beginning of the season.
Nowick was a mid-season call up from Kansas City. Playing mostly on the bottom six, he needs work. I could see them signing him to an ECHL contract with an occasional call-up, but he does not bring anything special.
Keepers: Jon Gillies, Ryan Faragher, Tyler Parsons, Nick Schneider
This is predicated on Rittich being Mike Smith’s backup. Gillies is the third best goalie in the system. Does he have his flaws? Yes (did I ever mention that he has a tendency to give up goals high side?) but those can be fixed with a proper goalie coach. He just completed his second full year where he spent time in Calgary. He was better this year than last, which shows progress. There are times he was over-used and could have benefited from a night off in back-to-back games. If he has a good camp, I can see him as Smith’s back up and Rittich starting the season in Stockton.
Faragher is a quality backup. He is a bit older than the other two and provided five quality starts during the Smith injury when both Gillies and Rittich were gone. His 4-1-0 record with a 1.55 GAA, a .949 save percentage is not sustainable, but if he is anywhere close to that, he will serve very well as an experienced backup.
Parsons suffered through injuries all season. In the few games I saw him, he looked like he will be good, but he needs more ice time than Stockton can provide. He should start in Kansas City and be brought up if one of the other two goes down.
Schneider will serve as the backup to Parsons in Kansas City. He is young and straight out of juniors. Even though he played 15 games for the Heat in 2015 (on an emergency basis), he needs time in the ECHL.
Move: Mason McDonald
Even though he came in and provided two huge wins, McDonald has been in the system longer than the other goalies and cannot beat out the others. Parsons will supplant him in Kansas City and Schneider will take over his playing time.
[ed. Probably worth noting this was written before Glen Gulutzan was fired.]
This is not as cut and dried as it appears. One has to wonder which is the problem: the system being used or the coaching staff that implements the system. To reiterate a question from commenter “Free The Flame”: is the job of the AHL coach to prepare his players for the next level, to build the knowledge of the parent club’s system, or to build a winning tradition for the farm club? As a season ticket holder for the Heat, I want a team that wins and makes the playoffs. As much as I want to see the prospects succeed at the next level, I want to enjoy watching their progression while they are here. I want a successful farm system that produces a few players every year to fill the needs of the parent club.
Positives: Would Huska play a different style if given the chance? I can only speculate here if he was allowed to play “his style” in the last week of the season. Two wins against Ontario by a combined score of 11-5, and the fastest I have seen this team play, suggest that if this was his system, he knows how to use his players correctly.
The other positive trait I witnessed this year about Huska is he’s quick to shuffle forward lines when things are not going well. There were only a few games where the lines remained the same throughout the game.
Negatives: It is hard to build chemistry with linemates when you are constantly teamed with different players. The only few constants were the top two defensive pairs. I could write down Andersson/Wotherspoon and Kylington/Goloubef before I arrived at the rink. The bottom pair was shuffled between Ollas-Mattsson, Prout, Robak, Healey and Yevenko.
In the beginning of the season, I could also pencil in Mangiapane-Jankowski-Hathaway as the top line. Once Jankowski left, a host of centers were inserted on the top line. Hrivik, Findlay and even Lomberg all centered that line.
Just like in Calgary, more often than not, the fourth line was trotted out after the opponent scored. Huska would not shorten his bench when trailing. There is no reason Pelley, Gazdic and Carroll should have seen any ice time when trailing in the final game in the third period.
His goalie management still baffles me. It is bad enough to send out the same goalie in back-to-back nights. But late in the season to not use the goalie (Faragher) that had not allowed more than two goals in ANY game he appeared in, and going with a goalie who clearly had lost his confidence, is not smart. Even if he was instructed to ride Gillies and Rittich until they dropped, he should have the intestinal fortitude to say “this is my team and I need to do what I feel is the best for this team to win.” He owes it to the Heat fans to ice the best possible team to win.
It is obvious that the goalie use and issues (rebound control, dropping too early, leaving the top side open, etc.) have not been resolved, which falls on Colin Zulianello. Enough said.
Domenic Pittis is in charge of the offense. The Heat finished 23rd in the league on the power play with a 16.2% conversion rate. They finished with 211 GF, which ranked 16th in the league. The issues I have with the offense are the cross-ice and no-look passes, overpassing the puck, that stupid drop pass on the power play, and the predictable pass to the right wing when coming into the zone. When a fan sitting eight rows up behind the goalie can predict the entry pass, just think what scouts are seeing to game plan for the Heat.
Cail MacLean is in charge of the defense, which was the true bright spot of this team. He was Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations for the Flames ECHL team while in Adirondack. In two seasons, he went 79-48-17.
Overall coaches review: In my opinion, I would relieve all coaches except Cail MacLean. I can see the organization promoting him to Head Coach or, at a minimum, retaining him for his defensive mind. New offensive and goalie coaches are needed.
Next year the Pacific Division will have seven teams, as both Texas and San Antonio move to the Central, while Colorado gets bumped up from the ECHL to the AHL (San Antonio becomes the St. Louis affiliate while the Avalanche move closer to home). My guess would be that Grand Rapids gets moved from the Central to the North Division, but I have not found out definitely who is moving. The division will still only play 68 games, as opposed to the 76 the other divisions play. This allows for the Pacific to go to points instead of percentages, which will make it easier to track.