Wrapping up 2015-16

So here we are. The Big Club plays on; the Sound Tigers have gone their separate ways for the summer. Twitter will be awash with lacrosse before you know it. (mute hashtag ctlax if you don’t want to know, but come on, it’ll be fun.)

The end is always sudden. I guess there’s no sense having guys hang out a few days before exit meetings, but this year’s get-off-the-plane-and-let’s-chat was pretty immediate. (Good thing I didn’t drive up there, I guess.)

This group talked a lot about character, right from last July. It was a fun group to be around.

But it’s summer.


Contract status, as we’ve got it:

As of 4/15 (Toews), 31 NHL contracts for 2016-17 (4 G, 12 D, 15 F), including Barzal and Beauvillier, who I don’t think count if sent to junior before playing 10 NHL games. Numbers in parentheses for signed players are years remaining on the contract; those without numbers are signed only through next season. All signed players are NHL deals unless noted. Lots of help, as you can surely expect, from the lamented CapGeek (RIP, Matthew Wuest), GeneralFanager.com and other sources. Corrections welcomed.
SIGNED: Thomas Greiss, Jaroslav Halak (2), Johnny Boychuk (6), Calvin de Haan, Travis Hamonic (4), Thomas Hickey (2), Nick Leddy (6), Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock (2), Josh Bailey (2), Mathew Barzal (3), Anthony Beauvillier (3), Cal Clutterbuck, Mikhail Grabovski (2), Joshua Ho-Sang (3), Nikolai Kulemin (2), Anders Lee (3), Brock Nelson (2), John Tavares (2)
GROUP 2: J.F. Berube, Casey Cizikas, Kirill Petrov, Shane Prince, Alan Quine, Ryan Strome, James Wright (V)
GROUP 3: Brian Strait, Marek Zidlicky, Steve Bernier, Eric Boulton, Matt Martin, Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo

SIGNED: Eamon McAdam (3), Stephon Williams, Kyle Burroughs (2), Matt Carkner (AHL) (V), Matt Finn, Jesse Graham, Loic Leduc, Devon Toews (3), Sebastian Collberg, Michael Dal Colle (3), Tanner Fritz (AHL), Ross Johnston (2), Kyle Schempp (2), Carter Verhaeghe (2)
GROUP 2: Christopher Gibson, Scott Mayfield, Justin Vaive
GROUP 3: Ben Holmstrom (V), Marc-Andre Cliche (V), Bracken Kearns (V), Joe Whitney (V-320)
GROUP 6: Kevin Czuczman, Justin Florek (V-320), Mike Halmo
AHL: Parker Milner, Bryce Aneloski, Patrick Cullity, Kane Lafranchise, C.J. Ludwig, Tyler Barnes, Jared Gomes, Anthony Greco, Josh Holmstrom, Connor Jones, Colin Markison, Jesse Root, Andrew Rowe, Sebastien Sylvestre
UNSIGNED DRAFT PICK: Parker Wotherspoon

Group 2 players are restricted free agents if given a qualifying offer by 5 p.m. on, this year, June 27. The other free agents are all unrestricted. (V) indicates he’ll be a veteran next year by AHL rule. (V-320) means he’ll be a veteran but will qualify as that one exempt player a night with 320 or fewer pro games that qualify. Joe Whitney’s last game this season was the 319th of his pro career, which I guess is at least a tiny sliver of silver lining from a super-dark cloud.


Hershey finished off Portland tonight — welcome to the second round, Aaron Ness — which completes the little explainer we do in this spot (or one nearby) every year. You know the one: The Sound Tigers last won a playoff series in 2003.

Since then, each of the other 29 franchises in the league has won at least one series; Lake Erie was the last team left ahead of them.

We used to have a whole list of things that had happened since then, teams that have won playoff rounds, teams that have won in different cities, cities that have won with different teams. But frankly, with seven teams moving last summer, it’s more complicated than it’s worth to do that. There are lists at the bottom of this post that hopefully get you where you need to go.

The simple fact is that first fact. And only three other teams have longer droughts without a best-of-7 series win; Lake Erie could again get out of their way in the next couple of weeks. It is harder now to win a best-of-7 than it was for most of the era in question, since the first round has been best-of-5 since 2012 and only four teams can win a best-of-7 every year. (Still, of those 16 chances, 11 different teams have done it.)

Some bits that used to be footnotes:

  • The Phantoms franchise, treated as a single entity by the league, hasn’t made the playoffs since it left Philadelphia in 2009. Its last playoff-series win was the year before.
  • As parent clubs, only Colorado (2002) and Phoenix (earlier 2003) have longer farm-club playoff droughts than the Islanders’.
  • Rochester hasn’t won a playoff series since 2005?
  • Remember when all this used to take up, like, a paragraph?

1. Bridgeport 2003. 2. Rochester 2005. 3. Lehigh Valley* (as Philadelphia) 2008. 4. San Jose* (as Worcester Sharks), 2010. 5. Portland, Binghamton, St. John’s^ (as Hamilton), Milwaukee, Iowa* (as Houston), Charlotte 2011. 11. San Antonio, Stockton* (as Abbotsford – none in Adirondack) 2012. 13. Springfield, Syracuse 2013. 15. Manitoba^ (as St. John’s), Providence, Chicago, Texas 2014. 19. Hartford, Rockford, Utica, Bakersfield* (as Oklahoma City) 2015. 23. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Lake Erie, Grand Rapids, Albany#, Toronto, Ontario, San Diego, Hershey 2016.

1. San Antonio* never (as Adirondack Red Wings 1994). 2. Lake Erie* never (IHL as Utah, 1996). 3. Springfield 1997. 4. Bridgeport 2002. 5. Rochester, Albany# (as Lowell Lock Monsters) 2005. 7. Lehigh Valley* (as Philadelphia), Rockford 2008. 9. Providence 2009. 10. Stockton* (as Abbotsford – none in Adirondack), San Jose* (as Worcester Sharks), Hershey, Chicago 2010. 14. Iowa* (as Houston), Charlotte, Milwaukee, St. John’s^ (as Hamilton), Portland, Binghamton 2011. 20. San Diego* (as Norfolk) 2012. 21. Syracuse, Bakersfield* (as Oklahoma City) 2013. 23. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Manitoba^ (as St. John’s), Toronto, Texas 2014. 27. Ontario* (as Manchester), Hartford, Utica, Grand Rapids 2015.

*-Has not won in current hometown
#-Devils franchise hadn’t won since Lowell in 2005 (as a Carolina/Calgary affiliate), but the Albany River Rats (now Charlotte) won there in 2010. A New Jersey affiliate hadn’t won a playoff round since 1998.
^-What’s in the list follows the moves of the actual franchises. The AHL treats them differently, with the IceCaps continuous, the Moose reborn after a hiatus, and the Bulldogs uninvolved. The IceCaps, under the league’s reckoning, won in St. John’s in 2014. Manitoba won in 2011, its last year before hiatus.


The annual exit interviews. And the annual note that the questions/lead-ins are rough, not word-for-word. I asked most of them what stood out about this group (mostly to see how many times I could hear the word “character”), and I asked a few of them what made this season different from past years when the team would hit a lull and never seem to recover from it.

On the team: “If I had to describe it in one word, I’d say ‘character.'” It was a great group of guys. Great character guys. We deserved a better fate than what happened to us — in the playoffs, I mean.”

On his season: “It was obviously a fresh start for me, a new team. The organization treated me very, very well.”

Thompson called him a utility guy, who could play pretty much anywhere: “I embraced that role. I had a lot of fun playing it as well with a good group and a good team. It was a lot of fun.”

Couldn’t have been fun watching: “It’s obviously a really hard thing for do for any athlete sitting in the crowd watching, whether you’re hurt or healthy. It’s close to three months now. It’s coming along. … I don’t know when I can get on the ice yet. I’m excited for next year.”

Success here has to give you something for next year: ‘It gives me some confidence for next year. (The injury) took the wind out of my sails. I’m going to regain that confidence.”

Headed to South Carolina? “I’m living down there this summer.”

Specifics on the injury: Taking a Ryan Pulock slapper off the ankle is not advised. “Soft shot. (grin) He’s got one of the hardest shots I’ve seen. I was just screening the goalie in front of the net on the power play. It came at me. I tried to get out of the way the best I could. It caught me pretty good right at the lower part of the shin pad/top of the skate. It broke my tibia all the way through.”

Wait. It broke your tibia? “Yeah.”

Good gravy. No surgery, right? “No, they splinted it, they casted it. Actually, when it comes to breaking your tibia, I was lucky.”

What stands out to you about this group? “I don’t know. Everybody’s going to say the same thing about the character on the team. Every team goes through ups and downs through the year. Even early in the season we won a lot of games in the third period. There was that one game at Providence where we were two goals down with no time left, and we pulled it out in overtime.”

Strong start, dip in the middle: What brought this team back? “It’s a long season. We did have that hot start. We hit a lull in the middle. Everybody hung together. That’s the only way you’re going to get through the ups and downs.”

Toronto is obviously a strong AHL team: Were there things you thought you as a team could’ve done better, or just tip your cap? “It’s playoff hockey. You’ve got to be as close to perfect as you can. Unfortunately when we did make mistakes, they were on them, and when they made mistakes, in Game 1 we hit posts; last night we had breakaways. We had to find ways to finish. (With some of those, maybe Bridgeport wins some games).

How do you look back on this year for you personally? “I think for me it was nice to be healthy the whole season. Last year I wasn’t healthy all the way through. It’s just the team’s success. … As a player, I can see things I can get better at. It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 years old and coming in or 35 and on the way out, you have to work and get better.”

Stands out about this team: “I think we had a character team. I’m proud of the guys. We were never too flashy or overly skilled.”

Playoffs: Up against a lot. Could have done more, or tip your cap? “You tip your cap, and I thought we were competitive in the second game. We could have won if a couple of those power-play shots found their way in. The third game, we had it in our hands, and we let it slip. We got swept, but at the same time, we were in the games.”

This season for you: “I think for me I wasn’t sure how I was going to come back from Europe. I was lucky to play with really good players, Whitney, a lot of guys along the way. They definitely made it easier for me to readjust into the AHL. Still, looking at it, it’s obviously disappointing (ending) but obviously a successful year. Hopefully they’ll bring back some of the same guys next year so we can keep building up.”

Hard year with the injury: How do you look at it? “It’s disappointing because I was feeling good at the beginning. We had a good group of guys; maybe I would’ve been able to contribute more down the stretch. In my opinion, the more important part of the season is the second half and the playoffs. I would’ve liked to help the guys out as much as I could. It was tough watching. That’s kind of the way it goes. Now it’s regroup and just get back to summer training.”

We heard whispers: Was it possible you’d return at some point here? “Anything’s possible, Scoops. No, I don’t think I would’ve. They were talking about mid-June. (If they did make it that far, he’d still have to get in game shape.) Hopefully I remember how to skate.”

On the injury: “It got twisted in Portland, kind of a scrum, and I think somebody fell on it, just broke the tibia and the fibula. And obviously the tibia’s the worse one, load-bearing.”

Things the team could’ve done better against Toronto? “I think we could’ve controlled momentum a little better. There were times we were up, and they’d score a goal, and they just kept going. We had no response after that. … That was pretty big for us. We didn’t really know how to cope with that. They’re a good team. They outplayed us most of the series. But I thought we could’ve stolen a game or two of those three.”

What’ll you remember about this group: “This was a hard-working group. It boiled down to everyone really cared for each other. It was a really good group. There was no animosity. Everyone really liked each other, and it showed on the ice.”

You’ve been here around some of those teams that had good starts, hit a lull and never really recovered: What was different? “It was just character. The leadership of guys like Holmstrom, Kearns, Carkner. When you’ve got a guy like Holmstrom who comes to play every day, shutting down the other teams’ top lines, it’s hard not to jump on board. You want to be there with him.”

On his own season: “I struggled the first half, but I was pretty happy with the second half of the year. I steadied myself there. I would’ve loved to get a lot deeper in the playoffs.”

Personally: “It was a different year. Ever since after Christmas, there was a lot of ups and downs: suspension, being hurt, so going through all that is adversity, missing games for injury. … I was happy with how I played. I grew a lot with a leadership role, which I can bring to the organization.”

You’d talked at the start about improving your offensive game: How about that? Carrying the puck a lot more, too… “Especially after my first call-up, I started really producing more offensively. If you look at the points, I’m sure they’re better, too. It’s something I’ve always got to keep working on. … For me to get to the next level, I’ve got to make sound plays with the puk.”

Team-wise: “We had a lot of character on this team, probably one of the best groups I’ve played with. Every single guy brought a different attitude, a different feeling, but at the same time we all had the same goal in mind. This was the hardest working team I’ve been a part of. … This year was a step in the right direction. To get to the playoffs is a good step, but it’s not our end goal.”

Has played at this level, but coming up at midseason: “I wasn’t frustrated down there, just trying to get up here. Getting the call, it was great having the coaching staff behind me. (They) believed in me.”

“It was an easy team to fit into. Everyone was so welcoming. The character was outstanding.”

On the injury/surgery: “That game here when I got hit from behind, it was my shoulder. (after trying it for three games) I rehabbed it for a few days to see if it’d heal. We got together before the last weekend, and it didn’t really go how we’d hoped. It was still kind of loose. … I think it was kind of the thing I could possibly have played through, but the risk/reward: With this, I’ll be ready for camp. Without, if I took another hit, I might miss the first half of next season.”

On his season: “The second half, into the stretch, my all-around game was able to be more consistent. That’s one thing I need to focus on, every game.”

“Sometimes at the end of the year, you look back, and there are little pockets of guys that didn’t fit in, didn’t hang out, didn’t talk much. There’s no one on this team I would say didn’t fit in. It was a good core, and we were able to build off that.”

“We faced some adversity, losing some key guys and battling through it all. The playoffs, obviously, didn’t go the way we would’ve liked. I don’t think we played to the best of our abilities. … We stuck together all year.”

Asked, since he’d been in the organization at least, if he had a sense of what made this year different for this group than the past few years; “We had a little older leadership group. Holmstrom, myself, Bracken Kearns, Whitney, Wright, some older guys in there. We made sure it didn’t sway too far. The coaching staff did a great job keeping us in the loop with theirr plans. We tried to relay the message to the guys.”

Personally? “It was a step for me toward the coaching experience and away from playing. Playing, for me, it’s been unbelievable. I want to play as long as I can. At certain points, you kind of realize your body can’t handle the rigors. That’s what I kind of ran into. … Brent did a great job monitoring my body, getting me in. I played 42 games. I want to play them all. … I’ll see how I feel at the end of the year. The big thing is I wish I was able to be the player I know I can be. I was disappointed not to be able to get to that level. I did my best.”

So next year is something you’ll think about? “I don’t ever rush into a decision. It’s not something that has to be done tomorrow. I’m here, whatever my role is.”

Personally: “I thought it went pretty well. I was happy with how the year went on. I thought I developed a lot. I got pretty much a lot of experience, played a lot of games, a lot of minutes with the injuries we had, the call-ups. I’m looking forward to building more so, just confidence in my puck plays and a little edge to my game again.”

Personally, coming to a new organization: “The beginning was tough, to be honest, coming to a new organization, not knowing anything about it, but the guys were really nice with me. It felt like home after a few weeks. It was a great team to be a part of. We worked hard every day. I was happy to get the opportunity to be here, and really glad to get the opportunity with the Islanders.”

“Of course, it was great to get to the NHL. It’s what you dream of your entire life. I always think everything happens for a reason. My reason wasn’t to play in the NHL in Toronto, it was to play in the NHL for the Islanders.”

“There are ups and downs. You just have to battle through them. I developed this year, and now going back to Long Island to practice, even more.”

What he got out of these few weeks: “I just wanted to make an impression. Being a young guy, I wanted to go out and play my game, do what I can to contribute to the team winning. … “Every game I felt I grew a lot. Even in the last game, I felt stronger with my confidence level.

“(Summer’s about getting stronger.) I’ve seen how big and fast the guys are up here.”

On his season: “I felt I came in and tried to assert myself as an everyday player in this league. … It was more gaining confidence, starting to play your role.”

“Just learning to be an everyday pro. It’s a lot different coming in here. You’ve really got no idea. You’ve got to play your game, pick up speed, pick up pace in every aspect of the game.”

On his season personally, which led into the team: “I was able to take strides in my defensive game, especially the penalty kill. Playing with Holmstrom all year on the penalty kill was a pleasure. We had instant chemistry. I learned a lot from Bogy and Tommer. It was a great group, a really hard-working group.”

Coming up and getting established: “It was a great opportunity. It felt like an easy transition for me, because I was playing with such good players.”

Was that Gomes-Jones-Markison line as much fun to play on as it was to watch? “We had a lot of energy, good, positive vibes on the bench. It was kind of nice, knowing what each other was thinking, where we were going to be, and all of us, all three, we’d talk.”

What he got out of these few weeks: “It was great, my first taste of pro hockey. It obviously didn’t go the way we wanted it to go, but personally, I learned a lot.”

Like what? “Just the pro game. Being in the room, seeing the way they carry themselves on and off the ice. It’s a completely different atmosphere.”

Next step this summer: “For me, just continue, obviously, it’s a big offseason. I’ve got to continue to work on my skating. That’s probably going to be a big part of my game.”

“I learned a lot this year, just getting better as the season rolled along. Now I’ll just take in everything this summer and bring it next year.”

We’d talked a lot, even this week, but facing the mental adversity of the season: “It was tough, but knowing that I was learning the game, I went along, knowing I was getting better helped out. I think after I got sent down and called back up, it was kind of a kick in the butt. I didn’t want to go back down. Now I know what it takes to stay here.”

So how about that debut? “It was a lot of fun. It was a great experience. Obviously the circumstances weren’t the easiest, but I’m glad I got the chance.”

Any surprises? “I don’t think anything surprised me. Being a hockey player, you know as you get higher up, the play’s going to speed up. That was the main thing, I felt. They’re right on top of you. The game’s just faster. The puck moves quicker.”

Nice having Fritz with you? “I missed playing with him this year.”

On that Gomes-Jones-Markison line: “I really liked playing with those guys. Each guy gave his all every shift. I know I did that. I felt as the year progressed, the last month or so, we put in a little more offense, learning what spots to go to.”

And also getting some chances higher up the lineup: “I wanted to contribute any way I can. It was nice to finally put some pucks in the net. You like to score goals. I’ve done it before. I got some power-play time, playing the second line, the third line, I can’t ask for anything more.”

Looking at the season, going from a tryout to a steady role: “It’s a grind. It’s a long year. There were a lot of ups and downs. I felt I worked hard to earn that spot. … I can’t say enough about Tommer and Bogy. Them saying I made the team right out of camp was a really special thing.”

On the ATO: “It was a great experience being here, learning the culture of the room, what the coaches want.”

This summer: “Just getting bigger, faster, stronger.”

Toronto was an elite AHL team. Tip your cap, or were there things you wanted to do better? “I think we played hard. The effort was there. At the end of the day, they capitalized on their opportunities more than we did ours. They are an elite team. I still feel we gave them a good series. We competed hard throughout the series. We had breakdowns, and they made us pay. We do definitely have to tip our hat to Toronto. They earned the right to move on like we earned our playoff spot.”

Hot start, lull: What was different this year to bring it back? “Just like our first year here together, the leadership and character we have in the room. They stayed the course. They didn’t veer off. They believed we could succeed. Whether it was injuries, call-ups, it was an opportunity to step up. … Whether it was Rowe in those 10 games when he won us some games. Cullity getting called up and solidifying, being a leader on the back end. Whether the leadership of Kearns, Holmstrom, Carkner. In the big picture, everyone on the team stepped up and helped us as a team get better.”

Anyone whose development you’d point to, in particular? “Look at our whole team. I like the blue-collar effort. They worked extremely hard. They evolved as a group. They played hard for each other. … Individually, Alan Quine, it’s been a two-year process. I’m happy for him. He finally bought into playing more physical, his play away from the puck. (With his offensive gifts), add the other stuff in, and he’s playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Guys like Pulock and Pelech in the NHL. Pulock’s a first-rounder, everyone expects him to be there, but his play away from the puck, defensively, little things in his game, whether it’s defensive battles in front of the net, improving that side to his game from his first year. I look at Loic Leduc. He played limited minutes, but he’s probably one of our most-improved players. It’s good to see a kid like that learning to be a reliable 6/7 (defenseman) playing in the American Hockey League. Burroughs coming up from the ECHL to be solid in the American League. Look at Markison, Jones, establishing themselves as American League guys. Goaltending: Gibson was great. Look at Willy, ending up overcoming adversity, going to Missouri and coming back a different goalie, working extremely hard to solidify himself.”

You as a coach, anything different for you this year? “As a staff we worked very hard, I think, to help the players here, whether it was the 25, 24 guys, whatever, at the time. Overall, I don’t think you can ever be satisfied. I’m happy with the regular season, happy with the playoffs: I’m really disappointed we didn’t upset Toronto. Our ultimate goal here is to win the Calder Cup. We didn’t do that; it hurts. It’s a good group of guys.

Michael Fornabaio