Griffins On The Outside Looking In
Epic losing streaks lead to no postseason for third time in four years...
By Jason Kasiorek
April 12, 2011
After going on one of the hottest stretches in the AHL for about 6 weeks in an attempt to lock down the last playoff spot in the conference, the Grand Rapids Griffins fell short and fell apart, losing 8 of their last 9 games. The stumble at the end just put an exclamation point on what has been an abysmal season for the top farm club of the Detroit Red Wings. In the broader picture it is also the second year in a row under Head Coach Curt Fraser that this team has failed to qualify for the postseason. And if you throw in Mike Stothers, it is the third time in four years, hardly a track record of success, especially with a team affiliated with the NHL poster child for winning, the Detroit Red Wings.
GM Bob McNamara has a lot of things to consider when putting together next seasonís model, but one way or another, sweeping changes are in store. He will have to decide if the teamís lack of success is due to player recalls, injuries, parent club interference, personnel or coaching. He will have to hope that whoever is behind the bench can coax a little life out of veterans Chris Minard and Jamie Johnson who are still under contract for another season. He will also have to hope that the organization can sort out its goaltending woes, something that cost the Griffins dearly.
This team will also be getting an infusion of youth again as the Wings currently have five signed amateurs expected to turn pro this season. Mitchell Callahan, Gustav Nyquist, Landon Ferraro, Louis-Marc Aubry, Gleason Fournier and Trevor Parkes will all be challenging for a spot in the AHL this fall. Their will be some openings with Jan Mursak, Cory Emmerton, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Smith all vying for jobs with the Wings, though the latter two are likely to return to GR. Captain Jamie Tardif, coming off a career year, headlines a cast of experienced players who may not be re-signed over the offseason. Hulking Sergei Kolosov and Logan Pyett both took major steps backward during the season, Pyett is on the fence to return, but Kolosov may be moving on. Ilari Filppula is an Unrestricted Free Agent and may not be back without a chance at making an NHL roster.
The goaltending mess is another thing that will have to be straightened out over the summer if this team is to have any chance of moving forward. With Joey MacDonald in Detroit most of the season, and Thomas McCollumís confidence meltdown, that left untested Jordan Pearce and a collection of one game backups in the drivers seat on the Griffinís playoff hopes. He did an admirable job in his first try, but his contract is up and he may be headed back to school to earn his Medical Degree. A lot will depend on who ends up as Jimmy Howardís backup in Detroit, but if MacDonald doesnít come back, the team may need to sign another veteran starter to carry the load.
The defense will get a major makeover as Derek Meech will likely sign with another NHL organization, and at least one of Kolosov and Pyett wonít be back. Greg Amadio and Doug Janik are both signed, and if Brendan Smith doesnít stick in Detroit, and can stay healthy, should be an impact player again. Travis Ehrhardt made some strides, but the coach seemed to prefer him on the wing. Brian Lashoff should be much improved after an up and down injury plagued season. Sebastien Piche should be in the mix in the last year of his contract after a good second half in the ECHL.
Up front Minard and Johnson should return if they are not bought out over the summer, and it remains to be seen whether any of Emmerton, Mursak, Tatar or Filppula will return. Pare is a good bet to be re-signed and will join the returning nucleus of Joakim Andersson, Brent Raedeke and Willie Coetzee. Injured Jordan Owens might be re-signed, especially since he falls a few games short of veteran status by the AHLís definition. Adam Keefe brought a spark to the lineup and indicated he hoped to return next season, while Brandon Straub is also a free agent. Nyquist played well in the last few games of the season, and the organization has waited for Callahanís unique blend of skill and toughness for a couple of years. Oft injured Landon Ferraro could be returned for to the WHL for an overage year, but with a good camp could turn pro. Look for the organization to add some more punch to this group especially if Tardif signs elsewhere.