Franchise Worst Season Comes To An End
Offseason housecleaning imminent after dumpster fire of a season...
By Jason Kasiorek
April 15th, 2023
The Griffins closed out another playoff-less regular season, not with a bang, but with a whimper dropping their last three games on the way to a franchise-worst finish. The end of this disappointing season signals the winds of change that will blow through this organization this off-season. Several moves including the retirement of long-time Griffin and current captain Brian Lashoff seem to indicate a house cleaning is happening. With the team showing little or no improvement over the last five seasons, it would appear it is time for new leadership and a new message from the top down.
Shawn Horcoff, the General Manager finishing his first full season, will need to do a better job of building the roster with different types of players. Too many nights this season the lineup was small playmakers who got pushed around too easily while they passed the puck around the perimeter until they lost it. The team desperately needed an infusion of size, grit, and energy. The coaching staff is probably due for a change as coach Simon has had five years and hasn't seen the postseason in four. Most frustrating was that players still made the same errors at the end of the season that they had at the beginning including rarely playing a 60-minute game. While some things have been out of the coach's hands with the revolving door of players, after five seasons, the buck stops here.
Trading disgruntled defender Stephen Kampfer and the retirement of Lashoff stripped the veterans off the blueline, which will have to be seriously retooled. For next season with Simon Edvinsson's likely graduation to the NHL, these are the rearguards currently under contract for next year:
Add in rookies William Wallinder and possibly Antti Tuomisto, and this is a young group that could use some bolstering. Even if they bring back Jared McIsaac, Wyatt Newpower (one of the few physical players on the backend), or Seth Barton, it still looks like a lot of depth players. This group could use an offensive catalyst who is a legitimate scoring threat on the powerplay, and a Dylan McIlrath type player who is a deterrent, but can still play a regular shift (without being in the box all night). The current captain of the Hershey Bears left a big void with his departure for greener pastures.
The goaltending position was a huge mess in the organization this season as a whole with the only likely return for Grand Rapids being Sebastien Cossa. They will have to add a good veteran to split time in the AHL and be available to play quality minutes in the NHL as well. They probably also need to add another quality netminder to toil in Toledo with Jan Bednar as insurance for when the Griffins inevitably lose one of their tandem. The Griffins used a franchise record eight goaltenders this season to varying degrees of success and need to start over.
Several veteran forwards remain under contract and could be ticketed for Grand Rapids. It may however make more sense to move one or more of them as part of the leadership refresh and to assure a different mix of players. Players under contract for 23-24 season:
Austin Czarnik (V)
Joel L'Esperance (V)
Dominic Shine (V)
Austin Czarnik is under contract for another year after spending a lot of the year in Detroit. Taro Hirose also has time left on his deal with the wings. Joel L'Esperance and Dominik Shine have another season on their AHL deals with the Griffins. With the exception of Shine, the other three are pretty similar players. With the AHL's veteran limit, the question needs to be asked about whether there are better veteran options. Looking at the other vets from last season, it appears Alex Chiasson has a chance at returning to the parent Wing's next season after a very strong ending. Matt Luff, Danny O'Regan, and Adam Erne (to a lesser extent) had strong seasons and brought different dimensions to the lineup. Tyler Spezia, who had an off year offensively is the other (after Hirose) non-first-year player returning after the veteran tier. With Pontus Andreasson already signed in Europe for next season, this could open the door for Chase Pearson or Jasper Weatherby to return even though neither had the impact they are capable of and there may be other mid-tier options available.
Depending on what happens with the parent club, Elmer Soderblom may return to Grand Rapids for part of the season, and Cross Hanas is expected to pick up where he left off pre-injury. Riley Sawchuk will also see where he slots in but could also see time in Toledo. The next wave expected to join the Griffins includes a couple of players who we saw at the end of the year. Carter Mazur, Amadeus Lombardi, Alexandre Doucet, and most likely Marco Kasper. That shows 12 players under contract but is not an ideal lineup. Another strong veteran leader and captain candidate may need to be brought in from outside the current group.
While the organization's primary goal is development, bringing players into a losing environment (especially one that felt like the team had already given up for most of the year) isn't good for that development. A winning team builds better habits, and the playoff chase builds character and teaches players what to expect in terms of work and sacrifice to be winners. This season was essentially a dumpster fire and it's time to start moving forward. It is difficult to see how far things have fallen off especially comparing the current team to the 2013 Calder Cup champions during their anniversary celebration this year.