After the Crunch's struggles last season, it isn't really a surprise that the list of free agents returning to the team is on the short side. The Crunch ended the year with a losing record: 31-32-4-9. They finished 12th in the AHL's Eastern Conference after winning the conference championship during the 2012-2013 season. They ended the season dead last in the East Division.
Tampa Bay was clearly unhappy with the season Syracuse had, and although there's hope for the future of the team, everyone knew winds of change were probably coming to Syracuse. Some moves have already been made that might end up benefiting Syracuse this fall: defenseman Dylan Blujus has been signed to an entry level contract, as has goaltender Andrei Vasilevski. Back in April, Tampa Bay signed Jake Dotchin, a defenseman who can also report directly to Syracuse in the fall.
These signings are hopefully just the beginning for Syracuse, but before free agency gets underway, Tampa Bay had some restricted and some unrestricted free agents to consider. The Crunch had quite the crop of guys who were signed to one year contracts or whose time in the organization was dwindling down. As one might expect, not many of them will be wearing a Crunch sweater next season.
Players not returning to Syracuse
Nine players are not being resigned, and, to be honest, only one was really a surprise:
Geoff Walker: Walker played 43 games in a Crunch jersey. The forward was signed in the off season as a locker room leader and a grinder. He was supposed to be a guy who could use his size to his advantage while also displaying some playmaking and scoring ability. He managed only 8 points during his stay with the Crunch, and his -14 +/- stat was one of the worst on the team (and a career low). He played injured for most of the season (neck), and his stats certainly showed the disparity between this season and his healthy seasons. He was demoted to the ECHL at the very end of the year and never returned to the Crunch.
Jordan Henry: Henry, a defenseman, spent most of his season with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL He only played in 19 games with Syracuse. He registered one assist in those 19 games.
Cedrick Desjardins: Many Crunch fans are finding it rather difficult to say goodbye to he goalie affectionately known as "Ceddy." But, with Vasilevski, Kristers Gudlevskis, and prospect camp invitees Adam Wilcox and Clay Witt hanging around, everyone knew before the 2013-2014 season even started that Ceddy's days with the organization were probably limited. It would have taken a stellar season from the netminder to prove to Tampa that he could be a potential number two in the organization to have him stay. That season just didn't happen. However, Ceddy helped carry Syracuse to the Calder Cup finals last season, which is something Crunch fans will never forget. It's painful to say goodbye, but it was also pretty inevitable.
Carl Nielsen: The forward was inked to an AHL contract last August. He had appeared in two games with the Crunch during the 2012-13 season after competing for four years at Michigan Tech. He then played 7 games with the Crunch this past season, registering nothing except a -2 +/- rating. He spent the majority of the season with the Everblades.
P.C. Labrie: Exposing forward P.C. Labrie to waivers sending him to Syracuse this past season was supposed to be a calculated risk by Tampa Bay. The Lightning saw that Syracuse needed a mid-season boost, and since they themselves were running low on forward slots, they decided to risk Labrie getting claimed and sent him down. Unfortunately, Labrie didn't exactly provide the on-ice boost Tampa (and Syracuse) was looking for him to bring. Last season, Labrie played in 39 total games with the Crunch between the beginning of the season during the NHL lockout and a mid-season conditioning stint. He amassed 18 points (11g, 7a) in those contests. This year, he scored less than half that in almost just as many games. He suited up for 38 games for Syracuse in 13-14, but only managed 6 points (2g, 4a).
Of course, Labrie's NHL performance may be even more telling than his AHL stats. The forward's performance with the Lightning also suffered this past season. During the shorted 2012-2013 NHL season, Labrie played in 19 contests for Tampa, registering a goal and two assists. This past season, he only played in 13 games and registered no points. Labrie had been on a one-way contract both seasons. That's a lot of money to pay for just 32 NHL appearances over two seasons.
Charles Landry: The defenseman had been in Tampa's system since 2010-2011, bouncing around between the AHL and the ECHL. In total, he amassed 66 AHL games and 105 ECHL games. Landry's inability to crack into the AHL consistently probably spelled out his final doom. Considering Syracuse's defensive struggles this past season, one could say that Landry had the chance to stick, but his performance during his 34 games up just didn't warrant a re-signing.
Drew Olson: Forward/defenseman Drew Olson had kind of an unremarkable rookie season. The undrafted left wing played in 47 games with the Crunch this year. Although he played defense in college, Tampa Bay signed him as a depth forward, someone who was supposed to step up and fill in as Lightning prospects got the call. Olson's 4 points (3g, 1a) on the season didn't exactly inspire confidence in his game. He was often a healthy scratch who struggled to get consistent ice time even with all of the call ups and injuries that affected Syracuse's roster.
Olson found himself switched back to defense in March, a switch that lasted for the duration of the rest of the season. This was probably to the detriment of his development. Olson had a difficult time making a smooth transition back. The move zapped his scoring potential, and he was kept off the score sheet for all of March and April. His -10 +/- stat at the end of the season was also a difficult one to swallow.
Jon DiSalvatore: The one surprise on this list is DiSalvatore. The forward, who was signed in December to an AHL contract, was a piece of the turn around the Crunch saw at the end of the season. He played in 46 games for the Crunch. He amassed 28 points (11g, 17a) in those games. Three of his 11 goals were power play markers. Before Tampa Bay brought him on, DiSalvatore said in an interview with Crunch broadcaster Dan D'Uva that he was starting to look into other careers. The contract he signed for the rest of the season gave him new hope that he could continue playing, and he said at the time that he'd love to be back in Syracuse next season. DiSalvatore was sidelined by an upper-body procedure at the end of the season, and nothing has been said about why he isn't being brought back.
Restricted free agents who have been qualified
Just three players who could have been free agents have been qualified by Tampa Bay so far:
Dmitry Korobov:The defenseman didn't exactly have the season Tampa Bay probably hoped for, but neither did most of the Crunch's roster, so that's probably not saying much. In 71 games he scored 3 goals and netted 23 assists. Last season, Korobov had 3 goals and 19 assists in 65 games. Korobov ended last season with a +20, but ended this season with a -12, which was the lowest +/- rating among Crunch defensemen. Honestly, while his offensive upside can't be denied, it appears that Korobov became a frustrating defensive liability this past season. Although it appears he'll be headed back to the Crunch, Korobov could still end up playing overseas during the 2014-2015.
Philippe Paradis: Paradis played in 56 games this year for Syracuse. In the games he didn't play, he was usually a healthy scratch, although he was hurt for an extended period of time in the latter third of the season. In those 56 games, he netted 15 points (6g, 9a). He also amassed 118 penalty minutes, which is a career-high in one season for him. His plus/minus was a fairly reasonable -4. He was brought onto the Crunch during the 2012-2013 season as a player with extra muscle and a small offensive upside, and it's probably safe to assume he'll continue in that role, especially with Labrie being let go.
Brett Connolly: Connolly struggled at various points this past season with the Crunch. In 66 games with Syracuse, he netted 21 goals and 36 assists. He also played 11 games up with the Lightning, during which he registered a goal. Connolly was thought to be someone who would have made Tampa Bay out of camp this past fall, but when that didn't happen, fans in Syracuse watched his confidence ebb and flow all season. His time in Syracuse this past season did provide a few highlights: Connolly was the Crunch's lone AHL All Star in 2014, and his game-ending goal during the Miracle at the War Memorial will be remembered for a long time. Connolly may still be used in a trade this off season, but for the moment he has been resigned with the organization.
Players Tampa Bay is still negotiating with
Two more players may end up back with Syracuse this fall:
Mike Angelidis: The forward has been captain of the Crunch for the past two seasons. He was also captain in Norfolk. He played in 75 games with Syracuse this past year, one short of a full season. He had 12 goals and 21 assists. He topped 500 AHL games this past season, so his leadership capabilities in this league can't be denied. His part on the Crunch's roster isn't really one that can be quantified by numbers or by the stat sheet, and most are hoping he'll be back next season.
Evan Rankin: Rankin played in 62 games with the Crunch this season. He had 30 points (16g, 14a) in those 62 games. He was signed as an impact depth player last summer, meant to be a locker room leader and a step-up guy when and if ice time became available due to injuries and call ups. Honestly, it's a little bit of a surprise that Tampa is negotiating with Rankin. During the 2012-2013 season, Rankin played in 48 games with the Rochester Americans and managed to score one more point than he did this season (31). The visibility he had in previous seasons on other teams just wasn't there with the Crunch in 2013-2014. But, Tampa Bay has apparently seen something in him, as they're trying to bring him back.