Steve Yzerman reportedly said on NHL Live tonight that the biggest moves for the Tampa Bay Lightning for the 2013-2014 season are going to come from within, which means moving players up from Syracuse into the NHL. Many of us have been assuming this all along, of course, so this really isn't a surprise.
It does, however, leave a question in Syracuse. That question is not so much who--we all know it'll probably be Tyler Johnson, a combination of Richard Panik/Ondrej Palat/J.T. Brown, and Mark Barberio, with perhaps Brett Connolly thrown in--but who will take the place of those going up? Leadership, especially, is a rather big question with the Crunch facing the potential loss of Barberio.
Well, Crunch fans got some answers today, and they were good ones. Really good ones.
It was announced late this afternoon that forward Eric Neilson and AHL defenseman Joey Mormina have been signed to AHL contracts by the Syracuse Crunch. It was also announced that Tampa Bay has re-signed defenseman Matt Taormina and goaltender Cedrick Desjardins. Neilson, Taormina and Desjardins played with the Crunch this past season, while Mormina spent the 2012-2013 season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, one of the Crunch's East Division rivals.
Neilson was the Crunch's IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year this past season, an honor he has earned five different times throughout the course of his career. He played in 39 games with the Crunch, recording one goal and 135 penalty minutes. He quickly endeared himself to Syracuse with his quirky and friendly personality, both on and off the ice. He was also the subject of one of the Crunch's most entertaining promotional schemes yet.
Mormina spent the 2012-13 season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins with whom he recorded 10 points (3g, 7a) in 54 regular season games. One of those goals was scored against Syracuse. During the Calder Cup Playoffs, Mormina recorded eight points (1g, 7a) in 15 games. One of those goals was against Syracuse during the Eastern Conference Finals, a series the Crunch won 4-1.
Mormina has played 576 career AHL games and was captain in WBS last season, so if the Crunch fan base is looking for someone to potentially take over Barberio's leadership slot, Mormina might be it. In talking with Syracuse's Post Standard, Crunch GM Julian BriseBois had this to say about the defenseman:
He brings a lot to the table with his size and physicality, and his ability to move the puck.
Taormina presents two great options for the Tampa Bay organization as a whole. In Syracuse, he's a leader in the locker room and out on the ice, pushing himself through a quite painful back injury to continue to play and to help the Crunch to the Calder Cup finals for the first time in franchise history. But, by signing him to a two-way contract, he also represents a viable call up option for the Lightning, someone who is continuing to work hard and improve his game.
Taormina made his Lightning debut on April 6, 2013 at the New York Islanders, and played in two total games with Tampa this past season. In 55 games with the Syracuse Crunch, he collected four goals and 24 points. He ended the season with a plus-10 rating, and ranked second on the Crunch defense for points and assists.
Desjardins is quite possibly the biggest bang for the buck in these four signings. Since his trade to the Lightning organization from Montreal on February 14, 2013 in exchange for goaltender Dustin Tokarski, Desjardins went 15-18-3 with a 2.61 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. But it wasn't until the Calder Cup Playoffs that Crunch fans really got a good look at what "Ceddy" could do.
Desjardins' postseason record was 13-5-0. He posted a 2.30 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. Crunch fans can pretty much attest that he was one of the main forces behind the Crunch's continued playoff success. One of his bigger playoff saves recently made a list of the biggest AHL Saves of the Year. You can see it here at the .40 mark. The save was, ironically, against Mormina's former team.
Desjardins will need to clear waivers before being assigned to Syracuse, but it is assumed right now that he will be the number three in the organization. Riku Helenius is projected to be number four, although he will also have to clear waivers before being assigned to the Crunch.
In other news today, it was revealed that Dan Sexon, who was qualified on Monday, will not be staying with Syracuse. He reportedly will be playing overseas next year. It's also been reported that BriseBois confirmed that defensemen Jared Nightingale and Evan Oberg and forwards J.F. Jacques and J.T. Wyman will not be returning to the Crunch.