Three weeks ago, when the Syracuse Crunch was on top of the AHL, the playoffs looked like a sure thing despite all of the ups, the downs, the sideways, and the loop-da-loops of the season.
However, after a series of games that made the Crunch look more like duds than winners, Syracuse's postseason goal is looking more and more like a suggestion rather than a guarantee.
The AHL's Eastern Conference is currently tighter than a drum. Less than 10 points separate the first place team (Manchester, 79 points) and the 9th place team (Hartford, 68 points). The 8th place team (currently Worcester) is the last team to qualify for the playoffs. Three different groupings of teams in the top 9 are tied in points. Syracuse's past-10 record of 4-5-1-0 is second worse in the conference, behind only 7th place Springfield's 4-4-2-0. The Crunch's 167 goals against record is the highest in the current top 8 of the conference.
Syracuse once had the lowest "magic number" in the AHL. The league starts tracking progress towards the playoffs around now, and the magic number is the amount of points clinch a spot in the AHL playoffs. The Crunch's magic number is currently 29. Manchester and Hershey (second in the conference) both have 24 as their magic number at this moment in time. They've been winning games to impact their number; the Crunch has had to count on lower-seeded teams losing in order to lower their own. That method obviously takes Syracuse's fate out of their hands.
The AHL's trade deadline was today. Tampa Bay was one of the teams that made a move for their farm team, trading future considerations for forward Justin Courtnall. Courtnall had four goals and three assists in 40 games this season with Hatford. He had nine points in 62 games with Hamilton last season. He is a former Lightning prospect. This makes the second former Lightning prospect signed for the Crunch this season. The first was Carter Ashton.
Being frank, this signing will not help this team win games. Period. Courtnall is another depth signing, and many fans are actually kind of confused as to why Tampa made this move. Syracuse needs skill, not another grider/role-player. But with the passing of both the NHL deadline last week and the AHL deadline today, no new help is coming now. Vladislav Namestnikov might be on his way again, but he also might not. If he does get sent back down, the moment something else happens with Tampa, he's gone.
Or Yanni Gourde is gone.
Or Jonathan Marchessault is gone.
Yes, as many are quick to point out, help from juniors/college ranks will be on the way to Syracuse soon. But looking for those guys to step in on the first line and fill, say, Namestnikov's shoes immediately is asking for a miracle.
The Crunch will either adjust somehow or continue to lose. It's that simple. That reality is very frustrating for those that love this team. It also has to be maddening for players like Mike Angelidis, JP Cote, Gourde, Marchessault, and Luke Witkowski who will do, and have done, everything in their power to see this team succeed.
Latest Stats for the Syracuse Crunch:
Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 33-17-8-0
Place in Eastern Conference (top 8 make the playoffs): 3rd
Place in Northeast Division: 1st
Magic number according to the AHL's Playoff Primer (updated daily): 29
- Top scorer: Jonathan Marchessault (16-31-47)
Top scoring defenseman: Slater Koekkoek (3-17-20)
Top defenseman, +/-: Jean-Philippe Cote, +13
- Top rookie: Joel Vermin (9-16-25)
Other transactions and player news:
-Crunch players JP Cote, Mike Angelidis, and Eric Neilson are teaming together and are encouraging Crunch fans to save their change and donate it to a great cause. The funds will go to pediatric cancer research and will stay in the CNY area. TampaCuse enthusiasts can get in on the action, too, by going to the team's Go Fund Me page.
Syracuse Crunch media highlights:
The Crunch's SoundCloud has been updated with broadcasts and player interviews from the past week.