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Perception versus reality: Your weekly Crunch Wrapper for the week ending on 4/10/2016

As Crunch fans look at a playoff-less spring, how is their perception of events versus the unknown reality behind them affecting their feelings?

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Scott Thomas

Latest Stats for the Syracuse Crunch:

  • Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 31-27-10-3

  • This past week's results: A 4-3 shootout loss versus Albany (4/8); a 3-2 shootout win versus Toronto (4/9)

  • Place in Eastern Conference: 10th

  • Place in North Division: 4th

  • Top scorer: Tanner Richard (11-43-53)
  • Top scoring defenseman: Anthony DeAngelo (6-36-42)
  • Top defenseman, +/-Luke Witkowski (+3)

  • Top scoring rookie: Anthony DeAngelo (6-36-42)

A rundown of the AHL's new standings system can be found over at Syracuse.com.

This week's topic: Perception versus reality

Perception versus reality can be a sticky subject when it comes to the relationship between a hockey team's front office, their parent club's front office, and the fans.

For instance, let's look a completely hypothetical situation:

  • The reality: The trade deadline is here, and an AHL team's parent club has done everything it can to wrangle a trade that would benefit their farm team. That farm team has had a dismal month prior to the trade deadline, winning only a handful of games. The dressing room seems defeated and frustrated. New blood might help turn things around and infuse some excitement. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, a trade doesn't get completed.
  • What the fans are told: This organization believes in the guys in the dressing room, and it's going to be up to them to get it done.
  • What the fans' perception of all of this is: The farm team's parent club is only focused on themselves and their various personnel issues. They've thrown everything into one basket - winning at the NHL level and making a deep playoff run - and have forgotten about their developmental club. The brass, including the farm team's GM, is out of touch with what's really going on with that farm team, and the fans are beyond frustrated with what appears to be a lack of dedication to winning at the AHL level.

Completely different perspectives, right? Okay, let's look at another hypothetical situation:

  • The reality: Injuries at both the NHL and the AHL level have hit hard, and the farm team's roster is beyond depleted. Although the NHL club's front office tries to find players to shore up their AHL club until better solutions can be found, the players that would fit into the organization's philosophy and playing style (and possibly cap space) aren't available. The NHL club asks the farm team's coach to get creative, so he plugs unconventional players into roster spaces until things stabilize.
  • What the fans are told: (insert the sound of silence here)
  • What the fans' perception of all of this is: The farm team's parent club is only focused on themselves and their various personnel issues. They've thrown everything into one basket - winning at the NHL level and making a deep playoff run - and have forgotten about their developmental club. The brass, including the farm team's GM, is out of touch with what's really going on with that farm team, and the fans are beyond frustrated with what appears to be a lack of dedication to winning at the AHL level.

Perception versus reality is why many Syracuse Crunch fans are bitter (or appear bitter). Perception versus reality is why some Crunch fans are talking about not renewing season tickets. Perception versus reality is why some Crunch fans have been voicing displeasure with general manager Julien BriseBois and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Crunch's front office and ownership is absolutely 100% insistent that the Lightning are amazing partners, and that there's no one out there they'd rather work with. Given that, perhaps some of the reasons behind what affects Syracuse in a negative way isn't due to a lack of interest on the Lightning's part. Maybe it is due to reasons that are probably outside of everyone's control. I say "probably" and "maybe" because fans in Syracuse just aren't being told what's going on or why something is or isn't happening, and that's leaving a lot of doubt and confusion in fans' minds.

Fans who pay to see this team shouldn't be asked to always give the Lightning and/or the Crunch the benefit of the doubt, especially when the Lightning had previously set a high bar when it came to being proactive with Syracuse. Many Crunch fans look back at 2012-2013, when much of the NHL's season was blacked out by a lockout, and wonder where that Lightning has gone. That season, Tampa's attention was on the Crunch, and it showed.

For instance, they clearly anticipated roster problems and acted before they became issues, such as trading Dustin Tokarski for Cedrick Desjardins. The Lightning bought in guys like defenseman Jared Nightingale and forwards Jean-Francois Jacques and Danick Gauthier. They traded for Philippe Paradis. Moves were made to make an already strong team even stronger.

After that initial season of action and response, the Lightning, as honestly expected, claimed major pieces of the Crunch as their own in 2013-2014. This left Syracuse with an inexperienced, young roster that floundered for most of the season. Tampa was more reactive than proactive, but moves were still made to help the Crunch and to try to set them up for success the following season. A prime example is the trade that brought in Dalton Smith and, more importantly, Jonathan Marchessault. Tampa also signed Yanni Gourde and Jon DiSalvatore, and had Gauthier return for a few games when needed. Other tryout contracts were signed when needed. Although fans were frustrated with an apparent lack of foresight over the summer, the Lightning was still very visible in Syracuse.

Last season was marked by a Crunch team that, being honest, played over its head for much of the season. That team lost their last 10 games of the season and got swept in the first round of the playoffs. Depth in Syracuse was a problem, and it was a problem that wasn't really addressed at all as the season wore on. Nightingale was brought back, and a handful of professional tryout agreements were signed, but none of the additions were enough to help the Crunch make a serious run in the playoffs.

Moving forward to the present, it's probably an understatement to say that the Crunch unperformed this past season. Despite a strong roster on paper this past fall, Syracuse will not be making the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. The last bit of hope Syracuse had was dashed this past Saturday when the Hartford Wolfpack won a game the Crunch needed them to lose. The Crunch's roster was depleted to critical levels several times this past season, and very little was done to fill gaps or bring in new blood. The Crunch's struggles weren't really addressed in a visible way at all. What was done - such as the recent rash of prospect signings - just happened too late.

The Lightning's presence and care about what happens down in the AHL has seemed very much reduced these past two seasons, especially when compared to that first season. Fans aren't seeing action steps being taken, or aren't hearing why they're not being taken.  Honestly, the difference between perception and reality a huge part of the wall between the Crunch's fan base and the Lightning, and maybe it's also  part of a wall between the Crunch's fan base and their own front office.

I realize that there's reasons the Lightning (and the Crunch) doesn't share things with the fans. In general, Tampa is more "close to the vest" than previous parent clubs, and that's taken some getting used to. But in talking with various people around the Onondaga County War Memorial, I have also realized that there's clearly giant pieces of information the fans are missing. There's a lot of hockey intelligence in the Crunch's front office. The people who are still extremely satisfied with Tampa aren't just blowing smoke. However, asking the fans to be that satisfied without knowing at least some of what's going on just isn't realistic, and it just isn't fair.

Moving forward, it'd be helpful if some of that wall was torn down, if some of those pieces were filled in. The fans in Syracuse pay for a product, too, just like Lightning fans. They deserve to know why it appears the Crunch isn't being set up for success and/or why adjustments aren't being made when that success is hard to come by, especially if those reasons are as simple as, "we really did try this, and it just didn't work."

Words can only go so far, and actions will always speak louder, but the silence right now is just too deafening for the fans to be comfortable.

Other transactions, player, and organizational news:

-Lightning prospect Mitchell Stephens netted his first professional goal this past Saturday night.

-The Crunch are winding down their Change for Change initiative this season, but there is still time to donate if you wish to. Change for Change is an initiative created by Crunch Captain Mike Angelidis and his teammates that aims to raise money for pediatric cancer research at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital and help improve the odds for children with cancer. All TampaCuse fans can help out by donating through their Go Fund Me page.

Syracuse Crunch media highlights:

  • The Crunch's SoundCloud has been updated with broadcasts and player interviews from the past week.
  • Be sure to use the hashtags #SyrCrunch, #BelieveInBlue, and #TampaCuse when tweeting about the team.
  • Here's a video from the Crunch's exciting shootout win over Toronto Saturday night: