The NHL Trade Deadline, February 25th at 3:00pm est., is still a little more than a month away, but things are starting to heat up on the trade market as Anaheim has begun offloading assets and there was a minor swap between Carolina and Minnesota. For the Tampa Bay Lightning, and by extension the Syracuse Crunch, the next month might not be as active as some seasons in the past.
That’s a good thing.
For the Lightning, there aren’t many holes to fill in the line-up right now. In fact, they actually have a few extra bodies that they are rotating out on a game-by-game basis in order to keep everybody fresh. The Crunch are soon to be in a similar spot. Yes, they are struggling a bit right not, but overall it’s a fairly deep squad talent-wise.
Like all teams, they could use a little help in a couple of areas. There has never been a general manager in the history of organized hockey that looked at their roster and said, “This is perfect! I think I’ll have some tea and go to bed.” They are relentless tinkerers, even if it’s just setting up for the future. The good news for the Crunch is that the solutions may already be in the organization and GM Julien BriseBois just has to wait for them to get healthy.
Teams all around the league are always willing to add a depth forward that kills penalties and wins face-offs. That describes Kevin Lynch to a tee. The versatile forward has been plagued by injuries all season, but should hopefully return sometime in the next month. He adds another veteran presence (154 AHL games) and can throw some pucks in the net as well (14 goals in 57 games last season).
Despite having the top offense in the league, the Crunch could use some more depth down the middle of the ice. Andy Andreoff is still playing out of position as a center, so Syracuse could use someone with a little speed and a scoring touch to drop in on that line. How about Mitchell Stephens? The second year center popped in 19 goals and added 22 assists last year. He had 8 points (2 goals, 6 assists) in his 9 games earlier this year and would fit in nicely between Andreoff and Cory Conacher. Sadly, he did have a bit of a setback recently in recovering from his ankle injury and is expected to be out another two to three weeks.
Not completely sold on the defense? Well, the Lightning/Crunch addressed that issue last week when they picked up Jan Rutta. He should make his debut in about a week or so, as well. In the meantime, Matthew Spencer is no stranger to Ben Groulx and his system having appeared in 47 games over the last three seasons.
The Crunch not only have some solutions in the training room, they also have a few players down in Orlando just waiting for the phone call that brings them back up to Syracuse. Jonne Tammela was sent to Orlando in the middle of November and has been in and out of the lineup as he’s battled a few minor injuries. In the 14 games he’s appeared in he’s put up 14 points (8 goals, 6 assists) and made moves like this:
Center Mitch Hults was brought into the organization back in October and appeared in a few games with the Crunch before being reassigned to Orlando. He has 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists) in 21 games with the Solar Bears and could fill in as a lower-six forward who kills penalties as well if the Crunch need it. Olivier Archambault is in Orlando but was recently added to the injured reserve list after appearing in just one game.
In the last few seasons management has been more than willing to act quickly to address any perceived roster weaknesses. Last season they traded for Eddie Pasquale at the end of January to fill the hole in net that was left when Louis Domingue was promoted to Tampa. The season before the organization made two big acquisitions by adding Mike McKenna and Byron Froese at the deadline and it helped propel them to the Calder Cup Finals.
Those type of moves most likely won’t need to happen this season. In fact, it wouldn’t be a total surprise if they clear out a forward for some future assets once some of the injured players return. It wouldn’t be much of a move, maybe a forward for future considerations or a draft pick, but it would clear up the logjam and add some flexibility moving forward as the organization prepares itself for the salary cap hell of 2019.
The Crunch are in a good position roster-wise as the hockey world heads into the fun part of the season. They shouldn’t have too many players popping up on fake insider Twitter accounts. While that may lead to a bit of an anti-climatic trade deadline day, it does speak well for the overall health of the organization.
Game Day Preview:
The Syracuse Crunch (21-13-2-1) are back at home to face the Belleville Senators (18-22-2-0). Having lost their last two home games and five overall, the Crunch welcome a Senators team that they are 2-0 against this season and 8-0-1-1 in the last two seasons. This match-up could be coming at the right time as Syracuse’s suddenly struggling offense has scored 10 goals in their two games against Belleville. Andreoff, Conacher, Carter Verhaeghe and Alex Volkov all have two goals in those two games.
Alex Volkov - Andy Andreoff - Cory Conacher
Boris Katchouk - Gabriel Dumont - Taylor Raddysh
Carter Verhaeghe - Brady Brassart - Alex Barre-Boulet
Troy Bourke - Ross Colton - Dennis Yan
Cameron Gaunce - Cal Foote
Dominik Masin - Nolan Valleau
Hubert Labrie - Ben Thomas
Notes: If Dominik Masin isn’t able to play today (he missed most of Wednesday’s game), Matthew Spencer will most likely slot in with Valleau moving over to the left-side of that pairing. Also, Coach Groulx mentioned on the radio that Martin Ouellette may get a start this weekend. It could be tonight, but most likely it will be Saturday, giving Pasquale a break before their Monday afternoon tilt against Binghamton.