From a certain point of view, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s actions seem to have depleted the Syracuse Crunch a little as their one big deal cost the AHL affiliate a rostered player. From another view, their actions added two key players back to the roster. It’s not every trade deadline that an AHL team picks up a number one center and a number one defenseman in exchange for a forward who had been on the team for roughly a long weekend.
Last week, the Danick Martel-for-Anthony-Greco trade was billed as a change of scenery deal for both players. For Martel it’s worked well as he has accumulated 4 points in 3 games (1 goal, 3 assists) for the Springfield Falcons. Greco, who played in three games with the Crunch and had one assist, is off for yet another scenery change as his contract was the one selected to clear a spot for Barclay Goodrow. The Goodrow and a third round pick for Greco and a first rounder trade was the lone deal the Lightning organization made on deadline day, but the Crunch felt the effects of several other deals.
Having played only three games with Syracuse makes it hard to determine exactly what the Crunch lost out on by having him included in the deal. In a sense, it’s better to insert Danick Martel’s play in place of Greco since there is a broader scope of work to look at. The Crunch lost a pretty good forechecker with blazing speed and a knack for scoring in close. Martel was well on his way to a 20-goal/45-point season (he had 16 and 30 before the trade). He killed penalties and found the occasional spot on the power play. He was also a streaky scorer prone to long absences between goals (3 streaks of five or more games without finding the back of the net).
His loss and the injuries to Cory Conacher, Gemel Smith and Dennis Yan have left some holes in the Crunch line-up. Luckily, the trade for Goodrow did allow them to fill up one of the spots. Earlier in the day, Mitchell Stephens was loaned to the Crunch in what appeared to be a paper transaction allowing him to be eligible for the AHL playoffs should they need him.
Once Goodrow was added as a bottom-six forward and no one on the NHL roster went to San Jose in return, there were suddenly too many forwards in Tampa (a shocking surprise considering it’s less than a week since Cameron Gaunce was playing up front). Rather than have him sit in the press box in Tampa, the Lightning brass decided it would be better if he had actual playing time with the Crunch. While heading back to the AHL after a strong debut in the NHL has to be a little deflating for the young center, it’s a boon for the Crunch’s offense.
He’ll most likely slot in on the top line which takes a little pressure off of recently converted center Boris Katchouk and fills the hole left by Martel/Greco’s departure. Once Smith returns (hopefully soon), the Crunch will have Stephens, Smith, Katchouk and Otto Somppi down the middle, which is a pretty solid line-up. Stephens will bring a little stability to a penalty kill unit that has been a bit topsy-turvy of late.
The other big addition for the Crunch on deadline day was the return of Cameron Gaunce to a defensive unit that has been held together with spit and stick tape over the last month or so. It’s gotten a little better with the return of Luke Witkowski, but, despite how well they’ve played, the team has had to rely on mid-season pick-ups like Devante Stephens and Logan Roe way too much over the last stretch of games.
Gaunce gives them a true number one defender and a veteran leader as they head into the final stretch of the season. He can quarterback the first power play unit which allows Cal Foote to slide back to the second unit (and hopefully dissuade Coach Groulx from experimenting anymore with five forwards on the power play). Gaunce’s return probably slides Roe into a healthy scratch situation until Patrick Sieloff returns and lowers the amount of minutes Stephens (D) has to play.
The recent play of the team (6-1-1-2 in their last ten) most likely had a little bit of an effect on some of the decisions made by the front office today. They’ve finished a week in a playoff spot for the first time since the beginning of the season and only trail the third place Comet by two points (although Utica has three games in hand). As a whole, the team has been playing a lot more like a complete unit over this recent stretch and the need to make drastic changes seems to have faded.
It also helps that their goaltending has been a little more solid during the winning streak. Better play out of their netminders most likely cooled the search for a replacement over the last month. While their numbers aren’t going to blow anyone away, Scott Wedgewood and Spencer Martin have stabilized things in net. During the month of February, the duo has combined for a 2.72 GAA and .905 SV%. Again, not exactly worthy of a statue, it’s still well above the extremely pedestrian season-long marks of 3.22 GAA and .886 SV% respectively.
All season long, Coach Groulx has been asking his netminders to make key saves throughout their games and that is what Martin and Wedgewood have done of late. There is enough offense on the team (even when it’s a little banged up) to succeed with average goaltending as shown by the team’s 6-2-1-2 record in the month of February.
Deals other teams made on Monday also helped the Crunch out. The Ottawa Senators dealt any NHL player that had a pulse, and that left some openings on their roster, openings that will have to be filled by players from the North Division-leading Belleville Senators. With their top players heading to or already in Ottawa, the fourteen point separation between the B-Sens and the Crunch doesn’t look so formidable any more.
The same goes for the Binghamton Devils who will see some of their better players head to New Jersey for most of the rest of the season. The drawback to this is that it’s not likely the NHL versions of the Senators or the Devils will make the playoffs, so all of those players will most likely be back in the AHL in time for the playoffs. That’s a hurdle the Crunch will have to jump later on. For now, they can focus on beating the depleted rosters in the regular season and moving up in the standings.
There is still time for the Crunch to tinker with their roster. Players on AHL-only contracts can still be traded through the next week. They have shown that they are not averse to making AHL trades (Chris Mueller for Patrick Sieloff for example) and if there is a player that General Manager Stacy Roest thinks will help them make the playoffs, he has the green light to make the deal.
Still, it feels like these are the players that the Crunch are going to make a run with and, in all honesty, with Gaunce and Stephens (M) back in the fold, it’s not a bad roster to make a charge with.
The Crunch have a couple of relative easy (two games) weeks coming up. We’ll be back to regular Crunch Corner coverage next week.
Friday, February 28th vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, February 29th vs. Rochester Americans, 7:00 p.m.