Offseason Gameplan: Jason Jaffray

Photo courtesy of CBC.

With the inaugural season of the St John’s IceCaps now in the books, it’s getting to be about that time where we look forward to next season and all that it may bring. After such a long and successful season, the excitement and desire for a short summer may be stronger than it has ever been in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Given that the AHL is most frequently used as a prospect feeder system for National Hockey League teams, it is understood that roster turnover in the AHL is usually much greater than you’d expect to see from a typical NHL team. Basically, the team that suits up for the 2012-2013 AHL season may look quite different from the team that was iced this year. There are many questions yet to be answered.

One such unanswered question centres around the future of the current IceCaps captain, Jason Jaffray. Jaffray, who turns 31 next month, is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

JJ posted an impressive 17 goals and 38 points in 47 regular season games this past years with the IceCaps, before being sidelined with a season-ending neck injury that kept him out of the Calder Cup playoffs, a factor that must be considered when examining the IceCaps loss to the Norfolk Admirals in the Eastern Conference Finals. He also played 13 games for the Winnipeg Jets in the NHL, picking up an assist and collecting 7 penalty minutes.

Jaffray underwent neck-fusion surgery in late-April and won’t be able to resume skating until the middle of this summer, which obviously creates a number of problems in terms of the Captain re-signing a new contract. Jaffray would not be able to re-join the team until after the season has started as well.

Health and age concerns aside however, Jaffray was and continues to be an inspiration to his teammates.

As Brendan McCarthy reported for The Telegram on May 5th:

“But there never was a point where I didn’t want to be around the team,” continues Jaffray… “When you have a serious injury like this, that’s what keeps you sane … being around the guys, being in the dressing room, helping out any way I can.

 

“If it means going over power-play video with the guys or just being in the dressing room, supporting them after games just having my face around … it might help a little bit. I’ve played a lot of playoff games, been through a lot of playoff runs over the years and hopefully, my leadership can be used in this run.”

 

Given his contract status and health concerns, where do you think Jaffray will land in 2012-2013? His leadership certainly brings an interesting dynamic to the situation. Should his neck continue to be a concern, would he make a good addition to the IceCaps coaching staff? Will he be back and better than ever? These questions certainly won’t generate any easy answers, but it makes for an interesting summer.

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Throwing in the towel? IceCaps on the brink

(Photo: CP)

With the IceCaps down 3-0 to Norfolk after a heartbreaker in overtime last night, I thought this was pretty funny when it came across my Twitter feed this morning:

IceCapsAHL

IceCaps Alley BLOWOUT SALE today from 12-4! All merchandise 40% off! Jerseys priced at $89.95! No additional Season Ticket Holder discount

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing the IceCaps for doing this; it totally makes sense considering the team’s chances of coming back in this series are nearly zero. Just thought it was a funny thing for them to tweet right away after Game 3.

The blowout sale will also be on tonight during the game as well, so you can pick up some merchandise then if work is bogging you down today.

For the IceCaps, tonight may very well be the last game they play until October. And as many, including myself, have pointed out, things could look a lot different when they come back. The turnover in the AHL for many clubs is drastic, and St. John’s is no different. The team could plummet by 20 points in the standings for all we know, and they could also be contenders again.

There isn’t a straight-forward formula to determine how they’ll look next time around.

We won’t even try until this series is over (and who knows? Anything can happen). But when/if this thing does end, here at the blog we will run a series of questions in the next month or so and do our best to gather as much analysis as possible to answer them.

Got something you want to see covered? A player you want opinion on? Leave a comment or send a reply to @SJ_IceCaps

Tonight’s game goes at 7:30, with Brian Rogers calling at ThisIsNL and the Rogers Television broadcast.

IceCaps in deep water

I’m not sure if you can write the IceCaps off just yet, but after another loss in Norfolk last night and a 2-0 series deficit, the odds are that fans in St. John’s this week will be seeing this club play it’s last game at Mile One for at least a few months.

Returning to St. John’s, the IceCaps come home to play in a building where they’re 4-2 in these playoffs with 18 goals for and 14 goals against. Not exactly mind-blowing numbers.

If the team is to continue on to the AHL Calder Cup Final against either the Marlies or Barons (tied 1-1), they’ll need to do one of two things: take three straight at home and hope to split back in Norfolk, or nab two of three here on the rock and sweep the last two on the road.

When I think about it in those terms, things don’t look so good. The Admirals are a strong team and they match up well against the Caps.

It’s been an impressive run for a group of players in a new town most of them probably had never even heard of until last summer. The playoff games at Mile One surely have to be the loudest in the entire AHL, without question.

With the uncertainty that surrounds every AHL roster due to the pursuits of their affiliates, it’s completely up in the air as to whether the IceCaps will come back next season even nearly as good as this. The same question exists for every club.

So with the universe leaning on them, make sure you appreciate these next two or three games in St. John’s. You really don’t know when the team will be at this stage again.

Game three goes tomorrow night (Monday) at Mile One, 7:30 Newfoundland Time, with game four the following night.

Catch the IceCaps radio broadcast at ThisIsNL

2012 Playoffs: What we’ve learned so far

(Photo: Peter Taylor/Getty Images)

It was last Victoria Day weekend when it broke that the AHL would be returning to St. John’s as part of the Thrashers’ move to Winnipeg, and almost a year later, the fledgling St. John’s franchise is in the midst of a thrilling playoff run. The inaugural season has been nothing but a success on and off the ice, but it’s been the past 4 weeks that have been particularly eye-opening. A four game dispatch of Syracuse and an epic seven game series with Wilkes-Barre Scranton stirs memories of the Leafs run of 1992, but nostalgia aside these playoffs have made a few things apparent.

1. Craig Heisinger is a great AHL GM

With the Thrashers moving to Winnipeg, and True North owning the Moose, the IceCaps roster was a marriage of convenience between the Wolves and Moose. There was some concern in local circles over how the two cores would mesh, but Heisinger put those concerns to rest by bringing in veteran leadership over the summer to ease the transition. Jaffray, Rosa, Ramsey, and Murray were all Moose in 2010-2011, but by bringing in Aaron Gagnon and Jason King, Heisinger added two more veterans who have had success at the AHL level.

Where Heisinger has really shown his worth is his mid season acquisitions. In acquiring Brock Trotter and Ray Sawada, “Zinger” added two players who have had playoff success before, and who have been key cogs thus far for the ‘Caps. Going after Trotter was risky given his injury status, but it’s clear that it has been worth it, especially considering McCardle didn’t ever find a role with the team, and Mannino was rotting in the ECHL.  

Under Heisinger’s guidance, the Moose were perennial playoff contenders, including a Calder Cup final appearance in 2010. However this may be the best roster he has ever assembled.

2. Eddie Pasquale’s stock has risen

When the 2011-2012 season started, the IceCaps had the dreaded three-headed goalie monster with Aebischer, Mannino, and Pasquale. By Christmas, Mannino was jettisoned to the ECHL, leaving the rookie Pasquale to split games with the former Stanley Cup champion in Aebischer. Aebischer had his moments, but never really looked comfortable in St. John’s, leaving Pasquale to take the reigns. He played well down the stretch as the team, including himself, battled through injuries and call-ups, but it’s been over the first two rounds where Pasquale has established himself.

Against Syracuse, Pasquale stole Game 1, and was solid, if not spectacular, as the IceCaps won the best-of-5 in 4 games despite being consistently outshot. Pasquale didn’t steal any games against the Penguins per se, but it can be argued that he outplayed Brad Thiesson in the series.

Pasquale was a relative unknown at the beginning of this season, but there’s no doubt that he’s asserted himself as the Jets’ # 1 goaltending prospect.

3. St. John’s has its swagger back

When the Maple Leafs played at Memorial Stadium, the city was regarded as having a great atmosphere, and a fun place to play. When they made the move to Mile One in 2001, that reputation did not follow. Leafs games at Mile One were simply brutal, Fog Devils games were worse again. It seemed as if nobody cared about hockey in St. John’s anymore.

After six home games so far in these playoffs, I can assure you this has changed. While I don’t expect this to be the norm for 36 regular season games next year, it has proved that people in St. John’s care about this team, and are willing to finally move on from the Leafs. The atmosphere inside and outside Mile One on game days is nothing short of electric, something this city hasn’t seen since 1992. Finally, our hockey team is able to be used as a sense of pride, and a patriotic outlet.

Who knows what will happen after this spring is over, win or lose. Getting to the third round of the playoffs is a difficult achievement in a 30 team league, so it would be wise to enjoy whatever is left of this ride.

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