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.

Follow @rNorman747 and the blog on Twitter.

True North happy in St. John’s for now

This article was originally posted at Arctic Ice Hockey yesterday. Since then, some more news has broken regarding the IceCaps – True North will not sell the team to Danny Williams in the future and will keep control of things themselves. It’s a smart move from their perspective. For the full story, head on over to The Telegram.

Image: Sportsnet

News broke yesterday morning of the relationship between St. John’s IceCaps management and True North carrying on past their original three-year agreement. It’s no real surprise, the team has been doing well and attendance is at its max. Tickets are a little more expensive than in other AHL buildings, but it seems to have little to no effect as Mile One Centre is jammed every time the IceCaps take to the ice.

From Robin Short at The Telegram (St. John’s):

Barring any major surprises, St. John’s IceCaps CEO Danny Williams and True North Sports and Entertainment will soon sign off on a one-year extension on their existing three-year lease, and start negotiating for additional years keeping the American Hockey League team in St. John’s.

“It’s just a matter of both parties agreeing, and it just happens,” Williams said of the contract extension. “I would be inclined to think that it’s a given.

When rumblings of an AHL club returning to the island began this past summer, it was speculated that Thunder Bay was also a location pushing hard to make its way into the league as soon as possible.

Williams addressed that as well.

“Thunder Bay was a competitive threat a while ago, but there’s no activity there now and even if there was, I don’t see a rink being ready in time,” Williams said.

“I’m very optimistic that certainly we will be going into the fourth year, and after that we’ll consider where we go from there.

“But I don’t think Winnipeg wants to move anywhere else. And we’re very happy with the relationship.”

I noticed this news resulted in some fan aggression over the social media, basically calling out “haters” or naysayers for complaining about ticket prices and questioning the viability of pro hockey back here in St. John’s.

I couldn’t be happier, personally, with the new arrival of the AHL and all that comes with it. This city is buzzing on the weekends when the Caps are in action, and I could see how some would become defensive over even a slight inkling that the team would be threatened. But let’s not forget that this team is winning games, a lot of games.

The same fans that fill Mile One on a Tuesday night in midst of a winning streak (in the IceCaps’ inaugural season, mind you) may find better things to do if the team slides to the middle of the pack or goes on to become a basement club in the next three years.

Selling out a building to hockey-starved fans is one thing, doing it for years in succession is obviously another.

Email ryanfancey@gmail.com or follow on twitter @rfancey3 or @sj_icecaps

Under the microscope – October: IceCaps trends and player awards

Note: This piece comes by way of Charles Pickett once again. It’s a regular post that will show up every month and discuss who (or what) has been thrown under the bus by fans, a detailed report card, and some IceCaps player awards. Enjoy!

stjohnsicecaps.com

The IceCaps started this season with a bang winning their first two games on the road and boasting a strong home record with only 2 losses in regulation. During the month of October the IceCaps put up an impressive 5-2-3 record which was good enough to see them land a top spot in the Atlantic Division.

With the city St. John’s having gone six years without a AHL franchise, there was a lot of catching up to do. A brand new cast for fans familiarize themselves with. Players names, numbers, and faces were studied – not to mention their play on the ice – and an entire new parent club also entering it’s first year in a new city. And perhaps more importantly, which players fans would come to like the most.

Today I’m going to break down some certain trends I’ve noticed during the first month of the season, starting with the Fan Favourite award.

This months Fan Favourite award goes to Carl Klingberg. The Swedish winger quickly notched six goals in 10 games and added one apple to his total to land him 7 points so far the season. Klingberg started out fast, scoring five goals in 2 games and landing the first hattrick in IceCaps history.

Klingberg’s ability to stick handle past defenders and generate scoring chances alone have put him very high on the fan favourite list to start the season. Klingberg’s game isn’t all offense either; he is also a very defensively responsible forward who does great work on the back-check. His foot-speed makes his game that much more exciting for fans, as he can cut through the neutral zone in what seems like 2 strides on some nights.

And it’s not just his on ice abilities that make Klingberg stand out as this months fan favourite, just take a look at this twitter feed. @Carlklingberg tweets about everything from how unreal the crowd at Mile One has been to his love affair with ketchup and pasta.

Though not every team is lucky enough to have a superstar with a bullet shot and soft hands, you can’t win with these guys alone. On every team there’s a vast supply of good hard working support players who aren’t afraid to mix things up in the corners, go to the dirty areas, and block shots – players who live with a “take one for the team” attitude.

It’s always tough to measure the true value of these guys. They may not fill the net night after night but on seemingly every shift they make a play that can change the pace all together.

This month’s unsung hero is Jason King.

Though King has been exposed to his fair share of fandom from IceCaps fans all across the island, his steady play and quick decision-making in the defensive zone frequently gets overlooked by fans each night. But it’s a relief that his veteran presence can be counted on fully shift after shift. It’s not all defense for King either, who has put up some goals so far , including a rare one on the powerplay.

King’s play is very physical and he’s got a natural knack when it comes to plays along the half-wall. I don’t think I’ve seen him lose a battle along the boards once this season quite a feat for a guy who draws some pretty big minutes. Another big part of King’s defensive game is his ability and willingness to sacrifice his body to take away a shooting or passing lane. In the offensive zone, King continues to go to all the right places and has a net presence like no other member of the IceCaps, which is something I think will play a big part of getting the ball rolling on the powerplay as the season rolls on.

King, a nine-year pro veteran, has had lots of time to hone this skills, and will serve as a solid leader for other role players on this team. Before long you should see scrappy guys like Clark and Cormier emulating his play.

The first month of the season hasn’t been all great, however. There have been things to irk fans and leave people shaking their heads (and yelling from their seats). I’m talking about the struggles on the IceCaps powerplay. With the powerplay blanked on opening weekend, and currently sitting 5-56 (8.9%) on the season, it has found itself under the bus for this first month. The powerplay currently sits last in the AHL. Ouch.

But it isn’t all bad.

The current system on the PP has been subjected to a few subtle changes that may pay off in the goal department. First, I’ve noticed that players aren’t forcing the East-West passing as much of late. This is a good development since a lot of fans started to worry that a speedy player on the opposing team’s penalty-kill would pick off passes and create a short-handed break away situation.

Rather than going cross-ice, the puck as done a lot of traveling North/South from defensemen to a forward along the half wall in the past few games. At the last minute they may try to squeeze a D-to-D pass if the lane is there, but they aren’t forcing them as much as in the first few games.

Another thing to look forward to on this powerplay unit the IceCaps are using is their presence in front of the net. They’ve consistently had a forward going to the net hard. An age old adage in hockey is if you go to the net you’ll be rewarded. It’s doesn’t create the prettiest of plays, and the player in front of the goalie takes a hard thrashing, but it’s been seen effective time after time in seemingly every hockey league.

What I really like about the changes the powerplay is made is their attempt to simplify everything, relying heavily on shots from the point and net presence to create a scramble in front and somebody mop up the rebound. The current defenders on the IceCaps have impressive shots. Mark Flood has a bullet of a slapshot, and has already caught the post a few times this season. Artus Kulda has an amazing talent for finding other players sticks and can wind up a slap-pass similar to that of current NHL defender Ryan Whitney of the Edmonton Oilers.

As ironic as it sounds, some of the current woes of the powerplay can be attributed to just bum luck. The players, I’m sure, are aware of what seems like a never-ending drought with the man-advantage, and must be feeling snakebitten. In the first month we’ve seen pucks dance on the line, hit posts, crossbars and even go bar-to-bar and out. We’ve seen pucks ripped out of mid air from opposing team goalies making highlight reel save. And we’ve also seen fans lose their patience, screaming “SHOOOOOoooT” from nearly every section of the Mile One.

I don’t think it’s a matter of what can be change and if there has to be personnel changes on the PP, I think the small changes they did make and the simplifying tweaks will prove to be successful over time. Right now fans just have to sit and wait for it to either break out or hopefully catch fire. There’s no doubt in my mind the powerplay has been tossed under the bus – I’ve heard it everywhere in the city, from cab drivers to strangers across the bar after a game: … ‘they’ve got to fix the power play… if they scored on half of the powerplay chances we wouldn’t have lost.”

Though some of it may be true, fans aren’t talking enough about how much zone time the IceCaps have managed to spend inside the blue line on the PP, nor about the chances landed.

There’s a big difference between a bad powerplay and a powerplay that just can’t score. Right now the IceCaps fall under the latter of the two. Zone time piles up as other teams defenders are hard-pressed to clear the puck, and sometimes to the point where a player gets suckered into a holding or hooking call because they can’t. If the team can keep that up going forward, it should pay off in goals. For now fans just have to be patient with it.

Recap:

Month of October

Fan Favourite Award: Carl Klingberg

Unsung Hero Award: Jason King

Under the Bus: The IceCaps’ Powerplay

Disagree with anything I said, I’d love to discuss it. Shoot me an email at pickett2112@hotmail.com or follow me on twitter @pickett2112

Thanks for reading, and see you at the rink

Klingberg nets three, IceCaps throttle Bulldogs

sjicecaps.com

Carl Klingberg scored a hat-trick, John Albert picked up three assists, and Jason King scored his first goal in a 6-2 IceCaps win over the Hamilton Bulldogs on Saturday night. The offensive outburst vaulted Klingberg into the top of the AHL scoring race, though it’s obviously very early. The young Swede shot 100% last night to nab the hatty on only three shots. Impressive.

Special teams were a sore spot for the Caps again, going 0-7 on the powerplay to follow a 0-8 outing the night before. It’s obviously an area they’ll look to improve on, but six even-strength goals was enough to get the job done as the team moves to 3-1-0 on the season.

The IceCaps displayed a high level of team speed last night, and I was particularly impressed by how well they moved the puck at the point. If they can get their game together down low in the offensive zone, they should be able to start banging pucks in on the powerplay.

Patrice Cormier had a solid outing for the IceCaps. After being on the receiving end of a couple questionable hits early in the game, he bounced back with an assist and some big hits to boot later on. It’s also quite obvious that despite failing to notch a point this weekend, Paul Postma is the premier blue-liner on this club. Nobody shows as much confidence with the puck, and I’m sure the Jets will love to hear that.

The IceCaps are back in action on home ice next weekend when they host the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Friday and Saturday night, followed by weeknight games against Portland on Tuesday and Wednesday. The team will then pack their bags and go on the road for a little over a week.

Shots last night were 41-22 IceCaps, and Mannino nabbed his second win in as many tries between the pipes. Nathan Lawson took the loss for the Bulldogs.

**Notes: Marc Crawford was in attendance for the game last night, as it was “IceCapsules” night in honor of his AHL Coach of the Year Award in 1992 with the Baby Leafs… The fans were unreal, especially in the third period (I was glad to be part of that wave)

Email ryanfancey@gmail.com and follow here and here

Rival fans should make IceCaps’ season interesting

7,000 people will be filing into the Mile One Centre on a regular basis in the next few months. On most nights, things should look pretty uniform, or at least sound that way. We’ll hear a few “Go Caps go!” chants, and see tons of those gorgeous jerseys floating around. But every few weeks, things will be different.

For example, when the Hamilton Bulldogs, Toronto Marlies, and even to an extent, the WBS Penguins come to town, things won’t be so one-sided.

Photo: Hamilton Spec

Some believe that Canadiens fans (Bulldogs’ parent) may very well drown out IceCaps supporters in the first game of the season. While I believe this is far-fetched and not the case at all, there will definitely be a good opportunity for some Habs fans to show off their red, white, and blue. Is this really a bad thing? I don’t think so.

I wouldn’t put much stock in the idea that a few fans of other AHL clubs will take away from the IceCaps’ home advantage. That’s just foolish.

From CBC.ca’s Tim Wharnsby:

Newfoundland hockey fans do not alter their NHL  allegiances easily. Most of them are long-time supporters of the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs or Boston Bruins, or they cheer for the team of their favourite Newfoundlander, like Daniel Cleary of the Detroit Red Wings or Ted Purcell of the Tampa Bay Lightning. So even though the Winnipeg Jets have brought back pro hockey to the Rock by placing their AHL affiliate in St. John’s, the Jets have some work to do in this province to turn the locals into fanatics of the Jets.

Joe Colborne - Photo: Marlies.ca

As a Leafs fan, and writer for Maple Leafs Hot Stove, I’ve followed the team closely for basically my entire life (probably even more so in the last two years due to my newly found writing hobby.)

From discussing lineups, prospects, coaching decisions, trades, roster moves, and literally EVERYTHING in between with fellow Leafs fans and analysts, I’m probably much more familiar with the Marlies right now than I am with the IceCaps. Actually, there’s no “probably” about it. I am.

So when the Marlies finally do come to St. John’s in November, I’ll be looking out for the likes of Joe Colborne, Ben Scrivens, Mike Zigomanis, and others who I believe to have real futures with my beloved Maple Leafs. Do I dislike the Jets? Of course not. And I’ll be behind the IceCaps for the rest of their schedule no doubt, especially when they play those Bulldogs.

I’m sure by the time this season winds down, I should be just as familiar with the Jets/IceCaps lineups as I am with the Leafs/Marlies. But my allegiances will never shift, as is the case with most hockey fans in Newfoundland and abroad.

Eric Tangradi - WBS Penguins

I think the atmosphere created by these sorts of scenarios will make for some really interesting games down at the Mile One Centre. After all, a bit of friendly banter between hockey fans should add to the experience of taking in a pro hockey game. Just don’t throw any beer at me when I show up in my Luke Schenn Leafs jersey, and everything will be fine.

Email ryanfancey@gmail.com (twitter/maplestirup) and follow the blog on twitter here.

Goalie controversy for the IceCaps?

Photo: Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves

Not quite. But going into the 2011-12 AHL season, the team is questionable between the pipes.

During this week’s rookie tournament, it seems the Jets are impressed with what youngster Edward Pasquale is bringing to the table. Six years his junior, Pasquale will push Peter Mannino for the starting job in St. John’s when the season rolls around.

Mannino has been somewhat of an AHL staple over the past three seasons, compiling at least thirty starts in all three. Most recently he started 42 games for the Chicago Wolves last season.

Pasquale, on the other hand, has a smaller sample size to pull stats from, with only 24 AHL starts, all with the Wolves as well.

As mentioned, Pasquale is a kid born in 1990, while Mannino, a college product, is still looking to make his mark at 27 years of age. Pasquale comes from the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, taken in the 4th round by the Thrashers in 2009.

From the Toronto Sun, coach McAmbridge had this to say about Pasquale:

“He challenges the puck well, his lateral movement is very good,” said McCambridge. “His puck-playing ability is pretty decent for a guy at his status. He’s got some real positives, development-wise.”

Neither goaltender has really shown much in the ways of brilliance. Mannino managed a strong season in 2009-10 when he posted a .921 SVP in 38 starts, but regressed to a .892 last season.

In only 24 starts, Pasquale managed to keep an even .900 at the AHL level last season. Nothing to write home about, but let’s keep in mind the small sample size again.

For all of these reasons, I think we can expect a better performance from both guys this upcoming season. Mannino will look to retain his starting job and return to bringing up that save percentage to the .920+ range, while Pasquale will be pushing him the entire way.

Right now there’s no denying that from a Jets point-of-view, Pasquale is showing more upside due to his age and potential. Whether he can take the necessary steps to improve, only time will tell. Regardless, his journey to break into the NHL takes on a new, and possibly the most important chapter this season with the IceCaps.

Email ryanfancey@gmail.com and follow the blog @SJ_IceCaps

Check in to the IllegalCurve.com for Jets and IceCaps news, along with my weekend column “On the Farm” during the season.

Your Take: Who Should be the Captain of the IceCaps?

IceCaps defenceman Mark Flood

If you are familiar with the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and especially if you are a Newfoundlander yourself, it should come as no surprise that we are nothing if not proud of our heritage and culture, sometimes perhaps to a fault. So really then, I shouldn’t have been surprised to have been involved in a recent conversation (argument) at the Pepsi Centre here in Corner Brook about why Jason King has to be the captain of the 2011-2012 IceCaps. And yet, I was.

The guy I was talking with suggested that not only is King the natural choice to lead the IceCaps in their inaugural season, but that there would be a public backlash should somebody else be awarded the “C”.

As you likely know, captaincy in professional hockey is rewarded based on a player’s ability to inspire his teammates as opposed to strictly on-ice skill. Traditionally, when all things are running smoothly a team will have a captain and two alternate captains (each of whom wear an “A” on their jerseys). Of course this is by no means a rule and many variations have been seen in hockey over the years. The 2008-2009 Toronto Maple Leafs, for example, had no captain and a group of 5 players who wore an “A”, three at a time, alternating each month.

Of the players that have become IceCaps since the team officially moved from Chicago in July, only defenceman Mark Flood, a July free agent pickup, comes to St. John’s having worn an “A” with any AHL franchise last year (Manitoba Moose). This leaves the role of captain, and perhaps another alternate captain up for grabs, since King and several others have worn letters in the past.

Jason King

At 29 years of age, RW Jason King is definitely one of the more experienced veterans on the IceCaps and has experience at the NHL level with the Vancouver Canucks in addition to his recent years playing international hockey in Sweden and Germany. He certainly has the resume of a leader, but what about somebody like C Tim Stapleton?

Stapleton, also 29,  played 45 games for the Thrashers last season and has ample experience at the AHL and international levels with the Toronto Marlies, San Antonio Rampage, and Jokerit in the SM-Iiiga.

Tim Stapleton

So, my question is this: What do you think the IceCaps should do in regards to captaincy for the coming year?

Does King have the edge over somebody like Stapleton because of where he’s from? Are there other veterans you think could take the reins? Does Mark Flood get the first crack because of his prior position? Does the team even need to worry about this at this point? Discuss in the comments. I’m eager to hear what you guys think about this.

Follow @Normaniac747 and @SJ_IceCaps on Twitter.

Are fans jumping the gun a little with the IceCaps?

Eight hundred. The magic number.

With the latest (and likely final) season ticket push from the St. John’s IceCaps, it’s estimated that once all is said and done, there will be 800 seats available for single game tickets. For this reason, you would probably bet that there will be a lot of upset fans once the season rolls around and it’s nearly impossible to get into the Mile One Centre for a game. Then again, there could be some upset folks on the other end as well.

When it was announced that the AHL would return to the island over the summer, the city was abuzz, especially given that former Premier Danny Williams was behind everything. The IceCaps season ticket drive basically blew the doors off with well over 4500 seats taken right off the hop – St. John’s easily has the highest commitment of any current AHL club.

But what about when all of these fans, who’ve clamored to throw their money at the Mile One box office, lose some interest? This isn’t a slight against the team, the city, or the AHL. It’s just the way things work.

There are plenty of weekday games that will be scheduled for the IceCaps, can everyone who’s committed to 38 nights of hockey find time to attend all of these? When a lackluster team with a terrible record is in town on a Tuesday night, will the arena be packed? If the Caps run into a rough patch and fall in the standings, will people start to skip games? Not to mention, there will be folks who swept up tickets on an impulse buy, forgetting that their interest in hockey isn’t exactly as strong as they initially believed.

Don’t get me wrong, this club is in good hands – through both the fans and owners. The team will not fail, and they’ll have plenty of support. We know that. But right now the numbers suggest that every game will be sold out easily due to the insane amount of season ticket holders and the miniscule amount of tickets open to the general public. And it’s questionable as to whether those types of numbers are sustainable. In other words, nabbing single game tickets to a home game may not be that difficult at all once things start to shake out.

It’s like Dos Equis beer. When the first commercial was released about the greatest man in the universe, or whatever he is, the product flew off the shelves. Within weeks, sales basically disappeared and everyone was left with a ridiculous inventory of this equally ridiculously disgusting beer. That isn’t to say the team will run it’s course in St John’s, but you get the idea. Once the novelty wears off, it shouldn’t be impossible to get in to see your home team play. Just because you don’t have a few grand to throw down on a three-year commitment, doesn’t mean you’ll be left in the cold while everyone else enjoys pro hockey. Give it time, you’ll get your chance.

Email ryanfancey@gmail.com and follow on twitter @SJ_IceCaps