Grand Rapids stumbles to end up 25th out of 30 teams...
By Jason Kasiorek
April 20th, 2012
The Griffins' slim playoff hopes, hanging on by a thread were dashed in epic fashion as the team dropped its final three contests to bow out of the postseason for the third consecutive year. The primary farm club of theDetroit Red Wings has fallen on hard times, sitting out of the Calder cup chase for the fourth time in five seasons. Unfortunately it looks like next year will be more of the same, as the Wings appear happy with the player development going on in Grand Rapids and have already indicated their preference to retain the coaching staff for another season. Add to that that almost two-thirds of the players are still under contract for next season and we have a problem.
This season's team looked very much like the last three, talented but erratic. They were frustrating to watch for most of the season. With their poor team defense and flawed work ethic, they seemed incapable of putting together a full 60-minute effort. Sure there were several winning streaks. But they only served to tease us with the heights these players were capable of but could not sustain. We have heard a variety of excuses related to the wrong mix of veterans, too many call-ups, injuries, and the learning curve of rookie pro's. We have seen a merry-go-round of player movement, shuffling people in and out of the organization and lineup with little or no effect. The Griffins seem to have changed out everyone except the coaching staff in the last four seasons including the general manager and several behind the scenes people.
I submit that the Griffins have not done a great job of player development, far from it. The players who have played well after being recalled by Detroit have excelled because of their talent, not because of anything that is happening in Grand Rapids. We are instead teaching the prospects about lack of preparation, motivation and work ethic and worse still, that is OK to lose. Grand Rapids has one of the most highly regarded development coaches in Curt Fraser. He is bright, funny, articulate and well respected in the hockey community. Where is the disconnect?
The end of this season could spell the end for several of the Griffins' elder statesman as frequent whipping boy Logan Pyett heads a cast of players whose contracts are up this summer. He is joined by veterans Chris Minard and Jamie Johnson, who will likely find other employment over the summer, and Doug Janik, Garnet Exelby and Chris Conner who may be back if they don't find an NHL offer. Fabian Brunnstrom will also be an unrestricted free agent, but may return as he fills a niche as an experienced player who does not count as a veteran. Blueliner Travis Ehrhardt is a restricted free agent and has probably played well enough to get another contract. Gustav Nyquist and Brendan Smith got extended looks in the NHL and will likely graduate to the parent Red Wings.
The incoming class of freshman is expected to be headlined by offensive wizard Tomas Jurco, as well as first round pick Riley Sheahan, blueliner Adam Almqvist and netminder Petr Mrazek. The Wings will also pay close attention to the organizations goaltending depth, especially if Joey MacDonald backs up in Detroit next season. They will probably have to add a veteran between the pipes in Grand Rapids as the number three spot in the organization, both for stability and to tutor Mrazek. Assistant Wings GM Jim Nill, the architect of the Griffins will also have his hands full replacing the veterans that are not retained.