Happy New Year! I’d like to start 2017 off with some optimism.
Because I didn’t pay attention this summer… I just learned a couple of weeks ago there was no crossover rule for playoff seeding this season (where if the 5th place team in the other division in our conference has more points than the 4th place team in our division they bump them). THIS… combined with a very good last week of 2016 has completely changed our playoff chances.
A quick look at the current standings shows the Amerks trailing Toronto by 1 point for the 4th and final playoff spot in the North Division, although the Marlies do have a game in hand. We play Toronto a whopping SEVEN times more this season, including tonight and 3 other times this month alone. Staying ahead of them along with Utica and Bingo is our ticket in. CURRENT STANDINGS
As always in the second half of the season, this will become your best friend for gauging playoff probabilities: http://www.sportsclubstats.com/hockey/USA/AHL/Rochester.html
A scenario of a 23-18-2 finish to the season would give us better than an 80% chance of making it. Now, if Toronto were to catch on fire that could significantly change quickly – but for now I’m heartened to have meaningful games down the stretch. My gut feeling is that we are going to need to finish more like 26-17-ISH.
The next question to be posed is what kind of chance do we have to play better than .500 hockey? Well, I understand we’ve had a tough go of it this season prior to last week, but I’d prefer to remain hopeful that improving health will give us the team we expected from this summer. Minus several key pieces we dominated an excellent Phantoms team last Friday. And I mean dominated. However, we know the depth is thin in Buffalo and with one of either Falk or Fedun looking like they’ll stick, I feel very strongly that we need a solid AHL defensemen added to our lineup – just as Kennedy pretty much replaced Grant’s spot. Murray needs to make this happen and make it happen as soon as possible. Because of our potential vet numbers when everyone is healthy, acquiring help like this won’t be easy. Since we can only dress 5 veterans and 1 exempt each game (defined as having played 320+ regular season games at the AHL+ level and 260 to 320 for the Exempt, which is Fedun’s spot) Murray will need to find an AHL quality Dman who falls under that threshold. Maybe if we can see more of Bobby Shea he will be a creative solution for this? It should also be mentioned that some of our younger players are only getting better (See NYLANDER).
You’ll always hear grumbling about not wanting to just make it to go 3 and out, but I’m always of the opinion that if you get into the dance you never know what may happen. Keep in mind our playoff roster would be pretty, pretty, pretty good. Add the following to last week’s lineup and I think we’d have a chance at making some noise: Nylander, Fasching, Bailey, Carrier, Falk, Fedun and Burgdoerfer. Ullmark is certainly capable of getting hot and carrying a team in my opinion and Cal and Kennedy give us a tremendous 1+2 punch down the middle. And is anyone playing better than Schneider outside of the NHL right now!?! Getting Falk, Fedun and Burgdoerfer all in the lineup at once will be THE key.
Finally – I’ll leave you with this note: Our last Cup year (95-96) saw us in the basement in January AND with a record under .500 for the season. Let’s just get healthy and hot!