"We will win the AHL Calder Cup."
Those were the words said by Worcester Sharks head coach Roy Sommer prior to the start of the 2013-14 AHL season. Unfortunately, those words didn't become a reality as the Sharks failed to qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs for the fourth consecutive season and for the fifth time in the franchise's eight seasons.
With another long off-season ahead, here are five questions for fans to ponder until the puck drops in October.
Who comes back?
Currently, the Sharks have 12 players under contract for the 2014-15 season (Konrad Abeltshauser, JP Anderson, Ryan Carpenter, Chris Crane, Dylan DeMelo, Barclay Goodrow, Troy Grosenick, Freddie Hamilton, Eriah Hayes, Mirco Mueller, Rylan Schwartz, Daniil Tarasov). It should be noted that Anderson and Crane spent the entire season (sans the two games Crane played for the Sharks) in the ECHL with the San Francisco Bulls and Ontario Reign.
That leaves the Sharks with 21 players unsigned, ranging from unrestricted free agents (UFA) to restricted free agents (RFA) to players on AHL and amateur tryout contracts (ATO). Of the 20 free agents, 11 are RFA (Sena Acolatse, Adam Comrie, Taylor Doherty, Travis Oleksuk, Matt Pelech, Nick Petrecki, Brodie Reid, Harri Sateri, Sebastian Stalberg, Matt Tennyson, Marek Viedensky); four were on AHL contract (Kyle Bigos, Jimmy Bonneau, Dan DaSilva, Lane Scheidl); two were on ATO (Brock Higgs, Adam Schmidt); and four are UFA (Rob Davison, Bracken Kearns, John McCarthy, Chad Rau).
Where's the offense?
The top three leading scorers for the Sharks were Hamilton (22-21-43), Oleksuk (19-21-40) and DaSilva (17-20-37). Their combined 60 goals accounted for nearly 32-percent of the Sharks' offense as the team scored 189 goals for a 2.48 per game average. League wide, Hamilton was the only Shark to crack the top-100 of scoring as he finished 92nd while Oleksuk finished 109th.
The Sharks have not had a 50-point scorer since the 2009-10 season when Danny Groulx (14-52-66), Steven Zalewski (22-40-62), DaSilva (21-32-53), Logan Couture (20-33-53) and Benn Ferriero (19-31-50) all hit the plateau.
Looking down the pipeline, Goodrow, who was signed by San Jose to an entry-level contract (ELC) on March 6, could provide some offensive spark for the Sharks as he led the North Bay Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) in goals (33) and scoring (33-34-67) in his overage season. In addition, Goodrow has led the Battalion to the 2014 J. Ross Robertson Cup finals by registering 21 points (10-11-21) in 17 OHL Playoff games.
Another OHL'er who could add some bite to the Sharks offense is London Knights forward and 2012 San Jose draftee Chris Tierney, who was the Knights' second leading scorer with 89 points (40-49-89) and added another 17 points (6-11-17) in nine OHL Playoff games. Tierney, who was signed by San Jose to an ELC back in March 2013, turns 20 on July 1.
While Goodrow and Tierney have direction for their respective 2014-15 seasons, one junior player whose future is uncertain is 2012 San Jose draftee Christophe Lalancette, who could be eligible for the next NHL Draft if San Jose does not sign him by the June 1 deadline. According to Jonathan Habashi of L'Express, Lalancette's 59 points (16-43-59) in 68 games for the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) is being viewed as a "somewhat disappointing season" and the San Jose higher-ups aren't convinced they should sign Lalancette to his first professional contract.
Will the overseas players come over?
A common complaint I've read on social media (mostly Twitter) is that San Jose doesn't draft enough overseas prospects for their pipeline. Currently, San Jose has three overseas players in the pipeline but fans shouldn't get their hopes up if they're expecting one of them to make an immediate impact should they decide to come over.
The most likely player to come over for the 2014-15 season is forward Petter Emanuelsson, who was signed by San Jose to a two-year ELC back in June 2013. This past season, Emanuelsson registered 15 points (6-9-15) in 44 games for Skelleftea AIK of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). While Emanuelsson's assists totals matched that of his 2012-13 season, his six goals were down three from nine.
Another overseas player in the pipeline is 2013 San Jose draftee Emil Galimov, who finished with 12 points (7-5-12) in 43 games for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Although Galimov equaled his goal total from the 2012-13 season, his five assists were down eight from 13 and his plus/minus rating went from plus-eight to minus-five. In the KHL playoffs, Galimov registered four points (1-3-4) in 15 games.
The lone overseas goaltender is fellow 2013 San Jose draftee Fredrik Bergvik, who appeared in 32 games for Frolunda J20 of the Swedish SuperElit junior hockey league and posted a 2.60 goals-against-average and .904 save percentage. In his one game with Frolunda HC of the SHL, the 19-year old Bergvik made 16 saves in 34 minutes of play for a 5.34 goals-against-average and .842 save percentage.
Back in Oct. 2011, Darren Dreger of TSN/TSN.ca reported that eight NHL teams (San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary) held preliminary discussions with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly about the possibility of an AHL West Coast division. The reasons for the initial discussions were some of the teams felt their players weren't being properly developed due to the AHL grind, limited practice schedules, and that most of the farm teams are thousands of miles away from their NHL counterpart (the distance between Worcester and San Jose is 3,091.7 miles).
On April 10 of this year, Craig Morgan of Fox Sports Arizona wrote a follow up article that said the West Coast division, which would be known as the Pacific Division, could begin play in the 2015-16 season pending a likely approval by the AHL. Bill Ballou of Telegram.com reported on April 16 that should the Pacific Division be formed and approved, San Jose would move Worcester closer to the Silicon Valley by putting the team in either Sacramento or Fresno.
Is it time for San Jose Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson to part ways with coach Sommer, who has been a part of the San Jose organization since the 1996-97 season? Most fans who have followed Worcester would resoundingly say "Yes!"
Sommer, who this past season surpassed Frank Mathers as the all-time leader in AHL games coached (1268) and became the 10th man ever to coach 1600 professional games, has missed the playoffs nine out of 16 seasons when factoring in his time as the Kentucky Thoroughblades and Cleveland Barons head coach. Furthermore, fans have tired of Sommer's lack of game management and constantly calling out players in the press while never shouldering any responsibility for the team's constant struggles.
If the decision is made to relieve Sommer of his coaching duties, who should be the new head coach? Does Wilson promote assistant coach David Cunniff to head coach? Does development coach Mike Ricci get looked at? Or does Wilson look to bring someone in from the outside, such as Norfolk Admirals assistant coach Jarrod Skalde, who played for San Jose and the Thoroughblades from 1997-99, and was named the 2012-13 ECHL Coach of the Year?
Only time will tell, which there's plenty of until the 2014-15 season starts.