From the Eagles Desk: Breaking Down the Season, Part 4 – The Veterans

The AHL is a developmental league and has rules in place to limit veterans from dominating lineups. Each team must have 12 skaters with fewer than 260 pro games (NHL/AHL) and one that has 320 or fewer, as of the start of the season, in any given game. Basically, you can have 5 vets. The Eagles had 3 guys with more than 320 games (Aggz, Wars, Bass) and 1 with more than 260 (Alt). They also added McCormick during the season.

So the teams must choose wisely and fill needed roles. Agozzino and Warsofsky were there mainly to provide consistent scoring, Alt was the defensive defenseman and Bass was there for intangibles.

My definition of vet is a little broader and includes anyone beyond their entry-level contract. The eight skaters and both goalies below fit that niche. The ECHL callups who saw the most PT are included after that to round out the player evaluations for the year.

The Veterans

Andrew Agozzino – 28yo C, role: top 6 forward, PP1, PK1  11 NHL Games
Even Strength PPG: 0.61, Shooting percentage: 15.5%, SOG per game: 3.0

Aggz has been a fixture in the Avs AHL system for all but one season of his pro career. He is still the all-time leader in many scoring categories for the Lake Erie Monsters. His job is to generate offense and play the vet forward role, which he did quite well. He set a career high in points per game with 60 in 56 and was 2nd in the league to Logan O’Connor with 7 shorthanded points. This was a good bounceback campaign after a lackluster season with a terrible Rampage team last year.

This was the second year of a two-year contract and there’s really no reason not to bring him back. He’s an elite AHL scoring vet and something every club needs. This is exactly the kind of veteran you want.

David Warsofsky – 28yo LHD, role: scoring defenseman, PP1
EvStrPPG: 0.27, Sh%: 2.8%, SOG/gm: 3.5

Warsofsky was also in the 2nd of a 2-year deal and like Aggz bounced back from a lean season in San Antonio. He and Meloche had similar scoring rates at the top of the regular defensemen (but behind Davis) and his 17 power play points were 2nd on the team. Again, this was a vet hired to do a job and did it well for the most part.

Wars is a UFA in July and whether he comes back probably has less to do with him and more with what the Avs already have signed or under team control. Last season he played 20 games with the big club and this year never got a call. I wouldn’t rule out re-signing him but I don’t get the feeling it’s likely either.

Scott Kosmachuk – 25yo RW – role: middle 6 forward, regular PP
EvStrPPG: 0.28, Sh%: 10.3%, SOG/gm: 2.15

Kosmachuk was brought in for scoring help and his numbers were in line with his career other than on the power play, which was dreadful and not directly his fault. His play without the puck was a little uneven and got him moved down the lineup and even scratched towards the end. Overall I’d say his season was close to expectations more or less.

Kosmo is a Group VI Free Agent which means that since he hasn’t played a requisite number of NHL games he will be unrestricted in July. There’s room for him to come back but in situations like this both parties tend to move on.

Max McCormick – 27yo F, role: middle 6 forward, PP & PK
EvStrPPG: 0.20, Sh%: 5.4, SOG/gm: 1.5

Max was the return for the puzzling J-C Beaudin trade in early February. Without knowing exactly why the trade was made, and for him specifically, it’s tough to evaluate. He definitely made the team older and slower, so there’s that. In approximately the same number of SOG his shooting percentage went from 18% in Belleville to 5.4% in Colorado. The staff stuck with him on the power play for much too long which didn’t help. Best guess this was done for intangibles like leadership, grit, etc which have specious influence at best. Overall I would characterize his time with the Eagles as ineffective.

McCormick is UFA and there are no concrete reasons to bring him back.

Mark Alt – 27yo RHD, role: captain, defensive defenseman, PP & PK  2 NHL Games
EvStrPPG: 0.21, Sh%: 4.9%, SOG/gm: 2.0

Alt was named captain a few weeks into the season and as far as I can tell did well there. Setting aside his usage for a moment, defensively he was fair and the Eagles penalty kill was one of the season’s bright spots thanks to his contributions. Offensively he was sort of a black hole and here we get into the usage issue. Alt does not have scoring skills and using him in offensive situations and especially the power play is indefensible. Deploying he and Anton Lindholm as a top pair became a self-fulfilling prophecy when it came to Colorado’s offensive struggles this year. This isn’t on him at all, he was asked to be something he isn’t and did the best he was able.

This was the first year of a two-year contract so Alt will return next season.

Mason Geertsen – 24yo LHD, role: defensive defenseman, 2nd unit PK
EvStrPPG: 0.24, Sh%: 5.4%, SOG/gm: 0.97

Geertsen was on a show-me deal after his ELC concluded last summer. He settled into a 3rd pair role with Boikov and paradoxically became the offensive producer of the two. This was a sneaky good offensive season with his points per game more than doubling and ended up 3rd among the regular D’s in even strength points. Mase’s game has rounded out well over the past two years and at this point works well for the veteran/minder role with a younger partner.

Geertsen is RFA with arbitration rights in July. I think he’s a good fit with the Eagles and in the Avs system if that’s something he’s comfortable with. He’s won a Kelly Cup here and if Mark Alt moves on after next season he would be the easy pick to be the next captain.

Ryan Graves – 23yo LHD, role: top 4 defensman, PK  26 NHL Games
EvStrPPG: 0.22, Sh%: 3.1%, SOG/gm: 2.0

Remains to be seen at camp in September but Graves seems to be the sole graduate to the NHL from the Avs minor league system this season. One could make the case that he was kept with the Avs because his waiver exemption ran out and they didn’t want to lose him but I’m comfortable with the staff’s affinity for actually playing him. He ended up the 7th D (8th after Makar’s arrival in the playoffs) and should have the inside track for that spot next season. While with the Eagles he was mostly good with a few off nights (even a scratch or two) and 5 points in 26 games.

Graves is RFA with arbitration rights and should be signed sometime in July. I don’t expect to see him in Loveland next year but stranger things have happened.

Cody Bass – 32yo RW, role: bottom 6 forward, some PK
EvStrPPG: 0.17, Sh%: 7.1%, SOG/gm: 0.8

Bass is the lone AHL contract on this list and appeared in Eagles camp after a PTO with the Avs in pre-season. I was not a fan at first but came to respect and sometimes even enjoy his play. What was tough to watch were the string of violent injuries he sustained, causing him to miss close to half the season and require facial surgery on his orbital bone after it was over. Many have spoken of his leadership off the ice and I’ll take it that was helpful. On the ice, as a former part-time NHLer he had enough skill and savvy to guide young players like Igor Shvyrev as best he could. If this is a role that management insists on having then Bass is a positive example of a guy that fits it.

Bass is unrestricted again next year. Theoretically I wouldn’t mind if he comes back, again using the premise that management will have someone like this no matter what plus the alternatives are grim (see below), but for the sake of his health it might be better if he moves on.

The Goalies

Pavel Francouz

Francouz was one of the top goalies in the KHL and signed with the Avs to get some experience in North America and see where that led. They kind of screwed him (and themselves) over by not starting him in a back-to-back game in Phoenix late in December where he ended up relieving Grubi anyway. In two NHL relief appearances he played very well but never got a start.

In the AHL Frank was one of the best in the league all year. He finished top 5 in wins, saves and save percentage and generally made it possible for Colorado to make the playoffs. He was by far the best AHL goalie the Avs have had and it gave the team a huge boost.

Francouz was on a one-year deal and will become a free agent in July. His waiver exemption is up so he’ll be on an NHL team next fall if he stays in North America. Speculation has him perhaps as the Avalanche backup tender next year so keep an eye peeled for that.

Spencer Martin

Marty got 5 starts in the first 5 weeks of the season and looked pretty awful, going 0-3-2 with an .855 save percentage. He took the next month off and something changed. From then on he was very solid and even outplayed Frank at times. His masterpiece was a 68-save shutout against Ontario on January 25th.

Marty’s always been inconsistent and who knows if that ever changes. We do know that can be very good, he’s big and still young at 23 years old. He will be an RFA this summer with arbitration rights. The question is do the Avs qualify him. With Adam Werner signing, if Marty sticks around he would be the primary goaltender in Loveland to start the season and the Avs staff would have to have confidence in him to back up at the NHL level if things go wrong. I wouldn’t have a problem with this situation but more goes into it like who, if not Francouz, is the backup for the Avs and so forth.

ECHL Callups of note

Tim McGauley – 23yo F, role: various
EvStrPPG: 0.26, Sh%: 9.1%, SOG/gm: 0.96

McGauley is a 3rd year pro, mostly in the ECHL, and the only member of this group to have a positive impact. He’s got a lot of speed and decent skill for a callup. At times he was a benign passenger on the top line with Toninato and Greer but disappeared in a bottom 6 role. I didn’t mind his play at all but using him ahead of established players on the team in a top line/PP role is bizarre.

Grayson Downing – 27yo F, role: middle 6 forward, PP
EvStrPPG: 0.08, Sh%: 10%, SOG/gm: 0.77

Downing is the kind of off-season signing that drives me nuts. Nothing other than age and experience on the CV but here we are. He had some sort of injury or conditioning issues and missed most of camp. Played a few games in October and November then started getting in the lineup regularly in December. No points in his last 7 games which were capped off with a heinous kneeing major that lost the Eagles a game vs Ontario. From there he went to Utah and barely played the rest of the year. Bye.

Caleb Herbert – 27yo RW, role: bottom 6 forward, PP
EvStrPPG: 0, Sh%: 10%, SOG/gm: 1.0

Herbert was an All-Star in Utah and got a few callups with the Eagles totaling 10 games. He wasn’t very effective but that’s fine. This is the type of move an org makes to keep players happy where they are. Mostly this was due to injury needs but a few of the games he played ahead of youngsters who needed the time more and that’s a questionable philosophy.

Kale Kessy – 26yo F, role: talentless goon
EvStrPPG: 0, Sh%: 0, SOG/gm: 0.4

Kessy averaged over 8 PIM’s per game in the ECHL so naturally Avs management pegged him as a perfect fit for the Eagles down the stretch. He facepunched his way to 81 PIMs in 15 games then came back for Colorado’s playoff elimination game where he took the Bakersfield Condors top line center out for the season with a vicious boarding penalty. I’m terrified that the Eagles might have already signed him to an AHL contract for next year to take Cody Bass’ place.

Overview

The four veterans making up the leadership group, Aggz, Wars, Bass and Alt did their jobs. There were mistakes and they weren’t perfect but looking at the season as a whole they should feel fine about their performances. As usual, I’m not taking usage into consideration just what they did compared to their abilities.

Mason Geertsen was one player on this list that I feel actually improved over the season. Ryan Graves did too to a lesser extent but he wasn’t around for the whole deal and obviously ended up in the NHL which is a good thing. Scott Kosmachuk started out ok but didn’t keep up with the pace of the season. Compared to many similar signings for the same role over the years he was refreshing however.

Max McCormick was the answer to a question that didn’t need to be asked. If he had been installed in Cody Bass’ role while he was out with injury he might have showed better than he did. Again, I try to separate the player from the role as much as possible here. His ability was a poor fit for what he was asked to do and the staff never ended up finding a way for him to be much of a contributor. That’s on both parties.

Other than Tim McGauley none of the ECHL callups stood out positively. Kale Kessy was embarrassing. You take what you can get when the roster develops holes but there’s no reason to burden your team with a player that’s just out there trying to injure people. This was the first year of the Eagles-Grizzlies affiliation so there’s some room for improvement. Given the way the Avs & Eagles were able to recruit ECHL talent with a little AHL upside in the past I think they’ll be able to make some headway there over the summer.

The goalies were a bright spot for Colorado and a big reason they squeaked into into the playoffs. Francouz and Martin played every minute this year, practically unheard of on an AHL club. Joe Cannata dressed a few times but never hit the ice. Along with Francouz’s solid play all year and Martin’s from December on, the familiarity and predictability of having the same guys in net every night allowed the staff and players a high degree of confidence. Knowing what can be expected from goaltending can hide other flaws and give a margin of error that turns into more aggressive play on penalty kills and other defensive situations. This season a fair amount of the team strategy was built from the goalie out, which was a smart way to use a talent advantage.

Next up

The final part of our season review will be on coaching and management.

Thanks to the AHL for stats and standings and to the Colorado Eagles for the feature photo.

earl06

Scoring LW, punchy climber for the Ardennes classics, spirit guide

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