In the words of my big sister: Five may be my least favorite number. Several seasons ago, the AHL went to a best-of-five first round and to a shorter season than the NHL. This was for many reasons, but mostly to attempt to hedge travel costs and the actual length of season (not just playing days). It was not uncommon that the AHL’s playoffs would just be starting now and would run deep into the summer. It was both pleasant and annoying. This five game first round, though … man. That’s rough.
"There’s a path, traveled by many … " (Joe Bonamassa, The Last Matador of Bayonne)
As I’m sure y’all know by now, the Amerks lost that fateful game five in Chicago to the Wolves. I can’t even be mad – sure, I am upset. I never like to see teams that I pour my heart and soul into lose. But I’m not mad. I cannot be mad at a team that pushed one of the best teams in the AHL to the point of elimination. I cannot be mad at a team that chased an all-star goaltender out of the crease in game four. I cannot be mad at a team that was able to NOT GET SWEPT (as was the case in the previous two seasons, when they faced the Toronto Marlies). I am actually fairly confident that, should this series have been a traditional 7 game battle, the Amerks may not have lost. Note the careful wording there haha.
It is not that the Amerks didn’t perform. The "homesick" Joel Armia ended the series with six points (3+3) in five games. Chad Ruhwedel was right behind him, with a point a game (2+3), and Luke Adam had four points (2+2) in the five games. The PIMs were present, as well. Mark Pysyk had zero points, but led the team with 14PIM. Colton Gillies, who is really fun to watch, had two points (1+1) and 11PIM. Brayden Irwin, who is also awesome to watch, had three goals and 10PIM. This Amerks team was more physical, without being a bunch of meatheads, than I remember teams of recent past.
The Amerks, as always, will face an interesting offseason. Their roster often takes the brunt of the UFA/RFA moves, as it is often the case that guys who’ve had a taste of the big time would like to go to a club that will wine them and dine them with ideas of playing with their big time. We saw it last season, most notably, in the departure of David Leggio. There is a sizable chunk of the Amerks roster that is on the RFA list, including goaltenders Matt Hackett and Connor Knapp. The good (not so good?) thing about the two of them is that I can’t see anyone really banging down their doors to promise them fame and fortune next season in the NHL. I also don’t know that they’ll be hanging around the Sabres organization forever and a day, though. There are a lot of good goaltender prospects coming up the pipes, and I’d hope that the organization would rather keep the likes of Andrey Makarov, who is under contract for quite some time, than the likes of Connor Knapp. No offense, Connor.
Also on the list are forwards Shawn Szydlowski, who spent his season in the ECHL, and Luke Adam. The curious case of Luke Adam. I … was not Adam’s biggest fan when he was initially sent to Rochester. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But I’ve seen the effort that the clubs have put into him and the effort that he has put back out, once he got over the fact that he was relegated to the AHL. I think that, unfortunately, Luke Adam is going to be another Mike Zigomanis. That is to say, a career AHLer. I don’t know that he’ll ever really be good enough again to pull solid NHL minutes. And that’s not a bad thing, it just is what it is.
Finally, defensemen Matt MacKenzie, Nick Crawford, Chad Ruhwedel, and Nicolas Deslauriers are all RFAs this summer. I’d like to focus on Deslauriers, only because I’ve become quite enamored with him as a hockey fan. Acquired in the deal that sent Brayden McNabb and two picks to the LA Kings, he has what I like to see in a defenseman – he can produce a little, he can get his body into the play, and he guards the blueline like he should. He doesn’t seem terribly preoccupied with being the offensive-defenseman, and I feel like he’s the kind of guy that the Sabres would like to hang on to moving forward. I would be surprised, and sad, to see him go. I haven’t even put on the sweater yet.
I have been told that I can have the summer "off," which is always fun (I think that’s something teachers do, maybe not people who do what I do, and I’m eternally jealous …), but I’ll continue to have hot NHL takes, and my whining over not having anyone left in the East to root for, over on Twitter. I will also do what I can to keep anyone interested in how the Calder Cup race shakes out. I hope you all have a great summer, and I hope to see you back here soon!!