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The Journal Gazette

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Komets coach Gary Graham, right, directs practice as Mike Embach skates by at Memorial Coliseum. Graham will be back for a fifth season with the Komets, who will only be able to keep four of their seven veteran skaters, a list that includes Embach. 

Thursday, June 01, 2017 8:40 pm

Coach back, but changes in store for K's

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

There wasn't much doubt that they would get a deal done, I don't think, but there's still a measure of relief and excitement with the Komets that they don't have to worry about the coaching hire and can now get on to putting together the roster for the 2017-18 version of the team.

“Obviously, there's going to be a feeling of unfinished business until we bring a Kelly Cup to Fort Wayne,” said coach Gary Graham, who has a record of 169-84-35 in the regular season, 27-22 in the playoffs and has won 5 of 9 series in his first four season as head coach. “It's been the goal since I was hired to come in here four years ago.

"We were trending deeper into the playoffs my first three years and obviously we fell short of that this year. So the feeling is obviously that this was a tough one – I wish we were still playing – but it is what it is and (general manager David Franke) and I will work to figure out what went wrong.”

Neither Graham not Franke would disclose the length of the coach's contract. (By the way, I get why they won't talk about the financial details, but shouldn't fans get to know at least the guaranteed length?)

This season, the Komets were 45-19-8 for the fourth-best record among the ECHL's 27 teams during the regular season, had a league-best home record of 28-7-1, defeated the Quad City Mallards in a first-round playoff series and lost to the top-seeded Toledo Walleye in a second-round series

“You look at Gary and he's a hard worker,” Franke said. “He's proven to be a good coach at this level. We had 98 points on the season, the best home record in the ECHL and a second-round playoff appearance. I think that's all deserving of Gary coming back.”

There's much else to cover from my talks today with the Komets:

-- No matter how you cut it, there will be a lot of changes to the roster next season. The Komets can only have four players of veteran status (260 games) on their roster and last season’s roster included seven such players. That doesn’t include goalies; they don’t factor into your roster limit but a veteran goalie does command veteran wages and, yes, Pat Nagle qualifies. Who are the Komets’ veteran skaters? Captain Jamie Schaafsma, Mike Embach, Will Weber, Shawn Szydlowski, Travis Ewanyk, Cody Sol and Dan Milan.

-- It’s still very early in the process, but I can tell you that Graham knows he wants to add two things in particular: Forwards who won’t pass up shots and defensemen who can play at both ends of the ice. He noted the lack of offensive defensemen wasn’t totally in their control this season. Gabriel Beaupre suffered his early season concussion and Bobby Shea was called up and injured multiple times.

-- No word yet on players who have retired. I’m hearing some chatter that Mike Cazzola is getting big offers from Europe, so don’t be shocked if the Komets are priced out of getting their MVP back. But I am hearing there’s a good chance Nagle returns.

-- The Komets are strongly considering hiring a full-time non-playing assistant coach, something they didn’t have after Konstantin Shafranov left for Russia last summer. They did have Olivier Legault helping out in the postseason. I know you’re immediately wondering what that means for Schaafsma and the answer is maybe nothing. Schaafsma has indicated to the Komets and to me that he’s planning on holding off retirement at least one more year because he had such a good season. The Komets sound as if he’s a guy they want back.

-- The Komets have been speaking with NHL teams about affiliating, after they were the ECHL’s lone independent squad this season. Franke said: “It’s something that we would like to do if we can get the right setup and make sure that our roster isn’t decimated through the course of the season.” It’s worth noting that the Komets still had seven players called up this season. It’s also worth noting that none of them were gone during the postseason. I was told there’s a 60 percent chance of them affiliating. The Komets’ affiliation with the Colorado Avalanche ended last summer. The Avs’ new ECHL affiliate, the Colorado Eagles, is in the Kelly Cup finals. However, only two players, Alex Belzile and Mason Geertsen, were with the K’s.

-- All 22 players on the Komets’ roster were put on their protected list, submitted to the league office today, and the next step will be paring that down to a season-ending roster of 20 by June 15. Can anyone follow these rosters? Why do we need to have a protected list and a season-ending roster? GMs and coaches can barely follow this stuff, which means reporters understand it even less and therefore fans must be totally confused on the many roster dates that come up throughout the offseason.

-- Congratulations to Doyle Woody of the Alaska Dispatch News for winning the ECHL’s Outstanding Media Member award in his final season covering the league because the Aces are no more.