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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, May 09, 2017 1:00 am


No need for Komets to build from scratch

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

There are two ways to look at what the Komets need to do now: Blow it up or build on what they've started.

The latter would be wiser.

A 4-1 loss to the Toledo Walleye in the Central Division finals certainly left a bitter taste in the mouths of local fans, but the truth is it was a successful season.

The Komets had the fourth-best record (45-19-8) of the ECHL's 27 teams during the regular season, have advanced to at least the second round of the playoffs in three consecutive years and might still be playing, if they hadn't run into inarguably the league's best team.

If the Komets were to diverge from their plan of 2016-17, it would mean finding a new coach, probably dumping the nucleus of players and getting an affiliation with an NHL team. That doesn't make much sense.

Coach Gary Graham's regular-season record is 169-84-35, his playoff record is 27-22 and he's won 5 of 9 series. Those are solid numbers and he's improved at managing players and developing systems. Penalty problems and mental lapses were less a coaching issue than a personnel one. Graham put the players in position to be successful, they just couldn't get out of their own way sometimes.

If you want to criticize Graham and general manager David Franke for putting together a roster with players unwilling to correct mistakes, that's another matter and more easily correctable than changing the coach or his style. ­Graham understands the storied history of the organization, the demands of the fans and is respected for his work ethic.

Some of the most frequent offenders with penalties, turnovers and botched scoring chances were the older players who should know better. Considering the Komets have stated the desire to get younger and faster, players like Shawn Szydlowski, Mike Embach, Cody Sol, Garrett Thompson and Brett Perlini are in more precarious positions than are Mike Cazzola, Kyle Thomas, Gabriel Desjardins, Jason Bink­ley and Travis Ewanyk, who should be the priorities this summer, along with goalies Pat Nagle and Garrett Bartus.

Almost all the players had good, if not great, regular seasons and no snap judgments should be made over one bad series, even if Toledo has dogged the Komets for three years running.

Although the Komets were the only ECHL team without an NHL affiliation, they proved that's not necessarily a hindrance. They had a competitive roster and weren't pillaged by a higher-level team when it mattered most. Six players still got called up to the American Hockey League – that will be a good selling point to free agents – and the Komets navigated the biggest obstacle to independence, managing the salary cap, when they were ravaged by injuries.

The owners and, if they're being honest, the fans prefer not having the roster managed from afar.

It's nice to see a couple of players move up to the NHL, but not enough here to make up for players being called up to the AHL to sit in the stands, the big club unconcerned with the impact on the Komets.

Fort Wayne was spoiled with five championships in 10 years in the United, International and Central Hockey leagues, so a second-round loss may feel nauseating. But the path back to a Cup is closer than you think.

Notes: The Komets have changed the start time for the end-of-season party to 6:30 p.m. today at Memorial Coliseum's Appleseed Room. The jersey auction will begin at 7 p.m. Admission is $5. Season-ticket holders and kids under 12 get in free.