The Florida Everblades appear to be cruising to their third straight division title and a top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The real battle in the division lies in spots 3 thru 5, where the Orlando Solar Bears, Cincinnati Cyclones and South Carolina Stingrays are battling it out for two spots. What does each team need to do at this deadline to secure a berth or position themselves well for next season? Let’s find out.
Overall Record: 38-12-2-3, 81 pts (1st in South Division, 1st in Eastern Conference)
Home Record: 21-4-1-3
Road Record: 17-8-1-0
Last 10 Games: 6-3-0-1
Greatest Need: The Florida Everblades have been a model of consistency throughout the 2016-17 season. With equally good offense and defense, the team has managed to gain a total of over 80 points so far, which is over 10 points greater than that of the second place Swamp Rabbits, and the team seems to have everything in place. However, the one thing that the Blades have lacked this year is a good one-two goalie combination. Anthony Peters has been Florida’s go to goalie throughout the season, and he leads the entire league in minutes played (2399 minutes). Peters has started in nearly every game that the Everblades have played. While Peters has shown he can hold down the fort, it wouldn’t hurt for Florida to have a good backup goalie just in case something were to happen to Peters and to give Peters a breather now and then during a grueling playoff run.
Prediction for the Deadline: The Everblades, at this point, will be cautious buyers. With such a commanding lead in the South Division, it is highly unlikely that the team will want to shake up its current roster. Based on how decent their defense and offense are, the team would most likely opt to trade a defenseman. If they could find a good backup for Peters, then the Blades could possibly be in a trading spirit.
GREENVILLE SWAMP RABBITS:
Overall Record: 32-21-4-1, 69 pts (2nd in South Division, 5th in Eastern Conference)
Home Record: 15-9-2-1
Road Record: 17-12-2-0
Last 10 Games: 7-3-0-0
Greatest Need: The Swamp Rabbits have been surging of late, and the team is probably most interested in staying the course–which means minimizing disruptions due to injuries or call-ups. It is a well balanced team with no glaring weak spots. The Swamp Rabbits have been especially deadly in pouncing on opportunities. On Feb. 26 against Reading, the Swamp Rabbits racked up four tallies on special teams. And in the March 2 victory against the Orlando Solar Bears, the Swamp Rabbits put in four goals in the opening frame.
Prediction for the Deadline: The Swamp Rabbits might be willing to go after a defenseman if the opportunity arises. This would be partly as a hedge against injuries over the final stretch. But the Swamp Rabbits might well be willing to keep the ship sailing the way it is currently, as it seems to be working.
ORLANDO SOLAR BEARS:
Overall Record: 29-20-6-3, 67 pts (3rd in South Division, 7th in Eastern Conference)
Home Record: 17-9-3-3
Road Record: 12-11-3-0
Last 10 Games: 5-3-1-1
Greatest Need: If they stay healthy, the Solar Bears have a good one-two goalie punch with Ryan Massa (3.17 GAA, .910 SVS) and Kasimir Kaskisuo (a Toronto Maple Leafs contracted player with 3.45 GAA, .899 SVS). They also have some scoring firepower with some able and strong-bodied forwards like Joe Perry (30 goals) and Eric Faille (53 total points) and some two-way defensemen (like Ben Danford and Brendan Miller) who have shown that they can bury the puck. Where they need help is with defense and with agile puck-handling.
Prediction for the Deadline: The Solar Bears recently released Chad LaRose, a player with substantial NHL experience…including Stanley Cup experience with the Carolina Hurricanes. LaRose, however, was finding it difficult to get his legs back under him, and this might be a sign that they were clearing room for a veteran.
Look for Orlando to go after a commanding defender. They don’t need someone who scores, but they need someone who is smart and structured, who can help to clear out opposing players from in front of the net, and who can handle the puck smartly for clear-outs and break-outs from the defensive zone. The other possibility for Orlando would be for a small, agile forward. Here again, they don’t need a big scorer, but someone who is a good playmaker, someone who can set up other players taking position in front of the paint or in the slot. If they could find a nimble, energetic forward who is good at reading the ice (that is, the formations and movements of the opposition) and who will put in effort in all three zones, Orlando might go for him.
Overall Record: 31-25-4-0, 65 pts (4th in South Division, 8th in Eastern Conference)
Home Record: 21-8-4-0
Road Record: 10-17-0-0
Last 10 Games: 8-2-0-0
Greatest Need: The biggest need currently is for a top-line point scorer. The Cyclones lost Peter LeBlanc and Andrew Yogan, their two best point scorers, in January and could use the extra push offensively. They could also certainly use another shut-down defenseman, because if there’s one hole in their game, it’s been on the defensive side of things. The last game against Adirondack, they got outshot 46-14 and somehow won 2-0. But the team shouldn’t expect that type of miracle to occur on a regular basis.
Prediction for the Deadline: The Cyclones have been making a charge, and they are now squarely in the race for a spot in the South Division. I would predict them to be buyers if the right type of player is available (see above). The battle between the Cyclones, the Orlando Solar Bears, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, and the South Carolina Stingrays for the second through fourth spots is going to go down to the wire, and the Cyclones have a tough schedule in March, with a road trip that will take them to the Idaho Steelheads (2 games), the Alaska Aces (3 games), and the Fort Wayne Komets (1 game). If the Cyclones want to stay in the hunt, they could use some help on their roster.
SOUTH CAROLINA STINGRAYS:
Overall Record: 31-25-2-1, 64 pts (5th in South Division, 9th in Eastern Conference)
Home Record: 15-9-1-0
Road Record: 16-16-1-1
Last 10 Games: 5-5-0-0
Greatest Need: In the middle of February, the Stingrays seemed to be putting it into overdrive. They went 5-1 on a homestand that featured victories over Atlanta and Orlando and a sweep of the Manchester Monarchs in a two-game series. But the current road trip to the Western Division has been a reality check for the Stingrays and has demonstrated some flaws. One can forgive the Stingrays for losing against the Colorado Eagles who seem to be bulldozing all their opponents. But getting beat twice by the Rapid City Rush hurt them, and they are now in a fight to keep in the playoff hunt. Closing out the western road trip with a victory over the Eagles is a bright spot.
Right now the team needs to patch up its defense. Some have been pointing the finger at the goalies, but with Parker Milner back from Hershey, things are settling in that area.
Prediction for the Deadline: We wouldn’t be surprised to see an additional move or two by South Carolina (who acquired Derek Arnold from Manchester Monday,) which is in real danger of missing the playoffs. To add to the woes of the team, Domenic Monardo (31 points over 40 games) was called up to Hershey. So the Stingrays may be opportunists. They could use someone to fill the vacuum left by Monardo’s departure or someone to help with its defensive struggles. Allowing 23 goals over the last 5 games indicates a problem that needs fixing.
Overall Record: 21-27-6-2, 50 pts (6th in South Division, 11th in Eastern Conference)
Home Record: 11-16-3-0
Road Record: 10-11-3-2
Last 10 Games: 4-5-0-1
Greatest Need: Atlanta is for all practical purposes out of playoff contention, so it’s time to think of rebuilding. They really have a solid group of players, and their current record is both surprising and disappointing. The team should be looking to bring in some new blood, and it might want to go the way of Norfolk with an ATO (amateur tryout) agreement or two or some trades for intriguing prospects.
Prediction for the Deadline: Expect Atlanta to be in a cautious seller mode. Given the general defensive weaknesses that have appeared across the ECHL this year, I would not be surprised to see Rory Rawlyk moved if a team has a slot for a veteran open. He has over 300 ECHL games under his belt, and it’s not clear how many more years he will be playing in the league. He is certainly an ace that Atlanta holds for the trade deadline.
Overall Record: 21-32-4-0, 46 pts (Last in South Division, 12th in Eastern Conference)
Home Record: 12-16-3-0
Road Record: 9-15-1-0
Last 10 Games: 5-5-0-0
Greatest Need: The Admirals are out of the playoff hunt, so its greatest need is to take advantage of the remaining games to locate some talent for next year. There are signs that the Admirals are doing precisely that. On March 2, they traded defenseman Mike Krieg to the Wheeling Nailers for future considerations, and they followed that news with the signing of Jack Lewis to an ATO (amateur tryout) agreement. Lewis was captain of the team at Lake Forest College (NCAA Division III) for two years.
An even bigger need for the Admirals is attendance. They are currently averaging about 2800 in that category which is nearly a 25% drop over last year. They might look to the end of the year to try out some new approaches or ideas to see about bringing in more fans.
Prediction for the Deadline: One would predict the Admirals to be in a selling mood, but they need to be careful that they get some good future prospects for next year in return. I would expect Robbie Ftorek to be getting calls from other teams struggling to stay in the playoff race. Paul Cianfrini is a defenseman with some great experience under his belt (over 300 ECHL games played, including last year with the Wheeling Nailers), and I would not be surprised to see the Admirals let him go if they got something even more valuable in return.
The Sin Bin’s Dakota Johnson contributed to this piece.