As the deadline to submit qualifying offers nears, General Manager Brent Thiessen and Coach Richard Matvichuk will have some tough decisions to make moving forward. The Missouri Mavericks can extend qualifying offers to as many as eight players. Entering their second season in the ECHL, the Mavs will look to make some significant upgrades, as the 2014-15 season yielded the first losing season in franchise history.
Matvichuk likes for his team to play an aggressive style, built around speed and big bodies in front. It will be interesting to see how he builds his team for the upcoming campaign. Having already retained the face of the franchise in Andrew Courtney, and having brought in a young, talented forward in Tanner Fritz from Ohio State University, the Mavs and Matvichuk are off to a good start. However, there is still a long way to go to bring this team back into the conversations of serious contenders for the Kelly Cup.
So, now it’s time to take a look into the Sin Bin Crystal Ball, and take a shot on whom the Mavs might extend qualifying offers. Take all of this with a grain of salt, folks. Matvichuk and Thiessen have forgotten more about hockey than I will ever know. Consider this simply fodder to fill some of these dreadful non-hockey days.
Goalies: Josh Robinson
After getting off to a shaky start in a Mavs sweater last season, Robinson proved to be the best goalie on the roster. I hear he was coveted at the trade deadline by multiple teams, but the Mavs thought so highly of him, that he was kept around. I’d be surprised if he wasn’t offered a qualifying offer.
Defenseman: Patch Alber, Alex Lepkowski, Chris Owens
Alber quickly became a fan favorite after proving that despite his small stature, he can give the big boys all they can handle. He has great speed coming out of the defensive end, and can move the puck well up and down the ice.
Lepkowski was asked to do quite a bit last season, especially after the season-ending injury to Brendan Rempel and the trade of Marty Lee. His consistent play and ability to throw his body around is something that can help this team moving forward.
Owens was brought on late in the season, and exceeded every expectation put before him. He notched seven points in 12 games, and played some big minutes at the end of the season.
The biggest question here is can Matvichuk make the blue line work with two undersized defensemen in Alber and Owens. To me, the upside of both of those guys forces his hand to keep them around. He’ll get creative with his pairings to avoid bigger forwards trying to take advantage.
Forwards: Lindsay Sparks, Brett Stovin, David de Kastrozza, Rocco Carzo
With his tremendous speed and skating ability, Sparks has the tools to be a star in this league. However, he needs to find the back of the net a little more often. His 22 goals last season might make you think otherwise, but struggling to finish plagued him all season. He has the ability to beat defenders and create space for himself, and those 22 goals really should have been around 35. His potential makes him a definite candidate for a qualifying offer.
Stovin was another terrific find for Matvichuk. With five goals in just eight games, he showed a scoring touch that the Mavs lacked on many occasions last season. To me, having Stovin, Sparks, and Courtney on a line seems like a pretty formidable group.
One thing that this team sorely missed last season was a big, physical presence that was also a contributor on both sides of the puck, a la Colt King. There were hopes that Ryley Grantham would help fill that role, but his inability to stay health put quite a damper on that. Matvichuk may have found the big man that he is looking for in de Kastrozza. He’s a big body at 6’3” and 220 pounds, but he also finds himself on the scoresheet, tallying 42 points in 64 games last season, and finishing with a +12.
Carzo, in addition to having a terrific name, is a 20+ goal scorer with AHL experience. At 6’1” and 203 pounds, he won’t get pushed around in front or in the corners. At just 24 years old, he is still on the upside of his career and could only get better from here on out.
Something to keep in mind is that if the Mavs are able to finalize contracts with any of these players before having to submit their qualifying offers, it could all change. I’m sure that Matvichuk will also want to keep guys like David Pacan and Tristan King, who also bring a lot to the table in talent and experience. Another thing to keep in consideration is the number of players that the New York Islanders plan on sending down to the ECHL for seasoning. While that decision is still a long ways away, it’s something that should be noted. We will find out soon enough which players were extended qualifying offers. Those noted above are simply guesses, but either way, the Mavericks will be a new-look team for 2015-16.