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With another weekend of hockey in the rearview mirror, Dakota Johnson and I give you our three takeaways from the last week in the ECHL, plus tell you who we would choose as the league award winners for the week and the month of January.

Let’s get ‘er rollin’!

3. Greenville continues to collapse. With new ownership in place, is Brian Gratz on the hot seat?

After getting out to a 9-3-2 start to the season, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits have been in free fall, plummeting from second in South Division at one point during the season, to fifth as the calendar turns from January to February.

As we have discussed several times on the In the Corners podcast, Greenville’s offense started out as one of the most potent in the league, while the defense has been next to invisible all season.

Case in point, during the team’s 9-3-2 start to the season (through November 19,) the team scored 70 goals (an average of 4.67/game) while allowing 57 (an average of 3.80/game). Since November 19, the Swamp Rabbits are in quicksand, scoring just 77 times (an average of 2.56/game), while allowing 116 (an average of 3.74/game).

The offensive collapse appears to be happening earlier this year than last, when the Swamp Rabbits lost four straight games to the South Carolina Stingrays in the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs (the Swamp Rabbits won the first two games of the series.) During the offseason, Gratz appeared to reload in the offseason, bringing back Allan McPherson, adding Caleb HerbertBrandon Troock, and Evan Jasper to the roster. McPherson bailed for Europe, while Herbert hasn’t been the same offensively since his recent stint in the American Hockey League with Hartford.

With a new ownership group in place in Greenville, it is fair to ask if Gratz is on the hot seat, given his track record over the last two-plus seasons. During his tenure, the Swamp Rabbits have an 88-81-20 record and qualified for the playoffs last year. If they miss the playoffs this season, that would make two of three years they missed out.

The good news for Swamp Rabbits fans is that there is still time to make a run and get back into the top four in the division. Currently, they sit five points back of Atlanta for third and have two games “in-hand” on the Gladiators. Meanwhile, Orlando continues to scuffle (somewhat surprisingly) and the Admirals’ surge appears to have leveled off for now.

The Swamp Rabbits will be a curious team to watch as we approach the trade deadline.

2. We’re past the halfway mark of the season, just two points separate Colorado and Florida for the Brabham Cup. Who would have the edge between the two?

We did this earlier in the season when Wichita & Florida were the best teams in their respective conferences, so I thought we would revisit this now since Colorado & Florida appear to have their respective conferences on lock.

At the time this article was written, Florida holds a five-point lead on South Carolina and a 10-point lead on Manchester in the race for the best record in the Eastern Conference; while the Colorado Eagles hold a six-point lead on Toledo out west. Colorado also holds a two-point lead over the Everblades for the Brabham Cup.

So, let’s take a look. The bold green text in the boxes indicates which team has the advantage based on stats.

Even Strength (5-on-5, 4-on-4, 3-on-3) 104 5-on-5 goals
5 4-on-4 goals
5 3-on-3 goals
92 5-on-5 goals
2 4-on-4 goals
2 3-on-3 goal
Special Teams — PP 37-193 19.2% – 9th overall 31-171 18.0% – 13th overall
Special Teams — PK 143-168 85.1% — 6th overall 165-193 85.5% – 4th overall
Goaltending 31-7-4, 3.06 GAA, .904 sv% 30-9-1-3, 2.45 GAA, .909 sv%
Coaching Aaron Schneekloth 78-27-9 regular season record; 16-4 in Kelly Cup Playoffs Brad Ralph 208-94-29 regular season record; 21-25 in Kelly Cup Playoffs

There is one thing the breakdown doesn’t look at, and that’s the style of game the two teams play. Both teams mirror each other in that they are both physical, high-tempo teams that are solid on the back-end and in net. This would be a dream matchup to have in the Kelly Cup Finals, should both teams make it. On paper, this series is a seven-game lock, but Colorado possesses the ultimate “x-factors” in Michael Joly and Matthew Register, both of whom could clean up come awards season.

Looking back to 2006-07, the winners of the Brabham Cup have gone on to win the Kelly Cup three times.

2006-07 Las Vegas Wranglers Lost in Conference Semis to Idaho
2007-08 Cincinnati Cyclones WON KELLY CUP
2008-09 Florida Everblades Lost in South Division Finals to SC
2009-10 Idaho Steelheads Lost in Kelly Cup Finals to Cincinnati
2010-11 Alaska Aces WON KELLY CUP
2011-12 Alaska Aces Lost in Conference Finals to Las Vegas
2012-13 Alaska Aces Lost in Conference Semis to Stockton
2013-14 Alaska Aces WON KELLY CUP
2014-15 Toledo Walleye Lost in Conference Finals to SC
2015-16 Missouri Mavericks Lost in Conference Semis to Allen
2016-17 Toledo Walleye Lost in Conference Finals to Colorado

1. Which division in the ECHL is the deepest?

Heading into the season, it was easy to peg the Mountain Division as the “deepest” in the ECHL since it had the last three (four if you were to count the now-defunct Alaska Aces) Kelly Cup Champions (two for Allen, one for Colorado) and three coaches with more than 250 ECHL coaching wins on their resume (Malcolm CameronSteve Martinson, and Rob Murray).

Now that we are more than half-way through the season, it’s time to examine which division is the deepest in the ECHL. To do this, we compiled the overall win-loss record of all the teams (combined OTL & SOL), the average number of points in the division, as well as an average points percentage. Further, we also looked at how they fared against the other divisions, plus looked at how many teams had more than 25 wins and were over .500¹.

North South Central Mountain
Overall Record 134-104-26 148-127-33 153-121-20 148-115-37
Average # Points in Division 49 47 46.6  47.6
Average Points Percentage .555 .536 .552 .556

Division Head-to-Head records:

North South Central Mountain Combined
North 23-10-4 19-22-3 5-2-2 47-34-9
South 14-20-3 7-5-2 4-6-0 25-31-5
Central 25-14-5 8-7-0 28-20-3 61-41-8
Mountain 4-4-1 6-2-2 23-19-9 33-25-12

The north division leads the way with three teams having more than 25 wins and four teams with more than 50 points, by far and away the best in the ECHL. The Central Division leads the way with six teams with a .500 or better record, while the Mountain is the next closest with five.

So, now that all the stats have been laid out there, what does it tell us?

Well, for starters, there is no clear-cut “best division in the ECHL,” but it is fair to say that the North (with only six teams) and the Mountain are among the best in the league when it comes to overall record, average number of points & points percentage. But, head-to-head, the Central division is heads and shoulders the best in the ECHL, having played multiple games against each division (likely due to travel costs, the location of intra-conference opponents.)

What the stats do tell us though, is that the Central and North divisions have a slight edge in being the “deepest” in the ECHL, based on the teams over .500, the number of teams with 25 wins and 50 points.

Of course, all of this is good fodder, for now, the real measuring stick starts in ~70 days.

Time to hand out some virtual “hardware!”

If we were given award ballots, here are our choices for the league’s weekly and monthly awards.

Harding’s Awards

Goalie of the Week – Adam Morrison (WHL): Morrison improved to 7-0-1 in his last eight games with a 3-0-1 week, during which he allowed eight goals on 141 shots. During his stint in Wheeling, Morrison is 9-7-1, with a 2.70 goals against average and a .913 save percentage.

Player of the Week – Michael Joly (COL): We are running out of words to describe Joly, who is on a 50-goals-in-50-games pace this year in the ECHL (call-ups notwithstanding), and currently sits at 33 goals in 34 games. Last week, Joly continued to add to the total by potting another four goals in three games. Currently, he is on a five-game goal streak.

Goalie of the Month – John Muse (WHL): The Reading netminder has been red-hot since the holidays. In January, Muse is 9-1 with a 1.87 GAA and .944 sv%. He is currently in a 12-1 stretch where he has gone 11-1 against the North Division, has a 2.05 GAA and a .940 save percentage. (h/t @REALDavidFine…Reading Royals announcer)

Player of the Month – Peter Sivak (RC): The Rapid City Rush forward has been almost unstoppable this month, scoring 11 goals and adding 10 assists (21 total points) in 12 Rush games during January. Sivak now sits in a tie for 11th in points in the ECHL.

Johnson’s Awards

Goalie of the Week – Adam Morrison (WHL): See above

Player of the Week – Reid Gardner (WHL): The Nailers candidate for Rookie of the Year continues to have a stellar year. Last week, Gardner posted five goals and two assists (7 points overall) as the Nailers pulled into a tie with the Manchester Monarchs at the top of the North Division.

For the season, Gardner has 43 points (26G, 17A) in 41 games, which puts him ninth overall in league scoring and two points behind Justin Danforth (CIN) for the rookie scoring lead.

Goalie of the Month – John Muse (REA): See above

Player of the Month – Jefferson Dahl (IDA): The Steelheads’ Captain continued his ascent up the league scoring chart during the month of January, collecting 16 points (5G, 11A) in nine games. Currently, Dahl is seventh in the ECHL, with 44 points in 37 games.

¹=> All statistics were collected and computed on January 29, 2018

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