UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- For the first time since the 2001-02 season, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins will not make an appearance in the Calder Cup playoffs.
Wilkes-Barre was eliminated from playoff contention with a 8-1 loss to the Utica Comets on Friday evening, ending the active league-best postseason appearance streak at 16 seasons. This is only the third time in franchise history that Wilkes-Barre has missed the playoffs, along with 2002 and the inaugural 1999-00 season.
Wilkes-Barre, in its 20th AHL season, has yet to win its first Calder Cup. The team has made it to the Final three times in its history -- 2001 (its second year in the league), 2004, and 2008.
There are two games remaining in Wilkes-Barre's season before some players head home for the summer and others join the team in Pittsburgh as Black Aces.
The Wheeling Nailers' season also ended earlier this week. The Nailers have now failed to qualify for the Kelly Cup playoffs in three consecutive seasons after making it to the final for the second time in franchise history in 2016. The Nailers have now missed the postseason in 13 of their 27 seasons, including when they were named the Thunderbirds.
The first priority of a minor-league team is to develop players and move them through the system. Winning is secondary.
A Calder Cup would be nice, but having players like Teddy Blueger, Garrett Wilson, and Adam Johnson earn time in the NHL is nicer. Anyone questioning Clark Donatelli's job security is ridiculous, given the number of guys he has helped move through the system, dating back to his days in Wheeling. That's the priority. That's what a farm team is. He can only work with what he is given.
16 straight postseason appearances is remarkable. But with Pittsburgh trading away picks and prospects to win two Stanley Cups, recalling the key players they did this season, and Wilkes-Barre dealing with its own injury problems, it's not that surprising that the streak finally came to an end.
With the season all but over, it will be good to see the players currently on amateur deals -- Jordy Bellerive, Jan Drozg, Alex D'Orio, and more -- finish out the year. Those are the guys who will look to help the team return to the postseason next year.
The Nailers had success in the same regard. For much of the season, they only had one skater -- defenseman Dane Birks -- who was an actual Pittsburgh prospect. The mid-summer coaching change presented some challenges when it came to building a roster, but new head coach Mike Bavis did an excellent job in developing prospects.
Players like Yushiroh Hirano and Cedric Lacroix stumbled out of the gate to start the season, and eventually grew into integral players on the team. Multiple players earned AHL stints, whether it be in Wilkes-Barre or another organization. That is what matters, because those are the players who have the potential to continue to increase their roles in the organization. Again, it's a farm team. That's the goal. Good prospect development doesn't always translate to a winning team, and a winning team doesn't necessarily mean that the team is stocked with solid prospects.
Finally, I'd like to thank all of you for following along in my second year covering the Penguins' minor-league system. It wasn't the most exciting year given the lack of prospect depth, but the readership and response to the weekly features on both teams in the system remained strong, and that's why we keep doing this. There probably aren't many markets where this sort of thing would have worked, but you've showed that Pittsburgh fans are interested in the future and the happenings beyond the NHL roster.
We still have some more prospect-related content planned in the coming months, and then before you know it it'll be time for the draft and prospect development camp (which is basically my Super Bowl) all over again.
Thanks for reading!
To continue reading, log into your account: