Winds of changes could alter the Admirals' course next season
It was fun while it lasted.
A rollercoaster season that began with a new lease on life for the Admirals ended with a 5-1 loss to Hershey in Game 6 of the Calder Cup Finals.
The loss was painful for head coach Claude Noel and his players, but as the Bears celebrated on the ice, Noel -- perpetually even-keeled -- thought of his team's journey.
For much of the season, the Admirals' dressing room inside the Bradley Center seemed to have a revolving door as parent club Nashville dipped into the pool of young talent in Milwaukee to fill a number of holes at the big-league level.
Noel was forced to juggle lines and give some unknown players a shot to prove themselves. In the process, he found players like Pekka Rinne, the 23-year-old native of Finland who earned a spot as an American Hockey League all-star before eventually being called up to Nashville.
Rinne's troubles stopping the puck in the final three games of the Calder Cup Finals are something Noel thinks will make for a great education in hockey.
"He has all the skills in the world," Noel said after the loss. "Now he has to learn how to overcome the fear of failure. It's just part of maturity and part of the game."
While there are lessons to be learned, there are also plenty of questions floating in the air.
The biggest question regarding the team's future has been answered with new ownership calling the shots, but the roster could have a fairly different look with a number of players expected to be regular contributors for the Predators.
Jordin Tootoo, Scottie Upshall and Shea Weber spent a good portion of the season in Nashville, as did Rinne, who was called up to be the Predators backup when Tomas Vokoun went down with injury.
Heading into the Calder Cup Finals, the smart money said that Rinne would probably unseat Chris Mason as the Predators' full-time backup next year, but nightmarish performances in games four through six may have sentenced the Finn to start next season in Milwaukee.
Darren Haydar, who has excelled in four years with the Admirals, doesn't seem to be in the long-term plans for Nashville. Thought to be too small for the NHL, Haydar made just two appearances for the Predators but has become one of the best players in Admirals history.
With his contract up, Haydar is expected to seek a more lucrative opportunity in Europe next season, but has left the door open for a possible return to the Admirals.
The University of New Hampshire product has 276 career points in his five-year Milwaukee career, not including 73 playoff points. Haydar's 35 points during the recent playoff run was the fourth-best performance in American Hockey League history.
Of all the questions surrounding the Admirals, the biggest could be the coach.
In three seasons, Noel has amassed a 142-69-16-11 record and has led his team to a pair of West Division Championships, two Western Conference titles and the 2004 Calder Cup while amassing a 34-13 playoff record.
It would not be a stretch to think that Noel could find himself on an NHL bench when next season gets underway. While there may not be room on Nashville head coach Barry Trotz's staff, Noel is sure to get consideration around the league.
Pittsburgh, where former Nashville assistant general manager Ray Shero has taken the task of rebuilding that organization, is a strong possibility.
It's a fact of life in the minor leagues: personnel decisions are rarely in the hands of the affiliate.
Noel, in the meantime, plans to do some fishing and let nature take its course; in more ways then one.
"When I'm sitting in that boat, all I'm going to think is 'Trout, please bite,'" Noel said. "That's all I am going to worry about."
Eric said: Did Haydar get all those points in 5 seasons or 4? Methinks 4. Nice article though.
Jeremy said: I don't know if i would call the Preds mediocre. After finishing 49-25-8, going to the playoffs for the second time the last two complete seasons, while amassing the best home ice record in the NHL.
Chavez said: The size issue with guys like Haydar and Gamache never fails to perplex me - especially when the parent team is a mediocre squad like the Preds. They are productive at this level, why NOT give them a shot at the NHL level? Theo Fleury and Doug Gilmour did pretty well despite their small stature. The risk is minimal, why not take it?
Jeremy said: I hope that the Admirals work hard to keep guys wo are looking at Europe. Guys like Gamache, and Haydar who are "too small" for the NHL. Gamache especially is on of the most exciting players on the Admirals, and i hope the ne ownership sees that those guy can put asses in the seats and decide to keep them around. I would hate to see the couple of strong seasons Milwaukee has had go to waste becuase European Clubs are picking off our talent. Nashville hasn't been very active in the draft for the last few years, so it's not like they've got anybody to send up to us anyways.
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