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Toledo Walleye flounder with numerous transactions

04/16/2014, 1:15am EDT
By MARK MONROE BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Walleye moving daze

Walleye captain Kyle Rogers was one of just four players remaining that began on the preseason roster. Rogers and C.J. Chartrain were the only two from that roster to play in the finale on Sunday. THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH

The numbers behind the hapless Walleye's historically abysmal season proved to be just as cringe worthy as the team's final record.

Toledo (21-44-7) finished the season with a .340 winning percentage, the lowest for a Toledo pro hockey team since 1970-71 when the Hornets posted a 17-44-11 record for a .313 percentage.

Toledo lost 11 straight games from Feb. 8 to March 5, which set a new franchise record. The team, which also had a six-game losing streak early in the year, finished the campaign with seven straight losses. It also endured four separate four-game losing streaks.

The roster was ravaged by injuries, promotions to the higher-level American Hockey League, retirements, and other defections. The team ended up making an eye-popping 122 player transactions.

The Walleye were outscored 268-193 overall, including 125-96 at home. The team gave up 3.7 goals per game, by far the most in the ECHL. Toledo scored 2.7 goals per contest.

The team's longest winning streak all season was just two games. The team won 11 of 36 games at the Huntington Center and went 10-21-5 on the road.

And 51 games into the season, the franchise's only coach resigned. Nick Vitucci was replaced by his longtime assistant Dan Watson on Feb. 25.

After the end of the season, Toledo ended its NHL affiliation with the Chicago Blackhawks.

By the end only four players who were on the preseason roster on Oct. 10 were still part of the team for the finale on Sunday with just two of them on the ice. Forwards Kyle Rogers, Travis Novak (injured), and Stephon Thorne (injured) along with defenseman C.J. Chartrain remained with the team.

Rogers, the captain and face of the franchise, completed his fourth season with the Walleye. He is the team's all-time leader in games (278) and points (160).

“It was a scramble right off the bat,” Rogers said. “We had a good base coming in. Unfortunately we had injuries right away. And then you look at all the injuries to our [NHL and AHL] teams and it obviously filtered to us. It just pinned us down and we couldn't battle back.”

The team had a stretch from Nov. 10 to Dec. 31 where it lost 15 of 20 games to fall to 9-16-3. The Walleye nearly set a new ECHL low for consecutive home losses. They broke a 12-game home losing streak on March 22.

The team made eight trades. Jason Lepine, Scott Arnold, Ryan Flanigan (who later returned), Joe Sova, Daniel Koger, Aaron Bogosian, Emerson Clark, and Aaron Clarke were traded away. Five of those players were signed in the preseason. Six trades were made for future considerations.

Of the 122 player transactions, 25 involved moves with the Blackhawks, while 33 involved the team's other NHL affiliate the Detroit Red Wings.

“There are only a handful of guys in that locker room left from the start of the year and those are the guys that came to battle every day,” Watson said. “They knew what it was like to slug it out when there wasn't much to play for. I made sure our guys were ready to go every night. The wins weren't there. It was one of those tough seasons.”

Plus-minus ratings ballooned into double digits for a dozen players with some reaching over minus-20. Defenseman Joe Gleason finished at minus-27.

As interim coach Watson had a 5-13-3 record while guiding an ever-changing roster including rookies right out of college. A head coach for next season is expected to be named in June.

“I've loved my time here on the bench as a head coach and I would love to continue in this city,” Watson said. “I've dedicated five seasons to this organization. There's nothing more I would love to do but to come back.”

The season started with two local players primed to make an impact with the addition of Sylvania natives Tyler Pilmore and Alden Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld was called up to the AHL on March 6. He had 29 points (9 goals and 20 assists) in 49 games before his promotion. Pilmore was eventually released.

Vitucci, who remains the team's director of hockey operations, lost a bevy of players he had counted on heading into the season. Forwards Joey Sides, John Vigilante, and Willie Coetzee were lost to injury. Steady veteran defensemen Phil Rauch retired and Phil Oreskovic returned to his hometown. Another solid defenseman, Cody Lampl, signed with St. John’s IceCaps of the AHL and never returned.

Two goalies were sent to Toledo from its AHL teams. Jared Coreau (Detroit) had a 4.03 goals-against average in 20 games. Mac Carruth (Chicago) had a 3.36 GAA in 25 games.

Former NHL netminder Hannu Toivonen stepped in and had a 12-17-1 record with a 3.38 GAA.

“It's been very positive,” Toivonen said. “The organization gave me this chance to prove myself.”

Watson singled out the performance of the special teams units as one bright spot. Toledo's power play ranked sixth overall in the 21-team league, scoring 17.1 percent of the time. The penalty kill ranked ninth overall. The team shutdown the opposition's power play 84.7 percent of the time.

“If you look at our special teams record, we should be in the playoffs,” Watson said.

Forward David Gilbert led the team in points with 35 (17 G, 18 A), followed by Trevor Parkes, Rogers, and Max Shalunov, who all had 34. Shalunov, a Blackhawks' prospect, had a team-high 16 goals. Novak had 21 assists.

The Walleye missed the playoffs for the third time in their five years as a franchise and now have an overall record of 154-171-35.

“It's just been one of those seasons where nothing seemed to come together for us,” Rogers said.

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.

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