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The Journal Gazette

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Coach Gary Graham, right, will return to the Komets next season, but Mike Embach might not be as the team can keep only four of their seven veteran skaters.

Friday, June 02, 2017 1:00 am

Komets have coach, much to change

Team can carry just 4 veteran skaters

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

The Komets' coaching situation has been settled – Gary Graham will be back for a fifth season – but that doesn't mean the 2017-18 team will look the same. In fact, there's evidence it will be drastically different.

Although general manager David Franke said Thursday he expects “a fair number of players to be back” and that “continuity in the locker room is always a positive,” both he and Graham noted changes will be both prudent and unavoidable.

The Komets were 45-19-8 for the fourth-best record among the ECHL's 27 teams during the regular season, had a league-best home record of 28-7-1 and defeated the Quad City Mallards before losing to the top-seeded Toledo Walleye in the playoffs. But the Fort Wayne roster included seven players now considered veterans, and ECHL teams are allowed to only have four, not including goaltenders.

The Komets' veterans include captain Jamie Schaafsma, Mike Embach, Will Weber, Shawn Szydlowski, Travis Ewanyk, Cody Sol and Dan Milan. Goalie Pat Nagle wouldn't count against the veteran limit but would have to be paid veteran wages.

“I know this much, management is going to give me all the resources and tools to recruit what I believe is going to make us successful next season,” said Graham, who is 169-84-35 in the regular season, 27-22 in the playoffs and has won 5 of 9 series. “Obviously the thing that everybody can see is we have quite a few guys who are turning into vets from last season's team. That's going to be the challenging part, deciding how we're going to handle that.”

Neither Graham nor Franke would disclose the length of Graham's extension.

“You look at Gary and he's a hard worker,” Franke said. “He's proven to be a good coach at this level. We had 98 points on the season, the best home record in the ECHL and a second-round playoff appearance. I think that's all deserving of Gary coming back.”

Schaafsma, a player/assistant coach, has indicated he's going to stave off retirement and is in the mix to return. Franke said the Komets are “strongly considering hiring a full-time, non-playing assistant coach for Gary,” something they haven't had since Konstantin Shafranov left for Russia last summer.

After being the ECHL's only independent team, the Komets have spoken with NHL teams about affiliating. Not only would an affiliation bring higher-level prospects and salary-cap relief, it might also be attractive to free-agent players.

“It's something that we would like to do if we can get the right setup and make sure that our roster isn't decimated through the course of the season,” said Franke, whose affiliation with the Colorado Avalanche ended last summer.

The Komets still had seven players called up last season. But they had their full roster for the playoffs. All 22 players were put on the protected list submitted to the league Thursday, and that must be pared down to 20 by June 15.

“Obviously, there's going to be a feeling of unfinished business until we bring a Kelly Cup to Fort Wayne. It's been the goal since I was hired four years ago,” said Graham, who would like to add more opportunistic forwards and two-way defensemen. “We were trending deeper into the playoffs my first three years and obviously we fell short of that this year. So the feeling is obviously that this was a tough one. I wish we were still playing.”

jcohn@jg.net