The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, March 17, 2020 1:00 am

Komets questions follow early end

Coaching pick right? Was title possiblilty?

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

The Komets believe they were a championship contender. The coronavirus, however, has robbed us of the opportunity of finding out if they would have hoisted the Kelly Cup.

“That's the worst part. I think everyone knew what we were capable of when we got healthy,” forward Shawn Szydlowski said.

“Having some new guys come in (helped), and there was still the potential for a few more to possibly come in, and maybe we were going to get some help from the (NHL) affiliates. We saw a new goalie (Stefanos Lekkas) come in last week and play a phenomenal first game. We were trending in the right direction when all this stuff started to happen.”

The Komets, who had won 10 of their last 14 games, seemed poised to get one of the Central Division's four playoff spots – they were in third place at 31-23-8 – with 10 games left in the regular season.

But 2019-20 will be remembered as the Komets' season of unanswered questions, the biggest being if they could have won their first championship since joining the ECHL in 2012.

Here's a look at 10 other questions we'll never have answered:

Did they have the right coach? The Komets fired Gary Graham as coach in May 2019, despite making the postseason six straight years, and replaced him with Ben Boudreau, who had never been a head coach before. The Journal Gazette's perspective at the time was this: If Boudreau falls short of reaching the second round of the playoffs, it will have been a mistake. After an up-and-down season was cut short, it's impossible to determine if the correct move was made. But Boudreau will get to use this season as a learning experience on several fronts, namely how he put a roster together, and be better for it next season.

Are two NHL partners too many? Although the Komets got a lot of talent from the Vegas Golden Knights and Los Angeles Kings, it was a double-edged sword with players moving to and from the American Hockey League and the Komets struggling to gain momentum. The hope was that the Komets would have been beefed up for the playoffs by the NHL teams. The Komets were skeptical another year of this system would work, but minor-league hockey could look much different next season – teams at the ECHL level may not recover business-wise – and maybe they'll be encouraged to have two NHL partners again.

Could they win K's vs. Toledo: Part 5? The Komets and rival Toledo Walleye were likely to play their fifth playoff series since 2015 – Fort Wayne has won only one – and the Walleye would have been a heavy favorite with a 9-1-0 record in the season series. But the Komets won the last meeting, 5-3 on Feb. 29, and all bets are off when things hit the postseason.

Was Haas vs. Clark the next big thing? There have been great player-vs.-player rivalries in franchise history, like Steve Fletcher vs. Kerry Toporowski, and Kyle Haas vs. Emerson Clark of the Walleye could have been epic. Clark had been in the middle of the Komets' brawl with Jacksonville on Jan. 31 and he was acquired by the Walleye at the trade deadline. Fans were salivating at the prospect of Haas, the Komets' resident tough guy, going head to head with Clark.

What was Alan Lyszczarczyk's ceiling as a rookie? Lyszczarczyk was one of the more exciting rookies the Komets have ever had – he had 19 goals and 46 points in 57 games – and was only getting better as he improved the defensive parts of his game. The first Polish-born player in North American hockey since 2013 was due for a call-up.

Would a goalie have stepped up? The Komets' goaltending was all over the place this season, but Cole Kehler and Dylan Ferguson were playing better the last few weeks. With Lekkas added to the mix, stopping 32 of 34 shots in the last game, a 7-2 victory Wednesday over Wichita, it would have been fascinating to see who emerged as the No. 1 netminder in the postseason.

Would an offense-first team have worked? The Komets were paced by their offense, ranking seventh (3.52 goals per game) in the league and boasting a top-ranked power play (25.4%). The defense had played better lately, allowing three or fewer goals in six of the last eight games, but there was always going to be nervousness about its lack of stinginess.

Was playoff savvy going to pay off? The Komets may have been young, but Brady Shaw, Shawn St-Amant and Gabriel Verpaelst, in particular, were brought in as much for their championship pedigrees as their playmaking. Shaw led the team in goals (27) and points (62), St-Amant had 18 goals and 31 points in just 29 games, and Verpaelst had helped solidify the defense in his 25 games.

Would the toughness have helped or hurt? This was one of the toughest Komets teams in recent memory – they led the ECHL in penalty minutes with 1,044 (16.8 per game) – and Haas, Chase Stewart, Verpaelst and Matthew Boudens excited fans with their willingness to drop the gloves. But penalties were an Achilles' heel, hindered more by a 22nd-ranked penalty kill (79.4%).

Who would have won the team awards? We're guessing Shaw would have been the MVP, Lyszczarczyk the Rookie of the Year, Matthew Boudens the Best Defensive Forward, Olivier Galipeau the Best Defenseman, Kehler the Most Improved Player, Brett McKenzie the Unsung Hero, Anthony Petruzzelli the Mr. Hustle, and captain A.J. Jenks the True Komet winner.

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