The final piece of the puzzle for the 2018-19 Eagles is their goaltending corps. We have a quartet of guys ranging from journeyman to prospect to KHL star to fill the spots in Colorado and Utah. Over the course of the season we’ll see a few more in spot duty but this where we begin.
At 28, Francouz has an extensive history of success internationally, in the Czech league and in the last 3 years in the KHL. The last mountain to conquer is North America and he arrives after setting the top save percentage in the KHL for the last 2 seasons along with representing the Czechs in the Olympics in February. The presumed starter with the Eagles and the heir apparent to the Avs backup job in 2019, he’s here to learn the NA style and get accustomed to the smaller ice surface. He’s on a one-year contract so the thinking is that he’ll either move up to the NHL or go elsewhere after the season so enjoy while you can. If all goes well he will be the best AHL goalie the Avs have ever had and for all we know, will ever have.
Marty was drafted by the Avs in 2013 and turned pro 3 years ago. He’s been frustratingly inconsistent in the AHL and the Avs re-signed him to a show-me contract this summer after his ELC expired. If things don’t improve this could be it for his tenure with the org. Just to give a glimmer of hope, he’s had the pressure of having to win games singlehandedly over the last 3 years. The Rampage have been absolutely terrible and never been able to score. It’s pretty telling that his record when giving up 3 goals last year was 1-5-2. His career may depend on the ability of the Eagles to put the puck in the net.
That said, I like Marty. Anyone who has ever watched him at his best knows he’s got the tools to succeed at this level and perhaps beyond. Even if Francouz stays healthy the whole season he should get at least 25 starts with the Eagles so the opportunity to show the staff he still has upside will be there. Even though he never got in a game for the Avs last year, he practiced with the team much of the Spring and even dressed as the backup for a couple of playoff games. That’s quality experience.
Eagles fans are very familiar with Cannata of course. He led the ECHL in save percentage and finished the season holding the Kelly Cup. He also had 4 starts for the Rampage and went 3-0-1 with a shutout, which is nice. On paper it looks like the plan is to have Martin be the backup or 1b with the Eagles and Cannata to lead the Grizzlies tandem but I don’t think the staff are going to be married to that if it’s not working out. Either way we’ll see Cannata in Loveland at least occasionally.
Although he spent a couple games as a backup for the Eagles in 2014, he’s new to the org for all intents and purposes. He spent the first half of last season as the starter for Utah before heading to Europe to play in the Austrian League and the 3 years previous as the starter for Tulsa then Alaska. He was loaned to the WBS Penguins a few years ago but he’s never played in an AHL game. The main reason the Avs signed him to an AHL contract is so other teams won’t poach him. His role looks to be backup/1b in Utah.
We’ll probably see some others as the season progresses, the org needs 6 healthy goalies pretty much at all times so someone gets hurt at any level and everyone moves up, necessitating a fill in, almost always at the ECHL level. Also could have something like Adam Werner come over from Sweden at the end of the season to get some starts with the Eagles.
Overall this is a very solid group. Francouz should be able to handle the speed and skill of the AHL fine, the questions come from how he adapts to the North American rink size and style of play. Spencer Martin has plenty to play for and while I don’t think he’ll be gifted the backup/1b role it’s his to lose. The organization seems to be very happy with Joe Cannata (even paying him slightly more than Martin) for his role with the Eagles last year. I think they would be fine with him playing in Colorado if that’s what it comes to but plan A has to be to get Marty back on track. I know little about Carr but they had plenty of options and the Avs chose to bring him back to Utah. Throughout the org this is an area of strength, if only for this year.
Now we turn to the coaches, most are familiar, one is not.
Cronin was announced as head coach on July 12th, late in the Summer as usual for the Avs and honestly a bit of a surprise. The Avs have had problems finding AHL coaches for various reasons that boil down to the fact they have a terrible track record in the minors so it’s not a good way to advance a career. Most of us that follow the Avs pro development system found the idea of promoting Aaron Schneekloth a promising strategy but with so little coaching experience it’s a valid point to want a mentor there too. It probably would have worked with Schneeks as the HC and an older coach as an assistant but finding someone to take that role isn’t easy.
Cronin began his coaching career over 30 years ago in the NCAA, made a stop in the early days of the USNTDP then spent 7 years with the New York Islanders. The last two years, 2003-05, were as the Head Coach of the Isles AHL affiliate and his only pro head coaching experience to date. From there he returned to the NCAA for 6 years and spent the last 7 as an assistant coach in Toronto then back with the Islanders.
I think Cronin is a weird fit here. He’s experienced and taking a demotion at 55 years old with 12 years as an NHL assistant. I don’t see this as a setup to put him behind the Avs bench eventually so it’s a dead-end job for him and an obstacle if they are developing Schneeks and Tobler as coaches on the rise. I understand that hiring Eric Veilleux as a young coach didn’t go the way they wanted but they’ve gone too far the other direction and perhaps sought experience for the sake of experience.
Situation aside, there are legitimate questions about Cronin’s coaching style and philosophy as well. Five years ago when an assistant under Randy Carlisle in Toronto he gave an interview that touched on his thoughts on shot metrics of the time. Basically they didn’t use them and he didn’t see the need. They were more into counting quality scoring chances, which is what a lot of the stats community has been gravitating toward with expected goals over raw shot attempts. We’ve also seen a move away from shot attempts as a proxy for possession so I think he was right here, but for the wrong reasons. Either way, he was a proponent of shot-blocking and the infamous SWARM defense that basically got him fired.
He moved back to the NYI after that and after little success got fired again earlier this Summer. He worked mainly with the PK this past year so let’s see how they did… Ok they had the worst PK overall at 73.2% (Avs were 83.3%) and gave up 63 goals (Avs gave up 45). They gave up 9.77 goals per hour (Avs gave up 5.9). I could go on. Some of that is goaltending but the shot rates against weren’t great either. The upside of this is the Avs will want their system used instead of his and either Schneekloth or Tobler will be handling that on a day-to-day basis.
The success or failure of this hire really depends on Jared Bednar and whether he is able to get Greg Cronin to the point where he can install a similar version of his system in Loveland that will allow the players there to a) be successful in the AHL and b) prepare them to do what the Avs staff need when they are called up. No big deal, right? This has been the organizational flaw for the past decade+, they must overcome this barrier.
Schneekloth left North Dakota for the SC Stingrays as a slick scoring D just as Jared Bednar was finishing up his playing career and moving behind the bench. After a year+ together Schneeks moved on, eventually ending up with the Eagles for the final 7 years of his playing career. Like JB, he immediately moved behind the bench where he was an assistant for 3 years. The last two years he was the head coach of course and both years he won the Kelly Cup (JB almost did the same, losing in the finals his 1st season as HC).
Like Schneekloth, Ryan Tobler spent his last 7 seasons as a player with the Eagles then became a coach for the Bentley Generals of the Chinook League. When Schneeks moved to head coach, Tobler was hired to take his spot as an assistant.
Bach also ended his playing career as an Eagle, in his case in 2004. After a couple years off he became the Goalie Coach and has been ever since.
Arrived with Francois Allaire in 2013 and took over goalie coaching duties for the Lake Erie Monsters while also keeping an eye on Avs prospects in the ECHL and various amateur leagues. I’m not sure how much sense there is in having 2 goalie coaches for a minor league team so I’m guessing he keeps his role as roving instructor in the organization.
Petrovek has been the video coordinator for the Rampage and Monsters the last 4 years. Like most Avs employees he does a lot of other things behind the scenes, usually seen at Development Camp and Rookie Camp. He was even seen behind the bench one game when Dean Chynoweth was suspended.
Even though we have some known quantities here the big unknown at the top makes it intriguing. This is the first time the Avs have had 3 bench coaches in the AHL and they certainly haven’t had 2 goalie coaches before. I’m looking forward to seeing how Greg Cronin delegates responsibilities at practices and during the games. I’ve learned to be wary of new AHL coaches and bringing in someone from outside the org makes this a big unknown on both sides. Having last year’s Eagles staff there is big plus as far as continuity and familiarity with what the Avs want to do. If this was a totally new staff I would be very nervous here.
Just a couple of housekeeping notes:
- The Avs Rookie Camp begins tomorrow. Traditionally the AHL coaches run this but no word from above on this yet. They will have one practice in Denver then go to Las Vegas for the rookie showcase. They will play 3 games and those should be available from NHL.com, we’ll be sure to let you know how to watch some of the new guys as soon as we know
- Eagles Camp will officially begin somewhere in the week of the 24th but cuts will happen before that and the guys will be working out at the Eagles facilities for a while beforehand
- AHL Live is dead and AHLtv has been born. It is available at a much more reasonable price. $60 for full Eagles season, $40 if you’re a season ticket holder and only want away games. Yeah, that’s way cheap compared to the ripoff artists at Neulion. I’ll plug this from time to time as we near the season.
Next up I’ll review some of the action from Vegas and how that pertains to the Eagles. We also have podcasts from TOOA that focus on the Eagles from time to time so keep an eye out for one of those after the Showcase. Enjoy!