Don’t get wrapped up in the afterglow of an exciting and well-played playoff series. This season was a decidedly disappointing one for the Guelph Storm.
Not an unmitigated disaster. Just not a season that went as it could, or perhaps as it should.
And to throw the puck out next season and expect this team to be a legit contender would be foolish.
This team needs work.
This team should have been eyeing fourth place in the Western Conference, settled for fifth and been disappointed with sixth. Seventh place shouldn’t have been in the conversation.
Only the Flint Firebirds scored fewer goals this year than the Storm. Only four teams allowed more goals.
That’s not a team on the verge of greatness.
Yes, early in the new year they were challenging for that fourth spot, but they also lost 13 of their last 16 games, including three against the Erie Otters.
You can’t sugar coat it.
The team returns 17 players next year, but there are many decisions to be made.
First and foremost is filling the three overage spots with high end 20 year olds. On a team that challenges for a league title, two of your three overagers have to be in your top two defence or your top three forwards.
Filling all three of those spots might not immediately happen, and there should be no rush to do so, but at some point the team has to make the right choices.
Not all 17 of those eligible to return will or should be back. Not if you want to upgrade.
Some tough decisions on underperforming older players have to be made and some talented younger players will have to be traded to get the veterans needed for next season’s run.
Some questions were answered this year:
The emergence of Cedric Ralph and Barret Kirwin was the biggest surprise. Mark Wooley will be a rock solid stay-at-home defenceman. Anthony Popovich can, in stretches, be a top-end goaltender. Isaac Ratcliffe and Cam Hillis are stars. Owen Lalonde and Dmitri Samorukov are on more nights than they are off and will only get better.
The core is there. No doubt about that.
But many questions remain:
Is it practical to have anyone be both coach and be GM in this league anymore?
Will Popovich be a great goalie who is sometimes good or a good goalie who is sometimes great?
WIll Liam Hawel and Nate Schnarr rebound with better seasons?
Is Zach Poirier the solid player we saw in the playoffs or the one who struggled in the regular season?
And the million dollar question, what of Ryan Merkley? Will he emerge, mature, develop?
These, and many other questions, remain to be answered.