It’s not quite time to hit the panic button in the bowels of the Sleeman Centre, but the hand is probably starting to hover.
Ten games does not a season make, but it is the point where you start to wonder if it’s more than a “slump” or “rough start.”
While no one expected (or should have expected) the Guelph Storm to contend for a Western Conference championship this season, no one thought it would be quite this bad early on.
Guelph enters Friday’s home game with Hamilton tied for 16th in the 20-team standings. Only the struggling London Knights and Mississauga Steelheads have been more disappointing performance thus far.
The biggest stunner for a team that boasts seven National Hockey League draft picks is the lack of scoring. Only London has had a tougher time putting the puck in the net.
Guelph has only scored 15 even strength goals in nine games.
Their leading goal scorer is Alexey Toropchenko with four, and he hasn’t scored in five games. The rest of the forward crop has combined to score 15 goals and two of the team’s top three scorers right now are defencemen.
The optics aren’t helped by the fact that Luke Burhardt, has six goals and 11 points and Luke Moncada seven points in North Bay, or that Kyle Rhodes has five goals and eight points in Sudbury and Albert Michnac 12 points in Mississauga: all summer departures from Stormland.
The eventual return of Givani Smith will help, not only for his ability to score but also because he’s the kind of player who makes space for other people and creates more balanced lines.
But Smith’s absence isn’t the reason for this team’s current woes.
Nor is it Ryan Merkley, the 17-year-old defenceman who, perhaps unfairly, has become a bit of a lighting rod of criticism.
True, Merkley has struggled at times, but no more than older, drafted players.
Defencemen that struggle just happen to stand out more than an 18-year-old centre or 19-year-old winger guess.
Let’s not forget that Merkley is 17. And that he leads the team in scoring.
This team has too much talent to continue to have the issues putting the puck in the net that it is having.
If Isaac Ratcliffe winds up with 14 goals at the end of the year, or James McEwan finishes with 26 points – both their current pace – then I’ll eat these cyber words.
No one should be happy with the start to the season. There should be concern.
But the answer lies within, no in reactionary player moves.