Guelph Storm general manager Mike Kelly knew it would be a rough season, but even he admits he didn't think it would be this bad.
Kelly reflected on the second-worst season in franchise history earlier this week as players cleaned out their lockers and headed home earlier than any Storm player has since the last time they didn't make the playoffs 24 years ago.
"Fewer points than anticipated, but it doesn't really change the big picture in the scheme of things. In fact it might actually have accelerated our development and might give us a bit of a head start on next year," Kelly said in terms of finding a silver lining in the season that saw the team win just 13 of 68 games.
He said at the start of the season he thought the team had a chance at the playoffs.
"I thought that we'd battle for the last playoff spot with Flint and Saginaw but knew from the get-go that we could end up on the outside looking in," Kelly said. "I thought there was a chance we might be able to get the last playoff spot."
Kelly felt the season-ending injury to overage centre Jake Harris in early January was a tough blow that helped seal the team's fate. Not getting Robby Fabbri back from the NHL didn't help, something Kelly thought had a 50/50 chance of happening.
He said the team was playing well at the time of the injury and slid down after that. The team also made the decision to part ways with Tyler Hill and Justin Nichols.
"January 10 at the trade deadline we kind of anticipated we were on the outside of the playoff picture and took steps to make ourselves younger and get experience for some of our younger players for next year."
Kelly said a the exit meetings he told the players "thanks for hanging in there" and that things will get better.
"We also understand that it's not going to happen overnight, there's a lot of work that has to go into it over the summer," Kelly said.
"Next year we expect to be a very, very competitive team: competitive team in September and October, pretty good team in January and I'd like to think a very good team in February and March.
"We're still peaking not for the coming year, but for the following year and if you project things we should be good not only for two years from now but the following year as well," he said.
There will be some tough decision to be made next season.
The team loses only two players to graduation - Harris and goaltender Michael Giugovaz - and has already signed three players that weren't with the team all year: Cedric Ralph, Nate Schnarr and Quinn Hanna.
Kelly said veteran players are always in a spot of fighting for their job, reiterating the team's philosophy that if two players are of the same ability, the younger player will be kept.
It will look to upgrade at the import position as well as in net. At this point it's not known if Bradley Van Schubert will be back.
"We'll talk to Schubie and see what's the proper fit for him. There's questions with our goaltending, but we've got some pretty good people in the pipeline," Kelly said.
The Storm GM will now focus on preparing to announce the first overall draft pick when the team and league makes that announcement on April 8.