Sunday notebook: Trade deadline looming

Photo: Terence Leung

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

American Hockey League players should make sure their phones are charged this week.

The National Hockey League trade deadline is set for Friday at 3 p.m. ET, and while much of the attention turns to who did what to better their chances for a Stanley Cup come June, the effects on AHL clubs can be significant.

After all, NHL clubs aren’t developing prospects in the AHL solely for their own use. Build a deep group of prospects as an NHL general manager and you have options. Maybe one of those prospects helps to get a deal done with another organization. Or perhaps a player is moved off the NHL roster in a deal, and a prospect is recalled to fill that hole.

Anything is possible in this business, especially this time of the year.

Just ask new Calgary Wranglers defenseman Artem Grushnikov, who got one of those phone calls this past week. Only 44 games into his rookie pro season with the Texas Stars, he found himself on the move. The parent Dallas Stars, a Stanley Cup contender, sent him to the Calgary Flames as part of a deal that brought much-coveted blueliner Chris Tanev to Dallas.

Grushnikov, who turns 21 on March 20, was a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft who had produced a goal and four assists and quickly became a regular in head coach Neil Graham’s lineup in Texas. But parting with a strong prospect like Grushnikov can be some of the price for pursuing a Stanley Cup. And it can be a chance with another NHL organization for a prospect like Grushnikov, who made his debut with the Wranglers on Friday.

Grushnikov is an important addition to a Calgary back end that has gone without Jeremie Poirier, a member of the AHL All-Rookie Team last season, for all but four games this season due to injury. The Wranglers, 5-9-1-2 in their last 17 games, have fallen into a tie for fifth in the Pacific Division after giving up five unanswered goals in a 5-4 loss to Colorado on Friday; they host the Eagles again this afternoon.

Whether trades are made or not, Friday will be a hectic day for the AHL transactions wire. A player must be on an AHL roster by the 3 p.m. ET deadline in order to be sent down from the NHL at any point through the rest of the season.

And even after the NHL trade deadline passes, there could be more action. The AHL has its own trade/loan deadline set for March 15, something allows for further retooling of a club’s AHL roster as the fallout from the NHL deadline subsides.

Win or lose, AHL head coaches make it a point to have a short memory.

Don’t bask in the wins. Don’t let the losses sting for too long. So even fresh off a 19-game winning streak, Milwaukee Admirals head coach Karl Taylor made it a point to take his team to task after a 4-2 loss to Rockford on Friday night.

Those 19 consecutive wins made up the second-longest such run in AHL history, and this is a Milwaukee club that has every reason to believe that it can fight for the Calder Cup this spring. But the Admirals coughed up a third-period lead on Friday and saw a 15-game home winning streak come to an end.

Nights like that can be part of the developmental process, as tough as they – or the head coach’s words afterward – may be. Consistency is one of hockey’s most elusive elements, and Taylor is trying to not let any standards slip now. Better now than having to scramble to rediscover that standard in the middle of a playoff series.

“We kind of got what we deserved,” Taylor told the Admirals’ website after Friday’s loss. “Too many turnovers fueled their offense. We weren’t willing to play hard enough. Disappointing effort. Sometimes you get what you deserve, and that’s definitely what happened. You can play really good and lose. I don’t like how we lost. It’s about how you operate and how you lose.”

But the regular-season schedule always offers another chance at redemption, and that’s what the Admirals have when they welcome the Iowa Wild to town this afternoon. They haven’t seen the Wild since Dec. 20, but they are 5-1-0-0 in the season series.

“We’ll have to regroup and get ready for that opportunity,” Taylor said.

Fortunes can turn quickly in the AHL, and the Utica Comets are the latest example.

Desperate for points to stay close in the North Division playoff hunt, the Comets went into Belleville on Wednesday and went down rather quietly, 3-0.

But back home against Lehigh Valley on Friday, seven points below the divisional playoff line with just 22 games to go, Utica got 28 saves from Erik Källgren in a 3-0 win. Then after a long overnight bus ride south, the Comets visited the league-leading Hershey Bears for their third game in four nights. But they came through with a 1-0 victory, this time with Isaac Poulter (27 saves) picking up the shutout.

The 22-year-old Poulter has been through a good stretch of life recently. Undrafted out of the Western Hockey League, he signed his first NHL contract with New Jersey on Feb. 15 and received his first NHL recall six days later. Poulter has emerged as the Comets’ busiest netminder this season with 27 appearances.

Last night’s win brought the Comets to within four points of the final playoff spot in the North. They have time to catch their breath before beginning a three-in-three gauntlet next weekend against Toronto, Belleville and Rochester, three of the teams that they are chasing.

February ended on a busy note for Laval Rocket goaltender Jakub Dobeš, and March isn’t looking any different.

After the Rocket announced earlier this week that Kasimir Kaskisuo will be out week-to-week with a lower-body injury, they found themselves looking at three road games in four nights as they try to keep pace in the North Division race.

Rocket head coach J-F Houle elected to ride Dobeš on the three-game swing through the Atlantic Division. Dobeš, 22, has now played 37 games, first among rookie goaltenders and tying him for second overall with Cleveland’s Jet Greaves. He got the trip off to a good start, making 35 saves to shut out Bridgeport on Wednesday. He was solid in a 2-1 loss in Hartford on Friday, but was tagged for seven goals in a 7-3 setback at Springfield last night.

Laval sits four points out of a playoff spot with 18 games to play, but may have some help from the schedule ahead of them as they open a five-game homestand at Place Bell on Wednesday against Syracuse. The Rocket also have a chance to make up ground with head-to-head play; eight points behind third-place Belleville, Laval will have six more cracks at the B-Sens this season.