Philadelphia Phantoms 2001-02 Wrap-Up
Monday, June 3, 2002
By David W. Unkle & Mike Williams (SJSports Special Correspondent)
SJSports Staff Writer
In their sixth season, the Philadelphia Phantoms finished a mediocre 2001-02 season with a 33-27-15-5 record and saw their hopes to seriously challenge for the Calder Cup end in a first round sweep at the hands of the Syracuse Crunch. The team's abysmal stretch run (4-15-2) was the result of injuries (John Slaney and Brad Tiley), constant roster changes, and a team that was looking for a leader to hold player's feet to the fire. The end-result: a team that limped (barely) into the playoffs and got a quick start to the summer picnic season. Here are the club's final grades, based on the club's final roster.
PHANTOMS END-OF-YEAR REPORT CARD
Pavel Brendl (D)
The much-heralded prospect soon became the organization's most discussed project. Brendl's main strength is his scoring touch, yet he managed a mere 15 goals. He has significant gaps in his play away from the puck, and his glaring lack of intensity was a source of frustration all season for coaches, teammates and fans. Fifteen goals is usually a strong start for an AHL rookie, but for a one-dimensional player who offers little more than his touch around the net, the output is anemic. His (-) 15 is indicative of his desire to back check and help out his teammates. It is said that Brendl has the raw talent to dominate at the NHL (yes, NHL) level...if he decides he wants to play North American hockey. Brendl is somewhat an enigma in many aspects; he is a loner on the ice and in the locker room and his moodiness does not sit well with his teammates. Brendl, at this point, is at best a major project. At this stage, it looks like the Rangers knew what they were giving up in the Lindros trade.
James Chalmers (B)
A season-ending concussion on March 22 marred what had been a solid rookie season for the center out of the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Chalmers played the third-line checking center role well, playing a physical brand of hockey while staying out of the penalty box. In 61 games, Chalmers netted three goals and eleven assists. He also was the team's best face-off man. His future remains to be seen, however, given his inability to return to the ice this season.
Ian Forbes (C)
The lanky defenseman was a second-round pick in 1998, but has shown minimal progress as a pro. At 6-6, 215 pounds, he must add some size to allow him to play in Philadelphia's physical system. He was an adequate replacement after Brad Tiley and John Slaney were sidelined, but was soon pushed aside by David Harlock and Kristian Kudroc. The fact that management went outside of the organization for defensemen rather than make Forbes a regular is telling. Next season will be crucial for Forbes if he wishes to remain with the Phantoms or drop back to the ECHL's Trenton Titans.
Mark Freer (C)
This was the season that age seemed to catch up to the 34-year-old center. While Freer was the only player to appear in all 80 games for the Phantoms this season, his goal scoring slipped from 31to15. With the addition of six quality former International Hockey League clubs, the level of play increased across the league. Freer had always used his decent speed and smarts to make up for his small stature but given the influx of younger and faster players, Freer's play noticeably tailed off this season.
Mark Greig (B)
Greig contributed 22 goals this past season and finished the season tied for the team lead in scoring with John Slaney, but was unable to contribute a goal when his offensively troubled club really needed one. His month-long absence at midseason with a shoulder injury seemed to derail his season. He is signed for 2002-03 and his veteran leadership is critical if the team is to return to its' elite status in the league.
|Greg Koehler (C)
Koehler's acquisition from the Carolina organization for Jesse Boulerice in February was a solid pick up, as he chipped in eight goals in 22 games. Buried in his stats with the Phantoms: five power-play goals and three game-winners on 57 shots. He is a free agent this summer.
Kirby Law (B)
Like several teammates, Law slipped in production, falling from 27 goals to 18. His minus 14 also raises a few eyebrow but then again not many Phantoms were on the positive side of the balance sheet. Like Koehler, he was one of the Phantoms you wanted taking the final shot when the game was on the line: eight of his goals came on the power-play and three goals were game-winners. Law saw time at every forward position and on defense and did not take off any nights. But at 25 years of age and being a free agent, his future with the team is questionable.
Guillaume Lefebvre (A)
Lefebvre impressed the coaching staff and his teammates with his development in his first full season in the AHL. His level of play really picked up in the second half and was one of the few bright spots during the darks months of January through March. His nineteen goals and fifteen assists along with his plus 12 rating spoke volumes for his future in the organization. He has a bit of an offensive touch (one power-play, three short-handed and two game-winning goals), is already a reliable defensive player and is comfortable with the AHL's physical brand of play. He earned himself a recall to the Flyers late in the season and eventually could find himself in the NHL as a solid third-line wing.
Mike Lephart (A)
A member of the 2001 NCAA champion Boston College Eagles, Lephart brought a winning attitude to Philadelphia. His four game-winning goals were second to veteran John Slaney on the team. While the Phantoms struggled with consistency for much of the season, the rookie winger brought intensity and a work ethic to every shift of every game. Toward the end of the season, he found a scoring touch, including a four-point night in a crucial game on April 5. His age (25) may work against him, but Lephart is sure to find work in the AHL if he does not return to Philadelphia. If anyone was deserving of an invitation to the dance, it certainly was Lephart.
|Neil Little (A)
The steady and dependable Little was solid as usual. He gave the Phantoms over 2,000 quality minutes between the pipes and finished second in the league with a 2.02 goals-against average. Along with the since-departed Maxime Ouellet, newly arrived Corey Hirsch, and Titans' farmhand Dan Murphy, Little kept the Phantoms in several games this season. The Flyers acknowledged his value to the organization; rather than go out and pick up a veteran goaltender at the trading deadline, they had Little serve as their back-up net minder.
Dan Peters (C)
Peters struggled to earn a regular ice time and eventually saw time as a forward. At 24, Peters must show significant progress next season.
Vaclav Pletka (C)
The soap opera drama usually found with the Flyers trickled down to the Phantoms' dressing room. Pletka was a flicker of offensive hope and potted 20 goals in 61 games. Although officially listed as "injured," he was sent back to the Czech Republic in March after clashing with management over playing time and what was perceived to be a lack of effort on his part. One year remains on his contract, but he very well might be moving on next season.
John Slaney (A)
Just how important Slaney was to an average team was evident after he suffered an ankle injury in February. With Slaney, the team was 30-16-14-4; without him, the team slumped to 3-11-1-1. The Phantom's power-play clicked at a 19.1% success rate with Slaney and limped to a 10.9% success rate without him. Slaney logged massive amounts of ice time, quarterbacked the power play, was his club's only true offensive defenseman and masked errors made by the club's younger blue liners. The 30-year-old Slaney is a valued commodity at the AHL level and should attract significant attention this summer around the AHL and possibly in Europe.
|Bruno St. Jacques (B)
The organization's top blue line prospect continued his steady development in his second pro season. After Slaney and Tiley were injured, head coach John Stevens leaned heavily on St. Jacques, who performed well in their absence. The new system to be implemented by Ken Hitchcock requires solid puck-moving defensemen, which could give St. Jacques an edge next fall at training camp.
Brad Tiley (C)
With Slaney, Tiley helped to bring along the club's young defenseman. But a broken leg in February ended his season. His return remains in question.
Jim Vandermeer (B)
Vandermeer, 22, came to the AHL as an offensive defenseman from the Western Hockey League. He instead developed into a solid, stay-at-home defenseman with the Phantoms. By the end of the season, Stevens was comfortable enough to insert Vandermeer into any situation late in games. Vandermeer figures to play a larger role next season.
Peter Vandermeer (D)
Coming to Philadelphia fresh off a 19-goal season with Providence, Vandermeer instead settled for a fourth-line role as an enforcer, leading the team with 313 PIM. He finished the season with just five goals and was eventually shipped to Trenton as Ian Forbes logged ice time with the Phantoms. At 26 years of age, his return is highly improbable.
Mike Watt (C)
The 26-year-old forward was acquired from Nashville last spring to inject some offense into the lineup. That expectation never was realized after missed the season's first two months with a shoulder injury. He struggled for most of the rest of the season, finishing with only 11 goals.
David Harlock -- The NHL veteran was a solid acquisition in March.
Corey Hirsch -- Coming to Philadelphia with proven credentials at the AHL level, he was forced to take a back seat to Neil Little.
Kristian Kudroc -- Acquired in the slew of trades in March, he filled in adequately but is likely to be headed back to Springfield, as he is still under contract to Tampa Bay.
Yves Sarault -- The veteran was injured in his first game as a Phantom in January and missed most of the remaining regular season. Sarault is a proven AHL player, but he is 29 years old
Jarrod Skalde -- Picked up in late-season trade, he chipped in offensively. But he will be moving on the Swiss League next season.
COACHING STAFF (C)
Stevens was faced with constant roster turnover and never was able to get the club back on track. Assistant coach Kjell Samuelsson's work with the team's young defensemen was evident by the end of the season.
The Flyers signed center Patrick Sharp on May 21, the first player signed this off-season who figures to begin the season with the Phantoms.
Sharp, 6-1 and 193 pound, was the Flyers' third round pick (95th overall) in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.
The twenty-year old Sharp led the University of Vermont in scoring this past season (13-13-26) in 31 games. He also captured his club's most valuable player award.
"We will see how he does in training camp. We think that he needs to develop and chances are that he will start next season with the Phantoms," assistant general manager Paul Holmgren said.
Photos by Pedro Cancel
Phantoms Corey Hirsch