The recent exodus of Alaska Aces players, prompted largely by the NHL labor agreement that has ravaged rosters throughout North American pro hockey, has turned the ECHL leaders' lineup into a, well, clusterpuck.
The Aces have lost two more players, with defenseman Alain Goulet shipped to Orlando to complete a deal earlier this season that landed forward Alexandre Imbeault, and rookie defenseman William Wrenn loaned to the American Hockey League's Worcester Sharks.
Those moves followed loans of defensemen Kane Lafranchise and Corey Syvret to AHL clubs, and the departure of winger Matt Robinson back to the Central Hockey League.
And those moves, in turn, came with the Aces losing their four NHL forwards back to the world's best league when the lockout ended.
Add some injuries -- winger Garry Nunn, for instance, is out with a badly bruised foot -- and a suspension -- winger Chris Clackson will have to sit out Friday's game at Idaho -- and the cluttered state of coach Rob Murray's desk in his small office at Sullivan Arena made sense.
Tuesday morning, Murray's desk was filled with paperwork. His office phone and cell phone chirped alternately. And his laptop was open and humming as he scrambled to find bodies to fill his depleted lineup.
Murray said he has one player ready to meet the club in Idaho, where it opens a three-game road trip. On the way is rookie defenseman Mike Baran of the Southern Professional Hockey League's Mississippi RiverKings.
Murray also seemed confident he'll be able to get a forward or two to Boise in time for the road opener.
The trickle-down effect of the NHL labor agreement has hit ECHL clubs like a punishing open-ice hit. NHL teams have summoned AHL players to training camps. AHL teams have, in turn, gutted ECHL teams for players. Now ECHL teams are scouring a lower league like the SPHL for players, trying to find other players who have been without jobs this season and making inquiries about North American players currently in Europe who may want to return home pronto.
Goulet became the "future considerations'' in the trade that landed Imbeault. Murray said terms of the deal allowed him to protect 10 players and gave Orlando dibs on any other Ace, and the Solar Bears apparently needed a defenseman. Under the terms of the deal, Murray said, it had to be completed on or before March 1.
Wrenn was loaned to Worcester, the affiliate of the San Jose Sharks, who drafted him in the second round in 2009. San Jose before the season agreed to let Wrenn, of Anchorage, play at home for the Aces rather than play for San Francisco, the Sharks' ECHL affiliate.
"It's hard right now,'' Murray said. "Everybody's been picked over at our level. It's hurting us, it's hurting a lot of teams.
"Coupled with the 'futures' of the Orlando deal getting called in, that makes it hard. Bad timing. It's one of those things -- I don't like to see Goulet leave, now or any time, but I'm glad to get it off the books.''
Wrenn went to training camp in Worcester, but San Jose does not have him under contract.
"It's a good opportunity for him, hopefully, to go there and change some minds,'' Murray said. "Hopefully, he gets some minutes and proves he can play.''
In playing all 40 games for the Aces this season, Wrenn has delivered 5-13--18 totals and a plus-5 rating. He was selected to play in next week's ECHL All-Star Game in Colorado and Murray said Worcester has agreed to send Wrenn to the All-Star Game.
Clackson, acquired last month from Gwinnett, sat out last Saturday's 3-1 home loss to Ontario, suspended pending review of his major penalty for cross-checking in Friday's 4-1 win over the Reign. This week, the league docked him another game.
Including Clackson and the incoming Baran, the Aces have nine forwards and five defensemen. Ideally, teams dress 10 forwards and six defensemen for games. Primarily because of injuries, loans and the end of the lockout, the Aces have gone 17 straight games dressing without dressing a complement of 10 and six.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY