The ECHL regular season is nearly half-complete. There won't be a ECHL postseason for the Alaska Aces unless they turn things around fairly soon.
Granted, the Aces (11-18-3) are seven points out of playoff position. Doesn't sound like that much. But consider – to move into playoff position the Aces would have to leapfrog a handful of teams. That's tough sledding, no less so with a six-game road swing through the South beginning later this week.
As if the Aces didn't have enough problems, defenseman Gleason Fournier bolted to the Elite Ice Hockey League in Great Britain – he's a Cardiff Devil now. That's problematic for the Aces because Fournier and his partner, captain William Wrenn, are clearly the club's top pairing. Fournier led Alaska defensemen in goals and was second in points, behind Wrenn, with 8-9—17 totals in 27 games. Coach Rob Murray leaned on Wrenn and Fournier heavily, playing them in all situations. The ECHL doesn't track ice time, but the eye test says Wrenn and Fournier led the club in minutes.
His departure is the latest in several moves that didn't work out. Joe Perry and Tyler Maxwell, both acquired in trades, were shipped out. Fortunately, the return of winger Peter Sivak (3-10—13 totals in 11 games) and the acquisition of Collin Valcourt (7-8—15 totals in 15 games), and the re-emergence of center Tim Coffman (7-7—14 in his last 12 games) have helped boost the offense.
Still, the Aces are seven games below .500 – this from a club that has never finished below .500 in a dozen previous seasons on the circuit and never missed the playoffs until last spring.
That's proved a marked decline for a club that won the third Kelly Cup in franchise history in 2014.
The biggest problem for the Aces is their margin for error is so thin. This is a team that, without an abundance of pure talent, needs almost every guy in the lineup to be hitting on all cylinders every single night -- playing efficiently, smartly and well -- in order to succeed.
That's a big ask, but it is a necessary one the Aces must meet if they hope to start making up ground.