Jan 28, 2022

Hey, Cuda Country! Nick Nollenberger here. Hope everyone is doing well. If you recall, I used to write a blog for the team’s website periodically, but over time it phased out for whatever reason. I’m happy to announce that I’ll be creating something each week for the website called “Nolly’s Notes”. It may be a blog about my adventures on the road, a feature story on a player, or maybe even a Q and A with a staffer. The goal is to provide something each week that fans can read while facilitating a little extra coverage of the team from the perspective of the booth. If time doesn’t permit, and I begin to feel like what I’m saying is getting stale, I’ll probably look for some assistance. Either way, I hope to get something on the site each week.


I didn’t announce it per se, but last week was officially my first edition of Nolly’s Notes as I featured defenseman Patrick Holway. Click HERE to read.


On Sunday we officially surpassed the halfway mark of the season as the Barracuda beat the red-hot Bakersfield Condors by a score of 5-2 SAP Center.


It had me thinking that I wanted to dive into the first half of the year. After playing just 36 regular-season games last season due to COVID, the fact that we’ve gotten to the halfway mark of the year in January is a mini-miracle. Let’s be frank, success on the ice has been about as inconsistent as the team’s lineup from a night-to-night basis. But it’s truly unfair to gauge the results in black and white. It's been grayer than I can remember in my six-year career with the team. I say that because of the incredible and non-stop player movement. Just take a look at the transactions page if you don’t believe me. To my count there have been 118 transactions since mid-October and 43 different players have appeared in a game for the Barracuda this season. The second most in the AHL behind only the Springfield Thunderbirds who have deployed 51 different players this year.


When you boil it down, the AHL, more so than any other league in the world, is truly a development tool to foster future NHLers. Other things become a byproduct of the league, like entertainment, monetization of a brand and its players, grassroots growth, and so on. But there is a reason why so many NHL teams have purchased their AHL franchise over the last 10 years and have put more resources into their development model than ever before. I can’t say from experience but through my conversations with people who did play or work in the league 10 to 15 years ago, it was a different world. The Sharks affiliate may have been back east, but the AHL at the time might as well have been the Wild West. Between the facilities, amenities, and resources, prospects are given the tools to succeed like never before.


There’s also a reason why the board of governors approved a change to the playoff qualification and format rules this past summer which will allow 23 teams out of the leagues 31 to reach the postseason and seven of the nine in the Pacific Division. More playoff teams eliminate the bottom feeders from playing meaningless games in the spring. Just grinding through the season when you're way out of a playoff race stunts development and growth. Players check out when they're losing and the final stretch of the season can be a drag. There’s no question that playoff races and playoff hockey provides the best petri dish for development. So, why not have more playoff teams, right?


Before I dive into the numbers of the first half, and a few of the stats that reveal why the Barracuda find themselves at the bottom of the AHL (.403), let's look at things from a half-full standpoint.


Win or lose, one thing is clear, players are being developed with the Barracuda. To this point, 15 different players have suited up between the Sharks and their top affiliate. With seven of the 15 making their NHL debut this year, and nine of the 15 recording at least one point. The Sharks have consistently relied on its farm system this year, without many, if any, hiccups in the results. With injuries and COVID, the Sharks season could have been submarined many times, but the recalls have kept the whole thing afloat.


Scotty Reedy has been by far the brightest star this year. From game one, he’s been consistently solid and versatile. He’s playing both wing and center, he’s killed penalties and he’s got more power-play goals than anyone in the league (10). Not to mention, his shooting percentage is first in the AHL too (32.1%). After a sluggish third pro season last year, Jayden Halbgewachs could have thrown in the towel for his NHL hopes, at least in the Sharks org. But instead, he’s having arguably his best season as a pro in year four with the org. His play has clearly not gone unnoticed as he’s earned his first NHL action this year. Ryan Merkley was up-and-down as a rookie. This season, when he’s been with the Barracuda, he’s one of the most dynamic players in the entire league and it’s resulted in an extended stay with the Sharks. Merkley has been up top with the big club since late December. Noah Gregor began the year with the Barracuda but dominated to the point that the organization had no choice but to call him up and he’s been a top-six forward since with the Sharks. I could keep going, but you get the point. Despite the lack of wins with the Cuda, development has NOT been compromised.


For the sake of this blog, we’ll look at some of the not-so-flattening numbers that have hampered the Barracuda to this point. I do want to say, I’m not privy to analytics or advanced stats but the statistics provided by the league paint a good enough picture.


Now let’s dive a little bit into the first half. Through 36 games, the Barracuda are at the bottom of the AHL in terms of winning percentage (.403). Yet based on points (29) the team is seventh in the division, ahead of both San Diego (28) and Tucson (27). That said, the Gulls and Roadrunners have a handful of games on San Jose who has played the most games in the AHL’s Pacific Division to this point. Slow starts have plagued the team all year long. The Barracuda are a -23 in the first period (last in the AHL) and they’ve scored the first goal of the game just 15 times this year (8th fewest). In addition, the Barracuda have led after 20 minutes just nine times (9th fewest) this year. The third period has been the team’s best but it’s often been while playing from behind.


The power-play has been the team’s bread and butter, although the addition of the NHL’s Taxi Squad, has decimated Roy Sommer’s options with that unit. And the numbers have been impacted drastically over the last month. For example, the Barracuda ranked third (23.4%) in the AHL on the power-play on Dec. 5. As of Jan. 28, the man-advantage is in the middle of the league (18.5%). The penalty-kill has been at the bottom of the league for nearly the entirety of the season, going on a stretch of 12-straight games and 20 of its first 24 contests in which the team allowed a goal against while down a man. Additionally, the team’s goals-against is dead last in the league, averaging 3.94 goals-against per game. If you think about it, the team has to score almost five goals to win. They’ve scored 5 or more goals just six times this year. That’s a tough recipe for success.


Are the goalies to blame or is it the erratic availability of players that has made a bigger impact on the team’s overall defense? It’s probably a combo of the two.


Let’s talk about that availability and why it has affected the team. 43 different players have appeared in a game for the Barracuda this year through 36 games. 14 on the blueline and 10 of those defenders are rookies. On top of that, many are not prospects. The Barracuda have signed nine different defensemen to professional tryout agreements throughout the year, including two on Wednesday (Christian Evers & David Drake). Not to mention, forward Joe Garreffa played defense for a few games this year when the team was in a pinch. Amongst the 31 teams in the AHL, the Barracuda are the youngest (23.25) in the league.


The limited winning results haven’t been for a lack of effort according to head coach Roy Sommer who said that much following Thursday’s loss against Ontario, 7-1: “Chances were 22 to 21 for us, so we had our opportunities, they had theirs and they finished… They had five goals on 20 shots, it’s frustrating because I thought the effort was there.”


Those sentiments from Sommer have been similar all year long. Aside from a game or two, the Barracuda haven’t lacked compete. With 33 games to go, 15 at home, things are far from settled in the division. The Barracuda have six more games against San Diego and Tucson, the two teams they’re chasing for the seventh spot in the Pacific.


The NHL’s temporary Taxi Squad is expected to dissolve, barring any additional league-wide outbreaks, following the All-Star Break. That could mean the Barracuda will get several players back from the NHL in the coming weeks. A lot of hockey still to go, so stay tuned.


Well, that wraps up this week’s edition of Nolly’s Notes. Hope you enjoyed it. One last thought, if you haven’t done so already. Put your $50 deposit down to join The Battery, our brand-new season ticket membership for the team’s 4,200 seat arena, which is set to open in August ’22 for next season. I took a tour earlier this week, and I can’t tell you how excited I am for the completion of the facility, it looks amazing.


That’ll do it for this edition of Nolly’s Notes. I’m Nick Nollenberger, saying, thanks for reading, and so long until next time.



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