No one knows if or when the National Hockey League lockout will end, and that stinks for all hockey fans -- except those in minor league cities.
The Komets thought they knew what to expect in moving to the ECHL this season, the best Class AA hockey in the world. Instead, they face an ECHL that is better than ever.
The talent level should be significantly stronger than last year. Because of the trickle-down effect of the lockout, every ECHL team should have three or four players who are better than anyone who was on their teams last year. The 30 American Hockey League teams all invited 30 or more players to training camps to fill 20-man rosters. Now they are all scrambling to find places for those 10 extra players.
Every ECHL team should have players who plan on and will compete in the NHL someday, and this is where they start rising on the pro level. This will be the best caliber of hockey Fort Wayne has seen since the late 1990s in the old International Hockey League. There will be players on the Komets again who may one day advance to the NHL.
The talent level from that era was still superior to this, but many of these players have the potential to match that ability. They are simply younger and are still learning the game. Many of those previous players had peaked and were not improving. True, these kids are probably long-shots, but at least they have legitimate shots to maybe one day get a chance. At the very least, they believe so and aren't just some veteran hoping for a sliver of an opportunity.
It's now the Komets' job to help these kids develop as well as trying to win, and winning will still be the priority. At midsummer, the Komets' lineup seemed loaded with talent, particularly at forward and in goal. Now that depth will be pushed even more to consistently compete every night because their opponents are all better with individual talent.
This will also be a different style for the Komets because they should be a far more offensively powerful team than they've been in the last 15 years. Every line should be able to score, and if a forward struggles, there will be a sniper anxious to take his place.
The one big advantage the Komets may have is their familiarity with most of their teammates. They are playoff-proven and shouldn't get rattled in big moments. They've already played and succeeded in bigger.
Sure, some excellent parts such as Mike Vaskivuo, Frankie DeAngelis, Bryant Molle, Nick Boucher and Bobby Chaumont are missing, but they've been replaced by equally capable players such as Central Hockey League Most Valuable Player Brandon Marino, former Quad City sniper Eric Giosa, former Arizona captain Tyler Butler, CHL all-star goalie Charlie Effinger and some borderline American Hockey League players who will be sent down from Norfolk.
A lot of these kids are bigger and faster than the players the Komets had last year. Don't care to hit or crash the net? Then have a seat because somebody hungrier to prove something will. Push forward or get pushed aside.
The vexing thing is what might happen when the lockout ends. Everyone should enjoy this while it lasts.