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Komets: What happens next?

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For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blakesebring and at his blog, www.tailingthekomets.com.

Decision has to be made on affilation or independence

Wednesday, April 3, 2013 - 1:38 am

As the Komets look ahead to their second season in the ECHL, here are some things they learned this year:

They have to be able to replace injured or called-up players with solid AA-level talent, meaning the extra defenseman has to be just as good as their No. 4 or 5 blueliners, and the extra forward has to be just as good as their top third-line player. The Komets can't plug an untested rookie or an A-level player into the lineup every night and hope he can produce.

That means they must stockpile talent in training camp with mostly major-college or high-end junior players. They need size, speed and work ethic.

The Komets also need to always be scouting and recruiting. As one veteran ECHL observer said recently, you must constantly be recruiting as if your best player is going to be called up tomorrow, because that's always a possibility.

At least in theory, the Komets can't wait until a player is called up and then try to replace him. As much as possible, they have to be looking to upgrade the talent level every week. That usually means more movement at the bottom of the roster, which sounds harsh, and could mean even more player turnover and more expenses for scouting. That's how the good ECHL teams do it.

Now comes the hardest decision for Komets' management, determining the best strategy to use for the future: becoming an AHL affiliate or trying to go as a full independent.

If they choose affiliation, they might need two, which means they will have less control over their player movement because it will be mostly at the mercy of the AHL clubs. That also means the team's primary focus will be on developing players for the AHL and less on winning, which will drive Fort Wayne fans and the Frankes nuts. They may not have much choice.

Maybe they can work with their affiliate(s) to sign three or four quality players to two-way contracts.

If they go as an independent, the primary focus will be more on winning, but they might lack the size of the affiliated teams, especially teams with two AHL affiliations. That could allow the Komets to have more control over their roster, at least in theory. As was shown with Daniel Maggio and J.M. Rizk late this season, AHL teams can call up any non-NHL-contracted player they like, and the ECHL team has no say in it.

The Komets also have to wonder whether they can recruit high-quality players throughout the summer without the option of an AHL call-up or training camp spot to offer as an enticement. That's key in recruiting, because every decent player believes he could play in the AHL at any moment. Without an affiliation, it may be tougher for the Komets to attract that type of player.

One option is the Komets could concentrate on finding players who are 26 years or older who may no longer be considered AHL prospects. Brandon Marino had a very good season in Fort Wayne but got only a one-game call-up to the AHL.

The Komets also need to do a much better job finding larger, more-skilled rookie players for next year, which will not be easy. If they go independent, the focus is more on winning, but that may be tougher to acquire talent, because any player can be called up by any AHL team then. The unheard-of quality players they find may mean the Komets become a clearinghouse for AHL teams.

The team needs to have players ready to step in right away, which means spending a lot more time scouting and then developing those players in practice so they are always ready to go. There simply was not enough improvement shown by players this season who were here for the entire year, and that was critical.

The Komets need to know a lot more about what they have in a player before that player steps into games instead of hoping and waiting to see how somebody works out. You can't consistently ask rookies to compete against solid AHL-quality players who might be down for a rehab assignment.

Either way, winning consistently will be harder than it was in the Komets' past three leagues. There's too much competition, the Komets won't have as many advantages as other teams and the immigration laws and rules are tough to work with.

That doesn't mean it's impossible. The Komets were very competitive in the International Hockey League throughout the 1990s going as an independent against affiliated teams.

Whatever happens, this era of Komets hockey is over and a lot of familiar faces won't be back next year.

Every time the Komets have suffered bad seasons during the 23-year Franke ownership, they've come back much stronger the next season. Except for winning championships, the Frankes love nothing better than being questioned and having to start over, embracing the challenge of having to prove themselves again.

This will be a pretty big challenge. The Komets' 62nd season and second in the ECHL opens with training camp, likely on Sept. 29, 180 days from today.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Blake Sebring at bsebring@news-sentinel.com .