Putting together a wish list around the holiday season is an exercise in hope and faith. There are items on the list that are surely more obtainable than others, but it never hurts to include that big ticket item because you’ll never receive if you don’t ask, right?
If you’ve been a longtime reader here at The Hockey Writers, you know that our writing teams put together these “Dear Santa” articles on a yearly basis. The items on those wish lists range from players returning to good health, a big trade deadline acquisition, and other things that time and an aggressive general manager (GM) should be able to provide.
Life for an American Hockey League (AHL) team is a little bit different. Though every team is autonomous, their circumstances are often dictated by their parent NHL club. So when an AHL team is putting together a wish list, that list doesn’t usually go to Santa, it goes to the team’s NHL affiliate and their decision-makers. From there, it depends on whether the NHL team thinks its AHL team has been naughty or nice, and whether or not the organization as a whole can find a solution that addresses the items on that wish list. It’s like submitting your wish list to your parents instead of Santa.
If you find yourself reading this article, you probably already know how this works. The Grand Rapids Griffins are the AHL-affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, meaning that most of what happens in Grand Rapids is dictated by whatever is going on in Detroit. Still, that shouldn’t stop the Griffins from submitting a wish list to Steve YzerClause because, with a record of 8-10-3, there is no shortage of things that the Red Wings’ farm team could use as we head towards the new year.
Consistency From Hutchinson & Cossa
This isn’t necessarily something the decision-makers in Detroit can provide, but it is still something that should be at or near the top of the Griffins’ wish list. Much like their NHL affiliate, the Griffins have endured in consistent goaltending from the duo of Michael Hutchinson and Sebastian Cossa.
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Cossa, who recently turned 21 years of age, is widely considered to be the Red Wings’ “goalie of the future” and is in his first full season in the AHL. Drafted 15th overall in 2021, the hope for this season was that the 6-foot-6 goaltender would stand tall in goal and continue to push his development forward over the course of the season. While he has certainly had some good outings through the first two months of the season, he has also struggled to stop the puck at a high level on a consistent basis. To that point, he has allowed three or more goals in five of his nine appearances this season, and he’s rocking an unremarkable .904 save-percentage (SV%) because of it.
The Griffins’ other option in goal is Hutchinson, a 33-year-old veteran with loads of NHL and AHL experience that has been tasked with mentoring Cossa and stabilizing the Griffins’ crease through Cossa’s growing pains. Instead, Hutchinson’s numbers are technically worse than Cossa’s (.890 SV%) and has allowed three or more goals in seven of his 12 appearances. It seems that no matter who is in goal for the Griffins, the team cannot bank on a run of consistently strong starts.
While you might expect that struggle with consistency from a rookie like Cossa, it is disheartening to see a lack of support from Hutchinson. Goaltending hasn’t necessarily been the team’s biggest issue this season, but good, consistent goaltending is often the difference between vying for a playoff spot and another year at the bottom of the standings. With the Red Wings’ goaltending picture looking murky as ever, reinforcements probably aren’t on the way anytime soon. The Griffins need one or, preferably, both of their goalies to step up in the coming weeks.
Axel Sandin Pellikka Appears!
Some items on a wish list are more realistic than others. This item happens to be one that the Griffins will have to wait until well after the holiday season is over before they can have it.
Drafted 17th overall in the 2023 draft, Axel Sandin Pellikka has put himself on a lot of people’s radars this season. The Swedish defenseman has nine goals and 13 points in 25 games this season in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). Yes, you read that right: despite being a defesneman, he has over twice as many goals as he does assists. Entering the 2023 draft, he profiled as a high-end offensive defenseman, but his play and production this season sure makes it seem like he was just getting warmed up last season.
The reason the Griffins have Sandin Pellikka on their wish list is because the team’s defense has left much to be desired to this point in the season. While there have been a couple stand outs, namely Simon Edvinsson, the Griffins haven’t been able to support their goaltenders on a consistent basis, and that in turn has fed into Hutchinson and Cossa’s individual inconsistencies. Furthermore, with the Red Wings experiencing some defensive issues of their own, they might be inclined to call Edvinsson up to the NHL, which would further weaken the blue line in Grand Rapids.
While Sandin Pellikka isn’t exactly a shutdown defender, he knows how to play with the puck, and the opposition has to respect him as a threat all over the ice. Adding him to the Griffins’ lineup would help soften the blow of a potential Edvinsson call up, and it would potentially ignite a Griffins power play that has been mediocre so far this season. Once Sandin Pellikka’s SHL season is over, it may not be long before he makes his way to west Michigan.
Griffins Need an Identity
Everybody’s wish list is a little bit different, but everyone’s list includes that one item that stands above the rest. When Santa reads letters and lists from all over the world, he reads something along the lines of “but more than anything else, what I really want is….” For the Griffins, their most sought-after item is an identity.
In their defense, this season was always going to involve an adjustment period. Dan Watson is in his first season as an AHL head coach, and the Griffins welcomed at least a dozen new players to their roster after Yzerman and Griffins GM Shawn Horcoff overhauled a disappointing roster. No matter how much talent, grit and/or experience is available, it is hard to establish a team identity while everyone is still establishing chemistry with one another. But with the first two months of the season behind them, everyone should be well-acquainted by now. Now they have to decide what kind of team they are going to be.
With a record of 8-11-3, the Griffins have been a team that looks good in spurts, but can’t seem to put it together over any length of time. They struggle to play their style of hockey because they don’t seem to know what it is.
Are they a skilled team with finesse at both ends of the ice? Are they a gritty team that battles for every goal and every win? Are they a defensive team that looks to counterstrike when the opposition lets up? Whatever identity they choose, they better hope that their stocking is stuffed full of it.