In a surprising move, the Tampa Bay Lightning announced on February 16 that they reassigned Syracuse Crunch forward Gemel Smith to the Henderson Silver Knights, the Vegas AHL affiliate.
No reasons were given for the reassignment, but they surely were not performance related as the veteran forward had amassed 37 points in his 35 games with the Crunch, at the time.
One possible motive could have been to create a larger opportunity for some of the rookie forwards on the team this season, as the lineup was ladened with veteran forwards. Rudolfs Balcers joined the Crunch after clearing NHL waivers in January, and the return of Felix Robert and Shawn Element, from injury, further blocked the opportunity to provide rookies with experience.
Lucas Edmonds, the Lightning’s 2022 third-round pick, and offseason free agent signing Ilya Usau are two rookies that have been in and out of the lineup at times this season and should now see a more consistent playing time, than they otherwise would have, following Smith’s departure.
Should Smith be needed by the Lightning in the NHL, the team still retain his NHL rights.
AHL All-Star Game
The Crunch were represented at the AHL All-Star Game, at the beginning of the month, by Alex Barre-Boulet, Darren Raddysh, and Gabriel Dumont.
Raddysh walked away with the hardest shot title in the skills competition.
Their North Division team fell short of making the final, but all three had success throughout their games, including this mid-air shot from Raddysh.
Sergei Ovechkin might have been the star of the NHL All-Star game, but Mateo Dumont stole the show in Laval.
Alnefelt misses time, but finishes strong
Hugo Alnefelt missed four games over the middle of the month but played back-to-back games to close out February. He split them 1-1, including a shutout victory over the North Division leading Toronto Marlies (TOR).
Short-term injury absences have been somewhat of a common occurrence for Alnefelt in his AHL career, but there are no long-term concerns at this time. Just something to keep an eye on.
Barre-Boulet closing in on more franchise history
After securing the Crunch franchise records for assists and points in January, the goal-scoring crown is within grasp for Alex Barre-Boulet after adding five goals to his tally over the month.
Now at 102 career goals, Barre-Boulet is five shy of tying Mark Hartigan’s (2003-07) franchise leading tally of 107 goals. Barre-Boulet will pass Lonny Bohonos’ (1994-98) 104 goal mark for second place beforehand.
February was not the best of months for the Crunch as they went 5-5-1 over their 11 games. A five-game losing streak early in the month was followed by a strong rebound that saw them finish 4-1 over their final 5 games.
Overall, the Crunch are 25-19-7 on the season and reside in second place in the North Division but remain virtually neck and neck with the Utica Comets (NJD) and Rochester Americans (BUF) for the spot.
The Toronto Marlies continue to run away with the division with a nearly 20-point lead but were only able to split their regular season series with the Crunch as they played their sixth and final matchup on Sunday night, ending in a Crunch 1-0 shutout victory.
As things stand, with 21 games remaining, the Crunch would receive a first-round bye in the playoffs and face the Utica Comets in the division semifinals.