With the team's playoff fate yet to be decided, the Augusta Lynx front office can't even begin to think about next year.
But general manager Paul Gamsby and coach Jim Burton - assuming they'll both be back next fall - will face some difficult decisions this off-season as they decide which players to build around for 2001-02.
Their problem has to do with the veteran rule, employed by the East Coast Hockey League to encourage development of younger players. The idea behind the rule is to limit the number of older players each team can carry, hence freeing up more roster spots for "prospects."
Each team is limited to four veterans, defined as a player with 235-or-more pro games prior to the start of the season. Presently, the Lynx are at the league limit with defenseman Denis Chervyakov and forwards Louis Dumont, Paul Vincent and Scott Morrow.
Now, for the dilemma. Assuming the number of games to reach veteran status will again be around 235, four additional players will qualify as vets next season - Dean Tiltgen, Lars Pettersen, Wes Swinson and Sandy Lamarre.
"I haven't thought about next year much, and you don't even know if I'll be back," said Burton, who signed a contract for the remainder of the 2000-01 season when he took over for the fired Scott MacPherson in January.
"But there is going to be a veteran problem next year, and some decisions will have to be made. I've talked briefly with Paul about who I think we should lock up for next year, but it's hard to think about that when we're right in the middle of a playoff race."
Of the four current veterans, Dumont and Morrow likely will return. There has been speculation that Chervyakov will move on after this season, while Vincent's history of changing teams - Augusta is his 13th team in six pro seasons - means anything can happen with him this offseason.
While the Lynx signed Vincent to a 52-week employment contract when the acquired him in February, the ECHL's board of governors recently voted to eliminate year-round contracts in a cost-cutting move. Vincent has indicated he plans to stick around this summer and help the Lynx run summer hockey programs, and Lynx brass would probably like to retain him if he chooses to stay.
Assuming that Morrow, Vincent and Dumont will return and Chervyakov moves on, the Lynx would have just one veteran spot for four players - Pettersen, Tiltgen, Lamarre and Swinson.
Tiltgen said last week that he wants to return for a third season with the Lynx, but the 27-year-old also is in a unique position in that he will be a free agent at the end of the season.
In the ECHL, a team retains a player's rights for next season simply by tendering that player a qualifying offer in June. Protected players are free to sign with higher-level teams (either in the American, International or National Hockey League), but are prohibited from signing with another ECHL or other lower-level minor-pro club (Western Pro, Central or West Coast League).
But because Tiltgen signed a one-year contract with Cincinnati of the IHL in October, he is free to sign with any pro team in North America. Closing in on a third straight 30-goal season, Tiltgen will undoubtedly be pursued by several ECHL teams. Earlier this season, he was courted by teams in the Swiss and German Elite leagues but turned down several lucrative offers to remain in Augusta.
Pettersen also will become an ECHL free-agent at the end of the season since he is on a two-way contract with the Lynx and AHL Worcester.
As a result of their veteran problem, the Lynx likely will be active in the offseason trade market. They could even benefit by dealing away one or two of their higher-paid veterans, which would free up room under the salary cap and enable them to bolster their bench with added depth.
NO ICE ADVANTAGE: Should the Lynx make the postseason and advance to the Southern Conference semifinals, chances are they will not be able to play host to any games at Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center.
Disney on Ice's Toy Story is coming to the civic center April 25-29, which means the Lynx would have to play any of its home playoff dates that week somewhere else.
"They didn't think we'd be playing that week, and maybe we won't" Gamsby said. "It will be disappointing if we can't play at home, but we have to get there first."
Gamsby said he contacted officials in Columbia, S.C., and Macon about playing the games there, but the ice wasn't available.
Losing the home-ice advantage in the ECHL is not uncommon. Last season, the New Orleans Brass was forced to move Game 3 of the Southern Conference Wild Card playoffs from New Orleans Arena to their former home, the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium, because of a concert.
The Hampton Roads Admirals played the final game in its franchise history - Game 5 of the Northern Conference semifinals against Trenton - before a crowd of around 300 fans at a suburban practice rink.
Gamsby said the Lynx would not consider playing home playoff games at the IceForum.
AROUND THE ECHL: Former Lynx grinder Chris Thompson made an immediate impact with the Dayton Bombers, scoring a pair of goals in each of his first two games, both wins. Ironically, Thompson's Bombers debut came Thursday night on the road against Greensboro, the team from which he demanded to be traded in December. ... The sports franchise and arena development company owned by Greenville Grrrowl chairman/CEO Carl Scheer last week was awarded an arena-stadium project in Jacksonville, Fla., which is expected to bring the dormant Jacksonville Lizard Kings back to life. The project is part of a $2.5 billion improvements package passed by the city in November. ScheerGame Sports Development will build a $125 million arena and a $25 million baseball stadium, with a target date of completion set for 2004. Scheer said he would consider owning the Lizard Kings as long as it did not affect his ownership of the Grrrowl. The Lizard Kings suspended operations at the end of last season. ... Owners of the Mobile Mysticks announced the team will return next season unless "someone offered us a lot of money to move the team," co-owner Toby Jeffreys told the Mobile Register.
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org