With his own future still uncertain, Lynx coach Jim Burton spent Thursday and Friday meeting with the players to discuss next season.
The process began what figures to be a busy off-season for the Lynx, whose season ended Wednesday when they were eliminated by the New Orleans Brass in the ECHL Southern Conference Wild Card playoffs.
Assuming he will return next season, Burton is facing some difficult decisions in the coming months. Six players presently on the roster will qualify as veterans next season, but East Coast Hockey League bylaws allow teams to carry a maximum of four veterans. The rule is designed to free up more roster spots for younger players.
Augusta's four veterans this season were forwards Scott Morrow, Paul Vincent and Louis Dumont and defenseman Denis Chervyakov, while forwards Dean Tiltgen and Sandy Lamarre will attain veteran status next season. The rule this season defines a veteran as a player with 230 or more pro games, and under the collective bargaining agreement with the Professional Hockey Players' Association, that number increases to 235 games next season.
Burton said Chervyakov will not return next season, but that still leaves the Lynx one over the limit. He also mentioned the possibility that the Lynx would pursue veteran players from other leagues this off-season.
Rumors that the International Hockey League could fold after this season have been circulating for months. Even if the league survives, a few IHL teams are expected to go under, which means a slew of experienced players could be looking for work in the ECHL next season.
If Burton returns, he said adding a playmaking defenseman to run the power play and adding a third-line center will be at the top of his list for upgrading the club for next season. Re-signing both his goaltenders - Judd Lambert and Erasmo Saltarelli - also will be a priority this off-season.
"I've thought about it a little bit, and we know there's too many vets right now," Burton said. "That doesn't even count the guys who could come into the league from the IHL or (American League). I'd certainly like to keep all of the guys we have turning veterans next year, but now it comes down to making it all fit."
The Lynx also are faced with the specter of losing Tiltgen and center Lars Pettersen to free agency. While ECHL teams can retain a player's rights for next season by tendering that player a qualifying offer in June, Tiltgen and Pettersen are considered ECHL free agents because they are under contracts with teams in higher leagues. In October, Pettersen signed with Worcester of the American League, while Tiltgen signed with Cincinnati of the IHL.
Tiltgen said last month he would like to return to Augusta to play again for Burton, who coached him in 1998-99 with Arkansas of the Western Pro League, but Pettersen has yet to commit to the Lynx for 2001-02.
Dumont says he wouldn't blame Tiltgen or Pettersen for testing the free-agent waters this summer.
"They're in a situation where they need to get what they can out of their playing ability," Dumont said. "I think at least one of those guys are going to be looking around, not because they don't like it here, but you've got to try and get everything you can for your ability on the market."
As for his own status, Dumont said he still doesn't know if he fits into the Lynx's plans next season.
"I've been in a veteran situation before, and they could end up saying they're going to go with these veterans over me," said Dumont, who was squeezed out in Louisiana because of the veteran rule two years ago. "I'm not sure what they want to do."
Despite playing for 13 minor-pro teams in six seasons, Vincent told the Lynx he is committed to returning next season if he is unable to sign with a team in a higher league.
"I absolutely love it here; these are the best fans in the league, and they treat the players like gold, win or lose," said Vincent, who finished 10th in the ECHL in scoring with 83 points on 34 goals and 49 assists. "My goal is still the NHL, and I know that Jim and Paul and I will get together to try and work something out so I can get to the NHL. But if I don't move up, I'd love to come back to Augusta."
Myrtle Beach is most famous for its golf courses and beaches, but the coastal resort now can add hockey to its list of tourist attractions.
Seaside Sports announced last week that it had reached an agreement to bring an ECHL team to the Grand Strand, hopefully in time for the 2002-03 season. The ownership group recently agreed to terms to purchase the dormant Hampton Roads Admirals franchise and relocate it to Myrtle Beach.
The deal is contingent upon a planned arena securing private bond financing by Sept. 1, and it is subject to the approval of the ECHL's board of governors. Construction on the 8,400-season Coastal Arena is expected to begin in September and be completed by October 2002.
The Admirals planned to begin play next season in Atlantic City, N.J., but team owners pulled out in the wake of lagging ticket sales and corporate sponsorships.
Admirals owners Mark Garcea and Page Johnson recently told The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk that Seaside Sports will lease the team from them for four years and purchase the franchise at the end of the term for a total of $1.5 million.
Myrtle Beach would give South Carolina five ECHL franchises. The Columbia Inferno will begin play this fall, joining the South Carolina Stingrays (North Charleston) Pee Dee Pride (Florence) and Greenville Grrrowl.
In addition to the ECHL team, arena officials said the group also will attempt to acquire an arenafootball2 franchise for the facility.
The ECHL named Trenton Titans coach Troy Ward its coach of the year Friday after he led the Titans to the Brabham Cup title as regular-season champions.
Ward, who spent 21/2 seasons as an assistant coach to Kevin Constantine with the Pittsburgh Penguins, led the Titans to 50 wins and 104 points in his first ECHL season.
BRUBAKER OUT: The Greensboro Generals fired Jeff Brubaker on Tuesday after the team missed the playoffs for the second straight season.
Brubaker, a former NHL enforcer and the second-winningest coach in ECHL history behind former Hampton Roads Admirals coach John Brophy, went 46-82-14 in two seasons with the Generals. He still had one year remaining on a three-year contract.
Along with their poor record on the ice, the Generals saw their attendance dip by nearly 500 fans per game since last season. Their average attendance of 2,786 fans per game was fourth-worst in the league.
From 1989-95, Brubaker coached Greensboro's other entry in the ECHL, leading the Monarchs to a 211-149-28 record and a Riley Cup Championship in 1990.