The Winnipeg ICE’s best season in Manitoba came to an abrupt end Friday when the Edmonton Oil Kings eliminated Winnipeg from the playoffs.
Winnipeg lost all three games in Edmonton to lose the series 4-1. A 4-3 OT loss in Game Three was followed by 4-2 and 7-1 defeats that ended their season.
Even though it’s not the ending Winnipeg wanted, this season was undoubtedly a success. The franchise went on their first playoff run in Winnipeg and first since 2015. They built the foundation of a strong fanbase thanks to their exciting style of play and they still have most of their core ready to try again next year, with some playoff experience to guide them.
The core is capable of going the distance, but Winnipeg will have to make some hard decisions this offseason.
First, three valuable players in Nolan Orzeck, Jakin Smallwood, and Cole Muir are all aging out of the WHL. Additionally, ten players are going into their 20-year-old seasons next year – Winnipeg can only hold on to three of them. Some of them are core players like Connor McClennon, Mikey Milne, and Ben Zloty. That means at minimum, Winnipeg will need to fill ten holes in their lineup next year.
The WHL draft will provide some of those new faces, but GM Matt Cockell will need to be active looking at the waiver wire and trade market to find players who can fill roles for cheap. He did that well this season with role players like Tanner Brown and Alessandro Segafredo, and signing undrafted Winnipegger Evan Friesen. Finding the right players who can fit into James Patrick’s system will be necessary for the ICE to compete again next year.
For the old players, the offseason will be about rest and reflection before training. Heal off old wounds and meditate on what it took for Winnipeg to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. From there, plan how to prepare yourself for next year so when the puck drops on a new year, the ICE are even better than they were this season.
However, Winnipeg’s biggest moment of the offseason might be at this year’s NHL draft in July. At least three ICE players are going to be drafted, which will make three consecutive seasons where the franchise has produced an NHL prospect. The ICE pride themselves on their player development – they will get to put the fruits of that pride under hockey’s brightest spotlight this summer in Montreal.
Even though the ICE’s season was ended by Edmonton, Winnipeg will be back next year to compete for a championship. This season they showed that they are capable of making a deep run, next year, they’ll want to show the hockey world they can finish one.