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The post-Landry era

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All good things must come to an end, but the truly great things bring about sadness upon their conclusion. Such is the case with the retirement of Thomas Landry II from the Prague Phantoms, a team he put countless years of sweat and hard work into, but ultimately couldn't bring him to the promised land of being a Continental Cup champion. It is perhaps unfortunate timing that just as the Phantoms enter the primes of such talents as Dominic Gobeil, Robert Bouchard, and Battre Sandstrom, that the captain and beloved locker room presence that was Landry will no longer be lacing them up alongside them. He was a world class player and an even greater friend to the entire franchise, from the GM, to the players, down to even the beer vendors and ushers. This was the type of presence Landry had about this place, he genuinely cared about the well being of every member of the Phamily no matter the size of their role. His absence will create a hole in the heart of the Phamily that can never truly be filled. 


His role on the ice itself, though? For all his greatness, the Phantoms may get out of that side of things relatively unscathed. There were certainly other departures besides Landry - veteran power forward and long time Seattle Bear Jim Bob joined the Phantoms for his final season as well. Career Phantom and valuable depth defenseman Zachariah Kisslinger hung up the skates for good, and a little early, but for good reason: to promote the blossoming career of his son in the VHLM. Jacob Carson was given a chance to hopefully find a starting job in free agency (which ultimately did not happen for him it seems, despite being a better goalie than a few teams' starters) and Silas Lefriend departed for Moscow after terms were not reached with the Phantoms. 


The number of total players the Phantoms will ice this season, however, remains the same as last season, despite the departures. The biggest acquisition is certainly center Venus Thightrap, a target of Prague's as she nearly reached free agency last season, only to be traded to Seattle and sign with them. One can't help but dream of a timeline where we were able to get that done last season and line up Thightrap and Landry together, but even though the acquisition is a season too late, it will surely soften the blow. Two prospects are climbing up into the VHL as well, Nicholas Mariani and Nathan Powers, and their trajectories could not be more different. Powers, like his future defensive partner Sandstrom, was highly touted at the draft and expected to be taken early. Prague seized the opportunity to select him, and his trajectory has been largely as expected. Mariani, however, has been more of a late bloomer - drafted at 43rd overall with the Phantoms' only pick in the S77 draft (and strictly TPE-wise a reach at that point as well) he has now grown into the 20th best player in that draft, and is still on the rise. Additionally, two free agents were signed: Rocket, a journeyman forward who has traveled around a good bit so far, but is coming off of a 40 point season with Davos and could be a solid contributor here, and Erik Karlsson, a backup goalie who has just reached VHL level - he has some further development to do, but also still plenty of time in which to do it.


There's no denying that Landry was a better player even in his final season than any of the players brought in, even Thightrap who is also among the top players and is the closest thing to a like for like swap here. However, the development of those already on the roster will help to fill the gaps. What of the S75 pairing, Gobeil and Bouchard, whose careers have been inextricably linked since that draft? An interesting facet regarding that is while Thightrap was surely a great acquisition and worth every bit of the value sent in the trade, I'd originally mapped her out as top C before realizing that Bouchard is actually the better player at this moment in time. Of course that's temporary, as Thightrap has depreciated and has enough in banked to offset the difference, but it goes to show the development of Bouchard - and of his partner in crime Gobeil, who has developed at a similar rate - if they can match skill levels with someone as highly sought after as Thightrap. Of course the team still has John Leclair II (originally the "backup option" in S74 when Thightrap was not going to fall to Prague's pick at 4, but now playing alongside each other) and Dan Baillie Jr who is approaching veterancy himself but has still maintained a strong level of skill. Two players on the back end are set to retire at the back end of this season as well; Fat Palloon, an acquisition for the last few years of Landry's career to try to bolster the defense, and while it hasn't worked yet, he's got one more round left in him, and Riley Knight Gee, another player who is set to take his place among the "lifers" of the Phantoms, never leaving the team except to age out into retirement after this season, the player opposing teams feared for his physical nature but who could still provide some secondary scoring from the back end. That leaves one final player to compare from last season to this season: Braxton Hunter, the very model of consistent work producing results. Not as flashy as the players whose names are featured on page one of the program, Hunter has nonetheless been plugging away at it, improving gradually over the years and solidifying a roster spot. Like the others, he's much better now than he was prior, and that could make all the difference in an important game down the line.


Surely the Phantoms will suffer the loss of such a great player and an integral part of the team's mentality. However, there's something to be said about rallying around such an event, and the team is not really going to be demonstrably worse even in the immediate aftermath. Can we do it this season? It's too soon to tell, but there's certainly no ruling us out.


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