NHL teams went into a transaction frenzy leading up to the September 15 lockout, sending down players in droves to their AHL affiliates.
Some teams sent more players than others, while some sent more talent than others. Any way you look at it, the AHL will very likely begin the season looking a whole lot different than it would have if the NHL and the NHLPA had been able to prevent a work stoppage.
Instead what we’re potentially confronting in the AHL this fall are a number of front-loaded teams that would otherwise not be nearly so strong. The potential consequence is that, should a new CBA be ratified mid-season, virtually every AHL team will have to do some reconfiguring and readjusting. Teams that had been strong may suddenly be weak and vice versa.
But who cares, right? The NHL is what matters. This is the AHL, at once the NHL’s dumping grounds and proving grounds, designed not for entertainment but for development. Just don’t tell the AHL that. And don’t tell the fans either.
WILD, WILD WEST
As reported by Hundred Degree Hockey and others, Dallas sent 26 players down to Texas in front of the lockout deadline. In terms of who makes the Texas Stars’ opening day roster (assuming the lockout is still in effect) there are a few givens: Jordie Benn, Jack Campbell, Alex Chiasson, Brenden Dillon, Cody Eakin, Matt Fraser, Scott Glennie, Travis Morin, Toby Peterson, Colton Sceviour, the Smiths (Austin & Reilly), Tomas Vincour, and Francis Wathier.
The lockout may prove unfortunate for more than a couple otherwise deserving players– notably, fan favorite Mike Hedden, and former Swift Current Broncos captain and Texas camp invitee Taylor Vause, whose tryout last season was cut short by a broken foot.
The list of players sent down to the Houston Aeros was largely unremarkable (meaning nobody Texas hasn’t seen before, including goalies Matt Hackett and Darcy Kuemper), but the San Antonio Rampage list included some names that may or may not have played in Florida but are still worth noting, such as high-scoring D Colby Robak and one of the top defencemen in Juniors last season, Alex Petrovic.
It is however with the other teams in Texas’ division where things get interesting.
The Stars home season debut on October 14 against the Charlotte Checkers got a little more challenging with the news that 2010-11 NHL Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner has been sent down to Charlotte.
Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City Barons got an upgrade by adding Calder Trophy finalist and 2011 #1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, along with the darling of Team Canada’s World Junior team, Jordan Eberle. Lest anyone forgot how Eberle scored his first NHL goal, behold this beauty:
Texas visits OKC on 28 October but the Barons aren’t scheduled to play at the Cedar Park Center until 21 November.
THE NEW REPLACEMENTS
It’s times like these–when the NHL treats the AHL like a league undeserving of fan support–that I’m reminded of the reality that the AHL is little more than a series of very fancy and well-organized scrimmages.
I understand why NHL teams are sending down their eligible players. But as an AHL fan I don’t like it. Players like Eberle are de facto replacement players–they’re replacing players who might otherwise make the squad. This could mean a minor developmental setback for some young guys, and it could be the end of the road for others. You just don’t know what can happen.
For one, I hope that the career AHLers give these quasi-scabs no quarter. If Edmonton expects Nugent-Hopkins to go unscathed during his time on the considerably rougher AHL circuit, I hope they’re proven wrong. As much as the NHL treats the AHL like its repository for young players, old ones, and even under-performing ones (Jeff Finger, anyone?), it’s still a league with fully devoted fans, many of whom wouldn’t care less about the NHL’s CBA problems if they weren’t so profoundly ready to impact the AHL.