The American Hockey League. One tier under the NHL. Seen as a developmental league for young players. But it’s also a platform for pro hockey players young and old who can’t cut it in the bigs. Every NHL team has an AHL affiliation, or “farm team” as it’s often called. They can bring players up and send them down. The AHL runs parallel to the NHL schedule, though it wasn’t affected by the lockout this season. With the AHL final set to start between the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Syracuse Crunch, it begs the question, is there any correlation between an AHL teams success and that of it’s parent club?
This years final features the farm teams of the Detroit Red Wings (Grand Rapids) and the Tampa Bay Lighting (Syracuse). Detroit was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs and Tampa didn’t even qualify. The Lightning farm system is clearly very strong, as their AHL team won the championship last season. Yet, it hasn’t quite translated to the NHL level. At least not yet.
The Chicago Wolves won the Calder Cup in 2001-02 season. At the time they were the affiliate of the Atlanta Thrashers. The Thrashers have only one playoff appearance to their credit and have since been relocated to Winnipeg.
In 2003-04, the champs were the Milwaukee Admirals, affiliated with the Nashville Predators. The Preds have been one the most consistent clubs in the NHL, but have never made it past the second round of the playoffs.
The Philadelphia Phantoms won the Calder Cup in the 2004-05 season. They are associated with the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, who made it to the finals in 2010, losing to the Blackhawks. The Flyers haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1975.
The 2005-06 season saw the Hershey Bears win the Calder Cup. They also won it in 2008-09 and 2009-10, somewhat of an AHL dynasty. However their NHL club, the Washington Capitals have never won a Stanley Cup, and have famously been unable to advance past the second round in recent years despite having a strong team.
The Hamilton Bulldogs won the Calder Cup in the 2006-07 season. However their NHL affiliation, the storied Montreal Canadiens, haven’t built on that success, advancing to the Conference finals in 2010 but not having a Stanley Cup final appearance since 1994.
In 2007-08, the Vancouver Canucks farm team, the Chicago Wolves won the Calder Cup. Vancouver hasn’t won the Stanley Cup in franchise history, their best chance in years coming in 2011 when they famously fell in seven games to the Boston Bruins.
The 2010-11 season saw the Binghampton Senators win the championship. While their NHL club, the Ottawa Senators, have been improving in recent years, they haven’t seen much playoff success, being eliminated in the first round two years in a row.
The Edmonton Oilers had a dismal season. They’ve had dismal seasons for the past few years. Their AHL team, the Oklahoma City Barons, went to seven games in the Conference Finals this season before bowing out to Grand Rapids.
If history is any indication, however, Oilers fans shouldn’t bank on the Barons success translating to the NHL level. The AHL is a different league. Of course an NHL team loves to see it’s farm teams succeeding and winning. It’s great experience for prospects. But as we’ve seen in recent years, the Calder Cup doesn’t seem to be a stepping stone to the Stanley Cup. At least not so far.