Toronto Adds Keith Aucoin, Fellow Veteran Mike Zigomanis Remains Unsigned

By signing Keith Aucoin to a two-way contract, the Toronto Maple Leafs may have forced some difficult decisions for their AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.(Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club)

Has the addition of AHL All-Star Keith Aucoin made fan-favorite Mike Zigomanis redundant to the Toronto Marlies?

Keith Aucoin – AHL Strongman

The Toronto Maple Leafs recently signed Aucoin to a one-year, two-way contract worth $650 000 on the NHL side, and $350 000 for AHL play.

The 33-year-old forward has lit up the AHL in recent years, earning six All-Star berths (three First Team positions), the Les Cunningham Plaque as the League’s MVP in 2009-10, and back-to-back Calder Cups with the Hersey Bears in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

Last year, Aucoin put up 70 points (11 goals) in 43 AHL games (5th overall), giving him a 1.62 point-per-game pace – the highest ratio of the league’s top scorers.

He also scored 11 NHL points (three goals) during his 27 games while called-up to the Washington Capitals.

Aucoin took the time to tweet both his thanks to his old organization,

and compliment the Leafs – although no mention of the Marlies.

Mike Zigomanis – Marlies Leader

While Aucoin’s exploits are impressive, 31-year-old Zigomanis is no slouch.

A favorite of Don Cherry, and often labeled with the infectious moniker “Ziggy”, the Toronto native was the Marlies’ top scorer last year with 61 points (19 goals) in 68 games (16th overall).

His absence in the first two games of the Calder Cup final was considered crippling to the Marlies because of the presence and skill he brings to the lineup.

Upon Zigomanis’ return to the line-up, Marlies defenseman Matt Lashoff talked about the veteran’s composure. “He brings a lot of poise with the puck…When it seems (that) there’s a hurricane going on outside, you have to have the guys who can pull you in.”

Like Aucoin, Zigomanis takes home a premium AHL salary, earning $300 000 on a one-year contract for his work with the Marlies last season, but so far no offer has been made by Toronto extend the relationship.

Is Ziggy out if Aucoin is Marlie-Bound?

It’s possible that Aucoin sticks with the Maple Leafs and perhaps plays out the entirety of his contract in the NHL. But if his past is any prediction, he’ll more likely spend time sporting both sweaters.

And that’s where it gets sticky for the Marlies.

No 11, Keith Aucoin, was a force with the AHL’s Hersey Bears. How much will he play for the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs? (Whammies Were Here)

The AHL has dedicated itself to serving as a development league, and has created policies and rules to ensure this.

Notably, Rule 5.1 of the AHL’s Official Rules 2011-12 states that “each Member club must dress for each regularly scheduled or playoff game at least twelve (12) players, other than goalkeepers, who have played in a total of not more than two hundred sixty (260) regular season games in the National Hockey League, American Hockey League or any European Elite League, prior to the start of the season and one (1) player, other than goalkeepers, who has played in a total of not more than Three-Hundred and Twenty (320) regular season games in the National Hockey League, American Hockey League or any European Elite League, prior to the start of the season.”

So only six of the 18 skaters on an AHL team can be steely-eyed veterans. The other two-thirds must have played no more three seasons of professional hockey (although note that one of the 12 may have played up to 320 games, or the equivalent of roughly four seasons).

Managing their limited veterans is an extra complication that every AHL squad has to deal with, with injuries and call-ups making the list of six a fluid document.

When Zigomanis returned, Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins couldn’t ignore rule 5.1.

“We’re over the limit with him coming back,” said Eakins. “I have to take somebody out, which is unfair, but I have to play by the rules. The rule is in there to encourage the development of the young players.”

While it depends on who the Marlies are going to bring back next season, their list of veterans last spring included defensemen Mark Fraser, and Lashoff, along with forwards Colton Orr, Phil Dupuis, Jay Rosehill, and Ryan Hamilton.

Ultimately for the Marlies, it may come down to maintaining balance on the squad with the right number of skill and energy players – not everybody can be a top-six forward, especially with the all-important youngsters needing ice time to develop.

Is their room for Aucoin and Zigomanis on a development team?

Marlies fans may see a simpler solution however – keep both.