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AHL Has Had A Major Impact On The Hawks

05/25/2010 9:37 AM - Mike Peck
Trivia Time: Name the only three players on the Blackhawks roster to never have appeared in an American Hockey League game.

(Answer later in this post)


I’m sure hockey fans in Rockford don’t need any further proof on the impact the AHL has on the NHL. In case you do, consider that 20 of the 23 players that have appeared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Blackhawks have spent time in the AHL.

There are guys who have played as little as three games (Brent Seabrook) in the AHL to as many as 246 contests (Tomas Kopecky). Of the 20 players to have played in the “A”, 10 of them played in at least 100 games, and that doesn’t include Niklas Hjalmarsson who appeared in 99 tilts with Rockford.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a high first-round selection like Andrew Ladd (#4 overall by Carolina who played 37 games between Lowell and Albany) or undrafted like Jordan Hendry (191 career AHL games with Norfolk and Rockford.)  The road to the show goes through the AHL.

Chicago’s roster has 2,527 games of AHL experience on it, an average of nearly 110 career AHL games played by each player.  In the age of the salary cap, it is a necessity for teams to keep replenishing the organization with young talent to stay competitive year-in and year-out. 

I know fans are always getting antsy about top prospects and their development process, like Jack Skille and Corey Crawford. But looking at the number of games played in the AHL by current Blackhawks skaters, Skille (189) and Crawford (253) are following the common path to the NHL.  Both these players should be ready for a solid opportunity in the NHL next fall.

How about the Philadelphia Flyers? They’ve had 26 different players appear in a Stanley Cup Playoff game this spring and 22 of them have skated in the AHL at some point during their professional career. 

The number one goalies in this series, Chicago’s Antti Niemi and Philly’s Mike Leighton, both were blocking pucks in the AHL within the last two seasons. Niemi, of course, was in Rockford in 2008-09 and Leighton has 266 AHL games played, most recently in Albany in 2007-08. We’ll have more later this week on this goalie match-up, as there are a couple of really good storylines behind these backstops.

Drafting and developing well is a double-edged sword. As players get better and turn into stars, they will demand higher salaries forcing teams to either commit to high-paying, long-term contracts or into letting players leave via free agency.

This is another reason why I am reluctant to get too excited for “next season” or the “future” as a sports fan. If a team has an opportunity to win, they need to do everything possible to win now. Yes, the Blackhawks have a great core of players locked up for the foreseeable future.  But the team won’t be able to retain all of its players from this year’s club, meaning even next season the dynamic of the Hawks will be a little different.

Trivia Answer: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa


Realignment Idea

05/21/2010 10:17 AM - Mike Peck
With the additions of Oklahoma City and Charlotte to the American Hockey League, the league for the first time will feature 30 teams. That means the divisions will see a bit of a shift in 2010-11. The league has yet to announce the divisions for 2010-11, but I think it would be cool to see the AHL go to a six-division format like the NHL.

Here is what I think would be a good divisional layout:

Western Conference
Midwest
Chicago
Grand Rapids
Milwaukee
Peoria
Rockford

West
Abbotsford
Houston
Oklahoma City
San Antonio
Texas

North
Hamilton
Lake Erie
Manitoba
Rochester
Toronto

Eastern Conference
Atlantic
Lowell
Manchester
Portland
Providence
Worcester

South
Charlotte
Hershey
Norfolk
Wilkes/Barre-Scranton
Binghamton

East
Adirondack
Bridgeport
Hartford
Springfield
Syracuse

By having this particular three-divisional format, most teams are kept with near-by rivals. The Midwest is an easy one as all five teams are within busing distance. I’d also like to see a schedule similar to what he NFL does and have inter-league play that has one division from the west play a division from the east each season and rotate it. For example, the West Division could play the East Division in 2010-11 and then play the Atlantic in 2011-12 and the South Division in 2012-13.

With the three-division format, the league could also go to the same playoff format that the NHL has. Take the division winners and then the next five best teams. I really like this format as it always guarantees that the playoffs would feature the best eight teams (at least point wise.)

If the league had this format this season here is how the Western Conference playoff would have been laid out:

Hamilton (1) vs. Manitoba (8)
Chicago (2) vs. Abbotsford (7)
Texas (3) vs. Milwaukee (6)
Rockford (4) vs. Rochester (5)

Now back to reality and here is the reason that we’ll probably never see this realignment and playoff format: $$$$$!

The cost of travel is always an issue in minor league professional sports. This is the reason that most leagues are regionalized and probably a huge reason why the AHL hesitates to expand too far west (with the exception of Abbotsford of course).

Taking the above format, let’s say the league goes with a cookie cutter schedule format. Each team plays its own division 10 times (40 total games). Then each team plays clubs from one of the other Conference’s other divisions four times (20 games) and the third division twice each (10 games). Then the final 10 games could be played against teams in an Eastern Conference Division.

Let’s say Rockford’s division plays the AHL’s East Division next season using this format along with the South Division’s teams four times, the North’s teams twice and compare it this past season’s format. In 2009-10, the IceHogs had to fly on six different occasions during the regular season. Using this new concept, I estimate that Rockford would have to fly nine times.  That’s a huge travel cost increase.

Like most fans, I would love to see more of a variety of teams come through here, but ultimately the mighty dollar speaks the loudest and I understand that. Looking at it from an owners standpoint, why would you want your team making two extra trips to the Midwest, a trip to Texas and two trips to Canada when you can bus all along the eastern seaboard for a fraction of the price of flying across the country? That’s an easy business decision.

A lot of fans have asked why we don’t play teams from the east and I think the above illustrates why it doesn’t happen.