(Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

Amidst all the drama of the NHL playoffs, it’s easy to forget that the NHL’s minor-league affiliates in the AHL are also currently in their playoffs. Just as the NHL is polishing up the second round, the AHL is finishing up their own second round, and it’s interesting to note which teams are remaining in the AHL postseason in comparison to their NHL affiliates.

Of the 8 NHL teams to make it to the second round of the playoffs, just one of their AHL affiliates did the same. Looking at all 16 AHL teams that made the playoffs, just 7 of their NHL affiliates got into the postseason. Only three of the AHL teams that made it to the second round have NHL affiliates that made the playoffs: the Connecticut Whale (New York Rangers), Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh Penguins), and San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers).

Is this surprising? Not really, but it is striking.

Since I currently live in Abbotsford, BC, I went with my wife and 5-month-old to see the Abbotsford Heat take on the Toronto Marlies in their second round series the last two nights. It was astonishing to see how many players on the Marlies had spent a significant amount of time with the Leafs this season and how the same simply could not be said for the Heat.

The Marlies’ lineup included Nazem Kadri (21 games with the Leafs this season), Matt Frattin (56 games), Jake Gardiner (75 games), Phillippe Dupuis (30 games), Carter Ashton (15 games), Jay Rosehill (31 games), and goaltender Ben Scrivens (13 games), as well as a bevy of other players that had shorter stints with the big club.

Gardiner’s the big name, having spent the entire season with the Leafs, scoring 30 points while averaging 21:35 in ice time per game. Having him in an AHL lineup seems almost absurd at this point. But there he was.

That’s the benefit of having an NHL affiliate miss the playoffs: all their top rookies and other eligible players are available to play in the AHL playoffs, giving those teams a big boost. At least, it’s a boost when the NHL affiliate actually has good prospects. The Abbotsford Heat don’t have that luxury. The Calgary Flames have one of the worst prospect pools in the league, with their best prospect, Sven Baertschi, still in the WHL playing for the Portland Winterhawks, who are still in the playoffs.

The Flames next best prospect is goaltender Leland Irving, who played one playoff game for the Heat, giving up 4 goals on 26 shots. The Heat instead entrusted the net to AHL-journeyman Danny Taylor, who was solid, if unspectacular. As for the rest of the lineup, the Heat did have Roman Horak, who played 61 games with the Flames this season, scoring 11 points, and sparkplug Paul Byron, who played 22, as well as a few others who played a few games with the Flames.

Oh, and Hugh Jessiman still exists.

So the Marlies get to have Jake Gardiner in the lineup because the Leafs weren’t very good this season, while the Heat got Roman Horak because the Flames weren’t very good. That doesn’t quite seem equitable. Think of the poor AHL teams whose NHL affiliates are actually good.

That’s why it’s impressive that the Connecticut Whale are still hanging around, though they are down 3-2 in their series with the Tampa Bay Lightning’s affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals. I’m sure the Whale would have loved to see Chris Kreider coming their way out of Boston College instead of heading straight to New York to play for the Rangers. Sure, having Wade Redden is nice, but Ryan McDonagh would sure look nice on the Whale blue line.

Even if the Rangers get knocked out, however, those players wouldn’t be able to participate in the AHL playoffs as they would need to be included on the AHL team’s Clear Day roster. This gives the AHL teams that know their affiliate won’t be making the playoffs a distinct advantage. It’s impressive, then, that the Wilkes-Barres/Scranton Penguins and San Antonio Rampage are still alive as well, as they couldn’t include their affiliates’ players in their Clear Day roster, anticipating that they would be out of the playoffs.

If the Rangers win game seven over the Washington Capitals on Saturday, and the Connecticut Whale manage to battle back and defeat the Norfolk Admirals, they will have an opportunity to become just the fourth pair of affiliates to win the Stanley Cup and Calder Cup in the same year. The last time it was done was in 1995, when the New Jersey Devils and Albany River Rats accomplished the feat.

Otherwise, it’s likely that the AHL affiliate of an NHL franchise that finished well out of the playoffs will go on to win the Calder Cup. It helps if that team has been terrible for a while and has been stockpiling prospects. Say, the Edmonton Oilers’ affiliate, the Oklahoma City Barons, with a roster including Magnus Paajarvi, Linus Omark, Anton Lander, Colten Teubert, and Teemu Hartikainen, are still around…

Comments (14)

  1. Oh so you were that guy at the game last night?

    Was the announced attendance over 17 people?

    • Barely. It was a little over 1300. Sadly, the Connecticut Whale had even fewer in attendance for their game, around 1100.

      It’s a shame really. The Heat/Marlies game was quite good and went to overtime. Paul Byron scored an awesome shorthanded goal for the Heat with a slap shot on a breakaway. It was gorgeous.

  2. The fact you either don’t know or intentionally omitted the AHL developmental rule…

    Of the 18 skaters (not counting two goaltenders) that teams may dress for a regular-season game, at least 13 must be qualified as “development players.” Of those 13, 12 must have played in 260 or fewer professional games (including AHL, NHL, IHL and European elite leagues), and one must have played in 320 or fewer professional games. All calculations for development status are based on regular-season totals as of the start of the season.

    …kind of renders your entire article moot.

    • That’s still over 3 full-seasons of professional experience (presuming they never miss a game). That’s a full ELC, barring any kind of injury or healthy scratch status.

      Most upper-tier prospects aren’t expected to log more than that kind of a window in the AHL before making the complete jump to the big club, especially the forwards. Given the way that NHL teams call up spare bodies (especially when there are long-distance transit issues, such as clubs like Anaheim/Syracuse where players often suffer significant jet-lag and performance drops from callups/send-downs), in part as a reward and in part as legitimate in-house warm body insurance, it’s an entirely relevant point he’s making.

    • I’m quite aware of it, thanks. There are plenty of players eligible to play in the AHL playoffs right now who are not doing so because their NHL teams made the playoffs.

      • Examples? I’d love to see some examples.

        • Ask and ye shall receive.

          The Manchester Monarchs would surely have loved Kyle Clifford, Andrei Loktionov, Dwight King, and Viatcheslav Voinov in their first-round loss to Norfolk; San Antonio is currently missing Oliver Ekman-Larsson; Connecticut, as mentioned, is short Chris Krieder… and Ryan McDonough and Carl Hagelin would have been eligible as well. Hershey no doubt sorely missed Marcus Johansson and Braden Holtby in their 3-2 loss to Wilkes-Barre. And Wilkes-Barre has been bolstered by Pittburgh’s exit, adding Eric Tangradi and Simon Depres (who scored in OT in game six to extend their semifinal).

          • I’ll point out the Ekman-Larsson wouldn’t play for San Antonio – The Coyotes are now affiliated with the Portlad Pirates. As noted in the article, the Rampage are affiliated with Florida this year.

          • You’re right, Timmy. He played for them when the affiliation agreements were different last season. Mentally I still think “Rochester” when it comes to Panthers prospects.

  3. Due to the “emergency conditions” policies, teams *can* paper down players for the Clear Day roster (Washington did it with both Dmitry Orlov & Keith Aucoin, & I know WBS had 3 players on their Clear Day roster who were actually playing with the parent Pens in the NHL playoffs), but it tends to be a limited number for practical purposes. I know WAS had 5 Clear Day players up with the big club during the first week of NHL playoffs, before they sent 2 down to Hershey the morning of Hershey’s first playoff game.

    CT Whale has had attendance issues all season, and from what I’ve heard, the XL Center doesn’t help that. Amongst other things, they’re a little too close to the Springfield Falcons to support enough market for either group effectively. It’s a shame, they’ve got some really solid players in that system.

    I knew the Marlies were good, but I hadn’t realized that their roster was quite that stacked – colour me officially impressed! In support of your argument, last year’s CC Champion had a non-playoff affiliate, although the year before that Hershey & Washington both made the playoffs (granted, Washington bounced after a single round).

    Great to see some AHL-centric content over here!

  4. The AHL playoffs are really a strange animal, Last year, Robin Lehner basically but the Binghamton Senators on his back and carried them to a Calder Cup title. Barry Brust was the starter, and Lehner came on in game 6 of the first-round series, with Bingo down 3-2. What happens? Game 6 goes double-OT, Lehner stops a PENALTY SHOT in double-OT, and Bingo wins games 6 and 7, and the run is on.

    What happens this year? 7 or 8 of the Sens prospects who were part of that Cup run go to Ottawa this season, the O-Sens make the playoffs, defying the predictions, and the B-Sens sputter and flail around, and wind up finishing dead last in the league this year.

    Ask an Ottawa fan about this, and I bet they’re thrilled. Prospects are developing, and they’ve got a nice core for the future. B-Sens fans? Well, we’re ticked off, because that Cup run was actually the first playoff appearance since the lockout year (and oh, was there much laughing when the Sens dropped the Stanley Cup finals a couple years later considering how Spezza and co. laid down and died in the first round of the playoffs in the lockout year.)

    It can be rough for the minor-league fan sometimes. I’ve been going to Binghamton games since the mid-80s, and this year was possibly the most depressing season of hockey I’ve been to, and I’m including the 89-90 “11-60-9″ Binghamton Whalers in that. Yes development is a great thing, and it is nice to see young stars, but at the same time, it is rough when you get the feeling that the big club could give a damn about what they are putting out on the ice in the AHL sometimes.

    • I can definitely see how that can be frustrating. It’s definitely frustrating to see the Abbotsford Heat and the complete lack of young stars they have because of how terrible the Flames’ prospect pool is. Max Reinhart will be joining the Heat next year most likely, so that will be a boost. The best that Heat fans can hope for is that Sven Baertschi doesn’t make the Flames roster out of camp next year.

      It would be nice if Markus Granlund came over from Finland as well, but that’s unlikely.

  5. The reverse of this is also pretty cool. Most NHL teams still alive in the playoffs carry basically every player under contract on their playoff roster. Gives the players some exposure to the NHL, maybe learn a thing or two. Really the only people who lose are those AHL-NHL team combos that both miss the playoffs.

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