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…