2 Months Deep: How NHL Teams are Using Their AHL Affiliates

Your newest Winnipeg Jet, Carl Klingberg - Courtesy of Global Winnipeg

As of December 1st, the NHL landscape looked like this in terms of the overall standings: (Oh by the way, if you predicted that a) Minnesota would lead the league after 2 months and/or b) Anaheim would barely have it’s head above water at this point, e-mail me, and I’ll let you make each of my personal decisions for the whole of 2012)

1. Minnesota Wild                        15-7-3                     33pts

2. Pittsburgh Penguins                14-7-4                     32pts

3. Detroit Red Wings                   15-7-1                     31pts

4. Boston Bruins                          15-7-1                     31pts

5. Chicago Blackhawks                14-8-3                    31pts

6. St. Louis Blues                          14-8-2                    30pts

7. Florida Panthers                      13-7-4                    30pts

8. Toronto Maple Leafs                14-9-2                   30pts

9. New York Rangers                  13-5-3                    29pts

10. Philadelphia Flyers                13-7-3                    29pts

11. Phoenix Coyotes                     13-7-3                    29pts

12. Vancouver Canucks               14-9-1                    29pts

13. Dallas Stars                             14-9-1                    29pts

14. Los Angeles Kings                   12-8-4                    28pts

15. San Jose Sharks                      13-7-1                    27pts

16. Buffalo Sabres                        13-10-1                   27pts

17. Edmonton Oilers                    12-10-3                  27pts

18. Nashville Predators                11-9-4                    26pts

19. Ottawa Senators                     12-10-2                  26pts

20. Washington Capitals              12-10-1                  25pts

21. New Jersey Devils                  12-10-1                  25pts

22. Montreal Canadiens               10-11-4                  25pts

23. Tampa Bay Lightning            11-11-2                   24pts

24. Colorado Avalanche               11-13-1                   23pts

25. Winnipeg Jets                          9-11-4                    22pts

26. Calgary Flames                       10-12-1                  21pts

27. Carolina Hurricanes               8-14-4                    20pts

28. New York Islanders                7-11-4                    18pts

29. Anaheim Ducks                       7-13-4                    18pts

30. Columbus Blue Jackets          6-15-3                    15pts

Yes, it’s very early, and no, 9 wins won’t separate 1st place from last place for long – but alas, these are the way things stand as we enter the month of December.

Teams such as the Wild, Panthers, and Maple Leafs are all doing much better than expected, while some usually dominant teams such as the Capitals, Ducks, and Lightning are all floundering. Again however, it’s early. Things can, and almost certainly will change as the season rolls along.

This is all very well and good, but what does it have to do with the AHL or the IceCaps?

I had an idea.

Every 2 months of the season, I will take a look at two things. First, I will look at the NHL standings, given that they depict the successes and failures that the parent clubs of each AHL franchise are having on the ice. Second, I will compare these standings to a second list, which indicates the degree to which each NHL team is utilizing talent from their respective AHL affiliates.  I am looking to examine the relationship between NHL team success and the use of AHL talent, without getting into any statistical analyses.

Below is an Excel Spreadsheet that lists the NHL teams in order, based on how many AHL players they have called up to their main roster in the first 2 months of this season. Take a look.

October and November NHL/AHL Call-ups

For those of you who may be unable to open the document, here are the Top 3, and the Bottom 3 teams in terms of AHL player usage.

1. Philadelphia Flyers (Adirondack Phantoms): 12 call-ups [Legein, Zolnierczyk (twice), Schenn (twice), Rinaldo, Gustafsson, Holmstrom, Wellwood, Bourdon, Marshall (twice)]

2. Buffalo Sabres (Rochester Americans): 12 call-ups [Tropp (twice), MacIntyre, Brennan (twice), Kassian (twice), Szechura (twice), McNabb (twice), Finley]

3. Anaheim Ducks (Syracuse Crunch): 11 call-ups [Newton, Maroon (twice), Jacques (4 times), Bonino, Holland, Guenin, Deslauriers]

…….

28. Tampa Bay Lightning (Norfolk Admirals): 2 call-ups [Ritola, Tyrell]

29. Boston Bruins (Providence Bruins): 2 call-ups [Caron, Hamill]

30. Los Angeles Kings (Manchester Monarchs): 2 call-ups [Voynov (twice)]

From the list, you can see for example, that the Boston Bruins have only made 2 AHL call-ups this season.

As you can imagine, there are a number of reasons why an NHL team would call up an AHLer at any given time. In the example of Boston, they went 12-0-1 in the month of November. When a team is rolling like that, why would you rock the boat by bringing in somebody new and potentially mess things up? Obviously, one factor involved in determining the number of call-ups a team will make is the success the initial NHL lineup has (typically). The inverse can be seen in the case of the Anaheim Ducks, who are currently 29th in the NHL. When things aren’t going so well for an NHL club, the desire to call-up an AHL player quite clearly increases. Anaheim for example, sits in 3rd with 11 call-ups so far this season while struggling from the get go, including calling up Jean-Francois Jacques FOUR times (tied with Detroit’s Brendan Smith and Fabian Brunnstrom for the most of any AHL player so far this season).

Another factor that determines AHL involvement is injuries.The Pittsburgh Penguins, who have done remarkably well given that they have been obliterated by injuries, have made 8 call-ups in the first 2 months of the season (9th overall) to address the gaps in the lineup that had to be filled at short notice. The same is true for teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs. When the Leafs suffered injuries to their #1 goalie, 2 of their Top 6 D-men, and 5 of their starting forwards, the AHL Marlies were used rather often to plug the holes.

In the case of your St. John’s IceCaps, the Jets have called up 7 different players at different times to address injury issues and shake up the struggling lineup (12th overall). Those players are Peter Mannino, Mark Flood, Brett Festerling, Paul Postma, Jason Jaffray, Arturs Kulda, and most recently, Carl Klingberg. Interestingly, if the list I drew up ranked teams in terms of the number of unique call-ups in the first 2 months, they would be tied for 3rd in the league, with 7 different players making the trip to the big club. Only the Leafs, Blue Jackets, Panthers, Wild, and Flyers have used as many or more of their respective affiliate’s players.

As the season rolls along, it will be interesting to track the progress of the NHL teams while looking at the degree to which they are relying on AHL talent in times of need. As it is only early in the season, the connection should only become more apparent with time. Stay tuned as we follow this going forward.

Follow @Normaniac747 and @SJ_IceCaps on Twitter.

Meet the new b’ys, same as the old b’ys

Editor’s note: Sorry for the brief hiatus. Life.

It’s been nearly 20 years since the AHL first took this city by storm with the inaugural season of the St. John’s Maple Leafs. That same season the Leafs went on to lose in the finals of the AHL playoffs marking the closest this city has even come to winning the Calder Cup. The Leafs era in St. John’s lasted 14 seasons and during that time we had managed to see our fair share of prospects turn into NHL regulars (and even a few stars) until the team left in 2005 and relocated to Toronto.

This weekend that team comes back to St John’s. Sure, the faces, names and personnel have all changed since the, but it will be a symbolic event at Mile One this weekend when the Toronto Marlies come to town.

Right now the Marlies sit atop the North division with 23 points, posting a 10-5-2 record. However, some big names who helped get the Marlies there will not be joining the team to St John’s this Friday as promising prospects Joe Colborne and Joey Crabb have been enjoying some time with the Marlies’ parent club, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Colborne and Crabb are atop the roster in terms of points, with 19 and 15 respectively.

For Leafs fans across the island, some familiar faces tear into town on Friday night including some Leaf regulars from last season like Darryl Boyce, Keith Aulie, Mike Zigomanis, and everybody’s favourite Jeff Finger. But no doubt all eyes will be on the Leafs’ 2009 first round pick Nazem Kadri who has been slow to start the season, posting just one goal.

The IceCaps will be looking to continue their domination of the Atlantic Division this weekend. Realistically, looking at the standings, even a split will put up two big padding points. Their record currently sits at an outstanding 12-3-3 and they hold two games in hand on the Manchester Monarchs. The IceCaps will look to some character players for big time offense this weekend, with a few key roster guys like Jaffray and Kulda still playing with the parent club Jets.

Heading into this weekend’s games it shouldn’t be a big mystery who’s going to split the games between the pipes. Though Pasquale and Mannino are the safe bet, it remains to be seen if veteran netminder David Aebischer will earn another start in net after some disappointing outings in recent memory.

Goalies Mark Owuya and Jussi Rynnas should split starts over the weekend for the Marlies.

Like most home games, puck drop is at 7:30 PM NL time at Mile One Centre (both Friday and Saturday night). You can also catch the action by listening live over at theahl.com or thisisNL

Follow Pickett2112 on Twitter

Under the microscope – October: IceCaps trends and player awards

Note: This piece comes by way of Charles Pickett once again. It’s a regular post that will show up every month and discuss who (or what) has been thrown under the bus by fans, a detailed report card, and some IceCaps player awards. Enjoy!

stjohnsicecaps.com

The IceCaps started this season with a bang winning their first two games on the road and boasting a strong home record with only 2 losses in regulation. During the month of October the IceCaps put up an impressive 5-2-3 record which was good enough to see them land a top spot in the Atlantic Division.

With the city St. John’s having gone six years without a AHL franchise, there was a lot of catching up to do. A brand new cast for fans familiarize themselves with. Players names, numbers, and faces were studied – not to mention their play on the ice – and an entire new parent club also entering it’s first year in a new city. And perhaps more importantly, which players fans would come to like the most.

Today I’m going to break down some certain trends I’ve noticed during the first month of the season, starting with the Fan Favourite award.

This months Fan Favourite award goes to Carl Klingberg. The Swedish winger quickly notched six goals in 10 games and added one apple to his total to land him 7 points so far the season. Klingberg started out fast, scoring five goals in 2 games and landing the first hattrick in IceCaps history.

Klingberg’s ability to stick handle past defenders and generate scoring chances alone have put him very high on the fan favourite list to start the season. Klingberg’s game isn’t all offense either; he is also a very defensively responsible forward who does great work on the back-check. His foot-speed makes his game that much more exciting for fans, as he can cut through the neutral zone in what seems like 2 strides on some nights.

And it’s not just his on ice abilities that make Klingberg stand out as this months fan favourite, just take a look at this twitter feed. @Carlklingberg tweets about everything from how unreal the crowd at Mile One has been to his love affair with ketchup and pasta.

Though not every team is lucky enough to have a superstar with a bullet shot and soft hands, you can’t win with these guys alone. On every team there’s a vast supply of good hard working support players who aren’t afraid to mix things up in the corners, go to the dirty areas, and block shots – players who live with a “take one for the team” attitude.

It’s always tough to measure the true value of these guys. They may not fill the net night after night but on seemingly every shift they make a play that can change the pace all together.

This month’s unsung hero is Jason King.

Though King has been exposed to his fair share of fandom from IceCaps fans all across the island, his steady play and quick decision-making in the defensive zone frequently gets overlooked by fans each night. But it’s a relief that his veteran presence can be counted on fully shift after shift. It’s not all defense for King either, who has put up some goals so far , including a rare one on the powerplay.

King’s play is very physical and he’s got a natural knack when it comes to plays along the half-wall. I don’t think I’ve seen him lose a battle along the boards once this season quite a feat for a guy who draws some pretty big minutes. Another big part of King’s defensive game is his ability and willingness to sacrifice his body to take away a shooting or passing lane. In the offensive zone, King continues to go to all the right places and has a net presence like no other member of the IceCaps, which is something I think will play a big part of getting the ball rolling on the powerplay as the season rolls on.

King, a nine-year pro veteran, has had lots of time to hone this skills, and will serve as a solid leader for other role players on this team. Before long you should see scrappy guys like Clark and Cormier emulating his play.

The first month of the season hasn’t been all great, however. There have been things to irk fans and leave people shaking their heads (and yelling from their seats). I’m talking about the struggles on the IceCaps powerplay. With the powerplay blanked on opening weekend, and currently sitting 5-56 (8.9%) on the season, it has found itself under the bus for this first month. The powerplay currently sits last in the AHL. Ouch.

But it isn’t all bad.

The current system on the PP has been subjected to a few subtle changes that may pay off in the goal department. First, I’ve noticed that players aren’t forcing the East-West passing as much of late. This is a good development since a lot of fans started to worry that a speedy player on the opposing team’s penalty-kill would pick off passes and create a short-handed break away situation.

Rather than going cross-ice, the puck as done a lot of traveling North/South from defensemen to a forward along the half wall in the past few games. At the last minute they may try to squeeze a D-to-D pass if the lane is there, but they aren’t forcing them as much as in the first few games.

Another thing to look forward to on this powerplay unit the IceCaps are using is their presence in front of the net. They’ve consistently had a forward going to the net hard. An age old adage in hockey is if you go to the net you’ll be rewarded. It’s doesn’t create the prettiest of plays, and the player in front of the goalie takes a hard thrashing, but it’s been seen effective time after time in seemingly every hockey league.

What I really like about the changes the powerplay is made is their attempt to simplify everything, relying heavily on shots from the point and net presence to create a scramble in front and somebody mop up the rebound. The current defenders on the IceCaps have impressive shots. Mark Flood has a bullet of a slapshot, and has already caught the post a few times this season. Artus Kulda has an amazing talent for finding other players sticks and can wind up a slap-pass similar to that of current NHL defender Ryan Whitney of the Edmonton Oilers.

As ironic as it sounds, some of the current woes of the powerplay can be attributed to just bum luck. The players, I’m sure, are aware of what seems like a never-ending drought with the man-advantage, and must be feeling snakebitten. In the first month we’ve seen pucks dance on the line, hit posts, crossbars and even go bar-to-bar and out. We’ve seen pucks ripped out of mid air from opposing team goalies making highlight reel save. And we’ve also seen fans lose their patience, screaming “SHOOOOOoooT” from nearly every section of the Mile One.

I don’t think it’s a matter of what can be change and if there has to be personnel changes on the PP, I think the small changes they did make and the simplifying tweaks will prove to be successful over time. Right now fans just have to sit and wait for it to either break out or hopefully catch fire. There’s no doubt in my mind the powerplay has been tossed under the bus – I’ve heard it everywhere in the city, from cab drivers to strangers across the bar after a game: … ‘they’ve got to fix the power play… if they scored on half of the powerplay chances we wouldn’t have lost.”

Though some of it may be true, fans aren’t talking enough about how much zone time the IceCaps have managed to spend inside the blue line on the PP, nor about the chances landed.

There’s a big difference between a bad powerplay and a powerplay that just can’t score. Right now the IceCaps fall under the latter of the two. Zone time piles up as other teams defenders are hard-pressed to clear the puck, and sometimes to the point where a player gets suckered into a holding or hooking call because they can’t. If the team can keep that up going forward, it should pay off in goals. For now fans just have to be patient with it.

Recap:

Month of October

Fan Favourite Award: Carl Klingberg

Unsung Hero Award: Jason King

Under the Bus: The IceCaps’ Powerplay

Disagree with anything I said, I’d love to discuss it. Shoot me an email at pickett2112@hotmail.com or follow me on twitter @pickett2112

Thanks for reading, and see you at the rink

Klingberg nets three, IceCaps throttle Bulldogs

sjicecaps.com

Carl Klingberg scored a hat-trick, John Albert picked up three assists, and Jason King scored his first goal in a 6-2 IceCaps win over the Hamilton Bulldogs on Saturday night. The offensive outburst vaulted Klingberg into the top of the AHL scoring race, though it’s obviously very early. The young Swede shot 100% last night to nab the hatty on only three shots. Impressive.

Special teams were a sore spot for the Caps again, going 0-7 on the powerplay to follow a 0-8 outing the night before. It’s obviously an area they’ll look to improve on, but six even-strength goals was enough to get the job done as the team moves to 3-1-0 on the season.

The IceCaps displayed a high level of team speed last night, and I was particularly impressed by how well they moved the puck at the point. If they can get their game together down low in the offensive zone, they should be able to start banging pucks in on the powerplay.

Patrice Cormier had a solid outing for the IceCaps. After being on the receiving end of a couple questionable hits early in the game, he bounced back with an assist and some big hits to boot later on. It’s also quite obvious that despite failing to notch a point this weekend, Paul Postma is the premier blue-liner on this club. Nobody shows as much confidence with the puck, and I’m sure the Jets will love to hear that.

The IceCaps are back in action on home ice next weekend when they host the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Friday and Saturday night, followed by weeknight games against Portland on Tuesday and Wednesday. The team will then pack their bags and go on the road for a little over a week.

Shots last night were 41-22 IceCaps, and Mannino nabbed his second win in as many tries between the pipes. Nathan Lawson took the loss for the Bulldogs.

**Notes: Marc Crawford was in attendance for the game last night, as it was “IceCapsules” night in honor of his AHL Coach of the Year Award in 1992 with the Baby Leafs… The fans were unreal, especially in the third period (I was glad to be part of that wave)

Email ryanfancey@gmail.com and follow here and here

Klingberg assigned to IceCaps

The Winnipeg Jets have sent prospect Carl Klingberg to the IceCaps, according to Chris Johnston of the Canadian Press. The twenty year-old Swede will likely punch his first full season on North American ice this year, after spending last season in the Swedish Elite League for the most part.

Klingberg was taken by the Thrashers with the #34 pick in the 2009 Entry Draft. He’s seen as a fairly physical player with speed to burn. If he can drive to the net effectively, he could finally find his scoring touch with the IceCaps. Should be a fun player to watch.