The American League regular season wraps up this weekend and the playoff picture, of course, remains unsettled.
In the AHL, where development sometimes holds equal footing with wins and losses in the minds of most GMs, making the playoffs still matters. Prospects will not develop and gain valuable post-season experience if they are heading to the golf course come mid-April.
As well, fan satisfaction, which impacts the box-office bottom-line and the stability of an NHL-AHL affiliation, hinges heavily on a club at least reaching the post-season. Different NHL organizations have different standards with regards to performance at the AHL level, but jobs are lost when an affiliate does not make the playoffs. For instance, several-consecutive post-season misses helped to fracture what was once a successful New Jersey-Albany affiliation.
Coaches missing the post-season also could be under pressure, both imminent and delayed. Even bench bosses who do not make the playoffs this season and survive until next fall could find themselves under severe scrutiny.
Don Granato (Chicago), Greg Ireland (San Antonio) and Darren Rumble (Norfolk) all piloted AHL clubs that sat out last season’s Calder Cup chase. All three returned this season, but were out of a job by mid-January after their clubs performed poorly to start the season. In Granato’s case, he received only a six-game (1-5-0) trial before losing his job.
Successful coaches also are not immune.
Bruce Boudreau took his Manchester Monarchs to the playoffs each season he was behind the Los Angeles affiliate’s bench. Under Boudreau, the 2004-05 Monarchs boasted veteran sniper Brad Smyth alongside Mike Cammalleri, Dustin Brown, Tim Gleason and Mathieu Garon. Boudreau’s Monarchs authored a 110-point season, but subsequently bowed-out of the playoffs in the first round, which cost Boudreau his job.
Here is a look at some teams and what the 2010 Calder Cup playoffs mean to them, whether or not they participate.
Lowell: Barring a horrific collapse this weekend, New Jersey’s affiliate will finally erase a long history of futility. A Devils affiliate has not reached the playoffs since the 1999-2000 season. Crashing this weekend would be a cruel blow.
Providence: Barring a miracle, Providence will miss the post-season for the first time since 1997-98. The following season, the Bruins turned in a 120-point campaign and won the franchise’s only Calder Cup.
Hartford: The Wolf Pack has never completely sat out post-season play (it lost a two-game playoff-qualifier series in 2003). A New York Rangers affiliate has not missed the playoffs entirely since 1994.
Norfolk: The Admirals have a chance to become the first Tampa Bay affiliate to reach the Calder Cup playoffs. Had Norfolk been a doormat again this season, there is a strong chance there would have been a split with Tampa Bay. Considering the chaos with the parent club also impacted the AHL team, the Admirals have done well for themselves.
Springfield: The Falcons will miss again, meaning an Edmonton affiliate has not reached the Calder Cup playoffs since the Toronto Roadrunners in 2004. With a new affiliation in Oklahoma City, Okla., next season, Oilers management is going to need to get its AHL operation in order.
Peoria: As a St. Louis affiliate, the Rivermen have now missed the playoffs three of the past five seasons. If the Blues’ previous Worcester affiliation is included, St. Louis prospects have sat out post-season play for four of the past six springs.
San Antonio: The Phoenix affiliate has now missed the playoffs in four of the five campaigns they have spent with the Coyotes. San Antonio will sit out this spring despite a prospect-packed lineup including Mikkel Boedker, Brett MacLean and Kyle Turris.
From THN.com American League correspondent Patrick Williams, Around The AHL keeps tabs on the world’s second best circuit, details all the news and notes and profiling prospects destined for the next level. It appears every weekend only on TheHockeyNews.com.