The American League’s 75th season gets going Friday evening. Hershey, coming off back-to-back Calder Cup championships, is aiming to become the first club to spin off three-straight since the Springfield Indians’ 1960-62 reign. While the Bears may well skate away with the Calder Cup next June, they will have to face several roadblocks first.
THN’s official AHL predictions can be found in the Oct. 11 issue of the magazine, but here are my rankings and award picks for the 2010-11 season.
1. Hershey: Deep in net, on the blueline and up front, the Bears sit atop the AHL mountain once again. No major holes in this lineup.
2. Manitoba: Very quietly, the Moose have assembled a deep lineup. They have depth throughout the roster and new head coach Claude Noel is a magician.
3. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton: The Penguins loaded up, adding Ryan Craig, Andrew Hutchinson, Corey Potter and Brett Sterling. The road to the Calder Cup may well go through Hershey, but the Pens will challenge.
4. Charlotte: Minimal off-season losses and a returning core with abundant depth; will give Hershey and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton a tough fight.
5. Chicago: Darren Haydar and Jason Krog are reunited once more, giving the Wolves perhaps the most dangerous 1-2 punch in the AHL.
6. Worcester: A club that lacks the sparkly roster shine of other top teams, the Sharks bring back goalie Alex Stalock to go with a balanced group of forwards. Jay Leach and Jonathan Cheechoo help, too.
7. San Antonio: Phoenix Coyotes affiliate added Garrett Stafford and Nolan Yonkman on defense to go with netminder Matt Climie.
8. Manchester: Losing stud netminder Jonathan Bernier will hurt, but Erik Ersberg certainly is a nice replacement. The Monarchs’ defense corps is deep and the scoring load was quite balanced last season.
9. Grand Rapids: After a last-place finish, in comes goalie Joey MacDonald and forwards Chris Minard and Jamie Johnson, who should all help make a difference.
10. Peoria: The Rivermen have a shiny, new blueline with Dean Arsene, Ian Cole and Nathan Oystrick headlining it. Will rookie Jake Allen push Ben Bishop in net?
11. Oklahoma City: Picking up sniper Alexandre Giroux plus proven veterans Martin Gerber, Brad Moran, Ben Ondrus and Richard Petiot will provide a cushion for an organization rebuilding at every level.
12. Norfolk: A ridiculously deep goaltending pair (Cedrick Desjardins and Dustin Tokarski) and a good defense corps will frustrate opposing attacks.
13. Rochester: Benoit Groulx departs the Rochester bench after a stormy reign. New coach Chuck Weber will change the dynamic of the dressing room and rookie goalie Jacob Markstrom will be one to watch.
14. Hamilton: Coach Guy Boucher departed for the NHL and the off-season losses – Cedrick Desjardins, P.K. Subban, Brock Trotter and Andre Benoit – were substantial.
15. Binghamton: A busy off-season that included the addition of former Ottawa 67’s star Corey Locke provides some hope.
16. Providence: After a rare playoff miss, the Bruins are back with a typically well-balanced, if unspectacular, lineup.
17. Albany: After breaking a long playoff drought last season, can the Devils return to the post-season despite being stuck in a grueling division?
18. Milwaukee: A strong net tandem and typically solid defensive group will keep this club in games.
19. Portland: Jhonas Enroth’s return helps, but Tyler Ennis departing leaves a major hole. Tim Conboy provides real snarl rarely seen from the Pirates.
20. Toronto: The projected roster looks impressive, but how much will Leafs-related roster shuffling impact this team later on?
21. Lake Erie: Colorado’s farmhands have yet to reach the post-season while stationed in Cleveland. Avs management aggressively rebuilt its AHL roster in the summer.
22. Syracuse: With Joe DiPenta, Brett Festerling, Mark Mitera and Danny Syvret, the Crunch’s defensive top-four is impressive. But goaltending is a massive question.
23. Rockford: Not unlike the parent Chicago Blackhawks, the hockey world picked over Rockford’s roster in the summer.
24. Texas: The Stars surprised many observers in giving Hershey a six-game fight in the Calder Cup final last season. But the off-season was not kind to the Stars.
25. Hartford: Ken Gernander’s club is more notable for its off-season team-name drama than any roster improvements – they’ll change from Wolf Pack to the Connecticut Whale in mid-season. Questions exist on the blueline. Up front, Locke and P-A Parenteau departed without sufficient replacements.
26. Abbotsford: With Jason Jaffray and David Van Der Gulik gone, who will score for the Heat?
27. Houston: Much will depend on two goalies: newcomer Josh Tordjman and rookie Matt Hackett.
28. Bridgeport: A quiet off-season notable only for seeing Bridgeport lose five of its top-six scorers, plus goalie Scott Munroe.
29. Adirondack: Departed scoring and a rough division should bury the Phantoms for a second consecutive season.
30. Springfield: The Falcons are on their fourth affiliate in the past decade, but is Columbus the answer?
Eastern Conference Cup finalist: Hershey
Western Conference Cup finalist: Manitoba
Calder Cup winner: Hershey
AHL MVP: Keith Aucoin, Hershey
Rookie of the Year: Jacob Markstrom, Rochester
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 profiles prospects destined for the next level. It appears every week only on TheHockeyNews.com.