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Does a Calder Cup victory correlate to Stanley Cup success for NHL clubs?

Winning the AHL crown should seemingly set up an NHL franchise for future success. But does it really work that way? We look back at a dozen winners to determine if a Calder Cup win portends a Stanley Cup celebration.

There are several reasons why the future looks bright for the Carolina Hurricanes. Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen appear to be every bit the cornerstones of the offense that Carolina had hoped they would be. The defense is rock solid, built upon a foundation of an almost infallible top four. Rookie coach Rod Brind’Amour didn’t miss a beat when it came to carrying over the possession-style game instituted by his predecessor, Bill Peters. And Carolina is also coming off of a trip to the Eastern Conference final that has reenergized the entire fanbase.

But another reason for Hurricanes faithful to be hopeful about what’s to come is that it appears the group of bright, young talent that’s on the way has what it takes to play and win in big situations. Case in point? The Charlotte Checkers, Carolina’s AHL affiliate, hoisted the Calder Cup over the weekend mere months after capturing the circuit’s regular season crown. Impressive stuff, and enough to get Hurricanes fans dreaming up their own championship celebrations. After all, the AHL-to-NHL connection is an easy one to draw. The Checkers feature a number of Carolina’s top prospects, including Martin Necas, Jake Bean, Janne Kuokkanen, Julien Gauthier, AHL post-season standout Morgan Geekie and goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic. So, it's only a matter of time before the Hurricanes are perennial Stanley Cup contenders, right?

Well, not so far. For all a run to the Calder Cup can teach a group of young players and for all the success those players experience in one minor-league campaign, does an AHL affiliate hoisting the league’s top trophy really correlate to prosperity for the big club down the line?

The answer isn’t black and white. Below, we’ve taken a team-by-team look at a dozen of the past 15 Calder Cup winners – every champion from 2004-05 through 2015-16 – and offered a glimpse into how the AHL success influenced the NHL product. For each NHL team, we’ve outlined their regular season record, playoff record and best end-of-season finish in the five campaigns that followed the AHL affiliate’s Calder Cup victory.

Our findings? Over the past 15 seasons, not a single team has followed up their AHL success with a Stanley Cup victory, though there are two franchises who have come awfully close in the five-year timeframe. Take a look:

PHILADELPHIA PHANTOMS – 2004-05
NHL Affiliate: Philadelphia Flyers

The foundation for the Flyers’ success around the end of the millennium’s first decade was built during the Phantoms’ Calder Cup run, and the two major pieces – Jeff Carter and Mike Richards – didn’t arrive until the regular season ended. Combined, the two played three regular season games, but the future Flyers duo, both of whom were 19 at the time, contributed a 19 goals and 38 points total during the run. Ironically, a couple of the same players who helped the Phantoms win the Calder Cup are those who got in the way of the Flyers capturing the Stanley Cup in 2009-10. By that time, 2004-05 Calder Cup champions Patrick Sharp and Ben Eager were both members of the Chicago Blackhawks and played a part in Philadelphia’s six-game defeat in the Stanley Cup final. (Of course, Carter and Richards would later win the Cup together with the Los Angeles Kings.)

NHL Record: 194-165-51 – 439 pts. (20th)
Playoff Record:
27-25
Best Finish:
Eastern Conference champions

HERSHEY BEARS – 2005-06
NHL Affiliate: Washington Capitals

It wasn’t long after the Bears’ post-lockout Calder Cup victory that a few notable graduates made their way to the Capitals. Top-scorer Tomas Fleischmann was among those who were part of the Washington outfits that became perennial contenders in the early Alex Ovechkin days, as were Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr and David Steckel. But the greatest product of the Calder Cup run was Mike Green, who was a top offensive defenseman with the Capitals for several seasons. By the time Washington started shedding some of the up-and-comers who led the Bears to AHL success, though, the Capitals were undergoing a retooling after failing to advance beyond the second round at any point.

NHL Record: 223-133-54 – 500 pts. (5th)
Playoff Record:
17-20
Best Finish:
Second Round

HAMILTON BULLDOGS – 2006-07
NHL Affiliate: Montreal Canadiens

It doesn’t matter that this run to the AHL crown produced not a single skater who became an impact player for the Canadiens. Why? Because it signalled the arrival of Carey Price, who is inarguably the most important player Montreal has had throughout his tenure. Only 19 at the time, Price used his one Calder Cup run to vault himself into a part-time gig with the Canadiens the following season and he’s been the incumbent starter ever since. He played an important part in guiding Montreal to the 2013-14 Eastern Conference final, and were it not for an injury in Game 1 of that series against the New York Rangers, maybe Price has a Stanley Cup final appearance under his belt.

NHL Record: 202-153-55 – 459 pts. (20th)
Playoff Record:
27-25
Best Finish:
Eastern Conference finalists

CHICAGO WOLVES – 2007-08
NHL Affiliate: Atlanta Thrashers

The Wolves’ win had no bearing on the Thrashers’ success. Absolutely none. So, how is it that Chicago, given their affiliation with Atlanta, was able to piece together a winner? Well, they had some hired guns. For the duration of their careers, Jason Krog and Darren Haydar were two of the best pure scorers the AHL has even seen and the duo dominated in the post-season, scoring a combined 24 goals and 65 points in 24 playoff games. Bryan Little is the lone prospect on those Wolves who is a current NHLer of note. Ondrej Pavelec was the starting goaltender and remained a No. 1 for some time, but he has since retired.

NHL Record: 165-167-44 – 374 pts. (24th)
Playoff Record:
N/A
Best Finish:
Second in Southeast Division

HERSHEY BEARS – 2008-09
NHL Affiliate: Washington Capitals

The Bears’ second post-NHL lockout Calder Cup victory was similar in that it produced a few recognizable role players and saw one standout defenseman start his career. Among those who fit the former category are Jay Beagle, who would eventually play a part in the Capitals’ 2017-18 Stanley Cup victory, while John Carlson fits the bill for the latter. Both were fresh-faced – Beagle in his second professional season, Carlson just getting his first taste – but played a part in Hershey climbing the mountain. Also on the roster? Karl Alzner, as well as Michal Neuvirth, who was the star and backbone of the playoff run.

NHL Record: 209-118-49 – 467 pts. (6th)
Playoff Record:
17-20
Best Finish:
Second Round

HERSHEY BEARS – 2009-10
NHL Affiliate: Washington Capitals

With a core that included Chris Bourque, Alexandre Giroux and Keith Aucoin, the Bears captured back-to-back Calder Cups. And this run saw the next wave of future Capitals get more playing time. Alzner was more involved, as were Carlson and Beagle. Neuvirth again commanded the crease, but his backup? A baby-faced Braden Holtby, who saw action in the playoffs three times. He’d later backstop Washington to the Stanley Cup, but that came nearly a decade after his bit part in the Calder Cup victory.

NHL Record: 200-129-47 – 447 pts. (10th)
Playoff Record:
21-23
Best Finish:
Second Round

BINGHAMTON SENATORS – 2010-11
NHL Affiliate: Ottawa Senators

Several players from the Baby Sens ended up cracking the Senators roster in the not-too-distant future, but Mike Hoffman was the only real difference-maker at any point. Others on the roster included Zack Smith, Erik Condra, Mark Borowiecki, Eric Gryba and Robin Lehner, who was excellent during the Calder Cup run. The real leaders offensively, however, were Ryan Potulny and Ryan Keller, neither of whom really caught on in Ottawa.

NHL Record: 184-140-52 – 420 pts. (18th)
Playoff Record:
10-13
Best Finish:
Second Round

NORFOLK ADMIRALS – 2011-12
NHL Affiliate: Tampa Bay Lightning

This was the birth of the dominant and deep Lightning teams we see today. Simply run down the list. The offense featured Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn. The coach? Jon Cooper. Also on the roster were Radko Gudas, Mark Barberio and Michael Kostka. Dustin Tokarski led the way in goal. No wonder the Admirals won the Calder Cup. Tampa Bay hasn’t won the Stanley Cup, but of all the teams on this list, no outfit had its minor-league championship translate to sustained big-league success quite like the Lightning.

NHL Record: 202-138-36 – 440 pts. (12th)
Playoff Record:
25-22
Best Finish:
Eastern Conference champions

GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS – 2012-13
NHL Affiliate: Detroit Red Wings

Based on the sheer volume of players who made the jump – not to mention coach Jeff Blashill – there’s a fairly clear connection that can be drawn between the Griffins’ Calder Cup-winning team and this era’s Red Wings’ teams. That said, success in the AHL didn’t result in great NHL fortunes. Grand Rapids was led by Petr Mrazek in goal, and Tomas Tatar, Luke Glendening, Danny DeKeyser, Riley Sheahan, Gustav Nyquist, Brendan Smith and Tomas Jurco all saw time with the Griffins during the post-season run. Only two – Glendening and DeKeyser – are still Red Wings.

NHL Record: 185-158-66 – 438 pts. (19th)
Playoff Record:
5-12
Best Finish:
First Round

TEXAS STARS – 2013-14
NHL Affiliate: Dallas Stars

There are only two notable players from the Baby Stars’ championship outfit that became regulars with the big club: Brett Ritchie and Radek Faksa. At the time, Faksa was 19 and a bottom-sixer in Texas, while Ritchie was more impactful in the middle of the lineup. Oddly, the Stars weren’t lacking for prospects who could get the job done in the AHL. Justin Dowling, Curtis McKenzie, Scott Glennie and defensemen Jyrki Jokkipakka, Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth all showed promise. Overall, though, the AHL crown didn’t portend great success in the NHL.

NHL Record: 210-155-45 – 465 pts. (15th)
Playoff Record:
14-12
Best Finish:
Second Round

MANCHESTER MONARCHS – 2014-15
NHL Affiliate: Los Angeles Kings

What the Monarchs' win meant for the Kings is difficult to gauge when most of the group is gone. Consider this: only two players – Derek Forbort and Adrian Kempe – who played more than five games with the Monarchs during that run are still with the Kings organization in any capacity. That’s it. Top young contributors such as Michael Mersch, Jordan Weal, Nick Shore, Colin Miller and Kevin Gravel all either failed to catch on in Los Angeles or were moved along at some point.

NHL Record: 163-134-31 – 357 pts. (20th)
Playoff Record:
1-8
Best Finish:
First Round

LAKE ERIE MONSTERS – 2015-16
NHL Affiliate: Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets completed a monumental upset of the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Lightning in Round One of the post-season, and there are a few players who contributed to that victory who cut their teeth with the Calder Cup champion Monsters. For instance, their leading playoff scorer? Oliver Bjorkstrand. Also helping along the offense? Josh Anderson. And the breakout performance came courtesy of Zach Werenski, who made a seamless transition to the pro game while skating on a blueline that also featured Dean Kukan, who looks like an up-and-comer for Columbus. The pieces developed in the AHL, some of whom helped during the Calder Cup run, are starting to make a difference in the NHL.

NHL Record: 142-85-19 – 303 pts. (6th)
Playoff Record:
9-12
Best Finish:
Second Round

(Note: Only four seasons and three seasons, respectively, were used to assess the NHL success of the Kings and Blue Jackets.)

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