The NHL has officially cancelled the remainder of the preseason, and finally Friday to discuss non-central issues of the Bargaining Agreement after a two-week hiatus. (Calgary Herald)
While the owners and the NHLPA are looking for a way to salvage what is left of the season, the AHL is gearing up as usual.
With no professional hockey as of yet, the AHL has taken center stage in various media outlets as the biggest game in North American Hockey.
The KHL is also gaining a lot of attention in North America as many players who are ineligible to play in the AHL are taking contracts with the Russian league.
Yet there is a bevy of young talent that has played less than 160 NHL games (as per the old CBA) who have been sent down to their team’s AHL affiliate.
Players who are already establishing themselves in the NHL are looking at the AHL as a great option. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Brayden Schenn and Jake Gardiner have already reported to their respected affiliate according to The Toronto Star.
For the owners and die hard fans of the AHL, this is gearing up to be a great season. The ability to watch budding NHL stars play, albeit not with their entire NHL team.
Much like what happened during the 2004-05 lockout that cancelled the entire season, the AHL saw a number of star players return for the season.
In 2004-05 it was names like Jason Spezza, Eric Staal and, captain of this year's Stanley Cup winning team, Dustin Brown who went down to play for the AHL.
Certain teams are going to see a great boon of talent help them fight for positioning while the NHL keeps its doors closed.
Edmonton’s affiliate, the Oklahoma City Barons, should see some success with Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall (when he is healthy) playing for the Barons.
The Adirondack Phantoms will also see a boost with players like Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier returning to the AHL.
The Phantoms, who missed the AHL postseason last year, will welcome the return of these players during the lockout.
Even the Calder Cup contenders, the Toronto Marlies, will see a boost from their NHL affiliate during the lockout, albeit a small one.
Many of the players sent down by the Maple Leafs spent last season playing only a few NHL games. Jake Gardiner is the main exception having played 75 games for the Leafs last season.
What has been seeing little press however, is the trickle-down effect that can change the development of these young NHL stars returning to the AHL for the lockout.
While having the top young NHL stars playing with the affiliate teams in the AHL, it can lead to the stifling of the top talent that is already playing for the affiliates.
The top players that are being sent down will likely see the most ice time during their stints in the AHL.
Those who would have been on the top lines will be bumped down and see reduced time and ability to grow as a player.
This means that players who needed a year in the minors before breaking through in the NHL will have to wait another year, unless the lockout is resolved quickly.
For the players in the juniors who are eligible to play in the minors this season, they will have to wait as well.
It could be for a resolution to the lockout or for another year to pass.
This can also have an effect on the prospects coming up this season, while those who are being considered as the top prospects may not be, the players from the second-round down could be as they too could see reduced ice time.
Many are hoping that this season will be salvaged at least in some capacity, for some AHL teams a lengthy lockout could help them greatly.
Teams like the Barons and the Phantoms could be in place for a playoff run, or even potentially the Calder Cup with a long lockout.
On the other side of that coin, if the lockout is resolved quickly it could seriously hurt teams who will lose large numbers of their players who return to the NHL.
So while on paper the lockout seems like a gain for the AHL teams, the uncertainty surrounding it and the length of the lockout could hurt the AHL, its players and the prospects badly.
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