Lockout Alternatives #1 – AHL

We’ve officially reached Day 10 of LOCKOUT 12/13 and there appears to be no end in site. What is a NHL fan to do? Fear not my loyal hockey brethren, for there is much hockey to be played outside of the NHL. As an added bonus, many would be NHL players are flocking to these leagues in force and in turn creating a better alternative product. Thus, Puck Propaganda presents to you its first entry in what is likely to become a series on Lockout Alternatives.

Today we’ll look at the American Hockey League, traditionally the top minor professional league in North America and the primary developmental circuit for the NHL. The AHL has been in operation under its current form for over 70 years now and many of the NHL’s greatest players have spent time there during their professional careers. The legendary Johnny Bower is the most notable player to spend a considerable portion of his career there, while many others, such as Rick Middleton, Brett Hull, and Ron Hextall,  captured the league’s Rookie of the Year honor before quickly outgrowing it and moving up to the big time.

But why should you watch the AHL during the lockout? Here are the top 3 reasons…

  1. Familiarity. First, the league is comprised of 30 teams, just like the NHL, and each team is affiliated with a parent NHL club. This makes it easy for you to form an alliance with one team in particular, as if your favorite NHL team is say, the Montreal Canadiens, you could simply follow and cheer for their respective farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs. You may even recognize some players that have played for your NHL club in the past or may do so in the future. Second, the rules, officiating, and ice surface are largely the same as the NHL, so you won’t have to learn anything new in that regard. Finally, because the league is in North America, you’ll get plenty of local coverage in English (not so much in French) as opposed to the non-NA league options.
  2. Future Stars. During the last lockout in 04/05 a lot of young up-and-coming talent exploded onto the scene in the AHL. Players such as Thomas Vanek, Jason Spezza, Cam Ward, Ryan Miller, and Eric Staal all had very productive seasons and this likely helped to prepare them for the eventual return of the NHL, as all 3 went on to have immediate success in the new NHL. This time there are even more potential future stars heading to the AHL, such as Mikael Granlund, Sven Baertschi, and Mika Zibanejad. Not only that, this time around there will be a ton of young talent that already made a name for themselves in the NHL. Guys like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jeff Skinner, Adam Henrique, Sean Couturier, and Jordan Eberle will be putting on a show in the AHL.
  3. Quality of play. The AHL is the second best league in North America (arguably in the world) and while it won’t be as good as the NHL, it won’t be too far removed. Everyone from the coaches to the players are out to prove that they can make it at the next level and to do so they will sometimes be performing at a level comparable to the NHL. You won’t see the same level of competition in many of the other alternatives, such as the Canadian Junior leagues, NCAA, and most European leagues.
Well, there you have it. The AHL training camps open on September 28th and pre-season games will begin shortly after. The regular season will start on October 12th, right around the same time the NHL season would have started.