By: Anthony Petrielli
The central theme of supporting any hockey team as a fan is hope. You hope they will win the Stanley Cup each year and, failing that, you hope they continue improving in an eventual attempt to win the Cup. Among many problems, though, is the fact there is only one team that wins it all every year, leaving the fans of 29 other teams to look for positives and reasons to get excited about the new season.
What most of those fans tend to turn to are the prospects and namely, prospects still playing. In that case, they turn to their AHL affiliate in the hopes that they are still playing.
But instead of hoping to see if your favourite team’s prospects can keep advancing in the AHL playoffs so you can keep watching them play and hoping they continue to “develop,” you might want to ask yourself, “Does it even matter if they win the Calder Cup?”
To be clear, winning a championship is never a bad experience. Ever. But in terms of translating to NHL success, judge for yourself the results and carry over for teams who have made it to the Calder Cup final since the 2004-05 season.
*= Top NHL Prospect
()= NHL teams standing before they made it to the Calder Cup final
Of every player whose made the Calder Cup final over the last seven years, four -Patrick Sharp, Ben Eager, Dennis Seidenberg, Rich Peverley- have won a Stanley Cup, but none of them did it as a part of the organization they made it to the Calder Cup with. In the cases of Patrick Sharp and Ben Eager, they beat the team -Philadelphia- that traded them away in the first place.
No team has won both a Calder Cup and Stanley Cup post-lockout, but the Pittsburgh Penguins have been in both finals- winning a Stanley Cup of course. But only Alex Goligoski played on both teams, and Pittsburgh traded him to Dallas for James Neal.
The Philadelphia Flyers, Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators have also had both of their organizations make each final.
In the case of Ottawa, the Senators made the Stanley Cup final in the 2006-2007 season, and their AHL affiliate Binghampton Senators won the Calder last season, so there’s no real correlation between the two.
The Vancouver Canucks had Cody Hodgson participate in both of their final runs, although he joined the Manitoba Moose late (he played in the OHL until the Brampton Battalion were eliminated), and was a healthy scratch for the Canucks on multiple occasions. Vancouver also had Cory Schneider partake in both, although he was more of a spectator in Vancouver’s run to the Cup.
The Philadelphia Flyers had Jeff Carter and Mike Richards on both of their finals earning teams (the Phantoms did win it all though), yet they traded away a host of other players that contributed to their AHL championship such as Joni Pitkanen, RJ Umberger, Dennis Seidenberg and Patrick Sharp, who, semantics aside, all could have seriously helped push the Flyers over that final hurdle. If anything, Philadelphia is the most interesting case-study in all of this because, although we all know they are not shy when it comes to trades, you have to question, to a degree, why they would trade away the majority of what looked to be -and eventually was- a core of very good players. Of all the players who advanced to the NHL from that Phantoms team, not one of them is still a part of the Flyers.
Conversely, the Hershey Bears have won the Calder Cup three times post-lockout and while the Washington Capitals have had great regular season success over the years, that has not translated at all to NHL playoff success. And they’ve kept the majority of those players, including, Mike Green, Brooks Laich, John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Jeff Schultz. Plus they have that Alex Ovechkin guy and Niklas Backstrom character who met them directly in the NHL.
If you really take the time to think about it, the Capitals, on paper, might have been the model organization up until a year or two ago. They drafted well, they developed their prospects in a winning environment filled with high expectations and championships, they have two superstars in Ovechkin and Backstrom to lead a core that’s already won together, and yet they haven’t even made the Eastern Conference final yet.
Ironically, one of the only players the Capitals let get away from them, Tomas Fleischmann, is currently having a fantastic season in Florida and would be Washington’s second leading scorer at the moment with 47 points, three behind Ovechkin.
The most interesting correlation between AHL champions and the NHL at the moment belongs to the Ottawa Senators. Almost everyone predicted the Sens to be terrible this season, but after winning the Calder last year, Zack Smith, Colin Greening, Erik Condra and Jared Cowen, among others, have stepped right into the NHL after their experience and have become a fantastic supporting cast to the superstars in Ottawa as the Senators look well on their way to being an NHL playoff team once again.
When it comes to high end, all-star caliber, players on these Calder finalists generally have at least one player who turns into one. Whether that be Patrick Sharp, or Mike Richards, Jamie Benn or Carey Price, Jeff Carter or Ondrej Pavelec, Mike Green or Alex Goligoski, even guys like Bryan Little and Mikhail Grabovski who, while not spectacular, are solid NHLers.
Any championship experience -especially winning- is a good one for a young player. But judging by the mixed bag of results, and the translation between AHL success and NHL success, it’s safe to say that it’s not the be all and end all either.
Regardless, when the AHL playoffs come rolling around I’ll still be watching, because it’s great hockey.
Plus, I’m a Leaf fan. All I have at this point is hope.