From Bruins players to fans, the impeding lockout is on everyone's mind these days. Dennis Seidenberg even stated outright at yesterday's Rock & Jock Softball game that he'd like to play for Mannheim in Germany if the players do not return to NHL ice to start the 2012-2013 season. Based on the fact that the players and owners can't even seem to sit down together for more than 90 minutes at a time 22 days before the players are scheduled to be locked out, It's probably time to start being reasonable about the fact that we might not see the spoked-B in the TD Garden within the next few months.
During the last lockout, the AHL was a popular destination for young NHL stars looking to keep their skills honed. While Providence didn't exactly reap the talents of the Boston club - only three players made the drive down 95 to spend the season at the Dunk - other locally-based minor league teams saw a limited amount of star talent added to their rosters.
So where will loyal fans of the Black-and-Gold turn to, to get their hockey fix? Where will everyone be able to watch the fan favorites in action? Don't go counting on Providence for that one.
Of the Bruins that played in Boston in 2003-2004, Patrice Bergeron, Colton Orr and Kris Venarsky were the only three that wound up in Providence. Other players saw their careers end with the lockout, retiring quietly - or loudly, in P.J. Stock's case. Some players sought ice time in the EIHL, the SEL, the Swiss-A, or Czech Extraliga, and some just took the year off from pro hockey.
A team just up the road in Lowell, the Lock Monsters, had a similar situation: two big young stars and a few lesser NHLers in Eric Staal, Chuck Kobasew, Colin Forbes and Mike Commodore. The AHL champs that year, the Philadelphia Phantoms, took on Todd Fedoruk, as well as youngsters Joni Pitkanen and Dennis Seidenberg. The trend seemed to be younger players, not well-established NHLers - and the well established NHLers that ended up in the AHL during the lockout were usually older guys whose career was on the decline.
Although the thought of being able to see multitudes of NHL players descend on the AHL to play in 2012-2013 is a nice one, the core reason for the league's existence will prevent that from happening any more than it did in 04-05. In 04-05, there were a multitude of players in the same situation that Jared Knight, Ryan Spooner, and other first-year-pros will be this year. In Providence, Nate Thompson, Brad Boyes, and Milan Jurcina were all playing their first professional seasons. Down in Hershey, Johnny Boychuk was establishing himself as a good young defenseman in Colorado's system in his first pro year.
The AHL has rules in place to prevent "stacking" of its teams, namely rule 5.1, entitled "eligible players."
Of the 18 skaters (not counting two goaltenders) that teams may dress for a regular-season game, at least 13 must be qualified as "development players." Of those 13, 12 must have played in 260 or fewer professional games (including AHL, NHL, IHL and European elite leagues), and one must have played in 320 or fewer professional games. All calculations for development status are based on regular-season totals as of the start of the season.
So basically, there can only be a maximum of six skaters per team with more than 260 pro games of experience, and one of those six can't have played more than 320 games. The AHL is first and foremost a development league. When the lockout ends, as it inevitably will, the players like Knight and Spooner who are trying to use this time to make the NHL club full time in '13-'14 would be the ones to lose out if a multitude of Bruins decided that the AHL was the way to go.
If the players are locked out, start researching feeds of overseas leagues - that's likely where the majority who decide to play this coming season will end up. Otherwise, get ready to enjoy a year of Knight, Spooner, Trotman and maybe one or two additions from the big league lighting up the AHL. It's going to be a good one.