On Sunday evening after the broadcast of the Bruins/Rangers game, the president of the American Hockey League (AHL) went on a mini-rant on twitter that was totally legit. What sparked the tweets was basically the fact that one of the biggest story lines of this series so far is the rookie defensemen filling in on the Bruins blueline - Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski, and Dougie Hamilton. Two of those three rookies came straight from the AHL, and their immediate success in the NHL playoffs can be directly attributed to the AHL.
The NBC broadcast didn't mention the AHL at all except maybe in passing, like "they spent this amount of time in the AHL this season" but it mostly focused on how they were rookie defensemen and in Krug's case, how he was an undrafted player out of Michigan State. It embodies an underlying problem between the AHL and its lack of partnership with major networks. The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) has contracts with American networks, as does the NCAA, but the AHL does not, and is not really in any position to create one. It is a struggling league for the most part. Considering how much the league contributes to the development of NHL players, they at least deserve to be acknowledged on major national broadcasts, even if they don't have a contract with the channel.
Here is the gist of AHL president David Andrews' twitter rant:
Is NBC trying not to mention AHL impact in SC Playoffs? Aggravating.— david andrews (@ahlpres) May 19, 2013
Boychuk, Bergeron, Rask, Krug, Bartkowski, Krejci, McQuaid, Marchand,— david andrews (@ahlpres) May 19, 2013
All played in Providence....Chara, Thornton, Campbell, Kelly, Paille, Pandolfo, Peverley elsewhere in AHL.— david andrews (@ahlpres) May 19, 2013
He makes a really great point, and more people need to see his message. What really strikes this message home is that Krug and Bartkowski are absolutely thriving right now in the NHL playoffs because of the situations they're coming out of in the AHL. It's an ideal situation, that is the result of a great developmental system the Bruins have. Yet I don't think I heard Pierre say "Providence Bruins" once, even after Krug scored his second goal in two games on Sunday.
How is Krug so successful? Well, let's give this two seconds of thought. Pierre said "Michigan State" at least half a dozen times. Krug played three years there, yes, but he left before his senior year to sign with the Bruins last year. He has spent the entire season in Providence this season. The results? He broke the record for points scored by a Providence rookie defenseman in a season. He earned player of the month honors in February. He was one of the top contributors to the P-Bruins finishing the season with 105 points and 50 wins, by far the most in the AHL. This AHL that was half a season full of NHL players in places like Oklahoma City (Edmonton's affiliate).
Local coverage that understands the team better knows to give the AHL system in this case more credit. NESN gives props to Providence. When Jack Edwards interviewed Torey Krug after the game on Sunday, he made a point to ask specifically about Providence and how the AHL contributed to Krug's ability to step in, and Krug gave a really great answer. It was a pretty simple question, but it gave a very insightful answer that a national audience on NBC probably would have benefited from hearing if they want to gain more understanding about this player and how players become successful in general.
NESN also talked to Peter Chiarelli before the game, before they had to hand the broadcast over to NBC, and they discussed a few important things like how they had sent Matt Bartkowski down to the AHL before the end of the regular season for the very specific purpose of giving him as many minutes as possible in the most important situations, especially going into the playoffs. And it paid off - Bartkowski played Chara minutes in the first round series in which the P-Bruins came back from a 0-2 series deficit to win the series 3-2. The next day, he was called up to join the Boston Bruins against the Maple Leafs. And he was able to step in seamlessly, which was thrilling but when you think about it for two seconds it's no that surprising. After watching him for several games in Providence, and all the games in the playoffs, he was ready for it. He was already in that mindset
Bart's been trying to crack the Bruins line-up full-time for three years, ever since he was the final player cut from the roster in Europe to open the season in 2010-11. He never stuck, but had occasional call-ups. The thing is, he played two years of college hockey, but that had little to do with his development. He'd already completed it by the time he was acquired by Boston in the Seidenberg trade from Florida. He spent three seasons in the AHL, getting marginally better each season. He made big strides this season.
The biggest thing was the failed Iginla trade that included a one-way contract extension, but he made a big splash because he scored a goal in game 7. He's not an offensive defenseman. He moves the puck well, but he is just a solid defenseman overall. He was the top shutdown d-man in Providence, and it worked well at the most important times in the closing minutes of game 5 of the first round, hanging on to a one goal lead to win the series. After the buzzer, as the team huddled around the net, hugging goaltender Niklas Svedberg and hugging each other and celebrating happily, Bartkowski was off to the side, hunched over with his stick across his knees, his head lowered. He was still trying to catch his breath.
Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid both spent time in the AHL - several seasons working on their game and waiting for the right time to get called up and stay. I remember distinctly when that moment came for Boychuk. He didn't get to step into a playoff game and be an impact player immediately, but then again, he didn't get called up in the middle of an intense playoff series.
Krug was called up during the second round series, which the P-Bruins are still playing. After game two, Krug was sent to Boston rather than Pennsylvania for the next game. Krug was undrafted and a great signing by the Bruins. The organization benefits greatly from having Peter Chiarelli as GM for both Boston and Providence. Don Sweeney spends a lot of time with Providence, and has been at every game for the playoffs and as far as I know, the entire season. They know these players well, and they have good contact with the coaches in Providence, who are also great.
Krug gave them credit in his post-game interview with Jack Edwards. On his goal and later on an assist in game two on Sunday, Krug had some fancy footwork and stick work that was impressive as hell. Pierre McGuire attributed it to playing soccer and being a product of Michigan State. He didn't mention Providence. Yet, Krug said it was something he learned in Providence this season. To paraphrase - he said that it was not necessarily something they spent 15 minutes on in practice, but they would work on it a little bit in practice every day.
Krug also noted that the intensity of the AHL playoffs is pretty much the same as the NHL. He praised the AHL, saying that it does exactly what it is there for - development. This was all said on NESN. It's a damn shame Pierre, NBC, and people who still pretend the AHL doesn't exist didn't get to hear that. I thought it was pretty great. Krug's first professional experiences have been in the AHL up until now, and that's why he feels comfortable. It's been an easy transition because of a combination of good coaching in the AHL and NHL, good communication, and his own talent.
Sure, Michigan State deserves some credit. I'm sure they deserve a hell of a lot of credit. And so do a lot of places he played growing up, to a lesser extent. The AHL is different in this instance because of where it fits in on the timeline - right before the call up; the circumstance, and atmosphere, and context are all crucial. Also, in the AHL in general, the players are in control of their own destinies, rather than unpaid or barely paid teenagers like in the NCAA or CHL who are exploited to the maximum benefit for the people who run the leagues and broker the partnerships with the various media outlets. There is a lot of exposure for these young players in these leagues, but, as Cornelius said in the greatest way:
I don't mean to say that any of those leagues are terrible, or bad for development, or that the AHL is strictly better than them. I'm saying they all play a big part and deserve equal recognition. The AHL is rightly frustrated that they are struggling to stay afloat in pretty much every single city they have a franchise located in despite playing an equally crucial role in player development in the road to the NHL. Hell, one NHL team next season isn't even going to have an AHL team because they can't deal with the headache of trying to find an arena to put the team in, or something...it's all a bunch of hot bullshit. This is basically never mentioned among NHL broadcasters, especially on the national television medium, even though it's a pretty important issue that is going to seriously hurt this team (the Canucks?) in a horrible way in the future. Maybe bring it up on the NHL Network once in a while? I digress...
In this case, with someone like Krug as well as Bartkowski, the AHL deserved a little bit of a special extra shoutout because these two players have such a huge narrative early in this series and with Krug, he's already making so much noise with his scoring and beautiful skating and puck handling -- none of that would be possible if they weren't being pulled directly from the AHL. They are the ultimate example of the AHL being used the right way. It's so blatant that it's no wonder it is a smack in the face to the AHL president when it goes completely ignored - practically avoided - on the American national stage.
And the Providence Bruins are still playing in the playoffs, with plenty of players ripe for call up should it be necessary (KNOCK ON WOOD, IT WON'T BE NECESSARY). But that won't get mentioned at all, will it? Maybe one or two of the dozen NBC Sports panelists understand the big picture that encompasses all leagues including the AHL will give due respect to the AHL, but it likely will remain uncredited. The people rallying for AHL appreciation (I want it because I want to be able to watch it on TV rather than pay $10 to watch each game on a shitty online feed, personally, but I understand why they can't get a stupid TV contract) will remain a minority, while, as the AHL president said, NBC will continue to pander Canadian junior hockey to an American audience.
It's unfair in the sense that the inability to at least mention the great work done with Krug in Providence this season may cost even one or two people from going out and buying tickets to an AHL game. I mean, did you know that Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid, Tuukka Rask, David Krejci, and Brad Marchand all played in Providence together or within a year of each other? That they all had to spend at least one full season developing in Providence before they were able to make it in Boston? And of the 20 players on the Bruins roster for Sunday's game, 15 of them spent time in the AHL?
I thought that was interesting. It's worth taking a look at, isn't it? For some, it was a way to kill time during the last lockout (like for Patrice Bergeron). For others, it was a way to bridge a year between graduating from junior hockey and being ready to crack the Bruins roster. But for most, it included a year or two of serious work on their game, and for others, it was the only road to the NHL.
By the way, even Claude Julien coached in the AHL. He actually won the AHL Coach of the Year award. The only guys on the Bruins team right now that never played in the AHL are Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton, Carl Soderberg, Jaromir Jagr, and Milan Lucic.
A breakdown of each Bruins span in the AHL, ranked by most regular season games played:
Shawn Thornton: 10 years, 605 games
Thornton played 10 seasons in the AHL for the St. John's Maple Leafs, Norfolk Admirals, and Portland Pirates from 1997-98 to 2006-07. He played 605 games, scored 61 goals, 100 assists for 161 points, and had 2,478 penalty minutes. He played in 39 playoff games, had 2 goals, 5 assists, for 7 points, and 92 penalty minutes.
Johnny Boychuk: 6 years, 294 games.
Boychuk was drafted by Colorado in 2002 and didn't crack an NHL roster full time until 2009-10. He played in the WHL for four years, then many years in the AHL. In total, he played six seasons in the AHL with five different teams - the Hershey Bears, Lowell Lock Monsters, Albany River Rats, Lake Erie Monsters, and Providence Bruins. He played 294 AHL games, scoring 20 goals once with Providence the season he won the Eddie Shore Award for best AHL Defenseman. He was second on the P-Bruins in scoring for all positions that season as well. He had a total of 50 goals, 120 assists, and 170 points. He appeared in 21 playoff games, scoring 4 goals, 6 assists, and 10 points. He appeared in only 2 games in his final AHL season in 2009-10 - the season he finally made it with the Bruins permanently.
Aaron Johnson: 5 years, 253 games.
Johnson has appeared in 253 AHL games, including 2 games for Providence this season on a conditioning stint. Beginning in 2003-04, he has played for five different AHL teams, including the Syracuse Crunch, Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Rockford Ice Hogs, and Milwaukee Admirals. He has 26 AHL career goals, 84 assists, and 110 points. He has also been in 26 playoff games, scoring 4 goals and 8 assists for 12 points.
Chris Kelly: 4 years, 239 games.
Kelly spent four seasons in the AHL from 2001-2002 to 2004-2005, spending one year with Grand Rapids Griffins and three more with the Binghamton Senators. He had 239 total games played, 59 goals, 72 assists for 131 points, and 190 penalty minutes. He also appeared in 27 playoff games, scoring 4 goals and 6 assists. He made the Ottawa Senators fulltime after the lockout in the 2005-06 season.
Kaspars Daugavins: Parts of 6 years, 189 games.
Kaspars Daugavins has spent six seasons in the AHL with the Binghamton Senators. After being drafted by Ottawa in 2006, he joined the AHL team upon the conclusion of the OHL season each year until he spent the entirety of the AHL season in the AHL in 2009-10. He has played a total of 189 AHL games, scoring 48 goals and 64 assists (112 points), and 68 penalty minutes. He has 23 career AHL playoff games, scoring 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points and 8 penalty minutes. In fact, he helped the team win the AHL Calder Cup Championship that season (2010-11). The shootout move he pulled against Tuukka Rask earlier this season was successful that year in the AHL.
Adam McQuaid 3 years, 178 games.
Adam McQuaid spent a few years in the OHL before joining the AHL in 2007-08. He spent three seasons in Providence, totaling 178 games with 8 goals and 26 assists for 34 points, and 247 penalty minutes, as well as a +26 rating. He appeared in 26 playoff games, recording 3 assists and 35 points.
Rich Peverley: 5 years, 177 games.
Rich Peverley was never drafted. He played four years of college hockey at St. Lawrence University, then joined the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL in 2004-05. That year he appeared in 1 AHL game with the Portland Pirates. In 2005-06, he played in the ECHL and AHL, before graduating to the AHL and NHL in 2006-07. From 04-05 through 07-08, Peverley played for the Milwaukee Admirals (and 1 game for the Pirates), appearing in 177 total AHL games in his career. He had 56 goals and 112 assists for 168 points, and 156 penalty minutes. Peverley played in 28 AHL playoff games, scoring 4 goals, 11 assists, and 15 points plus 26 penalty minutes. In 2005-06, Peverley and the Milkwaukee Admirals went all the way to the Calder Cup finals before losing to the Hershey Bears.
Gregory Campbell: 2 and a half years, 176 games.
Gregory Campbell spent two full seasons with the San Antonio Rampage, including the 2003-04 season and the 04-05 lockout season. He also played a few games with the Rochester Americans in the 2005-06 season. After spending three years in the OHL, Campbell joined the AHL team of the NHL team that drafted him before joining the Panthers full time in 05-06. He has played 176 career AHL games, scoring 28 goals and 35 assists (63 points) and 216 penalty minutes.
Matt Bartkowski: 3 years, 175 games.
Bartkowski played 2 years at Ohio State University, then joined the Providence Bruins in 2010-11. He has played three seasons in the AHL, totalling 175 games, 11 goals, 58 assists, and 69 points, plus 136 PIM. He also played in 5 playoff games this year, getting 5 assists and 4 PIM.
Daniel Paille: 3 years, 153 games.
Daniel Paille played three seasons with the Rochester Americans of the AHL from 2004-05 to 2006-07. He played in 153 AHL games, scoring 35 goals and 42 assists (77 points). He also played 9 playoff games with the Americans in 04-05, scoring 2 goals and 2 assists. Paille played in the AHL after four years in the OHL. He was a first round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres, and made the team full time in 2007-08 after 14 game call up in 05-06 and 29 game call up in 06-07.
Anton Khudobin: 5 years, 134 games.
Khudobin played parts of five seasons in the AHL with Minnesota Wild affiliate Houston Aeros until getting traded to the Bruins, where he played a season and a half with the Providence Bruins. Khudobin's AHL career began in 2007-08. He jumped around from the ECHL, eventually graduating to the NHL. He appeared in a total of 134 games in the AHL. He has played 8,622 minutes, made 3,776 saves, giving up 363 goals and earned 9 shutouts. His cumulative record is 68-62-11. He appeared in 17 playoff games in 2008-09 for the Aeros.
Dennis Seidenberg: learned to be a champion in PHILADELPHIA.
Dennis Seidenberg: 3 years, 131 games.
Seidenberg spent three years in the AHL with the Philadelphia Phantoms. As a draft pick of the Flyers in 2001, he came over from Germany and split 2003-02 in the AHL and NHL, then most of the next year in the AHL, and the entire lockout 04-05 season in the AHL before making the NHL permanently in 05-06. Seidenberg played 131 AHL games, 25 goals, 46 assists, for 71 points, and 95 penalty minutes. He was also in 27 playoff games, scoring 4 goals, 10 assists for 14 points, and 23 penalty minutes. Seidenberg won the Calder Cup Championship with the Phantoms that in 2004-05.His teammates included Patrick Sharp, Randy Jones, Freddy Meyer, RJ Umberger, and Jeff Carter (for 3 games).
Wade Redden: 2 years, 119 games.
Wade Redden was demoted to the AHL after years in the NHL because of salary cap reasons that have been addressed in the new CBA so that teams can no longer try to send players to the AHL to get rid of their cap hits. Thanks a lot, Redden. Okay but really, he played 119 games over the span of 2 seasons in 2010-11 and 2011-12 for the Connecticut Whale. He had 12 goals, 50 assists, and 62 points, and 72 penalty minutes. He appeared in 15 playoff games, with 7 points (all assists) and 8 penalty minutes.
Brad Marchand: 1 and a half years, 113 games.
Marchand spent four seasons in the QMJHL, then joined the Providence Bruins for a year and a half before cracking the Bruins roster full time. In 2008-09 and 09-10, Marchand played 113 games in Providence, scoring 31 goals, 60 assists for 91 points, 118 penalty minutes, and a +27. In 08-09, he appeared in 16 playoff games, scoring 7 goals, 8 assists (15 points), and 26 penalty minutes. In 09-10, he played 20 games on call up with Boston, but didn't score his first NHL goal until 2010-11, when he had 21 goals his rookie season.
Brad's rookie season in Providence included a good playoff run and teammates Tuukka Rask, Johnny Boychuk, Vladimir Sobotka, and Adam McQuaid. He was third in scoring, and in the playoffs, first in goals on the team.
Tuukka Rask: 2 years, 102 games.
Tuukka Rask was drafted in 2005 by the Toronto Maple Leafs. He came to North America in 2007 to join the Providence Bruins in 2007-08, appearing in 45 games. The next season, 2008-09, he would appear in 57 more games. In two seasons with Providence, Tuukka played in 102 AHL games, 5,910 minutes, 239 goals against, 5 shutouts, and made 2455 saves. In 2007-08, he had a 27-13-2 record, .905 save %, and 2.33 GAA; in 08-09, he was 33-20-4, .915 save %, and 2.50 GAA - a total of 60-33-6. He also played in 26 playoff games. During the first season, he appeared in 4 NHL games during call-up and 1 game in the follolwing season. By 2009-10, he was on the team full-time. That was the season he would lead the team to the playoffs into the second round, where they had the notorious collapse against Philly.
Andrew Ference: 2 years, 88 games.
Ference has appeared in 88 career AHL games, all with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins between 1999-00 through 2002-03. He has a total of 14 goals, 38 assists, and 52 points along with 155 penalty minutes. He also appeared in 3 playoff games, scoring 1 goal.
David Krejci: 1 and a half years, 84 games.
Krejci spent a season and a half in the AHL with the Providence Bruins in 2006-07 and then 2007-08. He played a total of 84 games, had 38 goals, 54 assists (102 points), 66 penalty minutes, and +16 rating. He appeared in the playoffs with them in 2006-07, playing 13 games, scoring 3 goals, 13 assists (16 points). He lead the team in scoring in the 06-07 season, playing with the likes of Kris Versteeg, Nate Thompson, Mark Stuart, and even 2 games with Phil Kessel.
Krejci had spent 2004-05 and 05-06 in the QMJHL, where he was drafted from in 2004, and then a year and a half in the AHL before being brought into the NHL permanently.
Jay Pandolfo: Parts of 4 years, 80 games.
Jay Pandolfo played for the Albany River Rats for parts of three seasons in 1995-96, 1996-97, and 1997-98. He later returned to the AHL for 12 games in 2010-11 with the Springfield Falcons. He played a total of 80 AHL games, scoring 26 goals, 33 assists, and 59 points. He also appeared in 3 playoff games.
Patrice Bergeron: 1 year, 68 games
Patrice Bergeron played one season in the AHL with the Providence Bruins during the 2004-05 season due to the NHL lockout. It was crucial he stay in the club and be ready for if and when the lockout ended. He was able to stay in great game shape and develop skill during that year and be better for the return of the NHL next season.
In that one season he played 68 games, had 21 goals and 40 assists (61 points), 59 penalty minutes, and a +2 rating. He was actually fourth on the team in scoring behind Brad Boyes, Keith Aucoin, and Andy Hilbert. They went to the Conference Finals against the Philadelphia Phantoms. In 16 playoff games, Bergy had 5 goals, 7 assists (12 points) and 4 penalty minutes.
Torey Krug: 1 year, 63 games.
Krug played 3 years at Michigan State University. He played 63 games with Providence this year, plus 7 playoff games, which is his total AHL career. He has 13 goals, 32 assists, and 45 points, plus 37 PIM. In the playoffs, he has 3 assists. In the regular season he broke the record for Providence rookie scoring by a defenseman.
Zdeno Chara: A year and a half, 48 games.
Zdeno Chara spent only parts of two seasons in the AHL while part of the New York Islanders. In 1997-98, he spent 48 games with the Kentucky Thoroughblades and the folllowing season, 23 games with the Lowell Lock Monsters - a total of 71 games. He had 6 goals, 11 assists, 17 points, and 172 penalty minutes.
Nathan Horton: 1 year, 21 games.
Nathan Horton spent 21 games in the AHL during the 2004-05 lockout season. He played with the San Antonio Rampage, which was the Florida Panthers AHL affiliate at the time. He had 5 goals and 4 assists.
I know junior hockey is important and popular and all that crap, but I think people should take a minute to think about the problem the AHL has. They can't even get people to realize that hey wow, pretty much every single player in your system goes through this league. Might as well throw them a shout out every now and then, instead of treating them like a second class citizen. They're not competition. I chalk it up on NBC's part to just pure ignorance. We could all use a little more proper education about the game as it is, so why not start with our supposed sources such as NBC? The future of our player development may hang on it.