NHL

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

AHL happy to pick up lockout slack

Eager to give fans top shinny shows starring NHL pros

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If the last NHL lockout is any guide, the AHL is in for at least a great start to the 2012-13 season.

Assuming the NHL and the NHL Players Association don't have an agreement ready within days or a few weeks, the AHL already has star power assigned to many of its 30 teams.

Former Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner of Carolina, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle of Edmonton, New Jersey's Adam Henrique and even Alexander Burmistrov of the Winnipeg Jets are among the names already dispatched to continue their careers in the AHL to start the year.

It certainly holds the possibility of mirroring the 2004-05 season, when the NHL was dark from start to finish and the likes of Jason Spezza, Mike Cammalleri, Eric Staal, Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler, Dustin Brown, Ryan Miller, Nik Kronwall and Patrice Bergeron were toiling in the AHL.

"The infusion of some players we might not have had in the league that year -- some would clearly have played in the NHL that year but ended up playing in our league -- really benefited from it and the league really benefited from it," AHL president and CEO Dave Andrews told the Free Press.

"Those players obviously helped make our league better and they also, to a man, would say that that experience of '04-05, playing more minutes than they might have as NHL players and gained more confidence in their abilities and stepping up their games offensively, really impacted their career.

"It was a win-win."

Craig Heisinger, then GM of the AHL's Manitoba Moose and now GM of the St. John's IceCaps and assistant GM of the NHL's Winnipeg Jets, said 2004-05 was a special season.

"The AHL's best year was when there was a lockout for a whole year," Heisinger said. "By a country mile."

It also coincided with True North's opening of the new MTS Centre, certainly helping to create a buzz in Winnipeg.

"Nobody wants to benefit from somebody else's misfortune," Heisinger said. "But we are aware of possible benefits. The AHL is a very important step in a player's development, and some players could get some valuable exposure to that this season.

"Until the NHL is playing again, it will be the highest professional league in North America playing. The level of player is going to draw lots of attention. There will be TV for a little while and it will be great for the league."

Andrews said that for Canadian hockey fans, the AHL already had a agreement with Sportsnet for coverage. There are provisions in their agreement to expand that if the NHL is still in lockout when the AHL season begins.

Andrews said he's been fielding many media calls this week.

"We've been trying to slow down some of the folks... We haven't even opened training camps," he said, noting most AHL camps will open later next week. "But we're prepared for it.

"It may be a window of opportunity and we need to make sure we're benefiting. Very clearly, all of our players, owners and people involved in our league are not hoping for the labour stoppage to create that window for us. I think all of us believe we're better off with the NHL playing.

"A new agreement, if it happens in two weeks or a month, I think all of us will be very happy with that and ready to carry on with business as usual.

"But if there's a month or two where we have all the focus on us, I think we're ready for that, too. And we'll try to take advantage of it."

The exposure was a big benefit to the league in 2004-05, when attendance saw an overall bump of 6.5 per cent.

"We have seen continued growth, strengthened ownership and strengthened markets," he said. "We're in a better place today than we were in '04-05 in terms of stability and financial strength of our league."

But it wasn't the only benefit.

"The relationship between the NHL teams, their GMs and coaching staffs and our league has grown since then, in my opinion," Andrews said. "That collective bargaining agreement put a premium on player development, which meant the AHL relationship and how the teams were operating became far more important to NHL clubs than before.

"I think that hockey connection is far greater."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Assigned

to the AHL in 2012

Nick Leddy

Markus Kruger

Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Brayden Schenn

Zac Rinaldo

Sean Couturier

Slava Voynov

Adam Larsson

Adam Henrique

Justin Faulk

Brett Sutter

Jared Staal

Jeff Skinner

Patrice Cormier

Alexander Burmistrov

Nino Niederreiter

Travis Hamonic

Ryan Johansen

Jordan Eberle

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Marcus Foligno

Cody Hodgson

Braden Holtby

Nazem Kadri

Zack Kassian

Magnus Paajarvi

Played

in the AHL in 2004-05

Jason Spezza

Mike Cammalleri

Jay Bouwmeester

Stephen Weiss

Kyle Wellwood

Eric Staal

Brad Boyes

Dustin Brown

Thomas Vanek

Ryan Miller

Chris Kunitz

Dustin Penner

Niklas Kronwall

Ryane Clowe

Christan Ehrhoff

Dan Hamhuis

Chris Kelly

Antoine Vermette

Patrice Bergeron

Steve Ott

Patrick Sharp

Cam Ward

Kari Lehtonen

Ryan Kesler

R.J. Umberger

Zach Parise

Dennis Wideman Kevin Bieksa

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 20, 2012 C4

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