AHL Lands in Palm Springs

Photo via TheAHL.com

It was shortly rumored, but Palm Springs, California will be the 32nd franchise in the AHL starting in 2021-22. They will be the affiliate of the Seattle Your-Name-Heres and will play in a brand new arena.

The biggest question I have is not if the Palm Springs area can support a team, it’s more a matter of if the AHL will actually make the Pacific Division play a full 76-game schedule rather than the 68-gamer they play now. It makes sense when you have eight teams in your division now, you should be like the rest of the league and not try to hold said league hostage to get what you want like a petulant child. I mean, the Texas Stars and San Antonio Rampage still have to play a full 76-game slate despite their division counterparts having eight games less.

When they news came out that the AHL was basically bullied by those Western teams to have a 68-game season or they’ll start their own league— the smart play would have been to let them go with their own league and let them flounder a bit before absorbing them. But I guess you gotta play nicey-nice when it comes to those teams because they have some money and some influence. At the same time, you really could’ve been an ass to them and actually forced them to play by your rules and not their own.

Though it’s not all great when it comes to the smaller schedule. Since they’ve come into the league in 2015, none of the Pacific teams playing a smaller schedule have made it to the Calder Cup Final. The rest doesn’t help for the conditioning, I suppose.

We’ll have to see what becomes of the Palm Spring team, it’s a good add to a California market that desperately wants hockey…though Palm Springs isn’t the bustling metropolis I would think for a hockey team. They haven’t had one in the history of hockey that’s been recorded– but I guess it’s a market ripe for the picking.

A Talk With Sam Anas on Maryland Hockey, New Coaches, and Regaining a Balance

As Sam Anas stepped onto the ice of the Ralph Engelstad Arena, something seemed to burn him. At one of the ends of the rink hangs a National Championship banner from 2016 with the University of North Dakota logo on it. Anas was a senior during that year, as his Quinnipiac Bobcats were on the short-end of the National Championship game. It’s something his teammates on the Iowa Wild– who were on that UND team– don’t let him forget about.

“That’s something that will live with me forever,” Anas mentioned post-game of the exhibitions at The Ralph between Iowa and the Manitoba Moose. “We’ve got Luke Johnson and Keaton Thompson now and we’ve had some conversations about it, but it still burns.”

That burning desire lead him to signing a deal with the Minnesota Wild after his time with the Bobcats was finished, but it’s been a bit of an up-and-down time in the three seasons. While only netting 12 goals and 28 points in his rookie season, Anas’ sophomore year saw him as a key contributor to the team with 26 goals and 61 points. However, a streaky season last year saw him with only 38 points on the 2018-19 campaign. In order to find some more balance, Anas went back to the place that saw him contribute 69 goals and 132 points in 121 games.

“I actually went back to Quinnipiac for about two months and spent a lot of time with the strength coach there, Brijesh Patel,” Anas said. “We had a good group of alums there pushing each other. That was the biggest thing, getting in the weight room more and getting stronger, mainly quicker– not necessarily refine my game, but re-balance. The facility and everything is awesome, but Brijesh is top-of-the-line. He cares so much about us, not just as hockey players, but wants us to be better athletes and better people. There’s guys out there playing in the NHL, guys trying to play in the AHL, and you get pretty competitive. It’s a great dynamic and I think it’s going to pay dividends for this year.”

Photo by Jennifer Conway/@NHLHistoryGirl

It will be the second year for Anas and the Wild to have Tim Army as their head coach. Coming on in 2018-19, Army was the former right-hand-man to Ron Wilson and someone who got ahead of the video watching era in hockey. Army helped Iowa get to their first playoff berth in franchise history last season, getting them to the second round. Anas had a lot of praise for his bench boss.

“He brings such a passion to the rink every day. He’s very intense, in a good way,” Anas mentions about his coach. “It’s ‘win-or-die’ for him and that’s the way it should be, especially at this level. It’s fun because you don’t want to lose. Playing for a coach who will do anything to win is contagious and he gets the best out of us, which showed last year.”

Also brought on for this season was Alex Tanguay, former NHLer and Stanley Cup winner. From playing career to TV gig, the Wild seemed excited to play for him this season, at least from Anas’ point of view.

“It’s definitely a different voice for us,” said Anas. “Someone who played the game as such a high level for so long. He’s so well respected in the league and even on NHL Network, you can see why he was successful in the way he explains the plays. I’m looking forward to a year with him.”

Of course, I’ve touted Anas– a native of Potomac, Maryland– on the Chesapeake Hockey Week podcast, as he’s a guy who went through the Maryland system through high school at the Landon School, through Team Maryland, through the Washington Little Caps and went on to have solid success through college and into the pros. It doesn’t go unnoticed from Anas, who adds to the “Ovechkin Effect” that many people have said has contributed to the rise of hockey in the Maryland area.

“A lot of it stems from the success from the Caps,” Anas hypothesized. “Ever since (Alex) Ovechkin came in the picture, hockey was really taken over. It used to be all about the Redskins, but they’ve gone downhill and the Caps have gone uphill. I’ve got friends telling me they wished they played hockey growing up.”

Anas continued, “It’s just great to see more guys playing college or playing junior. A guy I went to school with, Joe Snively, signed to the Caps and he’s a Virginia guy, but it’s all in the DMV area. It’s awesome to see and you go back home and skate and each year, there’s more and more guys committing to play Division 1 or getting drafted in the USHL; it’s just going to lead to more progress.”

This is the last year of Anas’ second contract with Minnesota and he will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. However, Anas isn’t looking too far ahead to that. He’s much more focused on how he can contribute this season.

“It’s about playing a complete game, you always want to be a reliable player, offensively or defensively,” Anas explained. “You don’t want to be someone who can’t be counted on at a certain part of the game. On the other end, I want to produce as much as possible. Whether it’s scoring goals, creating plays, or getting assists. A big part of that for me is the power play and we didn’t score any tonight, but we had some good chemistry out there and it’s going to be a fun year.”

Better Know An Affiliate: Los Angeles Kings

AHL: Ontario Reign (25-33-6-4, 7th in Pacific, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs)
TEAM LINEAGE: The Reign were born out of the initial western swing, as the Kings moved the Manchester Monarchs to Ontario after 14 years. Prior to that, the Lowell Lock Monsters were at the helm, which came after the Springfield Falcons– the fourth time the Kings had an affiliate in Springfield with the Kings and Indians being the other teams. Two of the Kings longest affiliations intersected with the Phoenix Roadrunners and New Haven Nighthawks for a few seasons in the early ’90s. And I’d be foolish not to mention the Long Beach Ice Dogs for three years in the late ’90s.
FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: Despite an injury that kept him out all but four games last season, Gabriel Vilardi will be on the trek from Ontario to LA, especially given the depth of the center spot in LA. Also, don’t be surprised if Jack Campbell and Cal Petersen swap spots back and forth backing up Jonathan Quick.

ECHL: Unfortunately, the Kings’ secondary affiliate in Manchester had to close down shop after this past season due to declining attendance after their move from the AHL to the ECHL. Other secondary includes the Ontario Reign, Reading Royals, Trenton Titans, Mississippi SeaWolves, and Richmond Renegades.

Better Known An Affiliate: Florida Panthers

AHL: Springfield Thunderbirds (33-29-9-5, 7th in Atlantic, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs)
TEAM LINEAGE: The Thunderbirds moved to Springfield from Portland, where the Panthers had a one-year affiliation with the Panthers. Prior to that, the Panthers were matches with the San Antonio Rampage for five years, after a six year stint with the Rochester Americans. The Louisville Panthers, Kentucky Thoroughblades, New Haven Beast, Carolina Monarchs, and the IHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones also served as primary sponsor of the Panthers.
FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: One possible candidate could be a guy who’s coming over for his first North American pro season and that’s Aleksi Heponiemi. After a stellar WHL career with Swift Current, Heponiemi went to Finland to register almost a point-per-game in 50 games, while leading his team in assists with 30. Also look for Anthony Greco and Dryden Hunt to be on the shuttle up and down the east coast as both looked to build on their time with the Panthers from last season, while trying to fit into a tight roster.

ECHL: The Panthers haven’t had a secondary affiliate since 2015 when they left the Cincinnati Cyclones. They had a closer affiliate in the Florida Everblades for four seasons over five years (one year break in the middle), while the Texas Wildcatters, Augusta Lynx, again with Florida, and the Miami Matadors all had one-year stints as the secondary team for the Panthers. The Port Huron Border Cats of the UHL, the Tallahasse Tiger Sharks of the ECHL, the Detroit Falcons of the UHL, and the Birmingham Bulls of the ECHL were at the start of the Panthers franchise.

Better Know An Affiliate: Edmonton Oilers

AHL: Bakersfield Condors (42-21-3-2, 1st in Pacific, lost in second round)
TEAM LINEAGE: The Condors sprung through the ashes of the Oklahoma City Barons during the AHL exodus to the west coast. Prior to that, it was an odd time for the Oilers prospects, as they hit up stops with the Springfield Falcons, Iowa Stars, Hamilton Bulldogs, Edmonton and Toronto Roadrunners, and then back with Hamilton. Though they had the IHL’s Kansas City Blades for a season, they had a strong hold on the Maritimes in Canada with the Cape Breton Oilers, Nova Scotia Oilers, and Moncton Alpines from 1982 until 1996.
FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: There’s some flux on the wings, which would leave things open of Kailer Yamamoto and Tyler Benson. Yamamoto is a work in progress and his season last year wasn’t the greatest– which gives Benson an edge, as he was just under a point-per-game player last season with 66 points in 68 games. Caleb Jones could be the best shot on the blue line to be a shuttle player, while centerman Cooper Marody put up 64 points in 58 games with the Condors in his rookie season.

ECHL: Wichita Thunder (29-31-9-3, 5th in Mountain, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs)
TEAM LINEAGE: The Thunder got the Oilers affiliation after the Oilers left the Norfolk Admirals, the team that was the former ECHL Condors that the Oilers bought and moved to Virginia to make room for the AHL. The Stockton Thunder was prior to all three of those teams, with the Oilers also making stops with the Greenville Grrrowl, Columbus Cottonmouths, Tallahassee Tiger Sharks, New Orleans Brass, and the Winston-Salem/Wheeling Thunderbirds/Nailers. The IHL was the secondary affiliate for the Oilers from 1979 until 1991 with stops with the Dayton Gems, Milwaukee Admirals, Muskegon Lumberjacks, and Phoenix Roadrunners.
NOTABLE GRADUATES: There hasn’t been many graduates from the Thunder…in fact, none that I can see that spent significant time in Wichita. However, former NHLers like Dana Tyrell and Theo Peckham have played in Wichita looking to get another shot at the big time; which didn’t appear to happen in either case.

Better Know An Affiliate: Detroit Red Wings

AHL: Grand Rapids Griffins (38-27-7-4, 4th in Central, lost in first round)
TEAM LINEAGE: The Griffins have been the Red Wings’ affiliate for 17 years now, which is the second longest in Red Wings history– the first being the Adirondack Red Wings from 1979 until 1999. Oddly enough, between that 1999-2002 time, the Red Wings shared affiliation with other teams in the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks and Manitoba Moose. Prior to that– it was all over the place like the Kansas City Red Wings, Kansas City Blues, Tidewater Wings, Viriginia Wings, Baltimore Clippers, London (UK) Lions, San Diego Gulls, and Cleveland Barons to name a very few.
FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: The Red Wings are very cautious with their prospects, but with a new GM in Steve Yzerman and a rebuild happening; maybe some of these guys will get moved up quicker. Filip Zadina could make the team out of camp, but if not– he will be the first call-up for any injury. Though he missed last season due to injury, Evgeny Svechnikov has some high upside to him, which may make him a desirable mark to shuttle to and from Detroit. The dark horse blue liner could be Vili Saarijarvi, who has taken a while to develop through the system and may get some looks this season.

ECHL: Toledo Walleye (40-23-6-3, 2nd in Central, lost in Kelly Cup final)
TEAM LINEAGE: It’ll be the 10th season of affiliation for the Walleye and Red Wings, which the Red Wings third time in the Toledo market, as they had the Storm as a secondary affiliate from 1991 until 1999 and then in 2000 until 2007. There were also stops with the Louisiana IceGators, Jacksonville Bullets, Detroit Falcons, Flint Spirits, and Johnstown Wings to name some of their stops.
NOTABLE GRADUATES: Among the graduates many would know, Luke Glendening was one of the bigger names to move onward, as is Petr Mrazek. Brian Lashoff and Tom McCollum also toiled through the system to get to the pros from Toledo, while players like TJ Hensick have used Toledo as a place to play at the sunset of their career.

Better Know An Affiliate: Dallas Stars

AHL: Texas Stars (37-31-4-4, 6th in Central, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs)
TEAM LINEAGE: It’s been ten years since the Dallas Stars moved their AHL team to the Lone Star State to be much closer to the parents. Before then, they went to Iowa for three seasons after a split affiliation with the Hamilton Bulldogs and Houston Aeros. Prior to that, the AHL edition of the Utah Grizzlies were the affiliate after they had their last year in the IHL. The Stars were all about the IHL, as Utah were preceded by Michigan K-Wings/Kalamazoo Wings.
FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: The Stars are jam-packed on the blueline, which might give them plenty of flexibility for bringing guys up to show off for trade purposes. That means the sighting of Julius Honka or Gavin Bayreuther to see if they can hang with the big club or maybe show off enough to get dealt out of the system, though the former could be dealt due to the cap number game.

ECHL: Idaho Steelheads (41-25-4-2, 2nd in Mountain, lost in second round)
TEAM LINEAGE: The Steelheads have been with the Stars since 2003 (minus the 2004-05 season) and only prior to that, the Dayton Bombers were the secondary affiliate from 1993 until 2000. During the Steelheads tenure, the Stars also went to the CHL for affiliation with the Tulsa Oilers and Allen Americans.
NOTABLE GRADUATES: Some graduates include Richard Clune, BJ Crombeen, Justin Dowling, and Jay Beagle– who used his short time with the Steelheads to kick-start his championship run of the Kelly Cup, Calder Cup, and Stanley Cup.

Better Know An Affiliate: Columbus Blue Jackets

AHL: Cleveland Monsters (37-29-8-2, 4th in North, lost in second round)
TEAM LINEAGE: As one of the new kids, the Jackets don’t have much of a lineage for their primary affiliates. While it took forever to get the Monsters on board, it only makes sense to keep the prospect within reasonable distance. Prior to Cleveland, the Springfield Falcons served as the Jackets’ affiliate for five seasons and before that, the Syracuse Crunch were the Jackets first affiliate and lasted 10 years with the Jackets.
FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: The Jackets will give Eric Robinson every chance to make the team this season, but his size could be the only real upside, as his offensive output in his first pro season didn’t set the world on fire. Another inconsistent big-man is Kevin Stenlund, who had 15 goals in his first North American season, but couldn’t balance his defense, as well as not finding consistency finding any spark offensively.

ECHL: The Blue Jackets don’t have an ECHL affiliate and having had one since the end of the 2015-16 season when they had the Kalamazoo Wings as their secondary affiliate. The Jackets have been all over the map for secondary affiliates with the Evansville IceMen, Chicago Express, Fort Wayne Komets, Gwinnett Gladiators, Johnstown Chiefs, Elmira Jackals, and Dayton Bombers.

Better Know An Affiliate: Colorado Avalanche

AHL: Colorado Eagles (36-27-4-1, 4th in Pacific, lost in first round)
TEAM LINEAGE: In their first year of the AHL, the Eagles will probably stick around as the primary affiliate for a while, especially since– you know– they’re in the same state as their parent club. Previous to the Eagles, the Avalanche had their top prospects with the San Antonio Rampage, Lake Erie Monsters, Albany River Rats, Lowell Lock Monsters, Hershey Bears, and the Cornwall Aces
FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: With the number of signings and trades made, the Avs are deep as it is– that’s going to make it harder for someone like AJ Greer to crack the opening night roster, but will make him a candidate for the shuttle. Logan O’Connor will be a dark horse to be a shuttle player down the middle, but he could definitely use a lot more time in the AHL before getting too familiar with the Avalanche line-depth.

ECHL: Utah Grizzlies (37-26-4-5, 3rd in Mountain, lost in first round)
TEAM LINEAGE: The Grizzlies were another first-year affiliate for the Avalanche, though it’s only because the Eagles moved up to the AHL after being the Avs’ secondary affiliation for two seasons. The Avs split between the ECHL and CHL when the latter was an option. Prior to the Eagles, the Fort Wayne Komets were the secondary affiliates, with the Denver Cutthroats, Tulsa Oilers, Charlotte Checkers, Johnstown Chiefs, Arizona Sundogs and San Diego Gulls played the role of starting point for future Avs.
NOTABLE GRADUATES: A couple of graduates from the ECHL Grizzlies include Mikko Koskinen, Aaron Dell, Micheal Haley– all who started their careers there, while the likes of Brandon Yip and Richard Jackman ended their North American careers there.

Better Know An Affiliate: Chicago Blackhawks

AHL: Rockford IceHogs (35-31-4-6, 7th in Central, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs)
TEAM LINEAGE: Since 2007, the IceHogs have been serving their in-state parent as their primary affiliate, though the Blackhawks had a tendancy to use other leagues over the AHL for their primary affiliate. Aside from Rockford and previous to them, the Norfolk Admirals; the Hawks used teams in the IHL like the Indianapolis Ice and Saginaw Hawks, as well as teams in the CHL– including the Dallas Black Hawks and St. Louis Braves as their primary affiliates from the 1960s until 2000. They had spot AHL affiliations with the Portland Pirates (1998-99), Nova Scotia Oilers (1985-87), Springfield Indians (1982-84) and New Brunswick Hawks (1978-82). Before that, the Buffalo Bisons were their AHL affiliate from 1954 until 1966. With being an “Original Six” team, the Hawks had many amateur teams in the beginning, as well as teams from the WHL and USHL when they were pro leagues.
FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: While a change of scenery could be a good thing, Alex Nylander may be on the shuttle plenty with his new squad, as he did get better in his second AHL season opposed to his first. Nylander will be in a fight with Dylan Sikura, who himself is in a make-or-break season– as he was a shuttler last season during the Hawks rough season of injury. Collin Delia is the obviously choice depending upon Corey Crawford’s health.

ECHL: Indy Fuel (35-32-2-3, 5th in Central, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs)
TEAM LINEAGE: While the Fuel have been the secondary affiliate for the Blackhawks for five seasons, the length of their secondary with the Toledo Walleye (2009-2014), the times before that were very one-and-done for the Hawks and secondary affiliates. The Fresno Falcons, Greenville Grrrowl, Pensacola Ice Pilots, Roanoke Express, Jackson Bandits, and Hampton Roads Admirals were their all their secondary affiliates from 1999 until 2009.
NOTABLE GRADUATES: Delia has been the standout graduate of this young franchise, making his presence known with the Hawks last season, while the only other notable would be Justin Holl– who started his career in Indy before leaving the Hawks organization to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs.