The AHL's foray into California has been an unabashed success, with the biggest benefit coming in the form of player development.
Doug Wilson’s voice is a little raspy. It seems both he and his San Jose Sharks have been dealing with a flu that has been running through the team of late. Which, of course, naturally brings us to Barclay Goodrow and developing NHL players.
To backtrack slightly, the Sharks summoned Goodrow from their AHL team last Friday morning on an emergency recall because they were unsure whether some of their players would be healthy enough to play. As it turns out, the Sharks were fine for their afternoon game against the New York Islanders, so the Sharks sent him back down and he scored that night and was first star in the San Jose Barracuda 4-1 win over the Bakersfield Condors.
After having a couple of forwards get dinged up in the Islanders game, the Sharks recalled Goodrow the next day for a game against Anaheim, then sent him back down immediately after the game that night. Goodrow certainly wasn’t complaining since based on his NHL salary of $626,667, he made almost $3,500 for each of the two days he was with the parent club. And it’s not as though it was a major inconvenience, since all he had to do was walk down the hall to a different dressing room.
And that is a perfect example of how the AHL’s foray into California and some of the bigger markets in North America has been an unabashed success. The Sharks had their AHL affiliate in Worcester, Mass., until last season and there was no way they’d have been able to make moves like that when faced with the prospect of a prospect (get it?) having to travel across the country.
“It levels the playing field,” Wilson said. “It helps on so many fronts.”
Not the least of which is in managing the salary cap. When your farm team is thousands of miles away, you always have to keep an extra player or two on the roster to insure against injuries. And every day someone spends on the roster of the NHL team eats into the salary cap. But that’s not the main reason why Sharks owner Hasso Plattner spent millions of dollars to purchase an AHL team and place it in San Jose. The Sharks have always been very good at developing players they’ve drafted and this takes their ability to do that to another level.
“There’s a small benefit cap-wise, but there’s a major benefit development-wise,” Wilson said. “We’ve told all our younger players, ‘You’re going to get a chance to play. Just be ready when the opportunity comes.’ We’ve added 34 players to our reserve list the last two years and a lot of these guys are going to play for us. They can go up and down on a daily basis.”
The Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets all have their affiliates right in the cities where they play. Ten other teams – the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers – have their AHL teams within a two-hour drive. The Montreal Canadiens will move their affiliate from St. John’s, Nfld., to the Montreal suburb of Laval next season and the Ottawa Senators are shifting their AHL team from Binghamton, N.Y., to Belleville, Ont., which is almost three hours away, but will save a little more than an hour in travel time.
It’s a wonder why every team doesn’t do it, particularly those in big markets that make a lot of money. Take the Toronto Marlies for example. They are a very tiny fish in an enormous pond, but the benefit to the parent team is enormous. For example, the Marlies practice at the same facility as the Maple Leafs, an arena that has four ice pads. Coach Sheldon Keefe will occasionally split the team into two groups, with one using one rink for systems work and the other another rink for skill development. There is a salary cap on the amount that players can be paid, but if you’re a rich team you could have a built-in advantage by pouring your money into development. And because you’re a money-making team, you don’t have to worry about a minor league team that might be a loss leader.
And the players love it. Not only do they get a better chance at getting a day or two in the NHL and the larger paystub that comes with it, they know the organization is never far away. It also means those teams can implement a similar style on their farm team and know it will be followed. That way when their players are called up, they don’t have to waste any time learning a new system.
The Sharks and Barracudas practice at different times, so Wilson can often take in both workouts. And when the two teams have a doubleheader at the SAP Center, Wilson can be at the rink for the day and monitor his team’s prospects.
“We get to watch them every day and they get to know they’re going to be seen every day, not just by me, but by our coaches, too,” Wilson said. “They know they’re not out of sight, out of mind.”