Thursday, November 29, 2012

An Ode to the Minor League Super Teams

During the lockout of 2004-05, the minor leagues saw a little bit of a boon when you had some select NHL players dropping down the rank to keep in shape for a season that never happened. This lockout, we're seeing a bit of the same thing-- but with a couple more teams.

Of course, this doesn't include the AHL teams that have the young prospects-- like the Oklahoma City Barons-- who are tearing up the league because they have experience in the NHL, but I'm more talking about the AA leagues like the ECHL who have been doing well enough for their teams to thrive, but not overly dominating the league.

For example, in the 2004-05 season, the United Hockey League's Motor City Mechanics were the darling of the minor league world, as they had a roster than included Chris Chelios, Derian Hatcher, Bryan Smolinski, and Sean Avery, while Kris Draper was signed, but never played. It was a team that looked very good on paper, but none of those players played more than 24 games (Hatcher) and Avery was the leading scorer of all of them with 15 goals, 11 assists, and 149 PIMs in only 16 games. The Mechanics didn't make the playoffs and dissolved after the next season.

This lockout, the ECHL has been quite the travel adventure for NHLers, with the Alaska Aces really sporting the names of the NHL. While Brandon Dubinsky, Joey Crabb, and Nate Thompson have played all season, Scott Gomez just signed on to play after training for the longest time with his hometown team. Crabb has really flourished with the team with 8 goals and 21 points leading the team and 13th in the league in scoring.

Another Western ECHL team with a good amount of NHLers is the Ontario Reign who have Paul Mara, Devin Setoguchi, and Kyle Clifford are on the roster, despite none of them really turning the league upside down. Only Mara has played the entire season, while Setoguchi (6 games) and Clifford (3) are still working their way into the line-up.

Ryan Clowe has also been around the ECHL, practicing and coaching with the San Francisco Bulls, but won't play until he knows that the NHL is either coming back or going away outright. Plus, it's not like these NHLers are tearing up the scoring chart, as three Colorado Eagles-- Chad Costello, Jack Combs, and Michael Forney-- lead the ECHL in scoring.

While some in the ECHL are upset about teams stockpiling this talent when this is supposed to be a development league, I've pointed out elsewhere that the number of teams using their ECHL teams is few and far-between-- granted this is different circumstances where the NHL teams could utilize their ECHL teams more-- but still, very few really have.

There's plenty of people out there who don't like the minor leagues because it's not the NHL and won't check out minor leagues because the games there aren't as smooth (which isn't a bad thing and understandable), it seems that the longer the lockout turns on, the better the talent could get domestically rather than them going overseas.

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