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2 Goals in Game2

 

Building From Within

By D'Arcy McGrath

May 7, 2001

The American Hockey League by definition is a developmental league.

A good portion of each farm team's roster is comprised of younger players being groomed for the next step.

Generally teams have a healthy mix of up and coming players as well as career AHL hockey players making a good living, playing the game they love.

The make up of each roster represents a very important catch-22 for NHL organizations; too many veterans on the roster take spots away from developing prospects. Too few veterans will likely result in losing season after losing season, an atmosphere that can stunt the growth of youth.

Where should the line be drawn?

Can the Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins state "we may have missed the playoffs this year, but look at the AHL, our future is bright"?

It all depends on the structure of their AHL franchise.

Looking At the Best

The 2001 AHL playoffs are down to the semi-finals with four teams still in the hunt for the Calder Trophy.

The Eastern Conference Final features the Saint John Flames (Calgary) and the Providence Bruins (Boston), while the Western Conference Final features the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh), and the Hershey Bears (Colorado).

These four franchises all have successful developmental systems, or they must considering their success in the playoffs.

However, the four teams are very different in experience and make-up.

Average Age

The table below shows the average age for each team, which includes every player that has played at least on game in the 2001 playoffs.

 

Team

Avg. Age

Providence Bruins

25.3

Hershey Bears

25.2

WBS Penguins

24.3

Saint John Flames

22.9

With a cursory glance it appears the Calgary Flames have the best argument of a bright future, with an average age of 22.9, relatively young by AHL standards. The other three teams are more firmly placed in the mid-twenties in average age.

A simple average is flawed in delivering any real conclusions however, there are too many ways to arrive at the answer. For example, if the Saint John Flames had three 20 year olds each play one game apiece in the first round before being scratched the rest of the playoffs, their numbers might be skewed.

Age Classifications

To help partition each roster, Calgarypuck.com has used the following age classifications.

Age Range

Classification

Definition

18-20

Junior Aged

Young by AHL standards

21-22

Prospect

Developmental years

23-25

Suspect

No longer NHL prospects

26-30

AHL Lifer

Career minor pro players

31 +

Grizzled Vet

Old!

A team made up of the first three categories would be very young, and prone to mistakes, but have a brighter long term future for the NHL club.

Conversely, an AHL club made up of the final two categories would be consistent, but offer little upside for the NHL parent to utilize.

The table below shows the make-up of each of the four teams by percentage of each classification.

Team

Junior

Prospect

Suspect

Lifer

Grizzled

Flames

21%

21%

50%

8%

0%

Providence

9%

14%

23%

50%

5%

Hershey

5%

11%

47%

32%

5%

Penguins

0%

32%

36%

32%

0%

The Saint John Flames have 92% of their roster in the first three categories, or 92% of their roster 25 years or under. The Penguins farm club is the next closest, having 68% of their roster in the youngest three categories. The oldest final four AHL club is the Providence Bruins, with only 45% of their roster in the youngest three categories.

With 42% of the Saint John roster under the age of 23 there appears to be some optimism on the horizon for a struggling Flames organization.

But does that tell the whole story? What role or impact does youth play for each of these teams?

Production by Age

In order to round out our analysis, we take a look at production from each category within each team's roster.

For example, a team with a low percentage of prospects on their roster may have a significantly higher production rate from these few players.

The table below shows goal production from each classification for each team.

Team

Junior

Prospect

Suspect

Lifer

Grizzled

Flames

6%

67%

28%

0%

0%

Providence

0%

4%

19%

74%

4%

Hershey

5%

10%

57%

29%

0%

Penguins

0%

46%

36%

18%

0%

Of the Saint John Flames 36 playoff goals to date, 73% or 26 goals, have been scored by players 23 years or younger. That's an incredible statistic when you consider the role experience often plays in the playoffs.

This group is comprised of Sergei Varlamov (9), Steve Begin (8), Derek Walser (5), Daniel

Fata: 4 points

Dupont: 6 assists

Tkaczuk (2), and Blair Betts and Rico Fata, with a goal apiece. Every one of these players are a threat to crack the NHL Flames roster next fall, with only Derek Walser and his contract shedding some doom on the subject.

The Penguins farm team has the next largest impact in this area with 46% or 18 of their 39 goals coming from up and coming players. Digging deeper it can be found that one player, Milan Kraft has scored 12 of these 18 goals.

What Does This Say?

What do these numbers suggest for the Flames organization?

It might suggest that The Hockey News prospect rating system might be a tad presumptuous when sending the Flames tumbling to the middle of the pack in terms of their systems.

However, more than likely it suggests the Flames have one superstar prospect on the farm, a star that has to be given a chance in the organization soon.

That star could very well be head coach Jim Playfair.