But today I am actually going to DEFEND the AHL on the schedule debate. Understand this though...I want a balanced schedule. I want the AHL to adopt the NHL schedule matrix so that everyone pretty much plays everyone else the same amount of times. It works.
Now, let me say this. I understand (and actually kind of agree) with what the AHL did and why they did what they did.
Generally people think it has to do mainly with travel costs. I am sure that is part of the issue but I don't believe that is the MAIN issue.
The biggest reason the AHL does the schedule this way is ticket sales.
I actually thought about this yesterday, but decided against discussing it in that post. Most of the fans in the AHL are casual fans. Sure, in Hershey there are 10,000 casual fans, but most cities have half of that at the most.
Even in Hershey the majority of the fans aren't concerned too much with roster moves, prospects, and if the schedule is balanced.
Yes there are fans (you are reading an opinion of one right now) that take the AHL very seriously and love to follow the league and are 100% committed, both emotionally and financially, to my favorite team.
But compared to the NHL the AHL has no fans. It would be like comparing the popularity of football to the NHL. Landslide victory for one side.
Now, I am not saying that the AHL doesn't care about their fans. In fact they care about them more than any other league because they depend on them for revenues more than most other leagues.
There are no TV contracts in the AHL, minimal radio coverage for even the best teams, and advertising dollars come in but on a scale much smaller than larger sports leagues.
So guess where the dollars come from...the fans.
So...myself and many of the more intense fans would LOVE to see the Bears play the Rampage, Icehogs, Barons, and Heat every season. It would be great to see the talent on those teams at a time other than the Calder Cup finals.
But for the casual fan...that isn't the case. They would prefer to see rivalry games. In Hershey that isn't necessarily the case. Most Saturday games were sell outs and most games other nights were over 9000 fans no matter who the opponent was.
However, not all fans are as loyal or supportive as Bears fans. For example...Syracuse hosted Albany and about sold 1,700 fewer tickets than when they hosted Rochester.
Another example...Wilkes Barre/Scranton...they hosted Manitoba, sold about 6200, they hosted Abbotsford, sold about 5900, and they hosted Hershey, sold 8100. All those were Friday night games throughout the season.
Another...Albany...they finished the season LAST in the AHL in attendance. One Saturday they played Adirondack and drew 5,200 fans (2,000 more than their season average)...the next Saturday they played Norfolk and drew 2,200. That is 3,000 fans less...and that makes a huge difference on revenues.
Obviously it isn't a perfect comparison since other things impact attendance figures but it gives you an idea of what fans prefer.
And Hershey is NOT immune to this problem. Looking at Sunday games throughout the season you will see that one team outdraws the rest:
Adirondack - 7,000
Binghamton - 7,500
Charlotte - 7,400
Manitoba - 8,000
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton - 10,700
Casual fans show up when the opposition is a known rival. Simple as that.
And the AHL is built and survives based on the interests of the CASUAL FAN. Without them there would be many fewer teams which would affect the overall hockey landscape as a whole.
So, in the end I would love to see more competitive balance (and honestly without tearing apart every single teams matchups I can't honestly say there isn't SOME balance worked in) I also understand that in order to maintain a successful league and successful teams you have to get people in the seats.
And the best way to do that is to schedule the rivalry teams more than any other.
Ok, so there, I gave the AHL their due for creating the schedule. It is tough to balance a schedule with every team playing other teams evenly when those teams can't make money in many games.
In my opinion, it is better to have 30 AHL teams and an unbalanced schedule than it is to have 20 AHL teams and a balanced schedule.
And like I said yesterday...this could help Hershey in the end. By the time the playoffs roll around they have already played a tougher than average schedule. So, assuming they make the playoffs, they are more likely to perform well in those "bigger" games.
And as you will see below...this is going to be quite a team in Hershey this season.
With that, let's just take a glance at the prospective Hershey Bears roster as of today. For the purposes of this exercise I am going to assume that Jay Beagle does not make the Caps while both Cody Eakin and Mattias Sjogren do. That could absolutely change. Personally I think there is 1 or maybe 2 spots available for those 3 players. And yes I guess I should include Mathieu Perreault in that discussion but I don't see it happening for him.
So, when looking at the below lines remember that Beagle's spot could be filled by Eakin or Sjogren too.
Any way you look at it this is what many people would describe as...stacked. Loaded. Explosive.
Maybe the key term to describe this roster is another word that we floated around often in 2009-10....deep. You could LEGITIMATELY have 6 forwards pushing the 30 goal mark this upcoming season. Seriously. 6 different forwards. And there could be more if there was more ice time to share.
Just take a look....
And that doesn't even include Dmitry Kugryshev, Daved de Kostrozza, or Francois Bouchard. Sure...injuries and callups will force players to move around but consider that Kane scored 24 goals last year and he is on the 4th line. Christian Hanson scored 13 and he isn't even in the lineup based on these projections!
Defensive pairings are difficult to predict but look at the depth here. Brett Fleming is really looking good at development camp and could push guys for time. Patrick Wellar...who some considered one of Hershey's most consistent defensemen last season is likely the #6 guy here.
Is this unit better than last years? I would say it is definitely not any worse.
The goaltending is easy...Holtby, Sabourin, Cheese. Done.
So what are the overall thoughts? I see one potential problem with the roster and it may or may not actually be a "problem". There isn't that a "go-to" goal scorer on the team as in years past. Giroux and Gordon filled that role in years past. But I don't see a pure goal scorer that can be relied on game in...game out.
BUT...having 6 guys who could push the 25-30 goal mark is pretty impressive and will be tough to stop each night. Especially when the next 6 could be pushing the 15-20 goal mark!
Does depth out-perform star power?
In the playoffs it does.