Tuesday, October 7, 2014

East Division Preview - Part 2

This is the second part of a two-part look at the Bear's East Division opponents.  See part 1 about Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Lehigh Valley

Now we'll take a look at the Binghamton Senators and Norfolk Admirals. I included these teams for a separate post not only because they're non-PA teams but because they have similar characteristics. What I mean is that both are typically middle to lower division teams that found brief bursts of success recently with Binghamton winning the Calder Cup in 10-11 and Norfolk in 11-12. 

Binghamton has benefited greatly from Ottawa's strategy of rebuilding from within. This is one of the reasons the Senators won in the Cup in 10-11 with Robin Lehner taking the reigns and becoming Playoff MVP. All the while management has continued to stockpile draft picks, which has allowed Binghamton to be a very formidable team. Now the question becomes if players like Mika Zibanejad, David Dziurzynski and Stehpane De Costa are ready to move up to the big club.

With Ottawa's draft picks and trades, such as Bobby Ryan, finally starting to show success, now seems the time for those young guys to move up. And I suspect that Zibanejad and Dziurzynski will be in Ottawa on opening day. Because of this, I don't see Binghamton taking the division again. Even with youth and recent success on their side, the Senators are going to have a little tougher time this season.

For Norfolk, I sure hope they enjoyed that record breaking season and Calder Cup championship back in 11-12, because it's most likely never going to happen again. Norfolk's management and parent club (Anaheim) just don't appear to care enough about building a solid minor league team the way Tampa Bay did when it was associated with Norfolk during that winning year. Looking at how the Anaheim Ducks are now operating, they are definitely a win now team. And Norfolk will continue to suffer because of it.

And it's clear that some of the top prospects that played well in Norfolk will be making the move to Anaheim. Notably, John Gibson from the way he performed in the playoffs for Anaheim last year. But also possibly defenseman Sami Vatanen and forward Devante Smith-Pelly. Though the Admirals played well last season and made the playoffs, I suspect that if, much like Binghamton, it's time for the top performers to graduate to the next level then the Admirals will struggle throughout the season.
Which brings up an interesting point. As the majority of NHL teams have copied both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks and gone the youth route, it now appears that the AHL could be entering an era in which the parent club and management are seriously interested in building solid, winning minor league teams. There was even talk over the summer about more AHL teams moving closer to their respective NHL affiliate. So in the future, we could see more AHL teams migrating out West. Or at least to the Mid-West.

For many years Hershey has been and continues to be the standard for how to operate an AHL team and be successful. Since for NHL teams the focus is on drafting young players and developing them in the minor league system, it's only logical that management would want to build competent minor league teams that develops those draft picks correctly. I'm just surprised  it took this long. Whatever happens, it appears that there is more and better competition coming to the AHL and that only means a better quality product on the ice for the fans.

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