by PuckStopsHere on 03/05/13 at 01:49 AM ET
The AHL season has been a very disjointed one. When the NHL season began in January, many of the top players in the league left for the NHL. That changed the fortunes of the top teams in the league.
When I last looked at standings in mid-December the lockout was still underway. The Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning affiliate) was leading the lead. They were in a race with the Abbotsford Heat (Calgary Flames affiliate) and Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes affiliate). All of these teams lost players to the AHL. Cory Conacher from Syracuse is the leading Calder Trophy candidate. Sven Baertschi and Danny Taylor are key Abbotsford players who have played with Calgary in the NHL this season. Brett Sutter and Justin Faulk are key Charlotte players with Carolina in the NHL.
The AHL lead is now a three-way tie with 75 points. Charlotte remains in the tie. They have been joined by the Springfield Falcons (Columbus Blue Jackets affiliate) and Texas Stars (Dallas Stars affiliate). Charlotte is four pints back of the tie and Abbotsford has fallen off the pace and is now 13 points back.
Syracuse is the highest scoring team in the AHL. Tyler Johnson is contending for the league scoring title and Brett Connolly is not too far behind him.
Springfield is the top defensive team in the AHL. Curtis McElhinney has had a strong season in goal for them. David Savard and Nick Holden are among the better defencemen in the league. They are getting scoring from Jonathan Audy-Marchessault who is among the league's top scorers.
Texas is more of a surprise team to be at this level. They lack any top scorers in the league. Matt Fraser leads them in scoring. Christopher Nilstorp and Jack Campbell have shared their goaltending. They lack the stars of the two teams in their tie.
I expect to see the AHL race come down to Syracuse and Springfield. I think Springfield has the inside shot. They have come on strong now that the lockout is over. The fact they are the AHL affiliate of the last place team in the NHL is interesting. Is this is a sign that Columbus is on the right track and will improve in the standings as AHLers graduate to the NHL or a sign that the Blue Jackets have a large group of wanna be NHLers with little NHL upside? It is probably a bit of both. For example their goalie McElhinney is a failed NHLer who is at best an NHL quality backup, but players like Savard and Audy-Marchessault might be capable NHLers. It is hard to find positive things to say about the Columbus organization, but their AHL affiliate is one.
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