David Andrews, President and CEO of the American Hockey League, is a consummate professional. Always consistent in his discussion of things that effect the second best league in the world. However, he’s often ridiculed for his lack of fervor when it comes to progressively making the league better. Perhaps he’s too much of an NHL “yes man” or maybe he’s simply handcuffed to its affiliations, but either way, he has to be ecstatic about the potential lockout — if only for a season, and only for immediate profit potential.
In an interview conducted this week on NHL Home Ice, Andrews called the league a “neutral party” when it came to giving comments on the imminent NHL lockout. On the same matter, he continued to point to the fact that he wouldn’t make any speculation about what players would be playing in his league “until the end of September”.
But it was the more over-reaching American League statements made by Andrews that perked my ears. Mainly when it came to the discussion of fewer games in the league (which has been widdled down to 38 home/38 away in recent years). “We thought reducing our schedule would essentially drive those customers from mid-week dates, that weren’t quality dates to begin with,” said Andrews, “And more importantly it worked out for our players by increasing practice time and reducing travel time. From a safety point of view, eliminating 4 games in 5 nights that we’ve had in the past was a good thing. We’ve got one more year at 78 games, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we entered into a discussion with the National Hockey League and our owners to possibly going down to 72 games.”
The number 72 makes fans shudder because they loose yet a few more home games. But again, the goal seems to be to A) produce high quality hockey in a safe, and prospect friendly environments and B) hand the NHL the best players it can. If that requires reducing games, and reducing injury/travel, then the league will push that direction even if fans get irritated.
The discussion also included the AHL Winter Classic, affiliation changes over the summer, minor league ownership, and league branding. But the conversation, again, turned back to player development and the immediate impact of the NHL lockout.
“Over the years, the number of NHL players that have passed through the AHL has steadily grown, ” said Andrews, “90% of the players in the NHL have played in the AHL. There aren’t very many players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who go immediately from juniors to the NHL. Teams seem more committed to make sure their young players spend at least a year in the minors to further develop their skills. And if you look at the rosters of AHL teams in 04/05, it’s incredible the number of NHL players that we received.”
And what about that 04-05 season, and it’s NHL players? “Players who played in the American League in 04/05 were very pleased that they had that year because they experienced so much more – they played on the power play, on the penalty kill, ” commented Andrews, “Their organizations the following season were pleased with their player during the lockout season because it prepared them for the upcoming 80 game season. This is a very good league.”
It certainly will be interesting to learn what the rules of AHL eligibility might be in the event of a National League lockout, but the one entity that certainly benefits the most will be the minor league affiliates. And it appears that David Andrews, and the rest of the league, are beginning to plan for this very thing.