NJ Style Shutdown…

Just getting back from a 2 day trip to NE Pennsylvania and Dutchess County for some baseball…while I was in PA I got the news about the Devils ECHL franchise in Trenton suspending operations for next season. As if that news didn’t come out of left field, how the announcement came out was a little, shall we say, interesting. First hint came from the Bergen Record blog Fire and Ice (link here), then later in the day came the official announcement from the Devils themselves, which sounded eerily like the Fire and Ice story. Apparently somebody was just a little bitter about suddenly losing a job so instead of coming up with something nice they copied and pasted? You have to feel for Trenton fans (if there’s any left) about this one…committing to tickets for next year then…surprise! No team to support.

Trenton’s hockey history can be traced back to 1999, when they entered the ECHL as the Trenton Titans. They won the league’s Kelly Cup in 2004-05. Amid some struggling attendance figures, in 2007 New Jersey bought the franchise (after buying the Lowell Lock Monsters the previous year and renaming them the Lowell Devils…we all know how well that worked out) and re-branded them as the Trenton Devils, basically killing off most of the fanbase in an area considered to be Flyers territory. Attendance dwindled more every season, going from 3,515 in 2006-07 to a league worst 2,390 this past season. Their record wasn’t much to write home about either, a 27-37-2-6 mark, second worst in the 19 team league.

For a really good perspective on how the T-Devils basically ceased to exist, check out Mike Ashmore’s blog post from Inside the Trenton Devils.

So of course the next question here is, do Albany fans have to worry that this could happen here too? At first glance, one wouldn’t think so, there’s a 5 year contract in place with the arena and the team spearheaded all the newest additions to the Times Union Center (ribbon lighting, new scoreboard, revamped locker room/weight room). But Trenton’s lease with their home arena, the Sun National Bank Center, actually was through the 2018-19 season. This may also start up the Devils moving to New Jersey rumors again, like with last season’s 4 “home” games in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall spurning talk that after the 5 years are up the AHL franchise would be moved, which were shot down. But if I were a Albany hockey fan, I’d try my hardest (good or bad record) to show support for the team we have here. Because in the business of minor league sports, you just never know what can happen.

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2011-12 Hint #2: Division Realignment

Ah, vacation day #3. I picked a good week to take off…this week the AHL Board of Governors are meeting in South Carolina. Just breaking today is the league’s division realignment plan and playoff rules for next season. So here we go:

Eastern Conference:

Atlantic Division: Manchester, Portland, Providence, St. John’s, Worcester

NEW Northeast Division: Adirondack, Albany, Bridgeport, Connecticut, Springfield

East Division: Binghamton, Hershey, Norfolk, Syracuse, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton

Western Conference:

North Division: Grand Rapids, Hamilton, Lake Erie, Rochester, Toronto

NEW Midwest Division: Charlotte, Chicago, Milwaukee, Peoria, Rockford

West Division: Abbotsford, Houston, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Texas

As for the new playoff structure, the league is modeling it after the NHL structure: The 3 division winners will make up the top 3 seeds. The remaining 5 teams will be in order by regular season points totals. The first round will be a best of 5 series; after the first round, the teams will be reseeded by record for the second round, which will be a best of 7 along with the conference finals and the Calder Cup finals. Still waiting word on the list of opponents, that should come out shortly. Of course it’s another 4-6 weeks before the actual schedule gets released.

My take? Travelwise, it makes sense. You have the two closest AHL cities in Adirondack and Springfield in the same division, Connecticut is about a 2 hour drive away as well, Bridgeport takes about 2 1/2-3 hours depending on which route you take (and I know 3 of them now). Which could mean a lot of road trips for me, and you know how I love to travel…win-win for my coverage! And you have New Jersey’s rivals’ (Philly, NY Islanders, NY Rangers) affiliates all together in one division…that dynamic will be an interesting one. I wonder how the schedule will break down with the other 2 divisions in the conference, I just hope it’s evenly spaced out (as in, no 12 games against Adirondack. I know it’s close by and you want a rivalry, but we saw them every other week!). And I feel sorry for the Checkers being moved to the West…you think their travel schedule was bad this year? They’re nowhere close to their new divisional rivals. And with the new playoff format, you could see something like a Bears-Penguins or (yes I live in a dream world, but hypothetically speaking) Devils-Phantoms series with a Calder Cup finals berth on the line. That would make for some very good drama.

Making A Smart Move

The last two days I have cringed watching most teams in the East Division reload for next season. Apparently Hershey didn’t take going out of the first round to Charlotte in April lightly, as they went out the first day and snagged Calder Cup playoff leading scorer Ryan Potulny and lured forward Chris Bourque back from a one year stint in Europe. Wilkes-Barre responded by signing Colin McDonald, who only lead the AHL in goals last year with 42. Anaheim snagged former Bear Andrew Gordon, a possible win for Syracuse. Carolina signed goaltender Brian Boucher to back up Cam Ward, ensuring a potentially scary goaltending tandem in Charlotte with Justin Peters and Mike Murphy. Meanwhile all I saw New Jersey do (but they were good for the parent club) was re-sign Andy Greene and backup goaltender Johan Hedberg. With the Moose back in Jersey, it becomes a battle to see the goaltending pecking order when either him or Brodeur go down between Jeff Frazee, Keith Kinkaid, and a host of junior prospects. And I would assume David Caruso is still in the mix, even though I’m not certain of his contract status.

Then late last night, New Jersey did something smart (yes it is possible). Per a tweet from Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record and Capgeek, leading scorer Matt Anderson has been re-signed to a 2 year two way contract. Not a bad reward for someone who was just brought in on an AHL deal last summer. He only proceeded to lead the Devils in assists and points (Adam Henrique lead in goals by a 25-23 margin) in 76 games played. With Henrique a possibility to stick in New Jersey and possibly losing Chad Wiseman in free agency, this is a big step in the right direction. Another rumor I saw on my Twitter feed this week came via Norton Sports, who represents the Sestito brothers…possibly Tim re-signing with the Devils, meaning the Northway sibling rivalry between good (Tim) and evil (Tom) could resume next season.

In other Devil news this week, the team released six guaranteed home dates for 2011-12: October 8th (the home opener), November 5th, December 4th, December 17th, December 30th, and January 16th. Next step is waiting to see if there is a league realignment and the list of opponents for the season. And of course the wait for the schedule continues as well. Only 97 days to the home opener (but really who’s counting?)…

2011 Player Tracker (as of 7/1/11)

Signed for 2011-12:

Jacob Josefson
Mattias Tedenby
Nick Palmieri
Mark Fayne
Alexander Urbom
Adam Henrique
Dan Kelly
Mike Hoeffel (EL)
Keith Kinkaid (EL)
Mike Sislo (EL)
Joe Sova (EL)
Harry Young
J.S. Berube
Kory Nagy
Pierre-Luc Leblond
Stephen Gionta
Darcy Zajac
Brandon Burlon (EL)
Maxim Noreau
Jay Leach

Restricted free agents (all tendered qualifying offers):

Vladimir Zharkov
Matt Corrente
Jeff Frazee
Nathan Perkovich
Steven Zalewski

Unrestricted free agents:

Tyler Eckford
Brad Mills
Olivier Magnan
Rob Davison
Tim Sestito
Mike McKenna
Chad Wiseman
Matt Anderson
Chris Murray

Moving on:
Louis Robitaille (retired 6/9)
David McIntyre (traded to Minnesota 6/16)
Jeff Lerg (signed in Italy 6/20)
Alex Vasyunov (signed in Russia 6/22)