Chirps from Center Ice

A fan blog about the AHL's Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins

Category Archives: The AHL

2015-16 AHL Schedule Released

Like kids at Christmas, fans, bloggers and media look forward to this date every summer. The 2015-16 AHL playing schedule was released Thursday afternoon. We all can’t wait to see who is playing who, when and where. So instead of being the parent that only lets you open one gift at a time, let’s rip into the schedule and break it all down.

Question 1: Who do the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins play first this season?

Answer: The Providence Bruins, on the road, opening night in the AHL on October 9.

Question 2: The home opener is Saturday, October 17. Who do we play?

Answer: Same team as last year, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Question 3: Any Western Conference flavor on the menu this year?

Answer: Keep in mind that Rochester, Toronto and Utica played in the Western Conference last season. They are all in the Eastern Conference this season. You’ll need to pretend that they are from the Western Conference because there are NO Western Conference teams on the schedule for the Penguins this season.

Question 4: What does the divisional breakdown look like against Bridgeport, Hartford, Hershey, Lehigh Valley, Portland, Providence and Springfield?

Answer: Twelve games against Hershey and Lehigh Valley, six against Bridgeport, Hartford, Portland, Providence and Springfield. Evenly split, home and away.

Question 5: What is the longest road trip? What about home stand?

Answer: Longest road trip of the season for the Penguins is January 12 through January 24 when the Penguins face off against St. John’s twice on January 12 and 13, Syracuse on the 16th, two against Portland on the 22nd and 23rd and one against Providence on the 24th.

The longest homestand for the Penguins is early on in the season, from October 24 through November 14 for a total of seven games.

Question 6: How many three games in three nights?

Answer: Eight, down from last seasons total of 9.

Question 7: My friend told me that you had charts of daily and monthly breakdowns. Let’s see them.

Answer: Here you go.

Home Road Total
Monday 0 0 0
Tuesday 3 2 5
Wednesday 6 3 9
Thursday 1 0 1
Friday 7 14 21
Saturday 16 9 25
Sunday 5 10 15

And the Monthly…

Home Road Total
October 4 4 8
November 6 4 10
December 7 5 12
January 5 9 14
February 4 8 12
March 7 5 12
April 5 3 8

Question 8: Any kids games?

Answer: Kids games are by definition games that start in the morning. The Penguins will not be partaking in any of those games this season.

Question 9: Where is the All-Star Classic at again this year?

Answer: Syracuse, New York. Skills Competition is January 31 and the All-Star Classic February 1.

Question 10: Are the Penguins playing in any special venues this season?

Answer: No. And by looking at the schedule from a league wide basis, it really isn’t happening a lot this year.

Question 11: What is the Penguins theme this season?

Answer: “Reinvented” which you can check out here. I like it, it matches well with the changes the team went through coaching wise. I’m looking forward to what they have cooked up this season.

Question 12: Anything else I need to know?

Answer: We play every team in the Conference at least twice. Rochester, Toronto and Utica, who weren’t on the schedule last year we play twice each. All 30 teams will be in action three times this season, on January 23, February 6 and April 9.

Penguins will announce a promo schedule soon, and I’ll have a blog about that when the schedule is released. Other than that, my yearly AHL Previews can begin to now form since I now know who the Penguins will be playing this season. You can look for those around the end of September or the beginning of August. I am planning on bringing back the AHL Power Rankings this season as well as the charting I did last season as well.

So take the month of September to gear yourself for another six months (or more, hopefully) of fun.

Let’s Go Pens!

A Rabbit and a Sestito Walk Into a Matrix…

The moment we have all been waiting for is nearly here. It was announced today that the 2015-16 AHL playing scheduled will be released Thursday at 1 p.m. I’ll have a full dissection of the schedule of opponents the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins will face starting in October here on the blog Thursday afternoon. Same workup as prior years with a question and answer session. If I think of any new wrinkles between now and then I will work them in. Fun times ahead.

Elsewhere, the Pittsburgh Penguins signed Tom Sestito to a professional tryout agreement. Sestito is a journeyman and part of a dying breed of one trick ponies who know nothing other than how to fight. You can take this news any which way you like. A protector for Sidney Crosby / Evgeni Malkin / Phil Kessel, or Daniel Carcillo redux. As you recall, Pittsburgh signed Carcillo to a similar professional tryout agreement last year before releasing him. Carcillo later signed on with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that won the Stanley Cup last year. What I don’t see is Sestito a replacement for the currently unsigned Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond here in Wilkes-Barre. Sestito I don’t think is willing to settle for the AHL, as evidenced last season when his prior team, Vancouver, tried to send him to their AHL affiliate Utica. He refused and Vancouver sent him home. I think Sestito comes in with the intention of making the Pittsburgh roster and if not, he packs his bags and heads in another direction.

Pittsburgh also announced Tuesday the roster for the rookie tournament. Notable names like Derrick Pouliot, Bryan Rust, J-S Dea, Connor Sheary and Anton Zlobin are among the participants who will face off against the Canadiens, Maple Leafs and Senators prospects in London, Ontario in September.

In other minor league hockey news, the Greenville Road Warriors are no more in the ECHL. Instead, they reincarnated as the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. No, I am not joking. Link to the official news from the ECHL here. Yes, the logo includes an angry rabbit holding a carrot that is also being used as a hockey stick. The Wheeling Nailers will face off against the Swamp Rabbits just once this upcoming season, February 26 in Wheeling.

Check back tomorrow for full dissection on the Penguins schedule Thursday afternoon. Hockey season will be here before you know it.

American Top 40

Today, the Sports Business Journal released their biannual rankings of the Minor League Markets. Out of 212 U.S. markets reviewed, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton market came in 37th, up 122 spots from 159 two years ago.

There are a number of factors that go into how they develop the rankings. One of them is tenure. The Penguins have been playing at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza since 1999 and the RailRiders / Yankees / Red Barons have been around longer than that, since 1989.

Remember that the Rankings only look at Markets who do not host a major league franchise. So teams that host NBA franchises (i.e. Charlotte, Milwaukee, etc.) are not ranked.

The top markets from an AHL perspective ahead of Wilkes-Barre / Scranton are Des Moines, Iowa (home of the Iowa Wild) Inland Empire, California (home of the Ontario Reign, but the study included the team as an ECHL franchise) Hershey-Harrisburg, PA (home of the 11-time Calder Cup Champion Hershey Bears) Grand Rapids, MI (Grand Rapids Griffins) Bakersfield, California (Bakersfield Condors, but same criteria apply to the Ontario Reign as an ECHL franchise the year prior) Binghamton, Rochester, Austin (the Texas Stars play out of Cedar Park, TX, part of the Austin market) Providence then Wilkes-Barre.

Personally, I consider most of the towns ranked ahead of Wilkes-Barre larger towns. Des Moines, Harrisburg, Austin and Providence are all State Capitals, for example.

Can Wilkes-Barre ever be a Top 10 minor league market? I don’t think so, personally, but Top 40 is a pretty decent accomplishment.

The AHL schedule should be out some time next week, so but for other major breaking news this week, check back then.

AHL Rule Changes, A Commentary

The AHL confirmed today what was long rumored for months. The five teams that are playing in California will play 68 games in the 2015-16 season while the other 25 teams in the 30 team league will play 76 games.

The two teams in the same division as the “California Five” which consist of San Diego (Anaheim affiliate) Bakersfield (Edmonton) Ontario (Los Angeles) San Jose (San Jose) and Stockton (Calgary) are Texas (Dallas) and San Antonio (Colorado) These Texas teams will play 76 games, while their divisional counterparts play eight fewer games.

The AHL, in an effort to somehow make things fair, indicated in their release today that qualification for playoffs will be based off of points percentage (points earned divided by points available ) vs. actual points for wins, losses or overtime or shootout losses.

For the 25 teams that are playing 76 games, it’s season ending points divided by 152. For the California Five, it’s season ending points divided by 136.

Say San Antonio and Bakersfield are in a battle for a playoff spot. They have an identical 88 points. But, based off of points percentage, San Antonio trails Bakersfield by .068 percentage points with a .579 points percentage vs. Bakersfield’s .647.

You may look at that and say that is not much of a deficit. But consider this. San Antonio plays the next night and loses in a shootout. They get a loser point, bringing their total points up to 89, one more point than divisional rival Bakersfield. Yet they still trail the Condors in points percentage by .061 points with a .586 points percentage.

Oh, by the way, the crossover is back. There are two conferences, with two divisions per conference. In each conference there are eight teams in a division and seven teams in the other. If the fifth place team in the division with eight teams has a higher points percentage than the fourth place team in the division with seven teams, they get the playoff spot over the fourth place team in the division with eight teams.

So the potential exists that San Antonio or Texas could lose out in a playoff battle to a team in the Central Division, a division that will have all teams play 76 games, because of points percentage.

It isn’t fair.

It isn’t fair because San Antonio or Texas is relegated to fourth place in their division with five other teams playing less games based off of points percentages. It was calculated that a win for a California Five team is worth 1.47% in the standings as opposed to 1.32% for the 25 other teams in the AHL, San Antonio and Texas included.

Play less games, your wins count more.

Nope, not fair.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

How do the scoring races get decided? What about the veteran rule? (320 pro games) Salaries? Per diems? Less games mean less travel, less travel means less wear and tear on a California Five body vs. the wars waged in Wilkes-Barre, Hershey, Lehigh Valley and Binghamton or anywhere else not domiciled in the Golden State. How do you collectively bargain all of this?

The reality is that the situation is still in flux. Nothing has been announced yet regarding a collective bargaining agreement for next year. What I mentioned in the last paragraph was probably only a thumbnail of the other issues that are up in the air which I haven’t even thought of.

Other, relatively minor, rules announced were three on three overtime for 5:00, bringing the AHL on the same level as the NHL and ECHL. If there is no winner at the end of overtime, it’s onto a three player shootout. Also announced was a “coaches challenge” rule which, provided you have a time out, can challenge a reviewable play via video review. Finally, the face-off rule was changed. If you are defending in your zone, your stick goes down first. At center ice, the visitors stick goes down first.

What do you think of these rule changes? Fair or foul?

Jay Leach Named Assistant Coach 7/7

Announced today that Jay Leach will join Mike Sullivan behind the bench in the Fall for the 2015-16 Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins season. Leach was named Assistant Coach today.

Leach, a defenseman by trade, was an assistant coach in Germany this past season and won the Deutsche Eishockey Liga championship.

Here’s his rap sheet…

– 499 games in the AHL during a 12 year career.
– Served as captain in four AHL cities; Providence in 2005-07, Lowell in 2008-09, Worcester in 2010-11 and with the Albany Devils in 2012-13.
– Extremely bright, hard working individual as a player.
Not the most famous person living in his house.

Tom Venesky from the Times-Leader had some tweets…

I was thinking about this on my ride in from work today, the Penguins could be an even better team than they were last season and season prior, if that makes any sense and is even possible. Everything looks great on paper in July, but I have no reason to believe that come October, November, December and beyond that the Penguins will be a strong, competitive hockey team.

In other news, Pittsburgh announced their development camp roster today. Jonathan Bombulie was kind enough to put together capsules on the players involved that you can check out here.

The Top 100 names from the AHL Free Agent Big Board are nearly wiped clean. I will continue to run the board at the top of the blog for a few more days / week or so and will continue to update is as players sign.

Hope you are enjoying your summer as much as I am.

NHL Free Agency, Day 3

Quieter day in terms of the past 48 hours or so, but here’s what happened on July 3…

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Re-signed defenseman Reid McNeill. McNeill adds grit to an already loaded Wilkes-Barre defense, should he get pushed down to the AHL level in the Fall. McNeill was a restricted free agent. The Pens qualified Brian Dumoulin, Bobby Farnham and Dominik Uher. I’m guessing that the announcements on their signings will come soon.

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After no signings yesterday, the Rangers announced the signing of Luke Adam. Adam wasn’t tendered a qualifying offer by Columbus, so the Rangers snatched him up. Adam was 16-26-42 split between Rochester and Springfield last year. I would expect those number to go higher for what is shaping up to be a pretty good Hartford team.

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Signed forward Colin McDonald. McDonald was 17 on our big board, and could push for a spot on the Flyers in the Fall but if not, look for him to be relied upon to score a bunch of goals for the Phantoms long with newly signed Chris Conner and Tim Brent, if he doesn’t make it through.

So an already loaded Atlantic Division continues to stock up.

The Big Board and Offseason Moves List have all been updated.

Happy Independence Day, or if you aren’t American, Happy Saturday.

NHL Free Agency, Day 2

It was another active day for teams as Day 2 of the NHL Free Agency period starts seeing more names that are fringe NHLers or depth signings. Today was no different. Let’s take a look.

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Pittsburgh added defenseman Will O’Neill today. O’Neill, late of the St. John’s IceCaps, was the leading scorer for the IceCaps last season and was the fifth highest scoring defenseman in the American Hockey League last season. Another great addition likely ticketed for Coal Street in the Fall. O’Neill with Steve Oleksy, Dave Warsofsky, Reid McNeill and Barry Goers is a hell of a blue line if you ask me.

button_nyi200     /     BRI

The quantity award goes to the New York Islanders / Bridgeport Sound Tigers today. The Islanders added Justin Florek, Ben Holmstrom, Bracken Kearns, Justin Vaive, Joe Whitney and James Wright to NHL deals and the Sound Tigers added Tyler Barnes, Josh Holmstrom, Jesse Root, Andrew Rowe and Sebastien Sylvestre, along with defensemen Bryce Aneloski, Kane Lafranchise and C.J. Ludwig and goaltender Parker Milner to AHL deals.

Of guys ranked, Florek (63 on the big board) Vaive and Ben Holmstrom (not ranked but listed on the board) seem to be ticketed for Bridgeport along with Bracken Kearns and James Wright, which weren’t listed at all. The guys that Bridgeport signed to AHL deals are depth guys who, if they don’t stick with the Sound Tigers, are likely ticketed for the ECHL affiliate in Missouri.

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Hershey lost goaltender Pheonix Copley in the trade for T.J. Oshie to Washington but made up for it immediately by signing Chris Bourque to a two year deal. Hershey was in dire need for a top notch LW after yesterdays departures, so they went out and signed probably the best one out there.

Bears look thin on defense and in goal. Justin Peters will probably start in goal for the Bears next season but who will back up?

The Penguins, Bears and Sound Tigers all had multiple player moves. The other teams in the division except the New York Rangers / Hartford Wolf Pack all had one player signing to note.

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Forward Rob Flick. Comes over from Providence. Scrapper that can score. 19 goals with a good P-Bruins team. With the talent ticketed for Southern Maine next season, that number could increase.

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Re-signed defenseman Chris Breen. Providence hasn’t really added much in these past two days. I’d argue probably the least of all team in the division, so Breen will look to build on his best year as a professional last season with the P-Bruins in likely an increased role.

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Defenseman Alex Grant. Ex-Penguin Alex Grant that is. Comes over from Binghamton. 88 on the big board. Big time shot, power play ace.

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Goaltender Jason LaBarbera. Likely means that Rob Zepp won’t be back and needs a new team. (Hershey?) LaBarbera will probably mentor Anthony Stolarz as the two battle for the crease in Allentown.

My instant takeaway from these past two days is that there will not be a night off for any of the teams in the Atlantic Division. Every team is loading up in some form or fashion and every night is going to be a battle.

Finally, here’s a story out of Pittsburgh on Conor Sheary.

The AHL Free Agent Big Board has been updated with all the latest signings. 49 names on the Top 100 list are left. The Penguins Offseason Moves List has also been updated noting the O’Neill signing. I am going to leave the Big Board above all the recent news on the blog, so if you come here looking for news and see the Big Board front and center, just scroll down to see the latest.

I’m traveling for a weekend getaway tomorrow, so I may not have a Day 3 Recap for the blog. If not and as long as the wire remains active, probably Saturday.

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