Chirps from Center Ice

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

Category Archives: The AHL

2023 Calder Cup Playoffs Preview

Everybody’s favorite time of year, it’s the Calder Cup Playoffs. 23 teams will be vying for the Championship in June.

I expect these to be wrong in parts and right in parts. Just hope to have the Conference Finals right and maybe the Calder Cup Finals participants correct.

I think it’s a wide open field, but the favorites are the favorites because they have played that way all season long.

Let’s pour one out for the San Jose Barracuda, Henderson Silver Knights, San Diego Gulls, Grand Rapids Griffins, Chicago Wolves, Cleveland Monsters, Belleville Senators, Bridgeport Islanders and (sigh) the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins as teams which missed the postseason. Better luck next year, guys.

Here’s how the concept works, the first round is best of three, division semifinals and finals best of five then best of seven for the conference finals and Calder Cup Finals.

Let’s start in the Pacific and work our way east.

First Round Bye: Calgary Wranglers

First Round, best of three.

(2) Coachella Valley Firebirds vs. (7) Tucson Roadrunners: Coachella Valley lost their final two games of the season, handing the regular season title to rival Calgary and have to face an extremely game but equally slumping Tuscon Roadrunners team. I’m not buying the hype though, Coachella Valley in two.

(3) Colorado Eagles vs. (6) Ontario Reign: Likely the most even matchup in the first round. Not a lot separates these teams, so go with the hotter team, Colorado who have won four straight coming in, vs. an Ontaio team who hit a ton of cold spells, losing their final three. Eagles in three.

(4) Abbotsford Canucks vs. (5) Bakersfield Condors: All of these games are going to be played in Abbotsford, which doesn’t bode well for Bakersfield who won 23 games at home. In these scenarios, you take the team with the home ice advantage. Abbotsford in three.

Division Semifinals, best of five.

(1) Calgary Wranglers vs. (4) Abbotsford Canucks: I think that Bakersfield gives the Canucks a run, and using all that energy up is really bad when you are facing a buzzsaw team in Calgary, who won the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL’s best team in the regular season. Dustin Wolf is Him in goal, AHL’s best goaltender. Wranglers puts these other pretender teams on notice and win in a sweep to advance.

(2) Coachella Valley Firebirds vs. (3) Colorado Eagles: Tough one to call. Eagles are good, Coachella Valley played better. Colorado has been here before, the Firebirds have not. I think it goes five. I’m trusting my gut and picking Colorado to advance. Eagles in five.

Division Finals, best of five.

(1) Calgary Wranglers vs. (3) Colorado Eagles: These two teams met in the Pacific Division Finals last year, only the Wranglers were the Stockton Heat. The Heat won that series in four. This Wranglers team is better than that Heat team. Colorado has used up a lot so far, in getting past Ontario and Coachella Valley in the maximum allowable games. I think history repeats itself here, but it’s yet another Wranglers sweep.

First Round Bye: Texas Stars

First Round, best of three.

(4) Iowa Wild vs. (5) Rockford IceHogs: Both teams clinched on the final day of the regular season and needed wins to get there. Iowa went 7-3-1-1 against the IceHogs in the regular season. Let’s not overthink things here. Iowa in three.

Division Semifinals, best of five.

(1) Texas Stars vs. (4) Iowa Wild: Texas’ only loss to the Wild came on the final day of the regular season, when Texas had already wrapped up the Central crown that got them the first round bye. Stars say bye to the Wild via sweep.

(2) Milwaukee Admirals vs. (3) Manitoba Moose: This is a bad matchup for the Admirals. I’d like the Moose if this were best of three. It’s not. Admirals survive a real scare here. Milwaukee in five.

Division Finals, best of five.

(1) Texas Stars vs. (2) Milwaukee Admirals: One of the reasons Texas was one of the final teams to sew up the division crown was the peskiness of the Milwaukee Admirals. I don’t think any of that matters in a tight series here. Stars in four.

First Round Bye: Toronto Marlies

First Round, best of three.

(4) Utica Comets vs. (5) Laval Rocket: It’s a matchup which favors the Rocket, who went 5-1 against the Comets this season, but I don’t like Laval’s inconsistency here and it’s not a good matchup in the present day vs. a whole season, Utica takes this three games and advances.

Division Semifinals, best of five.

(1) Toronto Marlies vs. (4) Utica Comets: Toronto stumbled, in a big way, as the season ended, 1-6-2-1 in their last ten. I think it’s a scenario where either team can advance and you can make a strong case either way, but I think that the players lock in and get past the Comets in a series which will go the distance which sees the Marlies advancing in five.

(2) Syracuse Crunch vs. (3) Rochester Americans: It’s a matchup that favors the Crunch, and I think it’s one that they win in easily, but not without a few scares here and there. Crunch in four.

Division Finals, best of five.

(1) Toronto Marlies vs. (2) Syracuse Crunch: Toronto’s inconsistency at the end of the regular season is their undoing and the Crunch advance in five here.

 

First Round Byes: Providence Bruins, Hershey Bears

First Round, best of three.

(3) Charlotte Checkers vs. (6) Lehigh Valley Phantoms: All games will be played in Charlotte with Lehigh Valley getting last change in Game 2 as the de facto “home” team. Phantoms give the Checkers a scare, but it’s the Checkers advancing as the most consistent non-top two team as they have played all season long, Checkers in three.

(4) Springfield Thunderbirds vs. (5) Hartford Wolf Pack: Hartford lost a cadre of really good players to recall on Saturday, how many of those players make it back in time for this series against Springfield will really determine how this one goes. In the end though, I think the Thunderbirds advance in three.

Division Semifinals, best of five.

(1) Providence Bruins vs. (4) Springfield Thunderbirds: Bruins tore through the division en route to their third division title in four years. I think Springfield gives them a run, with a few games making it to overtime, but the best team advances here, Bruins in four.

(2) Hershey Bears vs. (3) Charlotte Checkers: Bears inconsistency in the season cost them a chance at the number one seed in the division. I think the Bears inconsistency befells them eventually, but not here in a nail biter of a series, Bears in five.

Division Finals, best of five.

(1) Providence Bruins vs. (2) Hershey Bears: Hershey went 1-5 against the Bruins in the regular season. I think that plays a small role here, but Providence is too good of a team to get knocked out this early. Bruins in four.

Eastern Conference Finals, best of seven.

(1) Providence Bruins vs. (2) Syracuse Crunch: Bruins make this look easy I think, and are just getting going, Providence in five.

Western Conference Finals, best of seven.

(1) Calgary Wranglers vs. (1) Texas Stars: Stars cut the Wranglers, but I just can’t see Calgary having any issues in this series. Wranglers in five.

Calder Cup Finals, best of seven.

Hold up, am I really picking chalk all the way here? I guess I am. I can’t see any viable path for any other team to get to this point other than Providence and Calgary unless there’s a major, major upset. Go back and look. Can Lehigh Valley get here? Conceivably, sure, but they need to beat Charlotte twice in a three game series in North Carolina to do so. Can Colorado get here? Sure, but they went 2-4-1-1 against Calgary, and the Wranglers will have a fully stocked team. I just don’t see how the two best teams in their conferences don’t end up here. On paper. They don’t play games on paper though, so we’ll see!

(1) Calgary Wranglers vs. (1) Providence Bruins: Calgary runs into a really good, really deep, really talented Providence team. But the Wranglers have played at such a high  level all season long, that it’s nothing really they can’t handle. There’s a few scares here. I think Providence takes Game 1 in Calgary, the Wranglers win in overtime in Game 2 to make it 1-1 heading back to Rhode Island. Wranglers win games three and four, Providence wins Game 5 in double OT to send it back to Calgary but it’s the Wranglers winning in a blowout to win the Calder Cup in six games.

That’s how I see it. Let’s see how wrong I am. Congrats on the Calder Cup IceHogs fans!

Revisiting Predictions…

I made these predictions at the start of the season and said at the time that I wanted to come back in April to see how wrong I was. Well here I am! Let’s jump right in…

Coachella Valley Firebirds

What I said: The Leagues newest team playing in the bloated, ten team Pacific Division and won’t play an actual home game until December. Should have some names fairly familiar to the Penguins as Seattle’s AHL players were with Charlotte in a split affiliation last year. Dan Bylsma is the coach, a name really familiar here, so who knows how good they can be.

What actually happened: They ended up being really good. Dan Bylsma can coach. If not for being bested by the remarkable run that Calgary put forth all season, Coachella Valley would be the Pacific’s best team.

Calgary Wranglers

What I said: Moved from Stockton to Calgary. Are a really good, deep team who pushed eventual winner Chicago in the Calder Cup Playoffs last year. Should, hypothetically, pick up where they left off and contend again this season.

What actually happened: I nailed it. League’s best team. Tore through opponents. One of a few Calder Cup contender favorites.

Colorado Eagles

What I said: Surprisingly (or maybe not so) stayed put in the Pacific Division and didn’t (like I expected) move to the Central Division, where I think they would have a better shot at (conceivably) winning the division, because I don’t see it happening to them this year in the Pacific.

What actually happened: Colorado’s 90 points would have put them second in the Central, but they needed up finishing third in the Pacific playing second fiddle to Coachella Valley and Calgary all season long. So another one I will chalk up to being semi-correct.

Tucson Roadrunners

What I said: The other team I was expecting to jump with Colorado over to the Central, was one of the eight teams to miss playoffs so it’s been a long summer for them. Only way is up, but the Pacific is a vipers pit, so good luck.

What actually happened: The Roadrunners made playoffs, but really because they played better than sorry San Diego and mercurial Henderson. Pacific is still a vipers pit, Tucson is a young team, I don’t expect them to stick around long in playoffs, but it’s a step in the right direction for this once directionless franchise.

San Jose Barracuda

What I said: Have a brand new arena that is very, very nice, at least from the pictures and stories I have read on it. Are the 2024 All Star hosts. Still projected to be mediocre to bad, but at least it’s sunny all the time in San Jose and rarely rains.

What actually happened: I think it rained more in San Jose then it did in Wilkes-Barre, and San Jose is mediocre at best and, like Tucson, played the better of San Diego / Henderson but still missed playoffs.

Ontario Reign

What I said: Will probably contend with Calgary or some other surprise team in the Pacific for the division crown. With healthy doses of Tucson, San Jose and an unknown Coachella Valley side, it’s easy to see why.

What actually happened: The Reign did not surprise. They never contended with Calgary. I think they lost like eight games in a row or something in late March / early April. They made playoffs comfortably, though.

San Diego Gulls

What I said: Retooled with some decent signings in the offseason and have sure fire AHL Hall of Fame head coach Roy Sommer running things this season. Don’t expect the Gulls to be a doormat for other teams this season. We may have a dark horse team on our hands here.

What actually happened: My biggest miss. Gulls were out of it almost immediately, played cellar dwellers all season, got murdered with call ups and just ran over. Leagues worst team. Roy Sommer may be a Hall of Fame Coach, but he’s not a magician. Sommer also announced his retirement.

Henderson Silver Knights

What I said: Quiet offseason which, by all accounts is probably fine but other teams improved, reloaded or flat out got better. Will it be enough?

What actually happened: It was not, in fact, enough. Team never played like a contender should, and missed playoffs. 

Bakersfield Condors

What I said: See Henderson above, of the five California teams aren’t the first best, probably aren’t the second best and likely not the third. Somewhere in between fourth and last, likely. Could be a long year.

What actually happened: They were OK. Didn’t play as good as good as Coachella Valley and Calgary, or as bad as San Jose and San Diego. Actually finished fifth, or middle in the road.

Abbotsford Canucks

What I said: Lotsa trips to Calgary are on deck for the Canucks, which probably means lots of L’s. Couple that with a super division that is the 10 team, mega chungus Pacific Division, and you are probably clinching a playoff berth on the final weekend of the regular season this year.

What actually happened: Ended up going 4-5-2-1 against the Wranglers this season. Abbotsford comfortably clinched a playoff spot well before the final weekend of the season. Are a generally solid AHL hockey team.

Predicted order of finish:

1) Ontario
2) Colorado
3) Calgary
4) San Diego
5) Bakersfield
6) Coachella Valley
7) Abbotsford

8) San Jose
9) Tucson
10) Henderson

Actual order of finish:

1) Calgary
2) Coachella Valley
3) Colorado
4) Abbotsford
5) Bakersfield
6) Ontario
7) Tucson

8) San Jose
9) Henderson
10) San Diego

Chicago Wolves

What I said: I don’t think they repeat. They got raided in the offseason, but will probably still contend.

What actually happened: Missed playoffs entirely, never really contended, got so mad at the current state of things they are going Independent of an NHL team next year leaving Carolina without a full time AHL team next season.

Iowa Wild

What I said: Missed playoffs last year but I don’t see that happening this season. Could play dark horse but Bill Guerin is still GM of Minnesota, so maybe you can manage to mess up a free lunch after all.

What actually happened: They made playoffs on the final weekend of the season. Bill Guerin, apparently, isn’t the worst GM in the NHL.

Grand Rapids Griffins

What I said: Didn’t make playoffs last year and by all accounts, could repeat that impressive feat again this season.

What actually happened: Chalk up another correct prediction. Griffins finished last in their division and are a shell of what they once were, just like someone we know…

Manitoba Moose

What I said: Just have to play better than the two worst teams in the division and they are a playoff team. Simple, right? I think they are better than Grand Rapids and marginally better than say Rockford and Texas, so they could be a safe bet to return to the playoffs again.

What actually happened: Well, the Moose weren’t better than Texas, who won the division on the final weekend of the season but were better then Rockford and clinched playoffs well before the end of the season.

Milwaukee Admirals

What I said: Had a pretty solid offseason signings wise. Primed to make a run in the Central, considering other teams lack of bigger name signings and some teams getting picked apart in the summer.

What actually happened: They did make a run, kept Texas honest and finished second in the Central. Chalk up another correct prediction.

Rockford IceHogs

What I said: Should improve over last season and are probably a better dark horse candidate than Iowa.

What actually happened: Finished on par essentially with Iowa and like Iowa, clinched a playoff berth on the final weekend of the season. Was not a dark horse team, though.

Texas Stars

What I said: Should show better than their fifth place finish last season. I have them as a top three team, mixed in somewhere with Milwaukee and one of either Rockford or Chicago.

What actually happened: They won the Central. Milwaukee finished second, but Rockford and Chicago did not finish third.

Predicted order of finish:

1) Milwaukee
2) Chicago
3) Texas
4) Rockford
5) Iowa

6) Manitoba
7) Grand Rapids

Actual order of finish:

1) Texas
2) Milwaukee
3) Manitoba
4) Iowa
5) Rockford

6) Chicago
7) Grand Rapids

Rochester Americans

What I said: Bland offseason for Rochester. Should be OK though, just not a division contender.

What actually happened: Another correct prediction. The Americans never challenged Toronto (no one did, really) for the division title and comfortably made playoffs with time to spare in the season.

Belleville Senators

What I said: Decent upgrades for Belleville. Could contend as the dark horse divisional winner. We remain Troy Mann stans on this blog.

What actually happened: Troy Mann got fired mid season for selling secrets to the opponents. Belleville was a basement dwelling team that went on a run but still missed playoffs because they rostered 50+ players and it’s hard to find consistency with that much turn around. 

Cleveland Monsters

What I said: Going through the lists of who got who in this division, there isn’t a lot of there there with a lot of teams. Cleveland is one of them. Could either be a boom or bust, and with the Monsters putrid showing last year, leaning towards the latter.

What actually happened: Well, it wasn’t boom and since the Monsters missed playoffs, it was a bit of a bust. Parent Columbus is in tank mode and that poop runs downhill, sadly.

Toronto Marlies

What I said: I mean I don’t think that the Marlies will miss the playoffs this upcoming season, like they did last year. Decent enough signings to push them to a possible top five finish.

What actually happened: Won the division running away and is a solid team primed to make a deep run in the Calder Cup Playoffs. 

Syracuse Crunch

What I said: I like their upgrades at all positions. They will be a hard team to play against, as history has shown.

What actually happened: Bit of an up and down for the Crunch, but a solid top three showing is what you want in a seven team division. They were in fact a solid team to play against.

Utica Comets

What I said: I see them as a playoff team, just not one which tore through opponents and won the division going away type like last year.

What actually happened: Needed final weekend of the season to clinch a spot, but still made it. I guess I can mark this as correct?

Laval Rocket

What I said: Had them pegged as the division winner last year and that didn’t pan out but they were the last North Division team standing last year so what the hell and let’s pick them to finish first again this season.

What actually happened: Needed final weekend of the season to clinch, made it as a five seed. I don’t think this year they end up as the last North Division team standing.

Predicted order of finish:

1) Laval
2) Syracuse
3) Utica
4) Belleville
5) Rochester

6) Toronto
7) Cleveland

Actual order of finish: 

1) Toronto
2) Syracuse
3) Rochester
4) Utica
5) Laval

6) Cleveland
7) Belleville

Hershey Bears

What I said: Loaded up like the Bears always do. And not just big names, but really solid depth signings when the inevitable call ups happen. I think they contend for the division this season.

What actually happened: The Bears did, in fact, contend for a division title. Could contend again for a Calder Cup. I like their chances, but not say as much as I do other teams.

Charlotte Checkers

What I said: Now on an island all their own with Seattle packing up shop and moving their AHLers to sunny California. Sole Florida affiliate now. I think they are a playoff team, but the confidence level on this call is low.

What actually happened: Finished third in the division. Were a consistent team all season long, but never pushed the top two teams. Were never not a non-playoff team.

Springfield Thunderbirds

What I said: Calder Cup runners up got raided a bit with Sam Anas defecting for in division rival Hershey, though should still contend. We waited for the bottom to fall out last season and that never came. Does it this season?

What actually happened: No. Gone are the days of a half a good Springfield team. St. Louis has a good working relationship with Springfield, and the Thunderbirds are becoming a perennial contender. However, I don’t think they go as deep as they did last season, but who knows. Springfield surprises me.

Hartford Wolf Pack

What I said: The most improved team in the division and I think in the entire league. Big off-season get in CJ Smith from Chicago, if he doesn’t stick with the Rangers he’s a point machine at this level. Wolf Pack are a dark horse division contender and a team who will do a complete 180 and should compete all season long.

What actually happened: Smith played in just 21 games for Hartford. The Wolf Pack didn’t play as a dark horse all season long but came on as a dark horse at the end of the season, getting to a playoff spot over Wilkes-Barre and Bridgeport and could make a deep run.

Bridgeport Islanders

What I said: Shocked us all as the 6 seed ousting the 3 seed Providence Bruins in last years playoffs. I think the Islanders are a solid choice to show better than the 6 seed again this season, but when you play division heavies like Hartford and Springfield 100 times in a season and sprinkle in visits with perennial heavies like Hershey and the Pens, trouble can befell Bridgeport in a hurry.

What actually happened: Another big miss. Sound Tigers ran out of steam, was passed by Hartford and embarrassed by Wilkes-Barre 8-2 on April 8 which eliminated them for good.

Lehigh Valley Phantoms

What I said: Laughingstock of the division last season with all that firepower. How in the hell did Ian Laperriere keep his job? Phantoms are back to give it another go, retooled. Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic or will they contend in the division like we all expected them to last year?

What actually happened: Phantoms didn’t contend for a division title, but did get things straight and are a playoff team. I’d consider that an improvement.

Providence Bruins

What I said: So as I am putting these things together I am going on the individual team websites to see who signed. Uh, I think the Bruins are still on summer vacation (kinda like me) because all I saw was one signing and that’s all. Boston signed a bunch of guys but they either either draftees or have been with the team prior. So that probably means that the P-Bruins win the Calder Cup this year.

What actually happened: Bruins were contenders all season long. They are heavy favorites on this blog to make it to the Calder Cup Finals this season. More on their prospects tomorrow.

Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins

What I said: Do I think they improved? Slightly. Do I think they got worse? Slightly. J.D. Forrest took this team to a 4 seed last season and they ousted their biggest rival in Hershey. The remaining core for the most part is there. I think they upgraded slightly in goal (Tokarski) on defense (resigning Reinke, inking Jon Lizotte and Xavier Ouellet) but downgraded in the grit / toughness department with the loss of Jordy Bellerive to Lehigh Valley. Sam Poulin and Nathan Legare should be around for the most part and you hope they don’t hit a sophomore slump. Will give Hershey fits and what I really want to see is how they stack up against Hartford out of the gate on Oct 22.

What actually happened: They went undefeated in October, were the last team to lose in regulation. Tokarski wasn’t an upgrade, Reinke was a bit of a disappointment and Ouellet got hurt and missed half the season. Légaré did hit a sophomore slump but the Pens did give Hershey fits. Were a massive disappointment in a regrettably forgetful year.

Predicted order of finish: 

1) Hartford
2) Hershey
3) Springfield
4) Wilkes-Barre
5) Bridgeport
6) Charlotte

7) Lehigh Valley
8) Providence

Actual order of finish:

1) Providence
2) Hershey
3) Charlotte
4) Springfield
5) Hartford
6) Lehigh Valley

7) Bridgeport
8) Wilkes-Barre / Scranton

Better luck next year on these predictions, I guess. I’ll be back tomorrow with more, making my Calder Cup Playoffs predictions all the way to a champion crowned in June.

Friday’s Pens / Rocket Game Postponed

And here I thought penguins thrived in weather like we are experiencing. Guess not.

Pens only trip up to Canada. Only other windows I can think of is when they are in Rochester the week of January 23, maybe make up the date sometime around then (Pens are in Rochester on Wednesday January 25 and have the makeup game against Utica on the 24th. Laval is home that whole time and can make up the game easily then, they can make it up on Sunday or Monday)

More as it comes, but they are done now until after Christmas for a December 27 home game against the Hershey Bears.

I Kind of Miss Binghamton – Pens / Comets Resumes January 24

Used to be the Penguins would always, like always be in New York when Binghamton was in the league. A 90 minute trip up north on I-81.

The Penguins aren’t in New York again until, get this, January.

So it’s natural that the day before (a Wednesday, January 25 game in Rochester) that the Pens and Comets resume their game which was postponed Monday because of a power outage on Tuesday, January 24 at 7 p.m.

Miss you, Bingo.

2022 AHL Preview

Decided to wing it this year and do a full 32 team AHL Preview. Stripped down from other years, just blurbs on teams and when these teams play the Penguins. Let’s start in the Pacific Division and work our way eastward. The Penguins don’t play any of these teams and probably never will.

As an added twist, I provided finishing order for each division as well. Let’s come back in April and see how wrong I was! I also identify a divisional dark horse. I’m more confident with this then I am with finishing order, for obvious reasons.

Pacific Division

Coachella Valley Firebirds: The Leagues newest team playing in the bloated, ten team Pacific Division and won’t play an actual home game until December. Should have some names fairly familiar to the Penguins as Seattle’s AHL players were with Charlotte in a split affiliation last year. Dan Bylsma is the coach, a name really familiar here, so who knows how good they can be.

Calgary Wranglers: Moved from Stockton to Calgary. Are a really good, deep team who pushed eventual winner Chicago in the Calder Cup Playoffs last year. Should, hypothetically, pick up where they left off and contend again this season.

Colorado Eagles: Surprisingly (or maybe not so) stayed put in the Pacific Division and didn’t (like I expected) move to the Central Division, where I think they would have a better shot at (conceivably) winning the division, because I don’t see it happening to them this year in the Pacific.

Tucson Roadrunners: The other team I was expecting to jump with Colorado over to the Central, was one of the eight teams to miss playoffs so it’s been a long summer for them. Only way is up, but the Pacific is a vipers pit, so good luck.

San Jose Barracuda: Have a brand new arena that is very, very nice, at least from the pictures and stories I have read on it. Are the 2024 All Star hosts. Still projected to be mediocre to bad, but at least it’s sunny all the time in San Jose and rarely rains.

Ontario Reign: Will probably contend with Calgary or some other surprise team in the Pacific for the division crown. With healthy doses of Tucson, San Jose and an unknown Coachella Valley side, it’s easy to see why.

San Diego Gulls: Retooled with some decent signings in the offseason and have sure fire AHL Hall of Fame head coach Roy Sommer running things this season. Don’t expect the Gulls to be a doormat for other teams this season. We may have a dark horse team on our hands here.

Henderson Silver Knights: Quiet offseason which, by all accounts is probably fine but other teams improved, reloaded or flat out got better. Will it be enough?

Bakersfield Condors: See Henderson above, of the five California teams aren’t the first best, probably aren’t the second best and likely not the third. Somewhere in between fourth and last, likely. Could be a long year.

Abbotsford Canucks: Lotsa trips to Calgary are on deck for the Canucks, which probably means lots of L’s. Couple that with a super division that is the 10 team, mega chungus Pacific Division, and you are probably clinching a playoff berth on the final weekend of the regular season this year.

Central Division

Chicago Wolves: I don’t think they repeat. They got raided in the offseason, but will probably still contend.

Iowa Wild: Missed playoffs last year but I don’t see that happening this season. Could play dark horse but Bill Guerin is still GM of Minnesota, so maybe you can manage to mess up a free lunch after all.

Grand Rapids Griffins: Didn’t make playoffs last year and by all accounts, could repeat that impressive feat again this season.

Manitoba Moose: Just have to play better than the two worst teams in the division and they are a playoff team. Simple, right? I think they are better than Grand Rapids and marginally better than say Rockford and Texas, so they could be a safe bet to return to the playoffs again.

Milwaukee Admirals: Had a pretty solid offseason signings wise. Primed to make a run in the Central, considering other teams lack of bigger name signings and some teams getting picked apart in the summer.

Rockford IceHogs: Should improve over last season and are probably a better dark horse candidate than Iowa.

Texas Stars: Should show better than their fifth place finish last season. I have them as a top three team, mixed in somewhere with Milwaukee and one of either Rockford or Chicago.

Central Division

Note: Pens play everyone in this division at least once, with those games identified in bold.

Rochester Americans: Bland offseason for Rochester. Should be OK though, just not a division contender.

WBS: @ 1/25, vs. 3/17

Belleville Senators: Decent upgrades for Belleville. Could contend as the dark horse divisional winner. We remain Troy Mann stans on this blog.

WBS: @ 12/21, vs. 2/25

Cleveland Monsters: Going through the lists of who got who in this division, there isn’t a lot of there there with a lot of teams. Cleveland is one of them. Could either be a boom or bust, and with the Monsters putrid showing last year, leaning towards the latter.

WBS: vs. 10/26, vs. 12/9, @ 3/4, @ 3/5

Toronto Marlies: I mean I don’t think that the Marlies will miss the playoffs this upcoming season, like they did last year. Decent enough signings to push them to a possible top five finish.

WBS: @ 12/20, vs. 3/8

Syracuse Crunch: I like their upgrades at all positions. They will be a hard team to play against, as history has shown.

WBS: vs. 1/18, @ 2/24, @ 3/18, vs. 4/1

Utica Comets: I see them as a playoff team, just not one which tore through opponents and won the division going away type like last year.

WBS: @ 10/17, vs. 3/11

Laval Rocket: Had them pegged as the division winner last year and that didn’t pan out but they were the last North Division team standing last year so what the hell and let’s pick them to finish first again this season.

WBS: vs.10/21, @ 12/23

Atlantic Division

Hershey Bears: Loaded up like the Bears always do. And not just big names, but really solid depth signings when the inevitable call ups happen. I think they contend for the division this season.

WBS: @ 10/29, vs. 11/5, @ 11/6, vs. 11/18, @ 11/29, @ 12/4, vs. 12/16, vs. 12/17, vs. 12/27, @ 1/11, vs. 2/15, @ 3/1

Charlotte Checkers: Now on an island all their own with Seattle packing up shop and moving their AHLers to sunny California. Sole Florida affiliate now. I think they are a playoff team, but the confidence level on this call is low.

WBS: @ 11/21, @ 11/23, vs. 1/4, vs. 1/6, @ 1/14, @ 1/15, vs. 4/5, vs. 4/15

Springfield Thunderbirds: Calder Cup runners up got raided a bit with Sam Anas defecting for in division rival Hershey, though should still contend. We waited for the bottom to fall out last season and that never came. Does it this season?

WBS: vs. 11/12, @ 11/26, vs. 11/1, @ 11/3

Hartford Wolf Pack: The most improved team in the division and I think in the entire league. Big off-season get in CJ Smith from Chicago, if he doesn’t stick with the Rangers he’s a point machine at this level. Wolf Pack are a dark horse division contender and a team who will do a complete 180 and should compete all season long.

WBS: @ 10/22, vs. 11/11, vs. 1/7, @ 2/4, vs. 3/26, @ 4/14

Bridgeport Islanders: Shocked us all as the 6 seed ousting the 3 seed Providence Bruins in last years playoffs. I think the Islanders are a solid choice to show better than the 6 seed again this season, but when you play division heavies like Hartford and Springfield 100 times in a season and sprinkle in visits with perennial heavies like Hershey and the Pens, trouble can befell Bridgeport in a hurry.

WBS: @ 11/19, vs. 12/3, @ 1/21, vs. 1/28, vs. 2/19, @ 4/8

Lehigh Valley Phantoms: Laughingstock of the division last season with all that firepower. How in the hell did Ian Laperriere keep his job? Phantoms are back to give it another go, retooled. Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic or will they contend in the division like we all expected them to last year?

WBS: vs. 10/15, @ 10/28, vs. 11/25, @ 12/31, vs. 1/20, @ 1/27, @ 2/18, vs. 2/22, vs. 3/10, @ 3/19, vs. 3/25, @ 3/31

Providence Bruins: So as I am putting these things together I am going on the individual team websites to see who signed. Uh, I think the Bruins are still on summer vacation (kinda like me) because all I saw was one signing and that’s all. Boston signed a bunch of guys but they either either draftees or have been with the team prior. So that probably means that the P-Bruins win the Calder Cup this year.

WBS: @ 10/23, vs. 12/30, @ 2/10, vs. 2/11, vs. 3/29, @ 4/7

Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins: Do I think they improved? Slightly. Do I think they got worse? Slightly. JD Forrest took this team to a 4 seed last season and they ousted their biggest rival in Hershey. The remaining core for the most part is there. I think they upgraded slightly in goal (Tokarski) on defense (resigning Reinke, inking Jon Lizotte and Xavier Ouellet) but downgraded in the grit / toughness department with the loss of Jordy Bellerive to Lehigh Valley. Sam Poulin and Nathan Legare should be around for the most part and you hope they don’t hit a sophomore slump. Will give Hershey fits and what I really want to see is how they stack up against Hartford out of the gate on Oct 22.

My very wrong predictions:

1) Ontario
2) Colorado
3) Calgary
4) San Diego
5) Bakersfield
6) Coachella Valley
7) Abbotsford

8) San Jose
9) Tucson
10) Henderson

1) Milwaukee
2) Chicago
3) Texas
4) Rockford
5) Iowa

6) Manitoba
7) Grand Rapids

1) Laval
2) Syracuse
3) Utica
4) Belleville
5) Rochester

6) Toronto
7) Cleveland

1) Hartford
2) Hershey
3) Springfield
4) Wilkes-Barre
5) Bridgeport
6) Charlotte

7) Lehigh Valley
8) Providence

If you have a team going tomorrow, best of luck. I will be back here again Friday morning with the first Weekend Setup of the season previewing Lehigh Valley and Utica. More then.

Just an FYI…

I’m skipping preseason entirely this go around for a number of reasons this year.

1) A 10:30 a.m. preseason game, let alone the first game played this year does nothing for me. A midweek game tailored for kids (school day game) isn’t my cup of tea. Plus I have a lot going on work wise, so it’s out.

2) Last camping trip of the season is scheduled for next weekend, so Friday and next Sunday are out.

3) Midweek road game in Allentown next week is usually a dress rehearsal for the fringe guys and a warmup for the regulars. They don’t televise these and so it’s a pass for me.

Pens socials should have it all covered for you if your itching for coverage. I’ll be back with a preview of everything when I get back from my camping trip. I think I’m running a league wide preview and will have the weekend setup for the opener against the Phantoms and the Monday road game in Utica.

Anyone have six more weeks of summer they can let me borrow? No? Damn. Talk to you in about ten-ish days.

2022-23 AHL Schedule Released

Ho hum with these anymore.

League release here. Penguins release here.

TL;DR every team in the Eastern Conference like last year, Hershey and Lehigh Valley 12 times each. You see one schedule release, you see them all. But, for posterity, let’s do the thing.

1) Do you have a schedule matrix of opponents? Anyone in the Conference we are not playing?

2) Longest road trip? Longest home stand?

Four game home stand in March, spanning a week. No more than three games on the road. Charlotte trip around Thanksgiving, a Canada trip around Christmas and the other Charlotte trip in January.

3) How many three in threes?

Two. One in October. One in March. The benefit of a 72 game schedule.

4) Can I borrow your highlighter? I want to circle and highlight all the Sunday and worknight home games!

Two Sunday home games. One in February and one in March. Ten Wednesday games.

5) Show me more charts!

6) Any, “I have to close the door and act busy at work” dates on the calendar?

Nope.

7) The All Star Classic, are they doing that this year?

Laval. February 5 and 6, provided COVID doesn’t derail it like it has the last two seasons.

8) Anything else I need to know?

The Saturday home games start at 6:05 again. I don’t mind it, but they started it last year with something in mind with the earlier start and never did anything with it. But the 6:05 starts on Saturday home games remain a thing.

9) Playoff structure?

From the League release, cited above, it will stay the same. 23 teams make it.

The playoff field will include the top six finishers in the eight-team Atlantic Division, the top five finishers each in the seven-team North and Central Divisions, and the top seven teams in the 10-team Pacific Division. First Round match-ups will be best-of-three series; the two highest seeds in the Atlantic, the three highest seeds in each of the North and Central, and the first-place team in the Pacific will receive byes into the best-of-five Division Semifinals, with the First Round winners re-seeded in each division. The Division Finals will also be best-of-five series, followed by best-of-seven Conference Finals and a best-of-seven Calder Cup Finals series.

10) You mentioned preseason games yesterday. Where are they?

A Wednesday morning preseason game against Hershey? Oof.