This is Brian Conacher. He wasn’t a great hockey player but he was a good one, and over 35 years ago he wrote a tremendous book called “Hockey In Canada: The Way It Is”. Conacher’s book is very hard to find (library might have one) but if you haven’t read it it’s worth looking for if you like your hockey books intelligent and with a point.
He made many strong arguments in the book (and predicted much of what has happened since) but the one that has importance here is what he wrote about the Maple Leafs minor league team (Rochester Americans) of 65-66:
As in other areas of modern society, hockeys teams too have their generation gaps. This situation stood out on the Rochester team in 1965 which consisted of three groups: the veterans (had all resigned themselves to making the best of their minor league hockey careers), the young ones (who have stars in their eyes and are in the AHL for just a little time, or so they think) and the group somewhere in between (these players kept hoping that a break would come their way and they might get their chance in the “big tent”).
Now the Rochester Americans had some old buggers playing for them in 1965: Les Duff was 30, Don Cherry, Marc Reaume and Claude Labrosse were 31, Al Arbour was 32, Gerry Ehman and Eddie Litzenberger were 33, Bob Perreault was 35 and Bronco Horvath was 35. Dick Gamble and Stan Smrke were 36. That’s 11 players on a team that iced 28 (39.2%) over 30 years of age. That’s a ton. The 99-00 Hamilton Bulldogs had one player over 30 (Rob Murray), the 04-05 Roadrunners had no one over 30 and the current Springfield Falcons have 33-year old Derek Bekar. Safe to say men over 30 are finding better paydays outside the minor leagues (likely Europe), entered management early or find another career. The idea of dragging a family around North America ala Don Cherry in the 1960′s didn’t sound appealing and it’s no wonder that life has gone the way of calligraphy.
Because there are fewer of Conacher’s “veterans”, the chances of these guys doing much in the NHL (as a group) is even less than it was those long years ago. I’m not saying that these players won’t make an NHL appearance from here out, but the odds of an NHL team breaking camp with one of these players seems unreasonable.
From the 60′s bunch, Gerry Ehman caught on with expansion and played an additional 297 games in the show, Al Arbour had an even bigger impact in St. Louis and played 231 more NHL games. Bronco Horvath got into 14 game due to Bill Masterton’s death (went over as a special “loan” replacement). Finally, Marc Reaume would play for the 70-71 Vancouver Canucks (27 games). Let’s do the numbers by team:
- 65-66 Rochester Americans: 569
- 99-00 Hamilton Bulldogs: 0
- 04-05 Edmonton Roadrunners: 0
- 08-09 Springfield Falcons: Derek Bekar to track
Next up are the young players, and Rochester had some nice ones in 1965. Mike Walton, Doug Dunville were 20, Gary Smith, Ted Bayliss and Andre Champagne were 21, Peter Stemkowski and Rollie Wilcox 22 and Conacher was 24 after having gone to college and then the Canadian Olympic Team to complete his education. The Americans also had a bunch of junior players (Darryl Edestrand, Jim McKenny, Mike Corrigan, Gerry Meehan, Neil Clark, Brent Imlach) who played a handful of games but that’s just going to skew the numbers since junior age players are not eligible to play in the AHL at this time. So, that’s 8 of 28 in the rookie group (28.6%) from 65-66.
The 99-00 Bulldogs boasted 20-year olds Dan Cleary, Alex Henry, Michel Riesen, Chad Hinz, Peter Sarno, Jason Chimera, 21-year olds Mathieu Descoteaux, Maxim Spiridonov, Alexandre Volchkov, Chris Hajt. That’s 10 players out of 35 (28.9%) for the turn of the century bunch, which is comparable to the 65-66 team.
04-05′s Edmonton Bulldogs had Jeff Deslauriers, Kyle Brodziak who were 20, Jeff Woywitka, Brock Radunske, Dan Baum, Doug Lynch, Simon Ferguson, Martin St Pierre, Mathieu Roy and Jesse Niinimaki were 21, Jordan Little and Kenny Smith were 22 and Jason Platt was 24. That’s 13 players out of 31 (I’m excluding JF Jacques) and 41.9% which is much higher than the other two clubs.
08-09 has Slava Trukhno, Gilbert Brule, Theo Peckham, Ryan O’Marra, Taylor Chorney and Cody Wild (21) plus Bryan Lerg (22) and Josef Hrabal (23)who are new pro’s. That’s 8 of 33, or 24.2% who are either new pro’s or early enough in their careers to be considered the young ones.
Let’s post the GP number moving forward by team:
- 65-66: Peter Stemkowski (930 NHL), Mike Walton (588 NHL, 211 WHA), Gary Smith (532 NHL, 22 WHA), Brian Conacher (155 NHL, 69 WHA). Total: 2,507.
- 99-00: Daniel Cleary (522 NHL), Jason Chimera (404 NHL), Alex Henry (175 NHL), Michel Riesen (12 NHL), Peter Sarno (7 NHL), Chris Hajt (6 NHL), Mathieu Descoteaux (5 NHL). Total: 1,131.
- 04-05: Kyle Brodziak (125 NHL), Jeff Woywitka (104 NHL), Mathieu Roy (30 NHL), Martin St. Pierre (21 NHL), Jeff Deslauriers (6 NHL), Doug Lynch (4 NHL). Total: 290.
- 08-09: We’ll see.
The point here isn’t to compare the numbers since three of the seasons are still in play and one of them is just getting started. The two pertinent points are:
- Among the group of players who are 20-21 and play any AHL games all of them come with some issues: Mike Walton is the most talented player on this list but wouldn’t be the first player chosen if they were all on a line, and the player Daniel Cleary was in 1999 doesn’t resemble the man in Motown. All of the players in the 08-09 group have a bright future based on what we know today, but somewhere in there is a Doug Lynch or a Michel Riesen.
- No matter the era, an organization is going to get a substantial number of NHL games played from the group who are in the minor leagues. One of Peckham, Wild or Chorney will take at-bats from the other two and someone in that trio is either going to disappoint us or head elsewhere and become what Patrick Sharp is to Philadelphia.
These are the men who were once hotshot rookies but are either playing deep into their entry level deal or have signed a second contract that has them one a one-way but in the minors (Roy) or on a minor league deal that basically tells the world what they are. If you can’t negotiate a one-way deal after your first pro contract you are a de facto minor league player.
The final class is the biggest, the guys hanging in there waiting for a break. Rochester in 65-66 had Larry Jeffrey and Lowell MacDonald (24), Jimmy Pappin and Eddie Joyal (25), Red Armstrong and Darryl Sly (26), Duane Rupp and Wally Boyer (27), Larry Hillman (28). Pretty much all of these men became NHL regulars in the fall of 1967 when the NHL doubled in size. These 9 players represent 32.1% (9/28) of the Americans roster but I’ll bet when we add the NHL GP numbers they’re over 50% of the overall number for that team. If the NHL expanded by 6 teams tomorrow we can only imagine how many Falcons would be in the big leagues. Rob Schremp would be a regular getting PP minutes.
The 99-00 Bulldog team also had a big group here. Dan Lacouture, Paul Comrie, Brian Bolibruck, Elias Abrahamsson, Brian Urick, Mike Minard were 22, Eric Heffler, Adam Copeland, Brian Swanson and Ryan Risidoire were 23, Brent Cullaton, Todd Kidd, Ian Perkins, Trevor Roenick, Sean Selmser, Alex Zhurik and Brad Norton were 24, Sergei Yerkovich, Joacquin Gage, Bert Robertsson and Kevin Brown were 25, Vladimir Vorobiev and Martin Laitre were 26 and Andy Silverman was 27. That’s 24 out of 35, or 68.5%. Mammoth compared to the 65-66 team.
The 04-05 Roadrunners also had the heart of their team fall into this category. The 22-year olds were Tony Salmelainen, Brad Winchester, Joe Cullen and Jason Platt. The 24-year olds were JJ Hunter, Sean McAslan, Eric Beaudoin and Brent Henley. The 25-year olds were Toby Peterson, Mike Bishai, Nate DeCasmirro and Mike Morrison. Dan Smith and Rocky Thompson were 27, Jamie Wright was 28 and Rick Mrozik, Paul Healey and Tyler Moss were all 29. That’s 18/31, or 58.1%.
The 08-09 Falcons have 22 year olds Rob Schremp, Tyler Spurgeon, Sebastien Bisaillon, Liam Reddox, Stephane Goulet, Geoff Paukovich, Devan Dubnyk, Bryan Young. 23-year old Ryan Constant has just been added and there’s a bunch of 24 year olds including Ryan Potulny, Colin McDonald, Tim Sestio, Cory Urquhart and Cleve Kinley. 25 year olds are Jake Taylor, Mathieu Roy, Robbie Bina, Adam Huxley, Ryan Huddy, Glenn Fisher and Hans Benson, along with the men at 27 (Guillaume Lefebvre, Mike Gabinet) and old timer Carl Corazzini (29). That’s 24 out of 33, or 72.7% which is in line with the 99-00 Bulldog team and runs a little counter to the lockout club in Edmonton 04-05.
Let’s run the GP numbers for the tweeners on each team:
- 65-66 Rochester: Jim Pappin (673 NHL), Larry Hillman (487 NHL 192 WHA), Lowell MacDonald (460 NHL), Duane Rupp (370 NHL 115 WHA), Wally Boyer (364 NHL 69 WHA), Eddie Joyal (359 NHL 239 WHA), Larry Jeffrey (198 NHL), Darryl Sly (77 NHL). TOTAL: 3,603.
- 99-00 Hamilton: Dan Lacouture (334 NHL), Brad Norton (124 NHL), Brian Swanson (70 NHL), Bert Robertsson (54 NHL), Paul Comrie (15 NHL), Joacquin Gage (5 NHL), Mike Minard (1 NHL). Total: 603.
- 04-05 Edmonton: Brad Winchester (132 NHL), Tony Petersen (101 NHL), Tony Salmelainen (57 NHL), Mike Morrison (29 NHL). Total: 319.
- 08-09 Springfield: We’ll see.
Before we ask some questions (if you’ve read this far you’re crazy) let’s list each of the teams who’ve played games we can compare and which area their roster and then NHL games came from:
- Rochester: 39.2% of the roster played 569 games (8.5%)
- Hamilton: 2.8% of the roster played 0 games (0)
- Edmonton: nil
- Springfield: 3.0% of the roster and we’ll see.
The Young Ones
- Rochester: 28.6% of the roster played 2,507 games (37.5%)
- Hamilton: 28.9% of the roster played 1,131 games (65.2%)
- Edmonton: 41.9% of the roster played 290 games (46.8%)
- Springfield: 24.2% of the roster and we’ll see
- Rochester: 32.2% of the roster played 3,603 games (54%)
- Hamilton: 68.3% of the roster played 603 games (34.8%)
- Edmonton: 58.1% of the roster played 319 games (53.2%)
- Springfield: 72.8% of the roster and we’ll see
Okay, what can we learn from this.
- Men who are over 30 and come out of the minors to establish (0r re-establish) themselves are pretty much a thing of the past. You’ll find the odd goalie or defenseman but unlike the orginal 6 era very few teams have enough depth and free agency makes it impossible to keep them on the farm. Which is a good thing.
- Pretty much everyone who is in the AHL past (say) 21 has some issues and is going to do some meandering (this is universal from 1965 through 2009).
- We shouldn’t expect Rob Schremp to play more career games than Sam Gagner or Andrew Cogliano. Whatever that line in the sand is, that line sticks.
- No one on the 2008-09 team is likely to do anything incredible like play in 1,000 NHL games.
- If you haven’t established yourself as a prospect of interest by 22 you are in trouble. Exceptions are college men.
- The few college men on this list show very well. NHL teams should treat the college signing season as extremely important.
- A large group of players on the current team could be described in the “tweener” division. History tells us we’ll have our answers on men like Schremp, Spurgeon, Roy and Reddox very soon. It also tells us we already have our answer on Colin McDonald.
- If we make a list of the minor league RFA’s this summer (Brule, Schremp, Dubnyk, Trukhno, Colin McDonald, David Rohlfs, Bryan Lerg, Stephane Goulet, Bryan Young, Sebastien Bisaillon, Mathieu Roy, Tyler Spurgeon, Ryan Potulny, Carl Corazzini-I believe this list is correct–SOURCE: Oilfans) we can probably as a group pick the cuts and be fairly close. That 50 man list is going to get a trim.
- As much as we talk about men like Dan Lacouture and Brad Winchester as disappointing, they were able to find a role and survive.
- Daniel Cleary and Jason Chimera became productive players in the toughest league on the planet. THEY are the stars in this study.
- For Rob Schremp fans, there’s exactly ONE pure offensive player who made it: Mike Walton.
- If I’m a betting man, Theo Peckham and Gilbert Brule from the current group would be my picks to be the new Cleary and Chimera.