(Photo taken by Melissa Grissom)
The NHL Lockout is GREAT for business. Let me repeat, the NHL Lockout is great for business. With apologies to everyone who is being affected negatively by the lockout, this might just be the best thing to happen to the Steelheads. Let’s face it. Even though the Steelheads were able to make the conference semi-finals the last two seasons, it has been a bit of a struggle through the regular season. All anyone has to do is look back at least season and see the 10 game winless streak in February, or the lack of goal scoring at the start of the season for examples A and B.
This season should be different. There has been a coaching change as Hardy Sauter and the Steelheads decided to go separate directions after last season and Brad Ralph has been brought in from the Augusta River Hawks of the SPHL to right the ship. There is also returning talent from last season as Ralph has been able to re-sign Matt Case, Deron Cousens, Joe Pereira, Ron Meyers, Patrick Culity (who the Steelheads had the rights to via trade) and Jacob Cepis. The Steelheads have also added some fresh faces, more on them as we get closer to the season. Remember, this is about The Lockout being great for business.
The Lockout so far has cancelled all pre-season games through the end of September which also cancelled the Dallas Stars training camp and the scheduled game between the Stars and the Minnesota Wild. Not good for business. However, the Stars have assigned 26 players to the Texas Stars of the AHL. Roster limits are set at 23. Time for some math; 26 players and 23 spots leaves 3 players under NHL control without a place to go. Hello Idaho and the ECHL.
I don’t know which players will get assigned to the Steelheads, but you can almost be certain that it will be AHL level talent. The only assumption I will make is that the Steelheads are virtually guaranteed a goaltender from within the system. With Jack Campbell starting his career clock late last season, he played his way onto the Texas Stars roster. Add in the fact that the Stars signed Cristopher Nihlstorp to a one year two-way contract, and the Steelheads could be looking at either Josh Robinson who signed on an AHL deal back in June, or, a return trip from Tyler Beskorowany.
Don’t forget that the majority of players at the ECHL and AHL levels are “Free Agents” in that they are not signed or controlled by an NHL team. Let’s assume that on average NHL teams assign 10 players to their AHL Affiliate (300 players). All of those players are going to find a place to play, which means that there are now a little more than half the available contracts 690 (30 Teams x 23 Spots) available. This is where The Lockout is great for business.
Look at three signings that the Steelheads have made in just the past weeks since the Lockout became inevitable. Former Abbotsford Heat Center Justin Dowling, former Hershey Bears forward Andrew Carroll and Cullity. Between these three players the Steelheads have added over 200 games of AHL experience to their roster and 30 points. While those numbers may not sound spectacular, when you realize the competition they are playing against, I’ll take it. Carroll and Culity were signed after the Lockout was announced, but realize that the real trickle-down effect of the Lockout will not truly be realized until after AHL training camps start in a couple of weeks.
Here’s the payoff, the Idaho Steelheads fans enjoy winners. They enjoy a competitive product on the ice. They EXPECT a team that will contend for the division title EVERY YEAR. Due to the NHL Lockout and the subsequent trickle-down that will occur not only with Dallas & Texas Stars contract players, but with AHL level free agents looking for jobs, the games will be competitive, the Steelheads will once again contend for a division and conference championship and more fans will come out to watch, and THAT is great for business.