When it comes down the stretch, the minor leagues can be an interesting lot. You have many junior players coming through and signing ATO contracts or being assigned their by their NHL clubs on top of guys coming up and down from the ECHL and NHL; all of which could disrupt chemistry– even if the slightest form happens.
An interesting case is what’s happening in Hamilton right now. The Bulldogs are in their last season in the AHL and are in the hunt for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference; but their mentality is going to stay with the main thought of their parent club in the Montreal Canadiens.
The Bulldogs have been sitting their regular players to make room of people that are coming into the fold from major junior and college, as their season is getting done. While this is something that could be risky, the Bulldogs don’t seem to share the same panic that the supporters of the team seem to do.
When talking to the Hamilton Spectator, head coach Sylvain Lefebvre seems to be very calm in saying, “It’s a great experience for them. We go with the players that we feel can give us a better chance to win.”
That hasn’t been the case, however, as the Bulldogs have won only one game in their last five heading into a weekend series against the Texas Stars. There’s a lot of stress to win, especially with this being the last season, with the fact they could actually make some revenue at the gate if they make the playoffs and maybe shock a top-seed in the process. Yet, even with that– it seems that the Bulldogs have already counted themselves out and will take the AHL’s developmental route literally and bringing in the young guys and trying to let them get a feel for the professional game.
The young kids actually know the stress of this and actually realize what it all means for them. In that same article in the Spectator, one of the newcomers Brett Lernout said, “It’s exciting, but at the same time; there’s a lot of pressure on you because the team is in a really tough spot.”
It’s a great thing that the young guys are being put into the line-up to get a feel for it all and for them to be conscious of the fact they’re in a tough spot is a start– but also could be a hindrance to them, as they wouldn’t be as reckless to get to the net as they may have if they didn’t have anything to play for.
For me, it’s a wonder if the actual players who are being sat feel this is a slight to them, especially as the losses are happening. It’s not a guarantee that if the established Bulldogs like Joe Finley and Mac Bennett would assure the Bulldogs getting wins or even collecting points– but at the same time, they put their time in from the early part and to be bumped for something new and shiny could cause a little bitterness towards the coaches and those above them.
Overall, with the face the Bulldogs would have to catapult a hot Toronto Marlies team and a slumping Milwaukee Admirals squad in order to get into the playoffs– to be three points out isn’t the end of the world and to have something to play for doesn’t usually denote the best time to try out new things with new pieces to the puzzle on the roster. It’s one thing to be put into a situation where injuries and call-ups could ravage a squad late into a season; but for this to come up is another thing entirely. In the end, the AHL is a development league and the teams have to walk the fine line of winning for themselves or developing for their NHL clubs. In this instance, the Bulldogs are choosing long-term success for their players rather than short-term success for their organization.