For many, the news of a tentative agreement between the National Hockey League and the NHL Player’s Association on a collective bargaining agreement reached on Jan. 6 meant the end of a long and uncertain time for the sports.
For the Springfield Falcons, the uncertainty is just beginning.
With the end of the work stoppage at hockey’s highest professional level, teams throughout the American Hockey League figure to see significant changes on their rosters.
The Falcons are no exception.
Springfield’s team, which currently sits in first place in the Northeast Division and second in the Eastern Conference with 43 points and a 19-9-2-3 record, is one of the best in terms of talent on the ice in recent memory, but with the NHL returning to action, there is a good chance that many of the team’s top stars could be with the Falcons’ parent club, the Columbus Blue Jackets, before long.
However, who, when and how are questions that remain unanswered.
Will the Falcons have their stars to help them build upon their strong start when the Providence Bruins come to town for Reminder Night on Jan. 12?
At this point, no one seems sure.
“Right now I have absolutely no news. There is nothing to report,” Falcons President and General Manager Bruce Landon said on Jan. 8. “All I can tell you is that all teams will be impacted, some more than others. However, as of right now I have no idea as to how many or who [will be called up]. There is still uncertainty as to waivers, camps, numbers in camps, etc.”
Landon said that while only a few current Falcons may end up in Columbus permanently, there is also a chance of several additional players leaving Springfield temporarily to take part in Columbus’ abbreviated training camp.
Aaron Portzline, NHL beat writer for the Columbus Dispatch, reported via his Twitter account that the Blue Jackets expect 25 or 26 players to be in camp, but cited no source directly.
Wade MacLeod was recalled from the Evansville Icemen of the East Coast Hockey League, which could mark the beginnings of some answers, but then again, maybe not.
Atkinson lit the AHL on fire during the 2011-2012 season prior to getting called up to the NHL, where he registered a hat-trick and a three-point performance on consecutive nights in April 2012.
This year, he has done much of the same, registering a staggering 38 points (17 goals, 21 assists) while playing in all 33 of the Falcons’ regular-season games.
Johansen, Columbus’ No. 4 overall draft pick in 2010, who languished on the Blue Jackets’ fourth line last year because he was too young to play in the AHL and Columbus did not wish to return him to the Portland Winter Hawks of the major junior Western Hockey League, has found his rhythm in Springfield.
His 13 goals are second on the team and his 25 points rank fourth.
Jonathan Audy Marchessault, another young phenom, was one of the top-scoring AHL rookies for the Connecticut Whale last season, has picked up where he left off in his new home, just 40 minutes up I-91 from his old one.
Now healthy, Nick Drazenovic, who was a point-per-game player in 41 games while dealing with a concussion and a knee injury, last season, has also been strong.
Injuries to the Columbus blue line last season led to the departure of talented defensemen, such as John Moore and David Savard and one or both of them may also be headed back to Columbus on a permanent basis.
Portzline speculated that some combination of Moore, Savard and Tim Erixon, the Falcons’ best scoring defenseman who was a piece in Blue Jackets’ trade of star winger Rick Nash, would make the Blue Jackets out of training camp. Erixon and Savard, the former Canadian Defenseman of the Year, are separated by one point on the stat sheet. Both have 18 assists, while Erixon has one more goal (four) than Savard (three).
Moore, who is attempting to come back from a concussion, may be the team’s most polished defenseman.
Curtis McElhinney, who leads the AHL in wins and has played in 25 of the Falcons’ 33 games this season, has been the solid goaltender that Springfield has been longing for since the days of Manny Legace and Robert Esche.
While he has had a tremendous season thus far in the AHL, he may have the best chance of sticking around.
Reports out of Russia say that Sergei Bobrovsky, for whom the Blue Jackets traded in June, has shown a lot in the Kontinental Hockey League, Russia’s top professional league, and the once-promising Steve Mason is in the second year of a two-year contract extension that will pay him $3.1 million this season.
Defenseman Nick Holden and forward Matt Calvert are also impact players that could find themselves heading west.
So what does all this mean for the Falcons, who look to have their most legitimate shot at a Calder Cup in more than a decade? That is unclear as anything else. One thing that is clear is the fact that, in one fashion or another, organizational depth will be tested.
The rest? We’ll just have to watch to find out.
This article will also be published in this week's edition of The Reminder