7 AHL Teams Most Likely to Compete for the Calder Cup

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistNovember 30, 2012

7 AHL Teams Most Likely to Compete for the Calder Cup

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    When you're dying to watch professional hockey, you have to search for alternatives.

    The American Hockey League may be a reasonable place to turn.

    You won't see the best players in the world, but you will see professional hockey players with various talent levels.

    The AHL is a 30-team league that is designed to develop players for the NHL. Member teams are associated with NHL teams, although not all NHL teams have had minor league clubs in the AHL on a yearly basis.

    In a normal season, AHL teams that are strong in the beginning of the season may see their talent level diminish as the season progresses because the parent club may have to bring minor leaguers up as a result of injuries or poor performance.

    However, the 2012-13 season is not a normal season. With the NHL locking out its players, there's no need to move minor leaguers to the NHL.

    Here's a look at the top seven contenders for the league's Calder Cup, the trophy that goes to the AHL's championship team on an annual basis.

Springfield Falcons

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    The Springfield Falcons are rolling in the Northeast Division of the AHL's Eastern Conference. They are 10-3-1-3 (the AHL lists regulation wins, regulation losses, overtime losses and shootout losses as the categories in its standings) and have earned 24 points as of Nov. 30.

    Cam Atkninson has a team-leading eight goals for the Falcons, and goaltender Curtis McElhinney has a 1.83 goals against average and a .940 save percentage.

    The Falcons are affiliated with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Manchester Monarchs

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    The Manchester Monarchs are leading the Atlantic Division of the AHL with a 9-6-2-1 record for 21 points. They are tied with the St. John's IceCaps, but they have played two fewer games, so that gives them an edge in the standings.

    Brandon Kozun is the Monarchs' leading scorer with five goals and 11 assists while prospect Tyler Toffoli has a team-high nine goals. Veteran Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov is playing with the Monarchs and has racked up 10 points in 18 games.

    Goalie Martin Jones has a 2.28 goals against average and a .925 save percentage.

    The Monarchs are the AHL affiliate of the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

Syracuse Crunch

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    The Syracuse Crunch have rolled to a 12-3-1-1 record through their first 17 games of the season. They are in first place in the East Division of the Eastern Conference with 26 points. They are four points ahead of the second-place Binghamton Senators.

    Tyler Johnson is rolling as the team's leading scorer. He has 13 goals and eight assists for 21 points. Cory Conacher is right behind him with 18 points while Richard Panik has eight goals and nine assists for 17 points.

    Goalie Dustin Tokarski has a 1.89 GAA and a .917 save percentage.

    The Crunch are the AHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Binghamton Senators

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    The Binghamton Senators have a 10-4-1-1 record and are in second place in the East Division of the AHL's Eastern Conference behind the Syracuse Crunch.

    Tyler Eckford is the team's leading scorer with five goals and five assists. Top prospect Jakob Silfverberg is second on the team with nine points while Derek Grant leads the team with six goals.

    Robin Lehner has been superb in goal so far. Lehner has a 1.63 goals against average and a .950 save percentage.

    The Senators are the AHL affiliate of the Ottawa Senators.

Abbotsford Heat

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    The Abbotsford Heat have gotten off to a scintillating start, rolling to a 12-2-2-2 in the North Division of the Western Conference. They have 28 points and are six points ahead of the second-place Lake Erie Monsters.

    The Heat have gotten a huge lift from left wing Sven Baertschi, who has scored 16 points on six goals and 10 assists. Center Ben Street is right behind him with four goals and 11 assists for 15 points.

    Goaltender Danny Taylor has handled the bulk of the goaltending chores. He has a 1.65 GAA with a .937 save percentage.

    The Heat are the AHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames.

Charlotte Checkers

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    The Charlotte Checkers are in first place in the South Division in the AHL's Western Conference with a 12-5-0-2 record for 26 points.

    Zach Boychuk is the team's leading scorer with 12 goals and six assists for 18 points in his first 19 games. Boychuk is finding the back of the net on 20.3 percent of his shots. Justin Faulk has been a stellar playmaker, recording three goals and 14 assists.

    Goalie Dan Ellis has been solid with a 2.25 GAA and a .933 save percentage. He has been splitting time in the net with Justin Peters, who has a 2.84 GAA and a .903 save percentage.

    The Checkers are the AHL affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Grand Rapids Griffins

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    The Grand Rapids Griffins are in first place in the Midwest Division of the AHL's Western Conference with a 10-5-1-1 record. Their 22 points gives them a one-point lead over the Rockford Ice Hogs.

    Right wing Gustav Nyquist has gotten off to a sharp start with eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points. He is scoring on 15.1 percent of his shots. Tomas Tatar is the team's leading goal scorer with 10 markers. He is finding the back of the net on 19.6 percent of his shots.

    Petr Mrazek is the Griffins' top goaltender with a 2.53 GAA and a .910 save percentage.

    The Griffins are the AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings.