A West Coast presence was added to complete a long-term objective to offer NHL teams more geographically convenient affiliations. The league grew from 29 to 31 teams with an expansion team in Palm Springs, California, on the way for the 2021-22 season.
Here is a look at some of the most successful NHL-AHL affiliations of the past decade, along with their most notable alumni:
The AHL’s longest-running affiliation is in its 28th season and shows no signs of slowing.
With geographic proximity having become a recent necessity for all AHL affiliations, the Boston-Providence affiliation has been a role model in that movement for almost three decades.
With a long-standing NHL star core, the Bruins have not had to rely on Providence to fill massive roster gaps; instead, Providence annually produces young prospects with the ability to acclimate quickly into the Boston lineup and play key supporting roles.
Notable alumni from past decade: Forwards Noel Acciari, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Karson Kuhlman, Sean Kuraly, Brad Marchand, Kevan Miller, David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano; defensemen Brandon Carlo, Connor Clifton, Matt Grzelcyk, Torey Krug; goalies Anton Khudobin, Malcolm Subban
The affiliation between Dallas and Texas, located in Cedar Park, less than three hours to the south, began in 2010 and paid immediate dividends.
Texas went to the Calder Cup final in the affiliation’s first season and late playoff runs have continued. Texas won the Calder Cup in 2014 and made another trip to the final in 2018.
Playing at the H-E-B Center provides Stars prospects with a top-notch facility and strong fan support.
Notable alumni from past decade: Forwards Jamie Benn, Radek Faksa, Denis Gurianov, Colton Sceviour; defensemen Esa Lindell, Jamie Oleksiak, goalie Jack Campbell
Detroit Red Wings/Grand Rapids
Two-and-a-half hours along Interstate 96 separate the two teams in Michigan, where Grand Rapids was the lone AHL team to win two Calder Cup championships in the past decade (2013, 2017).
Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill spent his first three pro seasons in the same role with Grand Rapids, including the 2012-13 championship season.
With Detroit undertaking a rebuilding project, its AHL affiliate will continue to figure prominently. Forward Filip Zadina (2018 NHL Draft) and defenseman Moritz Seider (2019 NHL Draft), each selected with the No. 6 pick, are among the potential impact players being groomed there.
Notable alumni from past decade: Forwards Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi, Luke Glendening, Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Tomas Nosek, Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar; defenseman Danny DeKeyser, goalie Petr Mrazek
Almost every player that makes the Nashville roster spends some time in Milwaukee.
In the 2000s, goalie Pekka Rinne, defenseman Shea Weber and forward Jordin Tootoo were among the players who came through the Milwaukee pipeline.
The Predators developed a wide variety of talent through their AHL affiliate. Whether it is a star defenseman like Roman Josi, a goalie like Juuse Saros, or key role players, the Predators know that they can turn to Milwaukee to fill a need.
Notable alumni from past decade: Forwards Viktor Arvidsson, Kevin Fiala, Filip Forsberg, Frederick Gaudreau, Colton Sissons, Austin Watson, Colin Wilson; defensemen Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Josi; goalies Rinne, Saros
The Penguins made sure to continue a successful arrangement last spring and signed a 10-year extension with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Pittsburgh has a knack for finding overlooked talent and letting it develop in the AHL. Much like Boston, the Penguins have used their AHL affiliate to fill in gaps around a core of NHL stars.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton also continued its reputation for being a coaching and management factory. John Hynes and Mike Sullivan each led Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before moving to NHL coaching jobs. New Jersey Devils coach Alain Nasreddine was an assistant with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. NHL general managers Jason Botterill (Buffalo Sabres) and Bill Guerin (Minnesota Wild) each spent time managing Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Notable alumni from past decade: Forwards Teddy Blueger, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary; goalies Tristan Jarry, Matt Murray
Tampa Bay Lightning/Syracuse
Syracuse landed a much-coveted affiliation with the Lightning before the 2012-13 season.
Tampa Bay prospects were coming off a Calder Cup championship season with the organization’s previous AHL affiliate, Norfolk. That 2011-12 Norfolk team set an AHL record with 28 consecutive wins. Coach Jon Cooper went on to the Lightning the following season.
Tampa Bay’s high standard has continued with Syracuse; in its first season as Lightning affiliate, Syracuse went to the Calder Cup final. Another trip followed in 2017 and Syracuse is going for a third consecutive season with 100 or more points.
Notable alumni from past decade: Forwards Anthony Cirelli, Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Cedric Paquette, Ondrej Palat; defenseman Erik Cernak, goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy
Toronto Maple Leafs/Toronto
In many ways the Maple Leafs might have most revolutionized the role of an AHL affiliate in the past decade.
Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas and coach Sheldon Keefe each had long AHL tenures and proved development and winning at the AHL level can co-exist. Dubas has also prioritized a “baseball model” with three organizational tiers. The AHL affiliate acts as the Triple-A level, and a much greater emphasis is placed on the ECHL affiliate to develop raw talent further and build all-around organizational depth.
The AHL affiliate reached the Calder Cup final in 2012 and then won a championship in 2018. It also advanced to at least the conference final five times in the decade and had a pair of 54-win seasons (2015-16, 2017-18).
Notable alumni from past decade: Forwards Connor Brown, Frederik Gauthier, Andreas Johnsson, Nazem Kadri, Kasperi Kapanen, Brendan Leipsic, Josh Leivo, Greg McKegg; goalie Garret Sparks
Fittingly, Hershey will end the decade on a high note, winning 10 of its past 11 games. The AHL’s flagship franchise maintained success after winning a pair of Calder Cup championships in the previous decade (2006, 2009).
Hershey set an AHL season record with 60 wins in 2009-10 before winning another championship that spring. That team also had 123 points, second-most in an AHL season. Hershey reached the Calder Cup final again in 2016.
The Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup championship team featured 14 Hershey alumni.
Notable alumni from past decade: Forwards Jay Beagle, Mathieu Perreault, Jakub Vrana; defensemen Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov; goalies Philipp Grubauer, Braden Holtby, Michal Neuvirth, Ilya Samsonov