GENERAL MANAGER TOM LYNN Q&A SESSION
Why don't all the NHL teams play at least one pre-season game a year in their AHL affiliate's stadium? You could do it two ways: 1. a double-header, with the big club playing another NHL club, then two AHL teams squaring off, or 2. The NHL team playing against the affiliate in a game.This would not only be a likely sellout in towns that NEVER see NHL players, but would also strengthen the perceived "bond" between the NHL team and the affiliate. It might spark fans to not only pay a little more attention to the AHL club and come back for a game or two in the season, but it might also start them to following the big club, in this case, the Wild, more closely.
Daron in Houston
Daron – every NHL/AHL affiliation situation is unique. There are some AHL affils that play very near to their NHL teams (Philadelphia/Toronto/Rangers), some that are too far to travel (L.A. and Manchester), and some that an exhibition game does work for (Winnipeg has often hosted the Vancouver Canucks). It is a mixture of factors, including money. The Wild has occasionally played one neutral site game, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, mainly because of proximity (34 minute flight), the arena itself (the most opulent hockey arena in the world), and the fact that the arena there takes care of the travel costs for the Wild and their opponent. No other neutral site has been able to offer us near that to date.
We easily had the best goal tending tandem and one of the best set of defensemen in the league. What we've been missing for the last couple of years are some guys who can finish at the net. How are we coming along in improving in that area?
Thanks for the softball, Jeff. Not only will some of our young players improve naturally with age and experience to score more, we have added almost 90 goals in Corey Locke, Krys Kolanos, and Jesse Schultz—and an offensive defenseman in Tomas Mojzis (if they are not playing for the Wild). The challenge this year is too see if we can play as well defensively and compete as hard as last season, and simply let the added talent do the scoring, then there should be a measurable improvement from last year’s over-achieving squad. The point last year was to change the culture, which was accomplished. Now we have looked to add momentum to the core we have in place.
With Texas Wildcatters developing our Wild prospects very well last year, what are the chances of the Wild and Houston getting another farm team in the ECHL again?
Rick in Hamilton, Ontario
An ECHL affiliate can be a complex issue. The big three challenges are (a) location and travel for players going up and down; (b) money – many teams have historically not paid all or on time; and (c) player fit – the team you are sending your goalie or offensive defenseman or tough guy to hopefully won’t already be full at that position. This is why the Aeros will probably assign players to AA teams on an individual basis this year, based on fit, rather than having one formal affil.
I notice we have three goalies (not that I'm complaining). What's the plan there?
Heather in Houston
We hope to add another goalie by end of training camp, Heather. The Aeros will generally carry 2 healthy goalies, as will the Wild. Any injury to one of those four goaltenders means our “third goalie” (or the #5 goalie for the Wild) will b e called up on to play. If there is a further injury or call-up, then we would like to have another good young AA goalie waiting in the wings.
Everybody seems to feel that Houston's defense is sub-par with few NHL prospects. Yet last years team had the best "team" defense along with a close 2nd best penalty kill (no doubt due to Coach Constantine and staff). The defense also contributed over 20% of the goals and almost 30% of total offense, so it shows there is some skill and creativity there. How is Minnesota viewing the Aeros’ defense for this year and next couple of years?
Rob in Calgary
That is a good question, Rob. The issue you may have been hearing about is that the Wild organization did lack a “blue chip can’t miss” prospect playing in the minors last season. That does not mean the Aeros did not have excellent AHL defensemen, and a number of solid NHL prospects. In fact, most AHL coaches would have loved to have had our defense corps. But at the trade deadline, with some other teams looking for top-end defense prospects, we did not have a James Sheppard-level player back there (but it is doubtful we would trade a defensemen of that caliber anyway). 2008 first and second round draftees Tyler Cuma and Marco Scandella have already erased that deficit in the organization, by the way, although they will not be AHL-eligible for two more seasons.
With the recent trend of NHL teams wanting there minor affiliates within a closer range to there operations, do you forsee the Wild moving the Aeros closer to or into Minnesota anytime soon. Also, do you believe that the AHL will have a true "West Coast" division with the three California NHL teams along with Colorado and Phoenix either moving there current affiliations or the possibility of them buying some of the stronger ECHL teams out West and moving them up into the AHL?
Mike in Houston
It is true (and public info) that we have been approached more than once about playing in nearby Des Moines, Iowa. Clearly, there are development, travel and salary cap advantages to having your AHL affiliate very close. However, we have not been presented with any situations yet that would rival our experience in Houston since 2001, so we renewed our Toyota Center lease for an additional four seasons. Houston has the added advantage for the Wild of having more direct flights daily than Minnesota to Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, L.A, and Denver (we do not even have a direct flight to Vancouver!), so call-ups when the Wild is on the road in the Western conference are actually easier from Houston than our own home.
Is there any way to play for the Aeros without signing a contract with the Wild?
Dimmitt in Little Rock, AR
Yes – a good portion of our roster every year is on AHL contracts, either because they are simply AHL players (like Troy Riddle and John Adams) or playing to earn NHL contracts (as John Scott and Joel Ward did). There was a time, when the Wild first took over the Aeros’ hockey operations in 2001-2002, that almost every player was on an NHL contract because we did not own the Aeros and did not feel comfortable signing players to AHL deals for a separate entity (the one contributing player from the 2003 Championship squad not supplied on a Wild contract was Sylvain Cloutier), but once we had to buy the team in 2003 we were in a position to sign players to whatever contractual relationship we saw fit.
I saw in the St. Paul Pioneer Press that A.J. Thelen has signed to play in the Austrian league for 2008-2009. I was really surprised to hear that he wasn't signed to Houston after a great year in the ECHL last year. He was the top scoring defenseman on the team and was a plus 30! Also, with Shawn Belle traded and presumably having Eric Reitz move up to the Wild, there are definitely some openings at defense in the Wild system. Just curious as to why he wasn't in the Aeros plans for 2008-09.
Mike in Rosemont, MN
Mike – rest assured that the Aeros’ defense is looking very good for 2008-2009. The core of the “corps”is back, with the exception of Erik Reitz—but he was missing for long portions of last season and the team still played well. As for A.J., time in Europe will be much more beneficial to developing his game than being a part-time player in the AHL next year – he may get to the point where he is ready to come back and step right in the following season.
Why doesn't the Aeros televise more games?
Ruben in Houston
This is what I ask the Fox Sports people every time I see them. Swamp Buggy racing? Poker as a sport? Obscure dance competitions? Aeros’ hockey has GOT to have more appeal than those. Anyone interested in seeing more Aeros on TV, please make your voices heard to the TV stations so they know you are out there. By the way, many of those “sports” you see on the local regional network are buying the time (like an infomercial), and are not being sought out and paid by the channel. In the case of the AHL, those economics would not work.