SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Exactly four months after the Binghamton Senators lifted the Calder Cup, the American Hockey League begins its 76th season tonight with 30 teams starting down the road to the championship.
The puck drops on the 2011-12 campaign with 23 games over the holiday weekend, including five this evening, 12 on Saturday and six more on Sunday.
As usual, a new season brings some new looks, but most noticeable in the AHL for 2011-12 is the schedule itself. As part of a schedule modification plan announced back in April, the regular-season playing schedule has been reduced from 80 to 76 games, the playing calendar has been extended by one week, and all sequences in which teams play four games in five nights have been eliminated. These steps are intended to provide a safer environment for AHL players through increased rest and recovery time, and also to provide AHL fans with an even higher caliber of play as a result of reduced player fatigue.
Another new look comes on the league’s standings page, where the 30 member teams are now divided into six divisions of five teams each, three divisions in each conference. Eight teams from each conference will qualify for the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs, with the three division winners earning the top three seeds and the next five best teams in order of regular-season points seeded fourth through eighth.
The battle for standings points begins tonight with five games, including Binghamton’s banner-raising home opener against the Hershey Bears. The city of Binghamton is marking its 30th season as a member of the American Hockey League, but the Calder Cup had never resided in New York’s Southern Tier until the Senators defeated Houston in a six-game Final series last spring.
Also tonight is the debut of the St. John’s IceCaps, top affiliate of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets. The IceCaps open their season with games in Providence and Manchester this weekend before the AHL officially returns to Mile One Centre on Oct. 14 when Hamilton visits St. John’s.
The IceCaps’ partnership with the Jets is one of five affiliation changes heading into the 2011-12 season. After a three-year separation, the Rochester Americans have once again joined with the Buffalo Sabres, previously their parent club for 29 years from 1979-2008. The Portland Pirates have teamed up with the Phoenix Coyotes, the San Antonio Rampage will be the top affiliate of the Florida Panthers, and the Chicago Wolves are the new AHL farm club of the NHL’s Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks.
The 2011-12 season will feature 13 teams with new head coaches. In addition to Portland’s Ray Edwards and San Antonio’s Chuck Weber following their parent teams to new affiliates, eight bench bosses will be making their AHL debuts: Abbotsford’s Troy Ward, Bridgeport’s Brent Thompson, Chicago’s Craig MacTavish, Milwaukee’s Kirk Muller, Rochester’s Ron Rolston, Rockford’s Ted Dent, Keith McCambridge in St. John’s and Texas’s Jeff Pyle. Three other head coaches — Hamilton’s Clement Jodoin, Houston’s John Torchetti and Providence’s Bruce Cassidy — are back after previous stints coaching in both the AHL and NHL. Nine of the men who were AHL head coaches on opening night in 2010-11 are beginning the new season in the National Hockey League.
The upcoming regular season comprises 1,140 games leading up to the start of the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs in April. The schedule is highlighted by two outdoor games, the first at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia pitting the Adirondack Phantoms against the Hershey Bears on Jan. 6, and the second at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, Ont., with the Hamilton Bulldogs facing off against the Toronto Marlies on Jan. 21 (live on Sportsnet). On Jan. 29-30, the 2012 AHL All-Star Classic will be held at the historic Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., featuring the top talent in the Eastern Conference competing against the best of the Western Conference in both the Skills Competition and the All-Star Game.
In operation since 1936, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 87 percent of last season’s NHL players were American Hockey League graduates, and for the 10th year in a row, more than 6 million fans attended AHL games across North America in 2010-11.
2011-12 Team Capsules
NHL Affiliate: Los Angeles Kings (since 2001)
Home Rink: Verizon Wireless Arena
2010-11 Record: 44-26-4-6, 98 pts. (2nd in Atlantic Division)
Playoffs: Lost division semifinal to Binghamton, 4-3
Head Coach: Mark Morris (6th year in AHL/Manchester, 214-160-26)
Notable Alumni: Mike Cammalleri, Teddy Purcell, Dustin Brown, Matt Moulson
What to watch: Slava Voynov was a Second Team AHL All-Star last season after putting up 51 points and a plus-21 rating in 76 games… Andrei Loktionov posted 31 points and a plus-16 in 34 games during an injury-shortened 2010-11 season… Martin Jones (23-12-1, 2.25, .924) was one of the AHL’s top rookie goaltenders a year ago.
NHL Affiliate: Phoenix Coyotes (since 2011)
Home Rink: Cumberland County Civic Center
2010-11 Record: 47-24-7-2, 103 pts. (1st in Atlantic Division)
Playoffs: Lost division final to Binghamton, 4-2
Head Coach: Ray Edwards (3rd year in AHL, 70-63-9… 1st year in Portland)
Notable Alumni: Olaf Kolzig, Andrew Brunette, Sergei Gonchar, Bobby Ryan
What to watch: Portland enters its first season as the top affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes… Marc-Antoine Pouliot joins the Coyotes organization after leading Norfolk in scoring with 25-47-72 last year… Defenseman Chris Summers (1-9-10 for San Antonio last season) was Phoenix’s first-round draft pick in 2006… Rookie forward Andy Miele won the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s top player in 2010-11, leading the nation in assists (47) and points (71) at Miami (Ohio) University.
NHL Affiliate: Boston Bruins (since 1992)
Home Rink: Dunkin’ Donuts Center
2010-11 Record: 38-36-3-3, 82 pts. (5th in Atlantic Division)
Head Coach: Bruce Cassidy (2nd year in AHL, 42-27-11… 1st year in Providence)
Notable Alumni: Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Tim Thomas, Brad Boyes
What to watch: Jamie Arniel, an AHL All-Star for Providence last season, led the B’s with 23 goals and 50 points in 2010-11… Maxime Sauve is coming off a strong rookie season that saw him post 21-17-38 in 61 games, including a team-best seven game-winning goals… New England native Josh Hennessy (Brockton, Mass.) has scored at least 20 goals in each of his five AHL seasons, including a career-best 30 for Binghamton in 2009-10.
NHL Affiliate: Winnipeg Jets (since 2011)
Home Rink: Mile One Centre
Head Coach: Keith McCambridge (1st year in AHL/St. John’s)
What to watch: The AHL returns to Newfoundland after a six-year absence as the St. John’s IceCaps hit the ice at Mile One Centre… St. John’s was previously home to the AHL’s Maple Leafs from 1991-2005… Spencer Machacek recorded 21-32-53 and a plus-18 rating in 67 AHL games for Chicago last season… Jason Jaffray is a four-time 20-goal scorer in the AHL who helped Manitoba reach the Calder Cup Finals in 2009.
NHL Affiliate: San Jose Sharks (since 2006)
Home Rink: DCU Center
2010-11 Record: 36-31-4-9, 85 pts. (4th in Atlantic Division)
Head Coach: Roy Sommer (14th year in AHL, 478-477-85… 6th year in Worcester, 200-172-28)
Notable Alumni: Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi, Logan Couture, Jason Demers
What to watch: Benn Ferriero had 33 points in 43 games with Worcester last season, and scored an overtime goal in his Stanley Cup Playoff debut for San Jose (Game 1 vs. Detroit, Apr. 29)… 21-year-old goaltender Harri Sateri had a 2.56 GAA and .918 save percentage in seven appearances with Worcester late last season… Head coach Roy Sommer enters his 14th AHL season needing 22 victories for 500 in his career (fourth all-time).
16th season (3rd in Adirondack)
NHL Affiliate: Philadelphia Flyers (since 1996)
Home Rink: Glens Falls Civic Center
2010-11 Record: 31-39-4-6, 72 pts. (7th in East Division)
Head Coach: Joe Paterson (5th year in AHL, 88-103-18… 2nd year in Adirondack, 25-18-6)
Notable Alumni: Vinny Prospal, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Claude Giroux
What to watch: Adirondack lost 25 of its first 29 games last season, then finished 27-16-2-6 the rest of the way… Erik Gustafsson, an AHL All-Rookie selection on defense last year, led all first-year players with 44 assists and finished second on the Phantoms with 49 points… Denis Hamel enters his 12th AHL season with 315 goals (16th all-time) and 605 points (43rd all-time) in 776 games (34th all-time)… Goaltenders Michael Leighton (142) and Jason Bacashihua (122) have combined for 264 career AHL victories.
6th season (2nd in Albany)
NHL Affiliate: New Jersey Devils (since 2006)
Home Rink: Times Union Center
2010-11 Record: 32-42-1-5, 70 pts. (8th in East Division)
Head Coach: Rick Kowalsky (2nd year in AHL/Albany, 32-43-5)
Notable Alumni: Nicklas Bergfors, David Clarkson, Rod Pelley
What to watch: Matt Anderson returns to the Devils after leading Albany with 55 points in 76 games last season… Chad Wiseman had 16-28-44 in 48 games for Albany in 2010-11… Steve Zalewski, a native of nearby Utica, N.Y., registered 11-12-23 in 31 games after joining Albany in a midseason trade from the San Jose organization last year.
NHL Affiliate: New York Islanders (since 2001)
Home Rink: Webster Bank Arena
2010-11 Record: 30-39-4-7, 71 pts. (7th in Atlantic Division)
Head Coach: Brent Thompson (1st year in AHL/Bridgeport)
Notable Alumni: Rick DiPietro, Raffi Torres, Blake Comeau, Kyle Okposo
What to watch: Forward Tim Wallace spent most of the past five seasons in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, finishing second on the Penguins with 20 goals last year… Kevin Poulin was 10-5-0 (2.19, .932) with two shutouts in 15 appearances for Bridgeport in 2010-11, and also made 10 NHL showings with the parent Islanders… Rookie defenseman Calvin de Haan was the Islanders’ first-round pick (12th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
NHL Affiliate: New York Rangers (since 1997)
Home Rink: XL Center
2010-11 Record: 40-32-2-6, 88 pts. (3rd in Atlantic Division)
Playoffs: Lost division semifinal to Portland, 4-2
Head Coach: Ken Gernander (5th year in AHL/Connecticut, 172-125-23)
Notable Alumni: Marc Savard, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Dan Girardi
What to watch: Kris Newbury led the Whale in assists (44) and points (61) and also racked up 139 minutes in penalties last season… Pavel Valentenko notched a plus-21 rating in 79 games, tops on the Connecticut blue line in 2010-11… Rookie forward Ryan Bourque is the son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque and the brother of former Calder Cup Playoffs MVP Chris Bourque.
NHL Affiliate: Columbus Blue Jackets (since 2010)
Home Rink: MassMutual Center
2010-11 Record: 35-40-2-3, 75 pts. (6th in Atlantic Division)
Head Coach: Rob Riley (2nd year in AHL/Springfield, 35-42-3)
Notable Alumni: Daniel Briere, Olli Jokinen, Shane Doan, Matt Calvert
What to watch: Parent-club Columbus signed five former AHL All-Stars as free agents in the offseason, including 2009 AHL MVP Alexandre Giroux, who enters the season ranked 10th all-time with 340 career AHL goals… Nicholas Drazenovic put up 23-23-46 in 75 games with Peoria last season… Tomas Kubalik was the Falcons’ top scorer in 2010-11, notching 24 goals and 53 points in 76 games as a rookie.
NHL Affiliate: Ottawa Senators (since 2002)
Home Rink: Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena
2010-11 Record: 42-30-3-5, 92 pts. (5th in East Division)
Playoffs: Won Calder Cup; defeated Houston in Finals, 4-2
Head Coach: Kurt Kleinendorst (5th year in AHL, 140-157-23… 2nd year in Binghamton, 42-33-5)
Notable Alumni: Jason Spezza, Antoine Vermette, Brian Pothier, Ryan Shannon
What to watch: The defending Calder Cup champions welcome back playoff MVP Robin Lehner, who was 10-8-2 (2.70, .912) last regular season before going 14-4 (2.10, .939) during the Senators’ playoff run… Corey Locke was the league’s regular-season MVP and scoring champ in 2010-11, recording 21-65-86 in 69 games… Kaspars Daugavins notched 19-35-54 in the regular season and 10-10-20 in the playoffs for Binghamton last year.
NHL Affiliate: Washington Capitals (1977-84; since 2005)
Home Rink: Giant Center
2010-11 Record: 46-26-3-5, 100 pts. (2nd in East Division)
Playoffs: Lost division semifinal to Charlotte, 4-2
Head Coach: Mark French (3rd year in AHL/Hershey, 106-46-8)
Notable Alumni: Mike Green, John Carlson, Eric Fehr, Michal Neuvirth
What to watch: Perennial all-star Keith Aucoin is averaging 1.12 points per game over his 10 AHL seasons, entering 2011-12 with 707 points in 630 contests… Braden Holtby was 17-10-2 (2.29, .920) last season for Hershey and 10-2-2 (1.79, .934) in the NHL with Washington… Jacob Micflikier had a career year for Charlotte in 2010-11, tallying 29-32-61 and a plus-15 rating in 78 games.
NHL Affiliate: Tampa Bay Lightning (since 2007)
Home Rink: Norfolk Scope Arena
2010-11 Record: 39-26-9-6, 93 pts. (4th in East Division)
Playoffs: Lost division semifinal to W-B/Scranton, 4-2
Head Coach: Jon Cooper (2nd year in AHL/Norfolk, 39-35-6)
Notable Alumni: Rene Bourque, Dustin Byfuglien, Dave Bolland, Zenon Konopka
What to watch: Defenseman Mark Barberio had a solid rookie season for Norfolk last year, putting up 9-22-31 in 68 games… Sixth-year pro Mike Angelidis set career highs in goals (20), assists (18), points (38), plus/minus (+18) and penalty minutes (169) with the Admirals in 2010-11… Rookie forward Carter Ashton, who joined Norfolk at the end of the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, was a first-round draft pick by Tampa Bay in 2009.
NHL Affiliate: Anaheim Ducks (since 2010)
Home Rink: Onondaga County War Memorial at Oncenter
2010-11 Record: 35-38-3-4, 77 pts. (6th in East Division)
Head Coach: Mark Holick (2nd year in AHL/Syracuse, 35-41-4)
Notable Alumni: Adrian Aucoin, Scott Walker, Derick Brassard, Derek MacKenzie
What to watch: Kyle Palmieri tied for the AHL rookie lead with 29 goals last season and finished the year with 15-5-20 in his last 14 games… Dan Sexton has played 88 games in the NHL with Anaheim over the last two seasons, and has 29 points in 30 contests during his AHL stints… Nick Bonino contributed 12-33-45 in 50 games with the Crunch as a rookie last season.
NHL Affiliate: Pittsburgh Penguins (since 1999)
Home Rink: Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza
2010-11 Record: 58-21-0-1, 117 pts. (1st in East Division)
Playoffs: Lost division final to Charlotte, 4-2
Head Coach: John Hynes (2nd year in AHL/Wilkes-Barre, 58-21-1)
Notable Alumni: Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Whitney, Alex Goligoski, Kris Letang
What to watch: Wilkes-Barre dominated the AHL during the 2010-11 regular season with their 58 wins being the second-highest total in AHL history, but fell to Charlotte in the second round of the playoffs… Brad Thiessen, last year’s outstanding goaltender in the AHL (35-8-1, 1.94, .922), is back for the Penguins… Colin McDonald led the AHL with 42 goals for Oklahoma City last season… Despite playing just 42 games, Eric Tangradi was fifth on the Pens with 18 goals last year.
11th AHL season
NHL Affiliate: Detroit Red Wings (since 2002)
Home Rink: Van Andel Arena
2010-11 Record: 36-34-2-8, 82 pts. (6th in North Division)
Head Coach: Curt Fraser (4th year in AHL/Grand Rapids, 113-109-18)
Notable Alumni: Niklas Kronwall, Jiri Hudler, Valtteri Filppula, Jimmy Howard
What to watch: Francis Pare (24-30-54) was the only Griffins skater to appear in all 80 games last season… Tomas Tatar had 24-33-57 for Grand Rapids last season, including a seven-point game vs. Chicago on Nov. 27… Gustav Nyquist turns pro after three standout seasons at the University of Maine, where he was a Hockey East First Team All-Star in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
NHL Affiliate: Montreal Canadiens (since 2002)
Home Rink: Copps Coliseum
2010-11 Record: 44-27-2-7, 97 pts. (1st in North Division)
Playoffs: Lost conference final to Houston, 4-3
Head Coach: Clement Jodoin (3rd year in AHL, 58-73-29… 1st year in Hamilton)
Notable Alumni: Tomas Plekanec, Carey Price, Michael Ryder, Jaroslav Halak
What to watch: Aaron Palushaj helped Hamilton to within one win of reaching the Calder Cup Finals last year, notching 22-35-57 in 68 regular-season games and adding 7-12-19 in 19 postseason outings… Defenseman Mark Mitera, a first-round draft pick by Anaheim in 2006, was acquired by Montreal in an offseason trade… Brendon Nash recorded 5-25-30 and a plus-22 rating as a rookie defenseman for Hamilton in 2010-11.
NHL Affiliate: Colorado Avalanche (since 2007)
Home Rink: Quicken Loans Arena
2010-11 Record: 44-28-3-5, 96 pts. (2nd in North Division)
Playoffs: Lost division semifinal to Manitoba, 4-3
Head Coach: David Quinn (3rd year in AHL/Lake Erie, 78-69-13)
Notable Alumni: Chris Stewart, T.J. Galiardi, Kyle Cumiskey, David Jones
What to watch: David van der Gulik registered 15-21-36 and a plus-25 rating in 48 games with Lake Erie last season, helping the Monsters capture their first-ever playoff berth… Cedrick Desjardins was 15-6-1 in 24 appearances for Norfolk last season, a year after earning Second Team AHL All-Star honors with Hamilton in 2009-10… Six of Mike Carman‘s nine goals as a rookie last year came shorthanded.
NHL Affiliate: Buffalo Sabres (1979-2008; since 2011)
Home Rink: Blue Cross Arena
2010-11 Record: 31-39-5-5, 72 pts. (7th in North Division)
Head Coach: Ron Rolston (1st year in AHL/Rochester)
Notable Alumni: Ryan Miller, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek
What to watch: Rochester opens its 56th AHL season reunited with the Buffalo Sabres, who produced three AHL rookies of the year and three Calder Cup Playoff teams while affiliated with Portland from 2008-11… Rochester native Derek Whitmore recorded 27-20-47 in 80 AHL games last season… Defenseman Drew Schiestel had registered 23 points and a plus-15 rating in 45 games before his season was cut short by injury… Rookie Marcus Foligno is the son of former Sabres star Mike Foligno.
NHL Affiliate: Toronto Maple Leafs (since 2005)
Home Rink: Ricoh Coliseum
2010-11 Record: 37-32-1-10, 85 pts. (5th in North Division)
Head Coach: Dallas Eakins (3rd year in AHL/Toronto, 70-74-16)
Notable Alumni: James Reimer, Tyler Bozak, Jiri Tlusty, Viktor Stalberg
What to watch: Joe Colborne, a first-round draft pick by Boston in 2008, notched 8-8-16 in 20 games with the Marlies after being acquired in a mid-season trade with the Bruins organization… Defenseman Keith Aulie played 40 games in the NHL with the parent Maple Leafs last season… Ben Scrivens was solid in his rookie season last year, posting a 2.33 GAA and a .924 save percentage in 33 appearances (13-12-5) for the Marlies.
NHL Affiliate: Carolina Hurricanes (since 2010)
Home Rink: Time Warner Cable Arena
2010-11 Record: 44-27-2-7, 97 pts. (3rd in East Division)
Playoffs: Lost conference final to Binghamton, 4-0
Head Coach: Jeff Daniels (4th year in AHL, 120-104-16… 2nd year in Charlotte, 44-29-7)
What to watch: Last year’s Eastern Conference runners-up make the move to the Western Conference for their second season in the AHL… Zach Boychuk led the Checkers in assists (43) and points (65) last season, while Chris Terry paced the club with 34 goals… Jerome Samson registered 26-28-54 in 53 games with Charlotte in 2010-11 before finishing the year with the parent Hurricanes… In goal, Justin Peters spent the entire 2010-11 season in the NHL, while Mike Murphy backstopped the Checkers to playoff upsets of Hershey and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last spring.
11th AHL season
NHL Affiliate: Vancouver Canucks (since 2011)
Home Rink: Allstate Arena
2010-11 Record: 39-30-5-6, 89 pts. (6th in West Division)
Head Coach: Craig MacTavish (1st year in AHL/Chicago)
Notable Alumni: Kari Lehtonen, Bryan Little, Ondrej Pavelec, Anthony Stewart
What to watch: Chicago opens the 2011-12 season with a new look thanks to a new affiliation with the Vancouver Canucks… Eddie Lack (28-21-4, 2.26, .926) was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team last season, while Matt Climie (26-22-3, 2.64, .913 in San Antonio last year) helped Texas to the Calder Cup Finals two springs ago… Mark Mancari (32-32-64, +19) and returnee Darren Haydar (27-47-74) were the AHL’s First and Second Team AHL All-Stars at right wing for 2010-11.
11th AHL season
NHL Affiliate: Nashville Predators (since 1998)
Home Rink: Bradley Center
2010-11 Record: 44-22-6-8, 102 pts. (1st in West Division)
Playoffs: Lost division final to Houston, 4-3
Head Coach: Kirk Muller (1st year in AHL/Milwaukee)
Notable Alumni: Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Rich Peverley
What to watch: Ryan Ellis was named the top defenseman in the Canadian Hockey League last season and captained Canada to a silver medal at the 2011 World Junior Championships… Kyle Wilson split last season between Springfield and Columbus after a four-year stay in Hershey that included two Calder Cup titles… Chris Mueller led Milwaukee in goals (24) and points (50) last season.
NHL Affiliate: St. Louis Blues (since 2005)
Home Rink: Carver Arena
2010-11 Record: 42-30-3-5, 92 pts. (3rd in West Division)
Playoffs: Lost division semifinal to Houston, 4-0
Head Coach: Jared Bednar (2nd year in AHL/Peoria, 42-33-5)
Notable Alumni: David Backes, D.J. King, Jay McClement, Roman Polak
What to watch: T.J. Hensick (21-48-69) led Peoria in team scoring last season, while newcomers Brett Sterling (27-26-53) and Jonathan Cheechoo (18-29-47) did the same with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Worcester, respectively… Defenseman Ian Cole, who split last season between Peoria and St. Louis, was a first-round draft pick by the Blues in 2007… Jake Allen and Ben Bishop — the only two goalies to see game action for the Rivermen last season — are both back in the fold.
NHL Affiliate: Chicago Blackhawks (since 2007)
Home Rink: BMO Harris Bank Center
2010-11 Record: 38-33-4-5, 85 pts. (8th in West Division)
Head Coach: Ted Dent (1st year in AHL/Rockford)
Notable Alumni: Corey Crawford, Troy Brouwer, Cam Barker, Kris Versteeg
What to watch: Brian Connelly finished second on the IceHogs and sixth among all AHL defensemen in scoring with 11-41-52 in 80 games last season… Rob Klinkhammer notched 17-29-46 for Rockford last year, setting career highs in all three categories… Goaltender Alexander Salak, an AHL All-Star as a rookie in 2009-10, helped lead Farjestads BK to the Swedish league championship last year.
NHL Affiliate: Calgary Flames (since 2009)
Home Rink: Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre
2010-11 Record: 38-32-4-6, 86 pts. (4th in North Division)
Head Coach: Troy G. Ward (1st year in AHL/Abbotsford)
Notable Alumni: Mikael Backlund
What to watch: Leland Irving was one of the busiest goalies in the AHL last season, ranking first in minutes played and fifth in shots faced en route to finishing second in wins (30) and first in shutouts (8)… Carter Bancks was limited by injury to 29 games last season but recorded 5-14-19 for the Heat… Ben Walter (23-47-70) placed ninth in the AHL in scoring and fifth in plus/minus (+26) last season for Lake Erie.
11th AHL season
NHL Affiliate: Minnesota Wild (since 2001)
Home Rink: Toyota Center
2010-11 Record: 46-28-1-5, 98 pts. (2nd in West Division)
Playoffs: Lost final to Binghamton, 4-2
Head Coach: John Torchetti (2nd year in AHL, 30-25-10… 1st year in Houston)
Notable Alumni: Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Josh Harding, Cal Clutterbuck
What to watch: Jon DiSalvatore has scored at least 20 goals in each of his first eight AHL seasons, including a career-best 28 for the Aeros last year… Matt Hackett tied an AHL record for appearances by a goalie in a single postseason when he started all 24 of Houston’s games last spring… Two-time AHL All-Star forward Jeff Taffe tallied a team-leading 30-37-67 for Rockford in 2010-11.
NHL Affiliate: Edmonton Oilers (since 2010)
Home Rink: Cox Convention Center
2010-11 Record: 40-29-2-9, 91 pts. (5th in West Division)
Playoffs: Lost division semifinal to Hamilton, 4-2
Head Coach: Todd Nelson (2nd year in AHL/Oklahoma City, 40-31-9)
What to watch: Teemu Hartikainen is coming off an impressive rookie season that saw him notch 17-25-42 in 66 games for the Barons… The sixth overall pick in the 2005 NHL draft, Gilbert Brule has 263 games of NHL experience with Edmonton and Columbus… Entering the season with 1,024 games played, Bryan Helmer is 47 games away from cracking the AHL’s top three all-time.
NHL Affiliate: Florida Panthers (2002-05; since 2011)
Home Rink: AT&T Center
2010-11 Record: 40-33-4-3, 87 pts. (7th in West Division)
Head Coach: Chuck Weber (2nd year in AHL, 31-44-5… 1st year in San Antonio)
Notable Alumni: Jay Bouwmeester, Stephen Weiss, Nathan Horton, Keith Yandle
What to watch: San Antonio begins a second stint as the top affiliate of the Florida Panthers, who previously partnered with the Rampage from 2002-05… The AHL’s top-scoring rookie in 2008-09, Tim Kennedy combined for 12-37-49 in 67 games for Connecticut and Rochester last season… Defenseman Mike Kostka was Rochester’s leading scorer in 2010-11 with 54 points, tying for the AHL lead among blueliners with 16 goals… Greg Rallo paced Texas in scoring last year, racking up 26-28-54 and a team-high seven game-winning goals.
NHL Affiliate: Dallas Stars (since 2009)
Home Rink: Cedar Park Center
2010-11 Record: 41-29-4-6, 92 pts. (4th in West Division)
Playoffs: Lost division semifinal to Binghamton, 4-2
Head Coach: Jeff Pyle (1st in AHL/Texas)
Notable Alumni: Jamie Benn
What to watch: Richard Bachman was stellar in his first full AHL season, going 28-19-5 with a 2.20 GAA, a .927 save percentage and six shutouts… Ryan Garbutt had an impressive rookie showing in Chicago last year, notching 19-18-37 in 65 games and tying for the AHL lead among forwards with a plus-27 rating… Colton Sceviour scored 16 goals last season after netting nine as a rookie in 2009-10.