When the St. Louis Blues’ AHL affiliation with the Chicago Wolves was officially terminated on Wednesday in favor of partnership with Las Vegas, an important aspect of the deal was overlooked by many around the league. The St. Louis Blues will still provide players to the Wolves, but only their best players are likely to see action, as the Golden Knights hold primary ownership. Given the Knights’ situation, why play borderline prospects of an outside organization, who you are still technically competing with? They will need warm bodies for years to come, but Knights prospects will always be valued higher.
This association may not seem like a huge deal, considering that NHL teams have used AHL partnerships in years past. However, St. Louis will be the only team dealing with this handicap in the upcoming season, and it’s not a situation that will help their organization gain advantage over a tough Central division. A team hasn’t dealt with this sort of turmoil in the minors since the 2009-10 season when the Anaheim Ducks had no affiliate whatsoever. The Ducks that year? They finished 11th in the conference and missed the playoffs.
Although Vegas, without an abundance of pro-ready prospects, may appreciate this arrangement for AHL competitiveness reasons, it can only mean a step back for St. Louis. There is no tangible benefit to having your third and fourth line hopefuls lose valuable playing time to outside players. One need only look to the role players of this year’s playoff teams to realize that having a deep bench in case of injuries is always worthwhile. The Penguins for example, have Carter Rowney, Josh Archibald, and currently injured Tom Kuhnhackl performing important spot-duty. Derrick Pouliot even has an outside shot of seeing playing time this series. If any of these had played on a split-squad in the AHL, there is a strong probability they would not have the requisite experience to be inserted into NHL playoff hockey.
GM Doug Armstrong says he has a “comfort level” with Las Vegas GM George McPhee, and that eases his mind about the situation. Regardless of comfort, Blues ownership failed the team and its prospects by not securing a primary home for their players. The Blues need to have a solid farm system, which they had seemingly started to build with a dominant 1st-overall performance this past season. The likes of Jordan Schmaltz, Magnus Paajarvi, and Ivan Barbashev all benefited from a successful AHL outing. Going forward, securing a stable location for all of its players is a must for St. Louis. It’s a disadvantage from the beginning of summer until the end of the season.