On April 17, 2015, the Columbus Blue Jackets announced their AHL affiliate would change from the Springfield Falcons to the Lake Erie Monsters. Within a year, the Monsters were tearing through the Western Conference and headed full steam ahead towards a historical Calder Cup Championship win.
In honor of SB Nations “What If” week, I pondered a few questions involving what would have happened if the Jackets never switched affiliates and stayed in Springfield, Massachusetts. Chew on them a bit and let me know how they taste.
If still affiliated with the Colorado Avalanche, would the Lake Erie Monsters have won the Calder Cup in 2016?
Simply put, no.
At the end of the 2014-15 season, the Monsters and Falcons had near identical records. The Falcons placed 9th in the Eastern conference missing the playoffs by one point with a record of 38-28-8-2. The Monsters placed 9th in the Western Conference missing the playoffs by five points with a record of 35-29-8-4.
Dean Chynoweth spent three seasons with the Monsters before moving with the Avalanche organization to the San Antonio Rampage. During those three seasons, he struggled to get the team over the hump into playoffs. Despite having all the right pieces, Chynoweth was unable to turn good players into great players. The same thing happened when the team moved to San Antonio the next season. I’m very unsure Chynoweth would have even been able to get the Monsters into the playoffs in 2016.
However, in 2016, the impossible became reality for many Cleveland teams. Maybe the magic would have helped propel the Avalanche run Monsters to Calder Cup glory.
If still affiliated with the Columbus Blue Jackets, would the Springfield Falcons have won the Calder Cup in 2016?
It’s possible. Would they have swept won the Calder Cup in such a commanding fashion? I’m not 100% sure.
From 2012-2015, the Brad Larsen and Jared Bednar led Falcons made two playoff appearances and seemed to be doing well with the roster given to them. It also helps that during this time the Jackets started drafting better players who were willing to mold into what was needed to help the team succeed.
The move to the Western Conference allowed the farm team a chance to reinvent themselves a bit and focus on the players who could handle the old-timey hockey of the east and the skilled new age hockey of the west. I strongly believe the versatility of the 2015-16 team helped the Monsters tear through the playoffs.
If they had stayed in Springfield, I don’t think the team would have reinvented itself in a way that would have brought forth such an incredible run.
If the Springfield Falcons were still affiliated with the Columbus Blue Jackets, would Jared Bednar still have gotten a job coaching in the NHL at the end of the 2015-16 season?
Signs point to highly unlikely. A huge part of why teams had their eye on Coach Jared Bednar is due to the incredible run the Cleveland Monsters had in the 2016 Calder Cup playoffs. Bednar was able to take young guys, like Zach Werenski and Oliver Bjorkstrand, who joined the team towards the end of the season and keep them rolling at a high level of play.
Yes, this is something Bednar would have been able to do while still coaching in Springfield. However, playing in Cleveland during the Cleveland Cavaliers Championship run meant a lot more eyes were focused on Cleveland. Being able to win a Championship in Cleveland goes a long way in the sports world. It means you were up to the challenge of defeating the dreadful “Cleveland Curse”. (yes it’s real) Bednar was so up to the challenge that he decimated the competition and ran away with the cup sweeping almost every round. Winning with such gusto will get you a shot at a lot of coaching jobs in the NHL.
Bednar is a solid coach. Coaching in Cleveland during a time when all anyone could talk about was Cleveland shone a spotlight directly onto his skill.
Now, if the question was “would he ever get a job in the NHL”, hands down yes. Bednar helped instill a strong work ethic among the Jackets prospects from the day he got to Springfield in 2012. This level of work ethic allowed the players to begin to reach their full potential both on and off the ice. Eventually, someone in the league would have seen Bednar’s worth and offered him a head coaching job.
If the affiliate change never happened, would the Columbus Blue Jackets be as good as they are now?
It’s no secret the Blue Jackets management have been more involved with the farm team upon moving the affiliation two hours north of Columbus. Once they began to experience the perks of having their prospects close by, players started to be called up more often and the coaching style became the same across the board. Implementing the same coaching style could have been something the organization introduced regardless of the location of the farm team. However, I think seeing the team play on a more consistent basis allowed management to come to this decision a lot sooner.
I don’t have much of an answer for this question. It’s a complete toss up. The Jackets were already on a steady incline. Moving the affiliate closer made success come just a bit easier. When we look back on this move in about five years, we will likely have a much clearer answer to this question.