Griffs Feel Good About 2004 Season

September 26, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — If the National Hockey League doesn’t reach a collective bargaining agreement with the National Hockey League Players Association by next September, the show should still go on in the American Hockey League.

But only if NHL owners want it to.

NHL owners supply players to their AHL counterparts, up to a dozen in many cases, and a few AHL clubs are owned outright by NHL teams. So for all practical purposes it will be up to the parent clubs whether the developmental teams will play in the 2004-05 season.

Right now, it’s very likely the hockey business will be alive and well in Grand Rapids next season. But just in case, Griffins GM Bob McNamara said the AHL has been looking at what course of action it could take if there is a work stoppage next season in the NHL.

“We hope it doesn’t happen. But if it does happen, we’re prepared to deal with it,” he said. “Our goal is to have all the American League teams playing next year and the only way we’ll get through that disruption is if we’re prepared for what may be on the horizon.”

The dilemma AHL owners, like DP Fox Sports, may face next season is that a number of their players have signed two-way contracts with NHL clubs. That means those players earn one salary when they play with the parent club, and another, albeit a much smaller one, when they are with the affiliate.

So the question becomes, if the NHL owners shut down the league next September or if the union calls a strike, can those players with two-way contracts join their AHL teams?

McNamara believes so, especially if they finish this season with their AHL club. Why? Because they would then belong to the Professional Hockey Players Association and not the NHLPA. The PHPA represents players in the American and East Coast leagues, and has a working agreement in place with the AHL. The NHLPA only represents NHL players.

“They wouldn’t be subject to any lockout or strike that would occur at that level,” he said of AHL players. “They can simply be assigned prior to any labor disruption happening and continue to play in the American League.”

Whatever happens at the NHL level next fall, McNamara is confident the Red Wings front office will fulfill its contract with the Griffins and send a dozen players to the local club for the start of the 2004-05 season.

“It’s what we’re planning on and we’re hoping for,” he said. “It’s just a matter of looking at the rest of the American League teams and making certain that people are prepared for it and they have their partners in line.”

NHL franchises, however, won’t be required to assign players to their AHL affiliates or even run their minor pro clubs if a new labor contract isn’t reached by next Sept. 15.

“Certainly, there may be some NHL teams that choose not to assign players down or possibly choose not to operate their minor league team,” said McNamara, the only GM in the Griffins’ eight-year history and a former league executive of the year. “But we’re hopeful we’ll have all of our teams operating.”

The Griffins open their eighth season on Oct. 11 in Chicago and make their home debut on Oct. 18 against defending AHL champ Houston. Grand Rapids is starting its second year as the Red Wings’ primary affiliate this season. The affiliation agreement the local franchise has with Detroit is for five years.           

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