The Capitals, Hershey Bears, and Developing Players

There has been some spicy talk on social media recently about the role of the American Hockey League (AHL) in relation to that of the National Hockey League (NHL). The AHL is made up of 31 teams- all with affiliations to NHL teams. A new team was brought forward this summer from the ECHL because the creation of the expansion team Las Vegas Golden Knights . (More on the ECHL later.) The AHL’s primary function as a farm team is to develop rookie players into skilled NHL players.

Stephen Whyno reported that Caps coach Barry Trotz sent a text to then Hershey Bears coach Troy Mann congratulating him for his role in developing players for the wining team. “Thanks Manner for having all those rookie Caps ready, They all played well — you own a piece of this win last night.” There is little doubt about the importance an AHL coach had in the formation of an NHL player. (Unfortunately, the Caps/Bears did not renew their contract with Mann and have since hired Spencer Carbery from their ECHL affiliate.)

The other side of the story is that many AHL teams are just as much a part of their local communities as are NHL teams. And those communities get behind their players as they fight to win games that will lead them to the playoffs and the ultimate prize–the Calder Cup. The Bears have their own fan club, the Hershey Bears Booster Club, that arranges opportunities for fans to travel to away games, even Caps games, as well as other trips for the community. Like the Capitals Fan Club, they also raise funds for local charities.

But let’s get back to how the AHL and the NHL work together. We start with the affiliation. To keep it easy, we will use the Hershey Bears and the Washington Capitals as our example. The Bears renewed their affiliation agreement in October 2016. It expires after the 2019/20 season. Prior to that, they had been affiliated for 11 seasons, among the longest in the AHL.

The problem many AHL teams face is the structure of contracts in the NHL and the control the parent team has over up to 50 contracts for both NHL and AHL players. The NHL can only carry 23 active players on their roster. The AHL, on the other hand, can sign additional players and have as many as they can afford on their roster. There are more rules about numbers that can dress for a game and types of players eligible to play at any given time.


There are any number of contracts available for AHL players. These three are signed:

Standard players’ contract (SPC) or the full AHL contract, is signed only with the AHL affiliate. The player must sign a new contract to play for the NHL. These players will most likely not ever play in the NHL.

Professional try-out contract (PTO) used to allow the NHL team to look at a player. At times, that player could be a veteran NHL player who is hoping to land a new NHL contract. For the AHL, that player may be on the team for no more then 25 games without a new standard contract. Think Alex Chiasion who signed a one-year bridge contract after training camp in 2026.

Amateur try-out contracts (ATO) are for amateurs to get a taste of playing with the AHL but they maintain their amateur status for the following season.

Then there are the contacts players actually signed with the parent organization (the Capitals); however, they are playing with the AHL (Bears) and not on the NHL roster.

Two-way contracts give the parent team (Caps) the option to send a player down to the AHL (Bears) and recall him to play in the NHL again. The salary rate changes depending on which league they play. As players run up and down between Hershey and Washington DC, their salary fluctuates and the salary cap changes as well. So moving players around for the good of the Caps is no easy job. This past season we saw that with several Bears roster players.

Players under 25 on September 15 sign entry-level contracts. These are two-way contracts and only used for a player’s first NHL contract. These guys can go back and forth between the Caps and the Bears without waivers. Jakub Vrana is one of those players on a ELC who played 73 regular season games with the Capitals. Read more about him and his contract and performance here.

A Standard NHL one-way contract means the player receives an NHL salary regardless which league he happens to play a game. For the Caps to send one-way player to the Bears, they have to put the player on waivers. That’s a whole different set of rules which we discuss here.

Developing Players

When it comes to developing players for the national league, the Bears do one heck of a good job. Among the players who have moved into the NHL after even a brief time in the AHL are: Karl Alzner, Jay Beagle, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Eric Fehr, Stanislav Galiev, Mike Green, Philipp Grubauer, Braden Holtby, Michael Neuvirth, Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, Michael Latta, Liam O’Brien, Steven Oleksy, Justin Peters, Nate Schmidt, and Tom Wilson.

And current Bears who contributed to the Capitals during the playoffs and wining the Stanley Cup are: Travis Boyd, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker, Madison Bowey, and Christian Djoos.

The AHL has also been the developing ground for future NHL head coaches. Bruce Boudreau was once a Bears coach when the Capitals brought him up to coach in the NHL. Current Cap’s head coach Todd Reirden also coached in the AHL. And the AHL brings forward coaches from the ECHL, as the Bears have done with coach Carbery.

Although it can be destabilizing for AHL teams like the Hershey Bears to loose players around whom they have built a playing strategy. The Bears have a record of winning and their fans want more of the same. Since 2000, the Bears have won three Calder Cups. They have turned out some amazing players like goalie Michal Neuvirth who was in the net for the 2009 and 2010 Calder Cup wins–he went on to play for the Capitals and ultimately the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Caps Future

The truth is, they all want to play in the NHL. In all fairness, one can’t begrudge an AHL player from taking the opportunity the live out their dream. And as you can see from the list above, many of the Capitals’ top players were developed in the AHL. And more are likely to be on their way soon. Starting with Ilya Samanov, the Capitals goalie for the future. It is possible that one of the current Bear’s goalies, either Phoenix Copley or Vitek Vanecek could be the Caps next backup goalie.

So, go  to a Hershey Bears game. Get to know the players who you may see on the Caps or other NHL rosters in the future. Support the team – meet the players after a game, join the booster club, and cheer on their success. Check out the Caps Fan Club or the Caps Road Crew and go to a game with the Caps community. We are all one big family and we should get to know each other more.

Oh and read our daily Hershey Bear reports to meet the players. Read our other stories.







Explaining the Calder Cup

The Hershey Bears hold the record for most American Hockey League (AHL) wins of the Calder Cup (11) as well as the first and second place team to win the Cup. So what does it mean? What is the story behind the Calder Cup?

As the AHL explains it, the Calder Cup gets its name from Frank Calder, the first president of the AHL. Mr. Calder played a pivotal role in making a name for the AHL. The trophy was first awarded in 1938.

The Bears have been in the final run for the Cup more times (22) than any other team; and they have lost (11) more times than any other AHL team. Many current Capitals and notable past players have their name etched on the trophy. Some coaches including Barry Trotz (1994), Bruce Boudreau (2006) can be found on the Cup.

Among the current Caps players whose names can be found on the Cup are:

Karl Alzner (2x)DSC_0124

Jay Beagle (2x)DSC_0106

John Carlson (2x)DSC_0438

Braden Holtby4-27-16-26

There have only been three times in which the NHL and AHL affiliate have won the Stanley Cup and the Calder Cup: Montreal Canadiens (1976 and 1977) and the New Jersey Devil (1995), and Pittsburg Penguins (2015). Thankfully, that won’t happen again this year!

As all eyes in Washington shift to watch the Hershey Bears, we will be taking a closer look at prospects for the third and fourth line, and maybe even a couple defensemen who the Caps management might consider bringing up for permanent spots on the 2016/17 roster. Stay tuned for a deeper dive into the top prospects for the Caps.

Hershey: Where Caps Fans Place Their Hopes

After losing out on their chance to follow the Washington Capitals all the way to the final Stanley Cup challenge, Caps fans now place their hopes in the Hershey Bears. The Bears will enter the final charge for Calder Cup on Wednesday, June 1st.

Other than the fact that many of us can’t stomach the final round of the Stanley Cup because a certain team from Pennsylvania is playing—this is a great chance to see how some Caps prospects play under pressure.

Your AHL Bears Playoff Leaders:

DSC_0601Carter Camper has been the playoff’s number two top scorer to date in the AHL, after former Bear Connor Carrick who ended the playoffs with 18 points. (we sure do miss him on the team)

Jakub Varna leads the team in playoff goals at seven—he also has six assists. He is a shooting machine with 37 shots on goal (SOG) during the playoffs.

Carter Camper leads in overall points (15) with six goals and nine assists. He has 29 SOG in the playoffs.

Chris Bourque has proven why bringing him back to the Bears this year was the right decision. He is third in the overall point count with 10: four goals and six assists. There doesn’t seem to be anything he won’t do to get in front of the net.DSC_0561

And finally, let’s talk Zach Sill. Caps fans had a chance to see a bit of him this past season when he was called up to Washington to play. He rounds out the top lines with eight points: five goals and three assists. Another player that is driven to win; Sill seems to be everywhere ready to shoot.

DSC_0569The Bears have always had some pretty tremendous goalies and this year they again have two of the best in Justin Peters and Dan Ellis. Peters has been the goaltender of choice this year with Ellis only playing in two post-season games.

NHL Offseason: What Do Caps Players Do?

It’s been nearly two weeks since the Capitals were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins. A few days after, the team disbanded for the offseason. So what do they do once the season is over?

According to, the off-season can be broken up into four sections. The first month is transition and recovery from injuries. As the summer goes on, players go from recovery to strength building then power and speed. By the end of summer, it’s conditioning.

RS USA Lines

And, if you’re Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov or Dmitri Orlov, you go play for Team Russia in the World Championships. The dynamic trio played on a line together and each managed a goal and assist throughout the tournament. Russia ended up going 5-1, losing to Finland in the semi-finals and winning the Bronze medal game over the United States 7-2. They have medaled in the last three World Championships (Gold – 2014, Silver – 2015, Bronze – 2016.) The three players will now take the next three months off before hockey camp starts in late August.

Most players after their team is eliminated from the playoffs take the initial month to relax and go on vacation with their families (T.J. Oshie is in Disneyworld and is also getting ready for the arrival of baby #2).

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Tj means business…. 📷🤓

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Players take time to recover from nagging injuries they had during the season and post-season. Coaches and players can also give their time to help charities and appear more often at events they couldn’t go to during the regular season.

After the initial month or so of vacations and such, players tend to start focusing back on hockey. They know the physical toll a season takes and the more they train, the better off they’ll be once training camp begins. They start with working out two to three times a week in July then ramp it up to four or five times a week in July. This includes lifting weights, cycling, interval training, yoga, and resistance training so they can be prepared for their 30 second shifts with body contact. They also look at footage of their game play and get together with coaches to improve their play.

As for the fans, the NHL playoffs are still going on (Tampa Bay leads Pittsburgh 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals while St. Louis and San Jose are tied at 2).

DSC_0641The Calder Cup Playoffs have the Caps own Hershey Bears in the Eastern Conference Finals playing the Toronto Marlies.

Some of our players (Ovechkin and Holtby) will be in Las Vegas on June 22 for the NHL Awards. Ovi receives his sixth Maurice “Rocket” Richard award and is nominated for the Mark Messler Leadership Award. Braden Holtby is up for the Ted Lindsay and Vezina.

What do you do over the summer to get your hockey fix? Comment and let us know!