For two seasons, the Augusta Lynx lived and died by their National Hockey League affiliations. That won't be the case in 2000-01.
The Lynx and Vancouver Canucks have ended their working agreement, while an affiliation with the New Jersey Devils and their American Hockey League farm team in Albany, N.Y., is in limbo.
"We're still talking about the arrangements," Lynx general manager Paul Gamsby said. "It's up in the air right now."
With 17 players already under contract for the upcoming season -- including several players with significant experience at the AHL and International League levels -- the Lynx have little room for NHL contract players on their roster.
New coach Scott MacPherson also is close to signing defensemen Wes Swinson and Likit Andersson, which would give the Lynx 19 players. At least six more are expected to attend training camp and battle for the few remaining roster spots.
Do the math, and it seems unlikely that the Lynx will carry any NHL contract players this season.
"We pretty much have our team," MacPherson said. "Plus, right now I've also got six very talented players coming to training camp to compete for spots on our hockey club."
Earlier this summer, the Lynx expressed an interest in bringing back grinder Chris Thompson, who is in the third and final year of his contract with New Jersey. But with Augusta's roster nearly set, MacPherson now doesn't see that happening.
"More than likely, we're not going to be getting Thompson back," MacPherson said. "I haven't pursued getting his rights."
"If New Jersey sends up 10 good players, and they all beat out guys that we've already signed for a spot, then we'll keep them," Gamsby said. "There aren't any guaranteed spots on our roster. We're going to take the best 20 players."
Despite parting ways with Vancouver, the Lynx are not ruling out the possibility of bringing back Canucks prospect Jonas Soling, who was an ECHL all-star with the Lynx as a rookie in 1998-99.
Vancouver switched affiliates during the summer, aligning with Kansas City of the International League, while also working out a loose agreement with Missouri of the United Hockey League. The Canucks can assign Soling wherever they choose, but likely would not object to sending him to Augusta if Soling wanted to return.
"We would love to have him," MacPherson said. "The problem that would arise is that Jonas would have to go where (Vancouver) assigns him."
The dynamics of an affiliation are confusing to many novice fans under the impression that the "NHL" tag carried by many prospects means that player is of NHL-caliber.
Generally, NHL teams send their top prospects to AHL affiliates or return them to their major junior teams. Rarely do NHL clubs assign top prospects to the ECHL and lower-level minor pro leagues.
An exception to that rule was the Devils sending goalie J-F Damphousse, their 1997 first-round pick, to Augusta at the start of last season. But Damphousse flopped with the Lynx and was reassigned to Albany in late December.
Ill-timed callups also have been an unwanted byproduct of NHL affiliation for the Lynx. Several key players were promoted to higher-level teams over the past two seasons, leaving the Lynx shorthanded for several extended periods.
On the other hand, the Lynx have reaped some benefits from their affiliations. Several NHL contract players -- including Thompson, Soling and defenseman Clint Cabana (Vancouver) -- have played important roles with the team during its first two seasons. And if not for their relationship with New Jersey, the Lynx wouldn't have franchise goalie Judd Lambert, a former Devils draft pick.
Gamsby also has close personal ties to several key members of the Devils organization, including head coach Larry Robinson and goaltending coach Jacques Caron, which could keep the relationship intact.
"I have a lot of friends up there, and it's been a good relationship for us," Gamsby said.
A last-minute change of plans has landed goalie Judd Lambert in camp with Providence of the American Hockey League. Lambert initially planned to attend camp with the Manitoba Moose of the International League.
But the 26-year-old netminder, on the advice of his agent, accepted an invitation to try out with Providence, the top farm club of the NHL's Boston Bruins. Even if Lambert does not make the club, MacPherson said the Bruins still might offer him a two-way AHL-ECHL contract.
Lambert was one of three goalies in Providence's camp as of Thursday, but several more AHL and NHL contract goalies were expected to arrive in camp for the first day of full-squad workouts Saturday.
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.
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