Washington tied up one of its many offseason loose ends Tuesday, extending its affiliation with the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears through the 2014-15 season.
Next year will mark a decade of partnership between the teams, which both face pivotal summers after failing to reach the playoffs.
“The Bears are a great franchise and we look forward to working together again to develop our prospects in Hershey,” Capitals president Dick Patrick said in a news release.
The height of the Capitals-Bears relationship during this agreement came as the NHL team rebuilt and stocked the AHL pipeline with top young players. Several who were groomed in Hershey and experienced a Calder Cup championship in 2006, 2009 or 2010 have gone on to become NHL mainstays, such as John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon (now in Edmonton), Tomas Fleischmann (Florida) and Michal Neuvirth (Buffalo).
In recent years, though, the number of elite prospects rising through Hershey’s ranks has diminished. By making the playoffs frequently, the Capitals have had fewer blue-chip players and some have bypassed the AHL entirely (think Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson).
Hershey also presents an interesting dynamic because as one of the most storied franchises in the AHL, with one of the most rabid fan bases in that league, there is an expectation for that organization to win in its own right not simply serve as an incubator for young talent. Those aspirations occasionally lead to prospects taking on lesser roles in favor of established AHL veterans in pursuit of the Bears own success.
With both the Capitals and Bears now looking to simply get back to the Stanley Cup and Calder Cup playoffs, respectively, it will be interesting to see how the dynamic evolves moving forward.
>> The Capitals have extended offers to a pair of 2013 draft picks, defensemen Tyler Lewington (seventh round) and Blake Heinrich (fifth round), to retain their rights to both players.
[Update 2:10 p.m.] >> The Caps have signed forward Garrett Mitchell to a one-year, two-way contract. Mitchell, 22, had two assists and 44 penalty minutes in 17 games with Hershey this past season. He was drafted in the sixth round in 2009.