DES MOINES, Iowa – A very wise hockey insider once explained how teams in the National Hockey League build their rosters. They put together two scoring lines, one line to shutdown the opposing team’s best line, and one group that does the dirty work; whether it is to eat up some minutes in a blowout, teach an opposing player a lesson, or change the momentum of a game by simply wreaking havoc on the ice. A group he called the “lunch pail” line.
Because of this formula, it often means that a team has no more than six or seven reliable scorers on their roster. Unless a player or two can play shutdown defense as well as score goals, they are likely not going to get a shot with a big club.
This is likely the obstacle that Iowa Wild forwards Sam Anas and Gerald Mayhew are facing, which may mean that there only pathway to an NHL career is with a team other than the Minnesota Wild.
A Look at the Credentials
There is absolutely no disputing the numbers that Anas and Mayhew are recording this season. The two come out of the AHL’s All-Star break ranked second and third in league scoring.
Mayhew has been ridiculous with the puck on his stick, putting up 30 goals in 38 games this season to easily lead the league in goals. He is second in scoring overall with 47 points, and has been deadly on the power play, tied for the league lead with 11 goals.
Anas is a playmaking machine. He is tied for third in points with 46 and is tied for the league lead in assists with 32. On the power play, there is no better point guard than Anas, who has perfected Head Coach Tim Army’s scheme, helping the Wild reach eighth place in the AHL in power-play efficiency at 20.6%.
Of the two, only Mayhew has spent time with the big club this season. He found himself relegated to the fourth line in his seven-game audition, but still managed to produce two goals in seven games. One blogger who covers Minnesota stated that the forward really didn’t “distinguish himself,” brushing off the two goals.
However, consider this. The Wild have played 50 games. At his pace, if Mayhew would have played 50 games, he would have 14 goals right now, tied for third on the team. That would be pretty good for a guy who was playing on the fourth line and received no time with the special teams’ units.
It is also important to note that while Mayhew is a premier snipper, he is not afraid to get his hands dirty either. He is a gritty player, who battles for the puck and will go toe-to-toe with an opposing player if pushed. He could still be a fourth-line guy in the NHL if called to fill that role.
For Anas, it is a little different. He is as tough as nails, but at 5-8, 157 pounds, no one is going to confuse him with an on-ice bully. He has just six penalty minutes this season, and his future is as a top-line player.
The Road to Minnesota is Paved with Obstacles
Both have put up numbers that should have them in the NHL, but the road to the Minnesota Wild has far too many obstacles for them to overcome. It is not that the players above them are necessarily “better,” the real challenge is the salaries they are earning.
The top four wingers in Minnesota are Zach Parise, Mats Zuccarello, Jason Zucker, and Kevin Fiala. Of those four, Parise, Zuccarello, and Zucker are all signed to long-term deals that last until at least 2022-23. Parise’s deal goes through the 2024-25 season. Fiala has another year on his contract.
The four wingers have produced solid numbers. Parise leads the group with 32 points in 50 games, while the other three each have 28 points, with Zucker reaching his total in the fewest number of games (40).
While solid, they are not impressive numbers at all. It would seem that this would open the door for Mayhew and Anas, especially considering that the big club is likely destined for a last-place finish in the Central Division. However, there is one number that is likely to stand in the way for both Iowa stars – salary.
Parise is a veteran player on the backside of his career, but he is owed better than $7.5 million a year over the next five seasons, and no team in the league is going to take on that contract. That means the team is likely stuck with him until he opts to retire, and he is only 35.
Zuccarello is earning $6 million a year over the next four seasons, while Zucker will make $5.5 million for the next three. Zuccarello is 32, which makes him difficult to move. Zucker is only 28 and is still a solid goal-scorer, but he will likely not reach his career-high of 33 goals he set two seasons ago again. With his salary, he may simply be too tough to move as well. These salaries become the roadblocks for both Anas and Mayhew.
The sad part for the Iowa stars is that if they were centermen, they would both be with Minnesota. The NHL Wild are weak up the middle, which will likely lead to teammate Nico Sturm getting a regular shot with Minnesota before either Mayhew or Anas do.
For the two to continue on their quest for an NHL career, both are going to have to move to a different organization. The salary cap conundrum is too much of an obstacle and both will be stuck in the AHL if they stay with the Minnesota Wild. It will be sad to see both players go, but all should be given a chance to chase their dreams. Sam Anas and Gerald Mayhew deserve that chance as well.
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