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Dallas Stars' Jamie Benn, right, scores on the Edmonton Oilers' Devan Dubnyk during second period NHL hockey action in Edmonton on Friday, Jan. 22, 2010. (John Ulan/John Ulan/The Canadian Press)
Dallas Stars' Jamie Benn, right, scores on the Edmonton Oilers' Devan Dubnyk during second period NHL hockey action in Edmonton on Friday, Jan. 22, 2010. (John Ulan/John Ulan/The Canadian Press)

A closer look at the NHL's busiest callups Add to ...

In case you missed it, we had a story on Saturday on Sharks winger Jamie McGinn's wild season, one filled with 14 callups to San Jose and 14 demotions to Worcester of the AHL.

As part of that piece, I compiled a list of the most frequently recalled players in the league (with an assist to capgeek.com, a great site for this sort of thing):

14 recalls - Jamie McGinn SAN

9 recalls - Jason Demers SAN, Bryan Bickell CHI

7 recalls - Derek Joslin SAN, Chad Johnson NYR, Karl Alzner WAS, Alexander Sulzer NAS, Michal Repik FLA

6 recalls - Devan Dubnyk EDM, Matt Zaba NYR, Shawn Matthias FLA, Andrew MacDonald NYI, Mark Letestu PIT, Zach Boychuk CAR, Logan Couture SAN

I haven't done all of the number crunching on it, but at a glance, it appears that callups are way up since the lockout due to the fact the salary cap relies on per-day costs. Teams are saving money by demoting players for as little as one or two days at a time, something that is far easier for clubs like Toronto, Boston and Chicago which have an affiliate within driving distance.

San Jose to Worcester, meanwhile, is the furthest distance for any NHL team and affiliate (roughly 4,300 kilometres), something Sharks assistant GM Wayne Thomas admits makes things more challenging for them.

"Having a farm team in Worcester, it's a great spot, if you're there permanently," Thomas said. "The travel's excellent - I think we have only seven nights in a hotel. But being a West Coast (NHL) team, the AHL is mostly in the East, so that's what we're strapped with if we want to recall players… It's more of a hardship on the players."

Thomas, however, said having an affiliate a fair distance away from the NHL club wasn't all bad. (It's worth noting the Sharks lead the league in callups and yet have the second-best record in the league.)

"For the convenience of recalls, it's an obvious advantage, but on the other hand, if you talk to them (teams like Toronto), there's probably some disadvantages of it being in the same town, too," Thomas said. "That it's almost too close."

McGinn said that the Sharks hadn't told him the reasons behind all of the callups and demotions, but that he assumed salary cap implications were involved. Only 21 and still trying to solidify a spot in the league, he isn't getting too worked up about it, however.

"I think that's what it has to do with," he said. "If that's the case, it seems to be they're calling me up and I'm happy about that. If it's the salary cap, it's the salary cap, and that doesn't bother me. I'm going to play wherever they put me and play as hard as I can.

"It can be frustrating at times, but the biggest thing is just staying positive. My ultimate goal was to be in San Jose at the end of the year and helping out in the playoffs and things like that. It's kind of tough on the body - it's cross-country flights, it's not like you jump on a plane and fly an hour and then back to normal. It's tough. But I make the best of things. I'm trying to work as hard as I can to stay in San Jose."

I asked well-known agent Allan Walsh on Sunday whether or not he saw this as a problem given young players are being punted around more than usual. He said it's one of several issues with a cap system than can be real negatives for players.

"I don't really consider this a flaw in the cap, I consider it one of the negative consequences of the cap," Walsh said via email. "Another negative consequence is players on one-way contracts clearing waivers and being assigned to the AHL.

"As teams bump up against the cap, one of the most coveted assets is cap space for maximum roster flexibility. Say what you will about McGinn's season, San Jose is a textbook case of excellent cap management. They're saving every available dollar to allow for callups."

As you can see from my list above, McGinn is far from the only Shark to be travelling constantly this season. He said sometimes as many as three of his teammates are sent down at once, and it's made for a bit of a bonding experience for he and someone like Jason Demers.

One potential solution to this system of cap management could be to tie salaries under the cap to games played, which would mean off days will not cost teams like San Jose significant wiggle room. Young players could get in more practice time rather than spending half their seasons in an airport shuttling between the AHL and NHL.

If I'm working for the NHLPA, that's one small item I consider asking for if only to cut down on some of the silliness involved with daily demotions and cross-country flights for players like McGinn.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

 

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