Today American Hockey League President/CEO Dave Andrews announced that there will be a shift in the geography of the AHL. This will not be an expansion move; it is a full-on relocation of multiple franchises to accommodate their NHL parents. Mostly Western Conference NHL teams. This may be the first time a minor league has enacted a wide-scale, forced realignment.
Though this announcement has yet to garner its own press release Andrews gave a verbal confirmation on the June 11th Marek vs Wyshynski podcast. As many as six teams could be on the move, as per preliminary agreements made within the proposed franchises. The earliest this would happen is for the 2015-16 season. Specific relocation parameters (same county, state, time zone) are unknown as of this writing.
It has always been baffling why Manchester, NH has been the prime feeder for Los Angeles. Or Worcester, MA being the home to the baby Sharks. Teams that own their top affiliate are paying high overhead costs for travel that span two teams and multiple player transfers. On the flip side, AHL teams operating solely through partnerships do not have the capital to pay for professional-level transportation and accommodations. These are the larger and more frequent costs of professional sports, outside of player salaries. (If you’ve ever wondered why the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Adirondack Flames, St. John’s Ice Caps, and Charlotte Checkers look nearly identical to their NHL parents, that’s streamlining. Core equipment such as pants, socks, gloves, and helmets that match the NHL counterpart save the team on uniform and equipment costs. One player, one set of gear, two sets of jerseys.)
President/CEO Andrews said “upwards of six teams.” Who meets the criteria? (This list has nothing to do with who “should” or “should not” have a hockey team. That thinking is absurd. These teams meet certain criteria for a move west.)
Manchester Monarchs (LA Kings, 3,016 miles) – Manchester has spent 13 years as the Kings’ top farm team. An established franchise with little success, though it has produced multiple prominent NHLers, the Monarchs have experienced a longer-than-normal run in a single city. But the Kings’ clout as an elite NHL franchise could change that. There is a population density in the greater Los Angeles area that could support hockey at a more grassroots level, so LA County could be a landing spot.
St. John’s Ice Caps (Winnipeg Jets, 2007 miles) – Interesting option. St. John’s is the furthest east in the league, has a long history with the AHL and this team is associated with the new Jets. They’re also in the 2014 Calder Cup Final. This team will make money and will be embraced by the community…until they move again. This may be the team that stays so far separated from their parent.
Adirondack Flames (Calgary Flames, 2496 miles) – Poor Calgary prospects. In the 37 years of the relationship between the Flames and the AHL, only once has the team been in the same time zone. This most recent incarnation left southern British Columbia (reasonably close to Calgary)…for Glens Falls, NY. This makes no sense. The Adirondacks have been home to some of the best minor league hockey for 60 years, but this move is ludicrous. Move the team back to western Canada. Now.
Portland Pirates – (Phoenix Coyotes, 3077 miles) – Originally a Washington Capitals farm team, the Buffalo Sabres called the Pirates theirs for a few short years. Then came the Ducks years and now the Coyotes claim Portland as their own. Another odd choice of a team affiliating themselves with a club out west. A return of the IHL’s Las Vegas Thunder or Phoenix Roadrunners would be a jolt of nostalgia in the desert. With or without the Coyotes.
Utica Comets – (Vancouver Canucks, 2923 miles) – Relocated from Peoria, IL, the Comets laid claim to a losing record in the Capitol Region of NY state. It just did’t feel like a good fit, especially after Utica was once home to the Devils’ farm team. This placement felt like a forced cash grab. Move this team out west.
Worcester Sharks (San Jose Sharks, 3095 miles) – The second long-running AHL team in central Massachusetts, there are only sharks out by the Cape. Not near the Connecticut river. The city of Worcester has enjoyed the AHL for a combined near 20 years so taking another team out of New England could be painful. A minor league team in NorCal would be ideal for the Sharks and for in-state rivalries. It can be done.
Norfolk Admirals (Anaheim Ducks, 2703 miles) – Tampa shifted their players out of Norfolk immediately after the Admirals won the Calder Cup, changing the hockey world for residents of southern Virginia. Would they notice if the Admirals moved? San Diego could work. More hockey in SoCal, get to keep the moniker and imagery, as San Diego is the west coast home for the United States Navy. This has “perfect fit” written all over it.
Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oilers, 1937 miles) – Is this working? Is it a marketing ploy or grassroots movement to expose the American plains to professional hockey? They share a time zone and familiar cultural points, but is it a good fit? This is one franchise that needs more than four years.
Lake Erie Monsters (Colorado Avalanche, 2148 miles) – The old Utah Grizzlies were a dormant franchise before they were purchased and moved to Cleveland. Another IHL resurrection in Salt Lake City is overdue. The rationale for this is two-fold: re-establish the connection between the Pacific coast and the Rockies, growing Colorado’s exposure out west, and…
Springfield Falcons (Columbus Blue Jackets, 692 miles) – … move the Falcons to Cleveland, giving the Columbus Blue Jackets a stranglehold on professional hockey in Ohio. The Falcons have been bounced around from Tampa, then Edmonton, now Columbus. It’s the closest they’ve ever been to their parent club. Blue Jacket energy is growing, and this would be a very strong move.
….yeah, or just send the Falcons out to Utah and merely switch affiliations. Whichever is easier.
Seven of these 10 teams are the most ripe for a move out west (Manchester, Adirondack, Portland, Utica, Worcester, Norfolk, and Springfield). This is an unprecedented move by the AHL but one based on logic and making the bigger partner happy. Hopefully fans will be made and solidified by this boldness.