After the announcement that possibly 6 teams could be forced west, the American Hockey League revealed the divisional makeup for the 2014-15 season.
Curious moves, to say the least.
Since 1990, there has only been one season where the AHL has not reshuffled its divisions. Teams have moved and teams have folded. Within some sort of realm of tangible reason, the divisions have made sense for the makeup of their membership despite parent club influence.
So why is the 2014-15 division alignment so…questionable? Part of the reason is the northeastern US-heavy concentration of teams.
The 30 AHL clubs still fall into two 15-team conferences, each with three 5-team divisions. OK, good. The 2012-13 West Division of the Western Conference was the South Division in 2013-14, and is back to the West Division for 2014-15. Because reasons. This division is based in Texas (Texas, Houston/Iowa, San Antonio), Oklahoma, and Charlotte NC. Be it West or South, the Red River neighbors make sense as a Western Conference division. Charlotte was a Eastern Conference team in its inaugural season but has been the fall guys for redistricting. Its very bizarre and unfortunate as North Carolina cannot seem to catch a break or identity.
The Western Conference’s North Division is perfect. And the most poorly placed. Upstate New York and Southern Ontario comprise this group, and it’s a sound selection. Except that this Eastern Time Zone division is in the opposite conference. Again, a northeast US-centered league has to make tough decisions but organizing an entire Western Conf. division in the east doesn’t jive with their mission statement earlier this summer. There seems to be no room to facilitate a western exodus.
How can a league place so much emphasis on physical relocation while aligning teams within logical divisional groupings? (Well, not Charlotte.) Unless…the teams to be moved west are now in that division.
As written before, there are seven teams that fit the bill for AHL President/CEO Dave Andrews’ western vision. Adirondack, Utica, Lake Erie, and Oklahoma City are in the Western Conference now, and two of them are Eastern Time Zone Teams. Adirondack and Utica could be the first East-based-West teams to relocate, the most logical moves. Lake Erie would then be free to relocated within the division, if they so choose, as can Oklahoma City make that decision.
These moves give the NHL parent clubs greater access to prospects and scouting, and allows fanbases to co-mingle. What this plan doesn’t do is alleviate travel. As the teams sit now, the bulk of season travel remains in or near the Eastern Time Zone. Unless the only concern is the cost of promoting and demoting players, then this concern goes out the window. Though, it would be unwise to change travel costs so drastically.
If there are any issues with Eastern Conference alignment, they are small ones.
Why are the two Massachusetts teams not in the same division? Travel costs would essentially disappear and it would promote an in-state rivalry. The Western West and North, and the Eastern East divisions are heavily centered within one state? Also, why not switch Binghamton and Bridgeport and create more pocketed regoinality without overlap? These adjustments would also infuse these divisons with NHL divisional rivalries. It is the best way to allow fans of AHLers to follow their players to the NHL. Building teams, fanbases, and NHL rivalries from the ground up.
As the AHL season is months away, there’s time for more news of realignment and relocation to be released. The hope is that the bigger picture begins to clear up.