The westward relocation plans for five teams have been one of the worst kept secrets in the American Hockey League for a long time.
It seems that cat might finally be let out of the bag this afternoon as the league has scheduled a press conference in San Jose for 12:30 P.M. Pacific Time to discuss a major announcement. Attendees to the conference include AHL President and CEO David Andrews, Deputy Commissioner of the NHL Bill Daly, and members of the brass from the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.
The location of the event is actually relevant. It is the intention of the San Jose Sharks to have their AHL franchise become another tenant at the SAP Center (aka the Shark Tank), becoming the only team in the league to have said arrangement (The Toronto Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies play at Ricoh Coliseum, nearby to Air Canada Centre).
The four teams joining the Worcester Sharks on their journey across the Oregon Trail are in no particular order, Manchester (L.A.), Norfolk (Anaheim), Adirondack (Calgary), and of course, Oklahoma City (Edmonton), which announced it was ceasing the operations of the Barons in Oklahoma back in December.
Cities rumored in the past to be taking their place, via Joshua Cooper of Yahoo’s Puck Daddy, are all located in California: Stockton, Bakersfield, Ontario, Long Beach and San Diego, to go along with confirmed San Jose. Fresno was also rumored in connection to the Sharks move west.
Kevin Oklobzija of the Democrat & Chronicle stated that AHL Board of Governors voted during the 2015 All-Star Classic on the approval of the Kings moving the Monarchs to Ontario, California; the Oilers moving the Barons to Bakersfield, California; San Jose moving the AHL Sharks to San Jose, California; Anaheim purchasing the Norfolk Admirals and moving them to San Diego, California; and Calgary moving Adirondack to Stockton, California.
The Hockey News’ Jared Clinton confirmed that Stockton will be the eventual stopping off point for Calgary, which last offseason moved its AHL affiliate nearly 3,000 miles east from then-isolated Abbotsford, British Columbia to Glen Falls, New York for what proved to be an ill-fated one year stint. Relocating to Stockton represents another nearly 3,000 mile trek in the other direction. Adirondack’s previous team, the Phantoms, had left for Lehigh Valley during the summer.
The result of all of the franchise moving is that five NHL Western Conference teams will have their AHL prospects much closer to home in California. Will they be as close as the famed Jack Skille trek from Chicago to Rockford? In the case of San Jose (same building), Anaheim (San Diego) and Los Angeles (Ontario), yes. Edmonton to Bakersfield? Not so much.
As for the rest of the AHL, in the near future Arizona and Colorado are looking into moving their affiliates, Portland and Lake Erie respectively, west according to Clinton. Back in December, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune suggested the same fates for Arizona and Colorado, and speculated that Vancouver could move Utica, which just successfully hosted the AHL All-Star Classic, back west to now vacant Abbotsford. However, that is not in the immediate horizon.
What does this all mean for the Milwaukee Admirals? For now mostly nothing, as the team is secure through 2016-17 with its extended affiliation agreement with Nashville. None of Milwaukee’s Midwest Division rivals, Chicago, Rockford, Lake Erie and Grand Rapids are expected to move west, east, north or south at this point either. The close geographically Iowa Stars also seem secure in near proximity to their NHL affiliate in St. Paul, Minnesota.
As far as league realignment and the schedule for 2015-16, obviously there are huge ramifications to be determined at a later date, via Clinton:
“One of the odder developments about the new division, however, is that they may play primarily against each other. Oklobzija stated the relocated franchises might have a reduced schedule, in the range of 60 to 66 games, while other teams in the league play upwards of 70. This would effectively allow for proper travel time while not lengthening the season, but the costs may hinder travel between the long-standing east coast divisions and the new, yet to be named division.”
Beyond ’16-’17, if, and this is purely an if, the Nashville Predators or another NHL team was looking to move their AHL affiliate, Norfolk would likely be an attractive option for a new AHL home base, as well as the currently NHL/AHL-devoid Atlanta area. Norfolk averages 4,553 fans per home date, ranking 16th, while Milwaukee averages 4,401, good for 18th out of 30 teams. Distance-wise Norfolk is actually further away from Nashville than Milwaukee. The Gwinnett Gladiators (near Atlanta), average 4,543 fans per home date in the ECHL.
So Roundtable . . . What do think of the AHL’s Westward Expansion? Can it last and be successful? Are more teams on the move in the near future, and if so, which teams will be packing their bags for greener pastures?