As much as it pains me to say this – it looks like Edmonton Oilers hockey is done in Oklahoma City for good. The pipe dream of “flip-flopping” ECHL cities for AHL ones (in OKC) is officially up in smoke as it appears that Bakersfield and an additional location will fill the minor affiliated situation for the Oilers.
Norfolk Admirals owner, Ken Young, who has been a hero in that area of Virginia for procuring high caliber hockey has confirmed that the team has been sold.
He tells WAVY-TV that the team is being sold:
It is not a happy week for Young, who 11 years ago was considered the savior of Hampton Roads hockey when he bought the AHL Admirals, keeping them in Norfolk. NHL owners, have decided they want their top minor league teams closer to home, so this weekend the forced sale will be announced. Young said the Anaheim Ducks will move the franchise to California at the end of this season.
“We didn’t have any choice,” Young said. “It was either keep a team that would not have an affiliation, so we would not have dates or have to sell to Anaheim, which if the Pacific division gets voted on by the American Hockey League this weekend then what we know as the AHL team will end up going out west.”
That is the bad news, but here is the good news for hockey fans: Young has already cut a deal to bring the Bakersfield Condors to Norfolk. The Condors are a minor league team owned by the Edmonton Oilers.
“We are certain to have an East Coast Hockey League team here next year, so we won’t miss a season, no question that players go from the ECHL to the NHL and some to AHL, but we’ll have high quality hockey here, and we’ll have as much as fun at Scope, I don’t know that we will have a 28-game winning streak, but we will have a lot of fun there.”
Not only does this statement further emphasize the the immediacy that the NHL has in creating a true Pacific Division of the AHL, but it also points to the fate of the Bakersfield Condors.
In short, Bakersfield becomes the AHL affiliate of the Oilers, and Norfolk (Yes, Virginia) becomes the ECHL destination for the Oilers ECHL affiliated squad.
This confirmed report by WAVY-TV and the quotes by Young confirm things that have been discussed since early September when the continued AHL Pacific Division chatter erupted.
The real head-scratcher is again about geography. If the AHL and NHL want affiliations in close proximity, why move the ECHL franchises East?
The NHL might be considering the “over-saturation” problem that had plagued the AHL for years. So many teams were packed in to the East Coast that it necessitated a move to the West (and thus the creation of a Pacific Division). They knew that affiliation spots would become fewer and farther between as a large segment of teams moved West. That is giving a lot of credit to owners and decision-makers that, in the end, look for the greatest profit. But I think they seriously considered this.
Something else to consider is that the Pacific Division of the AHL will help create a legitimate EAST COAST hockey league. Meaning that NHL affiliates will be West (for teams in West), as will the AHL affiliate. The ECHL affiliates (of those with AHL Pacific Division teams) will all be East. Interesting.
Growth, monetary gain, and arena’s already willing to host hockey could all be reasons for AHL Pacific Division teams to keep their ECHL franchises East, but I have another theory.
Maybe, just maybe, the NHL is going to shift the way they view their affiliations. In essence the AHL becomes a place for NHL draft picks, and carry-over of NHL 50 man rosters. The ECHL becomes a place for the un-drafted and veterans trying to prove overall worth. Filling AHL rosters might be tough in a scenario like this, but we have seen the tightening of a roster in Oklahoma City in that last two seasons that gave us very few scratched players on a given night (assuming all are healthy).
Lots of moving parts here, and a lot more things to uncover. This weekend through next weekend will be monumental for the state of minor league hockey in the United States. Stay tuned.
Congratulations to the Edmonton Oilers who will have Edmonton, Bakersfield, Norfolk as destinations to add to the itinerary.