It’s been a topic of great debate among the minor hockey league circles. Can the American Hockey League move west? The league has worked it’s way west-ward in the last five years, but outside of Abbotsford, the league has only made it to some midwestern states in Texas and Oklahoma. Plus, we now know the fate of Abbotsford as they have been moved back to the East to Glens Falls, New York. That move makes the San Antonio Rampage the western-most team in the league by longitude.
However, that’s not far enough west for the California and Arizona-based National Hockey League teams. Here’s a list of the current Pacific Division NHL teams, and their AHL affiliates:
Anaheim Ducks -> Norfolk Admirals (Virginia)
Los Angeles Kings -> Manchester Monarchs (New Hampshire)
San Jose Sharks -> Worcester Sharks (Massachusetts)
Vancouver Canucks -> Utica Comets (New York)
Phoenix(Arizona?) Coyotes -> Portland Pirates (Maine)
Edmonton Oilers -> Oklahoma City Barons (Oklahoma)
Calgary Flames -> Adirondack Flames (New York)
The distances between those teams and cities?
Anaheim -> Norfolk: 2703 miles (4350 km)
LA -> Manchester: 3014 miles (4851 km)
SJ -> Worcester: 3094 miles (4980 km)
Vancouver -> Utica: 2929 miles (4713 km)
Phoenix -> Portland: 2748 miles (4423 km)
Edmonton -> OKC: 1938 miles (3118 km)
Calgary -> Glens Falls: 2506 miles (4033 km)
The talk of teams moving west has picked up a lot of steam lately, with AHL President Dave Andrews having said that there is a strong probability of it happening within the next few years, most recently in an interview with the Marek vs. Wyshynski podcast and saying that it could happen as early as the 2015-16 season.
Bob Rotruck, the broadcaster for the (now) Lehigh Valley Phantoms, has been a great follow on Twitter during all of this, be sure to check out his tweets regarding this. One of them brings me to the next topic of discussion. Who moves?
As much as I hate to put Oklahoma City in there, I have to agree with Bob on this guess. San Jose owns Worcester, LA owns Manchester, Edmonton owns OKC. They’re the three almost guaranteed in my mind. Norfolk and Portland are owned by independent groups, which means Anaheim and the Coyotes would need to find franchises that are either willing to move, or are willing to sell, in order for this to work for them. Especially in the case of Portland, I imagine they still hold an AHL team in the aftermath, but some affiliations change hands in the meantime.
Next to consider, where do the teams move to? The ECHL’s western conference currently consists of seven teams. The Alaska Aces (Anchorage, AK), Bakersfield Condors (California), Colorado Eagles (Loveland, CO), Idaho Steelheads (Boise, ID), Ontario Reign (California), Stockton Thunder (California), and the Utah Grizzlies (Salt Lake City, UT). Dormant this next season will be the Las Vegas Wranglers, plus the San Francisco Bulls suspended operations halfway through the 2013-14 season.
-The AHL had it’s own version of the Grizzlies before the team suspended operations and the ECHL moved in, and I could easily see the AHL making a return there. The Grizzlies were also affiliated with the Ducks this season, which doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme, but could have led to some talks.
-There’s been speculation that a part of the driving force behind the Edmonton Oilers buying the Bakersfield franchise was to make room for an easy transition to move their AHL franchise to California.
-Loveland, Colorado would make a great place for an AHL team, they have a nice building and it’s a great market. But unless it was the Avalanche moving a team there, I don’t know how much sense it would make. It’s possible the Avalanche are considering that, but like Anaheim and the Coyotes, they would need to buy a team. The Lake Erie Monsters are owned by the same owners as the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA, and I don’t know how willing they would be to sell their franchise.
-Boise is one of my choices and may be somewhat of a longshot, but their attendance has been very good over the last few seasons which tells me that there is quite a market for hockey there.
-The Ontario Reign are owned by the LA Kings ownership group, leading to a pretty sure deal that the Monarchs move there.
-I personally think (with no knowledge of the situation, I’m just throwing it out there) that part of Las Vegas’ decision to go dormant next season, outside of needing to secure a place to play, is maybe trying to finalize the details of moving an AHL franchise there as well, which would fit with the 15-16 timeline.
And not with the ECHL, but the Coyotes have expressed interest with having their franchise in the state of Arizona, specifically Tuscon.
So with the sure-fire five teams and possibly more moving to the west, there are seven or eight locations that they could move to. Two teams I don’t see moving west anytime soon are the Canucks and Flames, as they just moved their teams to New York. Utica will be moving into year two of a six-year lease, and Calgary just moved to Adirondack. Maybe they reconsider in the future, but it won’t be in the initial stages of westward expansion.
Lots of developments still to happen, lots of talks to be had, but it sounds like the AHL West will be happening, it’s just a matter of when and where. Something to keep an eye on over the next couple of seasons as more details are sure to come out.