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Report: AHL migration west could begin in 2015-16

Aug 24, 2014, 11:12 AM EST

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There has been rampant rumors and speculation about the American Hockey League expanding or relocating west in order to accommodate western conference-based NHL clubs.

The latest comes from Howlings.net, where Dave Cantlon suggests the formation of a Pacific Division in the AHL could begin as early as next fall.

In his piece, Cantlon says with the Denver Cutthroats and Arizona Sundogs of the Central Hockey League suspending operations for the 2014-15 season, plans for the two clubs to join the AHL next season are in the works.

Cantlon’s sources say the both the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes have purchased AHL franchises – are you seeing a pattern here?

The franchise known as the Cutthroats would be the Avalanche AHL affiliate while the Sundogs would be affiliated with the Coyotes.

This is in addition to, Los Angeles moving its’ AHL affiliation the Manchester Monarchs to Ontario, Calif., the San Jose Sharks relocating its’ affiliate from Worcester to Fresno, Calif. and Winnipeg, which owns the St. John’s IceCaps, relocating to Thunder Bay, Ont.

According to the report, Anaheim would also purchase an AHL team and relocate it to San Diego, Calif.

Cantlon suggests in two years, Vancouver would relocate its team from Utica, NY to Abbotsford, Edmonton will move from Oklahoma City to Bakersfield, Calif. and Calgary would move its team, which begins play in Glens Falls, NY this season.

This process is way over due. Several NHL teams in the Western Conference have their affiliates displaced somewhere in the east making it difficult to recall players on short notice. Prime examples of this are both the Canucks and Flames, who have teams in New York.

With AHL teams closer to their NHL clubs it should also help with attendance in the AHL as fans in the region would have some allegiance to the parent club.

This all makes way too much sense for most parties involved (sorry to those cities losing AHL clubs). It’s about time it happened.

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  1. rushledger - Aug 24, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    I don’t expect some ahl teams that are east having those cities just hand the teams over without a fight. Worcester will be hard pressed to wanna give up their sharks after they lost their ice cats to Peoria and fought to get a team back. Same thing with saint johns.

  2. t9tookey - Aug 24, 2014 at 11:45 AM

    This really only works if they cluster the Western Conference teams together. The AHL is a bus league and there is no busing from Texas to Chicago to Iowa to Abbortsford to Colorado Springs to California. Having franchises close together on the East Coast is why the AHL survived and the IHL died.

    The AHL should include a nice relocation fee for doing this. They can take the money and use it to continue subsidizing travel costs for flying the Western teams around. This is going to leave some AHL owners scrambling for affiliates as well. Don’t see expansion likely since the AHL is steadfast that this is a developmental league. The only way the AHL expands is when the NHL expands to Seattle, Las Vegas and/or Quebec.

    • endusersolutions2013 - Aug 24, 2014 at 10:00 PM

      Seattle, Portland, and when the league can get to 32 teams with 16 in both conferences, then in that process they can expand to of have a team relocate to QC. QC is not an option if not part of a process the balance the league.

      Las Vegas is a non option – desert city failure deja vieux, does not have the population base, and that is essentiallyentertainment service based. And the sports-betting/mob dynamic.

  3. luz56 - Aug 24, 2014 at 12:15 PM

    Flames just moved to NY….. Had it good when they were in SLC…

  4. sharksfan97 - Aug 24, 2014 at 1:17 PM

    The teams themselves may find this move hard to swallow considering many teams use their AHL affiliates as a home base for scouting operations. For my Sharks, I’m sure they’d much rather have their scouting operations working out of the hockey hotbed of Mass rather than the farmlands of Fresno. Perhaps teams would agree to another west coast league (such as the one the San Diego Gulls played in), but moving such important AHL teams out west seems to be a long shot.

    • jetfand - Aug 24, 2014 at 5:01 PM

      Looking more like a chain switch. Some ECHL will move to fill in.

  5. shanekelleytx - Aug 24, 2014 at 2:04 PM

    As someone soon moving to the northeast who really enjoys AHL hockey, I hope they don’t move some of those teams out of there. Like someone else commented, teams like St. John’s and Worcester that have great fan support will be hard to move out. Then again, my Houston Aeros were ripped from the city and moved closer to Minnesota despite being located here for twenty years and having top-five in attendance for multiple years. It’s inevitable that teams will move west eventually, but I hope it doesn’t happen soon and I hope it isn’t a mass exodus.

    • greatmiamisportsmind - Aug 24, 2014 at 4:26 PM

      While I feel bad your Aeros were ripped from you, however, they didn’t move to be closer to St. Paul, Minnesota. They were moved because Toyota Center (where the Aeros played their home games) chose not to renew the Aeros lease, thus letting the Aeros walk. Toyota Center felt they could make more money off concerts than the Aeros. Iowa just happened to have an opening, after seeing Dallas move their affiliate to Texas.

  6. YouppiKiYay - Aug 24, 2014 at 4:24 PM

    I think it makes a tonne of sense. If the AHL can create and AHL west subsidized by NHL franchise owners, that’s better for the NHL teams, NHL team fans and fans in those local markets. If I can travel one hour to see Canucks prospects in Abbotsford, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But it only works if Abbotsford isn’t an island unto itself in the AHL. With teams in Denver, Arizona and California, that’ll work.

    I think it works out well for the ECHL, too. They get some great markets in the northeast.

    I feel for fans in great markets like Worcester and Utica, but the fact is farm team markets are always at the mercy of big clubs.

    • t9tookey - Aug 24, 2014 at 4:40 PM

      There has to be teams clumped together to make this work. AHL teams may be farm teams to the NHL teams but they still have to make money. You get on the bus in one city and hit two or three other cities in a weekend. Or you play a home-at-home with a close rivalry. Flying is not cheap, that’s why Charlotte is in the Western Conference. Because it’s a hub and flights are cheaper.

      And this excuse about wanting to have players closer to recall is BS. That is great if you have to recall a player when both teams are at home. But these teams travel half the season too. So if your farm club is in California but they are playing at the Iowa Wild or the Texas Stars while the NHL club is heading to Edmonton, is really any easier of a recall then getting a player from Utica or Glens Falls?

      • YouppiKiYay - Aug 24, 2014 at 7:58 PM

        Just because the AHL has been a bus league doesn’t mean it will forever be a bus league. The NHL is seeing skyrocketing revenue at the same time as the CBA means the owners are obliged to hand over less and less of it to the players. NHL owners can well afford to own their AHL affiliate and spend money flying their prospects around the western US. Especially when those markets will bear much higher ticket prices than the markets that are being left behind.

        As a bus league, it makes perfect sense to have teams in markets like Utica, Glens Falls, etc. But in the case of the Canucks, I’ll bet having players in Abbotsford, even if they have to be flown to California, Arizona, Texas, etc would be no less profitable than playing out of a 4,000 seat arena in Utica. Likewise, I’ll bet San Diego is a far better market for the Ducks than Norfork, suburban LA is better than Manchester.

      • nhstateline - Aug 25, 2014 at 6:11 AM

        some of the teams that move west will do very well. Ontario is one of them. However, there is no indication that higher ticket prices can be gotten in most of the places these teams are going than what is being gotten now in the Northeast. Given the long educational curve for the markets, the opposite is probably the case. Add in the higher travel costs, in a couple of cases having to buy a franchise and pay off some public money (Portland is both for example) and the idea that for at least two of these teams bringing the minor league team into the market you can’t consistently sell tickets to the NHL team to in the first place means more competition in a limited market (meaning ticket prices at the N and AHL levels will have to drop or go unsold) and the way that this becomes a sinkhole for some of these teams is obvious. Not for nothing did I pick the Coyotes as the example. They’re going to be the team with the biggest problem if they actually do this LA, sure, that will do fine but Bakersfield and Fresno ? Those will take a while. And that means losses.

        And I agree with the AHL being in some of the small eastern markets making no sense. Especially Utica and Bignhamton. On the other hand, there’s a ton of sports entertainment dollar in Manchester and Portland in terms of selling tickets but also in terms of media rights, mercy sales and sponsorships. Those two in particular seem to be the wrong places to leave (Portland’s problems last year were because the team was playing almost an hour out of town in Lewiston. Given how the Monarchs don’t promote very much, their attendance and price points are very good for the almost nothing they do to create interest for most of their games). And given that both have high level college hockey proximity, the ECHL is going to have a tough sales job that another AHL team won’t

  7. nhstateline - Aug 24, 2014 at 6:22 PM

    I’m going to laugh when the first one of these teams that moves goes bankrupt. And I can guess which one it’s going to be. Portland’s going to look like heaven to the Yotes in a couple of years when the start paying those higher travel costs. Remember the SF Bulls last year ? Don’t say it can’t happen. That said, some markets, like Ontario would do pretty well at the box office so it isn’t all of these markets would be financial sinkholes but some of them are going to be.

    And it can happen with ECHL teams moving to New England too. Hockey East and the ECAC product both have players in them who are better than a lot of guys playing in the ECHL. I’ve seen the ECHL product a lot. It’s a lot slower and less skilled than the AHL product making it a tough sell.

    Add to that the idea that a lower level league will show up the year after a well supported AHL team bolts for no reason related to the local market ? That’s going to be a tough sell. I mean if the best team in Hockey East played a mediocre ECHL team, I think the college team probably wins and I think a lot of people around here agree. Better hope there are lots of scout groups that want to sing the national anthem……

    • pastabelly - Aug 26, 2014 at 4:43 PM

      If Portland could have drawn better than 2,200 fans per game, I might agree with this post. Any reason nobody in Maine seemed to support this franchise?

  8. nfieldr - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:20 AM

    It seems like hockey fans almost have a monopoly on getting their teams ripped away from them (I’m still smarting over the Thrashers move to the ‘Peg). I know it happens in baseball too, the Albuquerque Dukes moved to Portland, etc., but it seems to happen much more frequently with hockey.

  9. hookersdontsnuggle - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:34 PM

    Bring back the Long Beach Ice Dogs!

  10. pastabelly - Aug 26, 2014 at 4:41 PM

    Manchester and Worcester are now gone and Portland, the Coyotes AHL Affiliate, is soon to follow. It’s not great news for New England hockey. Manchester certainly deserved better. With the Pacific teams moving franchises closer to home, it is going to be that much tougher to replace those franchises in New England.

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