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Everything is fluid, let’s remember that key point.
As mentioned last season, the majority of teams in the NHL’s Pacific Division have spent the past few years exploring the idea of moving their top minor league affiliates closer to their home bases of operation. There are both on and off-ice factors that make the idea highly attractive to several cubs. For example, in Los Angeles, coach Darryl Sutter is one of the many who has lamented the full day of travel lost when needing to call players up from Manchester, N.H., clear on the other side of the country. Additionally, their ECHL team located about an hour east of Staples Center has routinely been near the top of attendance across all minor league hockey franchises.
After years of planning, what’s the hold up, you ask? Well, trying to get a handful of NHL clubs all moving in the same direction is a little like herding cats.
On the positive front, recent developments – including several former Central Hockey League teams being added to the ECHL – are getting everybody involved closer to the ultimate goal.
At the very least, the NHL would like member clubs to own and operate their individual AHL affiliates, where top prospects are developed with direct oversight from parent teams. Specially, the plan to create the much-talked about AHL Pacific Division was discussed at the NHL’s Board of Governors meeting last week in Boca Raton, Fla. Further, AHL executives were there to work with the various NHL clubs on transitional issues and concerns.
We have been able to gather several updates since our original article regarding the plans last April. If you missed that story, we highly encourage you to click here and read it first. That lays the groundwork for the larger plan and will serve as a good foundation – including a full list of teams believed to be participating – before you read the updates below.
After speaking with multiple sources close to the situation this week, here is what we have been able to ascertain:
– There is a tentative plan (or at the very least, there has been lengthy discussion) to essentially swap the Ontario Reign (ECHL) and Manchester Monarchs (AHL). At the time of our first article, it was clear where the Kings’ AHL affiliate would be playing under the new structure – in Ontario, Calif. However, what wasn’t clear back then was what would likely become of the ECHL team currently housed there. A relocation to Manchester now appears to be a viable option. Naturally, the ECHL would need to approve of any such change.
– There is a major milestone coming up centering on the entire “AHL comes West” plan. On Dec. 22, the ECHL must be notified of plans for the 2015-16 season… and then, approximately 30 days later, the ECHL would vote on that information at their next league meeting (scheduled to take place around Jan. 21, in conjunction with the ECHL All-Star Game in Orlando, Fla.). Also, the AHL will host their own management meeting on Jan. 26 in New York.
– Once the Kings’ place their AHL team in Ontario, the working idea appears to be to keep the Reign name. In part, it is believed this is the best way to maintain continuity in the market and sustain any presence that has been achieved in the region since the team’s debut in 2008. Given that the current team uses blue and orange as their primary colors, expect a re-branding to be more consistent with the Kings overall look (similar to what took place with the Monarchs jerseys a few months back).
– There is a currently a ticket pricing analysis underway to determine what (if any) changes would be made to the current season ticket and game day prices for AHL games in Ontario. One of our sources indicated there is a strong possibility the pricing wouldn’t change much, and that a $10 entry price point was still preferred by many.
– The Kings are ready to move forward and are largely waiting for the other teams to give the go/no-go decision on a Sept/Oct 2015 start date.
– As expected, Anaheim would like to put their team in San Diego. However, there are “building-related issues” with the former San Diego Sports Arena, now the Valley View Casino Center. Those issues (which, allegedly, include the refrigeration system) are not said to necessarily be deal-breakers, but would need to be resolved and fairly quickly.
– Anaheim also still needs to purchase an AHL team. Ditto for Phoenix and a few others.
– For more on Anaheim, see this job posting.
– San Jose has not locked in on an arena or city yet. Although there were reports Stockton was on the front burner at one point, they have also explored the idea of putting their AHL team into several different communities. From what we’ve been told, Sacramento has now been ruled out. They also looked into the Oracle Arena in Oakland, and even the Cow Palace in San Francisco. This is only my opinion, but after the problems experienced by the ECHL’s San Francisco Bulls there – and yes, we’re talking ECHL vs. AHL – I would not think that is a viable building or a market that should be considered a strong candidate for minor league hockey. Major league cities usually expect major league sports. [UPDATE: San Jose has come up with a unique plan for their AHL team moving to California]
– Utah remains a question mark. There is obviously a minor league hockey history in the Salt Lake City market and it would appear a reasonable option. Yet, from the people we spoke with, they weren’t aware of any NHL team stepping up and working in that direction in any serious sort of way – yet.
– Edmonton, which most people believed was locked in on Bakersfield (mirroring the Kings plans of relocating their AHL team to the building that currently houses their ECHL team), has actually discussed a hybrid approach. Under this idea, they would continue to use Oklahoma City as their AHL team, even perhaps playing in the new AHL Pacific Division. Then, one year later, after any kinks were worked out, they would most likely move their AHL affiliate to Bakersfield. To be clear, this was an idea on the table, and it remains unclear if this is still the working plan for the Oilers. It should also be noted there are holes in the idea, as if the ECHL is essentially moved out of the Western U.S., a team in Bakersfield (even for one year) would sort of be on an island to themselves. [UPDATE: Shortly after this article posted, Edmonton announced they were leaving Oklahoma City.]
– When the AHL West finally gets off the ground, Colorado is believed to be interested in putting their AHL affiliate in Colorado Springs. Whether that happens during the inaugural year of this plan or a few years later remains to be seen.
– Calgary was highly interested in putting their AHL team in Las Vegas. However, with the NHL currently exploring putting an expansion team in Sin City, that has all but killed those plans. Calgary’s plans are now said to be TBD, yet they are expected to be one of the initial teams involved in the AHL West rollout. [UPDATE 1/9/2015: Per this report, Calgary is nearing completion of purchasing the Stockton franchise and it is expected to be their new AHL home. It appears the next step in the process is transferring the lease at Stockton Arena to the Flames’ AHL affiliate.]
– Phoenix was interested in putting their team in Tucson (or somewhere close by). However, as one source said to us, that entire market is oversaturated with sports teams, and would be highly skeptical of it working.
Again, the overall idea of launching the AHL West is fluid, with many moving parts. Yet, it is closer now than it ever has been before. Plus, as we have been lead to believe, it is more a matter of “when,” not if this plan is put into motion. As of now, the original launch date of October 2015 that we published back in April still appears to be the target.
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