NBC recently reported that the AHL is in full relocation mode, with both the LA Kings and the San Jose Sharks moving their AHL teams from Manchester and Worcester respectively. Along the same lines, the CHL (Central Hockey League) is suspending play for the 2014/2015 season; two teams are in the works to merge with the AHL by the beginning of next season; the Denver Cutthroats and the Arizona Sundogs. Guess which franchises have been reported as having already purchased an AHL franchise for the next season. Yup, you guessed it the Colorado Avalanche and the now Arizona Coyotes.
The westward movement hasn’t solely been in the US. The Winnipeg Jets are moving the Ice Caps from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Thunder Bay, Ontario. Word on Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary’s AHL affiliates is that they will be fully moved out west within the next two seasons.
The only Pacific Division team missing from this list is the Anaheim Ducks, which is reported to be in the works on purchasing a team and relocating them to San Diego, California; no time table is available to when, but assume that it will be within the same time limit as the three Canadian teams. As for the Kings and Sharks; the Kings AHL team, the Manchester Monarchs would be moved to Ontario, California (No word on what they are going to do with their ECHL affiliate the Ontario Reign.) and the Sharks will move the Worcester Sharks to Fresno, California.
The Western Conference having farm teams on the east coast has been a discussion among fans for years. With the NHL seemingly being western expansion happy, why it took so long for the AHL to jump on board by forming a team relocation plan is beyond comprehension. Having a team in need of an emergency call up and having to wait sometimes days before that player can reach the arena, makes no sense at all; both in time with the player and financially for the front office.
With all the talk surrounding the NHL expansion to Las Vegas apparently being a done deal and the reporting that talks in Seattle have heated back up; the timing of an AHL relocation is perfect. The NHL is currently two teams short in the Western Conference with sixteen in the east and only fourteen in the west. This could help build a balance league wide and bring the league to the 32 teams that last years realignment left a hole for.
The AHL relocation out west means that cities on the east coast will lose their AHL franchises, which will be a hit to the local economy and to local fans alike. Having said that this has been needed for years and as much as I hate to see a fan lose a team. Having those teams closer to their NHL affiliates will help build a larger fan base, and create a new revenue stream for both clubs.