Monday, December 10, 2007

Decision time for AHL affiliations

Every summer, there's some switching of AHL affiliates that happens among NHL teams. Why does this occur? Well, first there's a shortage of affiliates. There are only 29 AHL teams for 30 NHL teams this year -- and that makes it a good year. Second, AHL franchises are less stable, so teams fold or relocate fairly often. Third, NHL teams often seek to have their affiliate closer for ease of travel.

Usually the yearly movement happens in the spring and summer (and you need a flow chart to track all the changes), but it's started early this year, as the first, domino hit the fan, so to speak.

From the Buffalo News:
The Buffalo Sabres are ending their affiliation with the Rochester Americans at the end of this season. The 29-year marriage has featured hundreds of players making the one-hour drive on the I-90.
"That's over," Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn told The News on Wednesday. "We're going to go elsewhere."
The union between the Sabres and their American Hockey League affiliate had become strained in recent years. The Sabres, who partnered with the Amerks in 1979-80, have been sharing them with the Florida Panthers. The Sabres want their own team, and after their reported attempt to purchase Rochester was rebuffed, they decided to go elsewhere.
"We want to have an affiliate where we're the only team, have control of the players, the coaching staff, the trainers, the whole process," Quinn said. "We've wanted that for three years."

It's ironic to read this after so many media outlets made such a big deal over the success of the Rochester/Buffalo relationship when Buffalo was doing so well last year. Winning glosses over a lot of issues, at least in the short term, and it seemed like a good story. But apparently it was mostly just a story.

Buffalo is rumored to be headed to Portland, Maine, currently the affiliate of Anaheim. Anaheim has wanted out of Portland seemingly since they got there. They want something closer, and are pegged for San Antonio, currently affiliated with Phoenix.

Rochester currently has a dual affiliation with Buffalo and Florida. The easy answer for them next year would be to stay just with Florida alone, especially since Florida has expressed a desire for a sole affiliate, but nothing's ever easy or expected in this dance. Rochester has the luxury of courting several teams to get the best deal, and don't think they're not going to take advantage. Their troublesome ownership situation probably won't make them very attractive though.

The Edmonton Oilers own a dormant AHL franchise, which anyone could purchase and place virtually anywhere they see fit. The Dallas Stars may be buyers. The Atlanta Thrashers, with their own ownership issues, are not candidates.

Where is Atlanta in the mix? I have a nugget of information that says to me that the affiliation with Chicago is at least in play right now. The two have been going year to year with no long-term commitment for a while now. If either side sees a better opportunity, I think they would think long and hard about taking it. Atlanta likes the convenience of getting in and out of Chicago, along with its tradition of winning. Chicago likes an affiliate that lets them make a lot of the decisions (like coaching) and will provide veteran players (this was a sticking point between Buffalo and Rochester).

Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, and this affiliation, which is been going since 2001-02, would be right about at the seven-year itch. Chicago has flirted with Florida in the past, taking on Jay Bouwmeester and Stephen Weiss during the lockout. With Florida back in play, they could potentially play the role of the home-wrecker.

If the Atlanta/Chicago affiliation is going to end this year, it should happen relatively soon. If you don't hear anything, then it's on for next year, as there is no tradition of a public announcement by either side of it continuing. Stay tuned.

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