Tuesday, February 19, 2008

AHL to the west coast?

Some of you will remember when the AHL had a franchise in Salt Lake City. It shut down though and right now the furthest west is the San Antonio Rampage, followed very closely by the Manitoba Moose, located in balmy Winnipeg. There's a big cluster of AHL teams in the northeast, and another in the midwest. It's by no means a continent-wide league right now (yet strangely the ECHL is).

The NHL, however, is continent-wide, which means that many NHL teams are far away from their AHL affiliates. They don't like this because with travel arrangements, it takes an entire day to call someone up. This doesn't make for a very nimble operation. Not to mention it's expensive.

Here's an article out of the Edmonton Journal about how the AHL geography could change that's worth reading both for the juicy anonymous-sourced tidbits and the jokes.

Imagine the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks in a mutually beneficial enterprise.

And I'm not talking about an over-subscribed Brian Burke/Kevin Lowe pay-per-view cage match.

More like a West Coast division of the American Hockey League. It could happen early in the next decade.

"It's not imminent," said a highly placed source. "It's three or four years away if it happens. L.A. owns a team, San Jose owns a team and they're not going to move soon. But an orderly transition could take place."

The Oilers dormant franchise was run in Edmonton during the lockout, but was shut down later so as not to compete with their NHL product.

Meanwhile, the AHL is unlikely to expand beyond 30 teams because their stated goal for years has been a one-to-one match between NHL and AHL teams. It's hard to think there are more than 30 cities that could support AHL hockey anyway. Lowell has the worst attendance in the league at 1,892, and it seems unlikely that they can hang on at that level. They could be on the move.

Chicago has the fifth-best attendance, averaging 6,826.


Johnny Sideburns said...

"(The AHL is) by no means a continent-wide league right now (yet strangely the ECHL is)."

I actually believe the ECHL suffers because of this (and not just because my team lost the Kelly Cup a couple of years ago to a team for whom road games in Russia would be less to travel than the trip they had to take to play mine).

If the AHL, a AAA-level minor league with considerably more resources than the ECHL prefers in principle to keep their league more compact (perhaps taking lessons from the overexpansion that helped to destroy the IHL after more than 50 continuous years), why would the ECHL choose to be so ambitious when the resources available in THAT league don't even begin to approach those of the AHL? The ECHL has a very high turnover rate of teams for a good reason; hockey is an expensive sport to finance even without taking travel costs onto consideration. The success of the Alaska Aces since being listed for sale on E-Bay (this is not a joke; it actually happened) a few years ago considering how small their arena is and how far they have to travel to play National Conference teams (let alone the road trips they seem to make every year to play American Conference teams) is completely unheralded; the examples of the Greenville Grrrowl and the (soon to be relocating) Texas Wildcatters are far more common.

It makes plenty of sense for NHL teams to follow the examples of teams like Toronto or Philadelphia (and to a lesser extent Boston) by keeping their AHL teams within driving distance; the Atlanta Braves are following this example by moving their International League AAA team from Richmond to Gwinnett next year, but it makes even more sense for the minor leagues in hockey to follow AT&T's example from a few years ago and break up as national conglomerates and reorganize regionally. Our teams are already playing the same regional opponents six times every year...the schedule wouldn't be affected too much and you wouldn't have such a terribly unbalanced playoff bracket each postseason due to poor geographic distribution of teams.

toph2o said...

Dallas appears to be going forward with moving the Iowa Stars to Austin... http://www.hillcountrynews.com/articles/2008/02/20/breaking_news/doc47bcbcc05ea4f750041730.txt