Today, the AHL announced and confirmed the worst kept secret in minor league hockey for years now. There will be a new Pacific Division that will represent the AHL clubs of the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. In layman terms, here is what is going to happen in 2015-16.
— The Norfolk Admirals, affiliates of the Anaheim Ducks, are leaving town for San Diego, California.
— The Adirondack Flames, affiliates of the Calgary Flames, are leaving town for Stockton, California.
— The Oklahoma City Barons, affiliates of the Edmonton Oilers, are leaving town for Bakersfield, California.
— The Manchester Monarchs, affiliates of the Los Angeles Kings, are leaving town for Ontario, California.
— The Worcester Sharks, affiliates of the San Jose Sharks, are leaving town for San Jose, California.
It is expected that Norfolk, Adirondack and Manchester will have ECHL teams next season. There is no word on ECHL plans for Oklahoma City or Worcester yet. That league is scheduling a press conference Friday at 3 p.m.
From what I read, these NHL teams wanted a west coast pod for years now. They didn’t want a jet lagged player who just flew five hours across the continental United States the morning that their star players gets sick.
From what I believe, I don’t think that they necessarily care about attendance or if the teams are successful or not. When I think San Diego, I don’t think hockey. But AHL President Dave Andrews said at the AHL’s State of the League on Monday the following…
We’re going through a process we’ve never gone through before, which, if successful, will be difficult for a number of our markets, but at the same time, is probably critical to the health of our league from a stability point of view and maintaining a 30-team league.
The lynch-pin to that statement in my opinion was, “if successful.” It is still too soon to say that it will be. I think that what the AHL cares more about is pleasing their NHL partners and maintaining a healthy, 30 team league. The shine of having a brand new AHL team in San Diego, Stockton, Ontario and other places will be great for the first couple of years. But what happens say, five years in, if these teams start to struggle at the gate and struggle financially? What would it mean to the overall health of the AHL if close to 20% of the teams are struggling?
Wilkes-Barre wise, this westward movement will have little to no impact. You will probably see some realignment to the divisions again. I think that the five team divisions go away. You could see Wilkes-Barre in a division next year with usual suspects Hershey, Lehigh Valley and Binghamton and mix in any combination of Syracuse, Albany, Utica, Bridgeport, Rochester or even Toronto. You’re also going to see more of teams like Providence, Portland, Hartford and maybe Lake Erie, Hamilton or Charlotte on the schedule for next year.
Do the Penguins go the way of the Admirals, Sharks, Monarchs, Barons and Flames? I don’t think so. You are talking a four hour trip to Pittsburgh as opposed to a flight. Players from all over the AHL rave about Wilkes-Barre as a premier AHL destination. The Coal Street facility is a pristine asset to have in anchoring an AHL team like the Penguins to a city such as Wilkes-Barre. The Penguins lease with the Arena and affiliation with Pittsburgh expire in 2019, but I think it is safe to say that you can rest easy in knowing that something like this dark day in five AHL markets across the East will never happen in the Wyoming Valley.
While I have you, Pittsburgh sent Bryan Rust and Scott Wilson back to Wilkes-Barre Wednesday. Alex Boak was recalled from Wheeling Thursday.
Penguins play tomorrow in Springfield. Gameday for this hits the blog Friday at 3.