Chirps from Center Ice

A fan blog about the AHL's Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins

Pacific Division Preview

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If you are familiar with me, you know that I love Apple devices. If you own an iPhone, especially an iPhone 6s, you know that the tagline that went with that device was, “The only thing that’s changed is everything.” The same concept applies in the American Hockey League, which begins its 80th season this Friday.

Take for example, the Pacific Division. A sum total of five teams uprooted from their Eastern bases and moved operations approximately 3,000 miles west to California. That is just the tip of the iceberg.

To better explain all of the changes, I’ll introduce each in every division capsule. The first thing that you should know is that the AHL is back to four divisions, down from six, and the five California teams will play 68 games instead of the regular 76. Playoff positioning will be based not on points, but points percentage.

You can follow the AHL on the interwebs at @TheAHL and @AHLPR on Twitter, /TheAHL on Facebook and TheAHL on Instagram.

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Today we begin in the Western Conference in the Pacific Division. The Texas Stars and San Antonio Rampage come over from the old West Division. The Rampage are now affiliated with the Colorado Avalanche. The five California teams are the Bakersfield Condors; who were last years Oklahoma City Barons, the Ontario Reign; who are the defending champion Manchester Monarchs reincarnated, the San Diego Gulls who you knew last year as the Norfolk Admirals, the San Jose Barracuda who were last years Worcester Sharks and the Stockton Heat, playing as the ghost of Scorch and the Adirondack Flames.

The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins do not play anyone in this division nor do they play anyone from the Western Conference this season.

Here we go…

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NHL Affiliation: Edmonton Oilers

Record: 41-27-5-3 – 90 pts., 3rd place West Division playing as the Oklahoma City Barons.

Playoffs: 6 seed – Lost in seven games to the Utica Comets in the Western Conference Semifinals.

Head Coach: Gerry Fleming

Arena: Rabobank Arena

ECHL Affiliation: Norfolk Admirals

Offseason Moves: Philip McRae, Griffin Reinhart, Brad Ross

The Case For: Bakersfield takes over an Oklahoma City team that took the eventual Western Conference Champion Utica Comets to seven games. There is no reason to believe that Bakersfield will not contend again this season.

The Case Against: A big reason for the success last year was the play of all-star goaltender Richard Bachman. He signed with the team that beat him last year in the Comets. Goaltending may be an issue for the Condors this season.

Media Coverage: Mike Griffith for the Bakersfield Californian.

Twitter: @Condors

Facebook: /BakersfieldCondors

Instagram: condors

Broadcaster: Ryan Holt

vs. WBS: Do not play.

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NHL Affiliation: Los Angeles Kings

Record: 50-17-6-3 – 109 pts., 1st place Atlantic Division playing as the Manchester Monarchs.

Playoffs: 1 seed – Won Calder Cup in five games over the Utica Comets.

Head Coach: Mike Stothers

Arena: Citizens Business Bank Arena

ECHL Affiliation: Manchester Monarchs

Offseason Moves: Kris Newbury, Michael Houser

The Case For: Much of the core that tore through the AHL last season and won the Calder Cup last year return to Northern California in a brand new environment. Everyone else may be playing for second place again this year.

The Case Against: The only weakness I see is goaltending.

Media Coverage: Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and the Press Enterprise

Twitter: @ontarioreign

Facebook: /ontarioreign

Instagram: ontarioreignhockey

Broadcaster: Joseph Zakrzewski

vs. WBS: Do not play.

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NHL Affiliation: Colorado Avalanche

Record: 45-23-7-1 – 98 pts., 1st place West Division playing as the affiliate of the Florida Panthers.

Playoffs: 3 seed – Swept by Oklahoma City Barons in three games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

Head Coach: Dean Chynoweth

Arena: AT&T Center

ECHL Affiliation: Fort Wayne Komets

Offseason Moves: Hubert Labrie, Mikhail Grigorenko, Brandon Gormley

The Case For: A new affiliation with the Avalanche. These prospects were a Lake Erie Monsters side that lacked consistency. If the Rampage can remain consistent, they are a playoff team.

The Case Against: I see writing on the wall and it tells me that next year is the year that the Rampage make playoffs. Not this year.

Media Coverage: Nathan Mallett for Runnin’ with the Herd

Twitter: @sarampage

Facebook: /sarampagehockey

Instagram: sarampage

Broadcaster: Dan Weiss

vs. WBS: Do not play.

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NHL Affiliation: Anaheim Ducks

Record: 27-39-6-4 – 64 pts., 5th place East Division playing as the Norfolk Admirals.

Playoffs: Did not qualify.

Head Coach: Dallas Eakins

Arena: Valley View Casino Center

ECHL Affiliation: Utah Grizzlies

Offseason Moves: Shane O’Brien, Harry Zolnierczyk, Chris Mueller, Joe Piskula, Matt Hackett

The Case For: Lots of vets coming in to help San Diego get off the ground on its maiden voyage in the AHL captained by the mastermind of Dallas Eakins. You should expect San Diego to be a playoff team.

The Case Against: Will the stench of what was leftover of a dismal Norfolk team be washed clean?

Media Coverage: San Diego Union-Tribune

Twitter: @SDGullsAHL

Facebook: /SDGullsAHL

Instagram: sdgullsahl

Broadcaster: Craig Elsten

vs. WBS: Do not play.

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NHL Affiliation: San Jose Sharks

Record: 41-29-4-2 – 88 pts., 3rd place Atlantic Division playing as the Worcester Sharks.

Playoffs: 7 seed – Lost in four games to the Hershey Bears in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

Head Coach: Roy Sommer

Arena: SAP Center

ECHL Affiliation: Allen Americans

Offseason Moves: John McCarthy, Mark Cundari, Frazer McLaren

The Case For: Barracuda are a team trending upwards, coming over as the Worcester team that made playoffs last season. They could be a dark horse that contends in the Pacific Division.

The Case Against: Western Conference is a better conference than the East with a boatload of good teams that don’t make playoffs. Is San Jose a good team or a great team? Time will tell.

Media Coverage: Bay Area News Group

Twitter: @sjbarracuda

Facebook: /sjbarracuda

Instagram: sjbarracuda

Broadcaster: Eric Lindquist

vs. WBS: Do not play.

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NHL Affiliation: Calgary Flames

Record: 35-33-6-2 – 78 pts., 4th place North Division playing as the Adirondack Flames.

Playoffs: Did not qualify.

Head Coach: Ryan Huska

Arena: Stockton Arena

ECHL Affiliation: Adirondack Thunder

Offseason Moves: Derek Grant, Aaron Johnson, Blair Riley, Kent Simpson

The Case For: Struggling to find one. After a hot start in Glens Falls last season, the bottom fell out. Grant and Johnson could help, but will it be enough to contend with the likes of San Jose and Ontario night after night? I don’t think so.

The Case Against: Calgary doesn’t take serious winning anywhere outside of Cowtown. That’s been made evident year after year with the constant shuffling from city to city and irrelevant teams getting beat night after night. Perhaps that changes with five NHL teams moving operations closer to the NHL affiliate, but I don’t see it this season.

Media Coverage: Scott Linesburgh for the Stockton Record

Twitter: @AHLHeat

Facebook: /ahlheat

Instagram: ahlheat

Broadcaster: Brandon Kisker

vs. WBS: Do not play.

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NHL Affiliation: Dallas Stars

Record: 40-22-13-1 – 94 pts., 2nd place West Division.

Playoffs: 5 seed – Swept by the Rockford IceHogs in three games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

Head Coach: Derek Laxdal

Arena: Cedar Park Center

ECHL Affiliation: Idaho Steelheads

Offseason Moves: Stephen Johns, Brennan Evans, Jesse Blacker, Cory Kane, John Muse

The Case For: The Stars were swept out of the playoffs last year by the Rockford IceHogs in overtime off a goal by the key addition that the organization signed this offseason, Stephen Johns. Add in the other offseason signings incorporated in with a group that already made playoffs last season and you have another contender.

The Case Against: I don’t like the fact that the Stars are playing in the same division with five other teams that are playing fewer games with a playoff format that pits you against other playoff teams in your division.

Media Coverage: Stephen Meserve for 100 Degree Hockey and Sean Shapiro for Wrong Side of the Red Line

Twitter: @TexasStars

Facebook: /TexasStars

Instagram: txstarshockey

Broadcaster: Brien Rea

vs. WBS: Do not play.

We return Tuesday at noon for a look at the Central Division.

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