Last night Adrian Dater of the Denver Post tweeted a link to a blog article that indicated the Avs had purchased an AHL franchise and were preparing to move it to Denver next summer and begin play a year from now. It was alluded to but not explicitly said that they would take over the Cutthroats name and play out of the Denver Coliseum. The blog cited is a small site covering the Hartford Wolfpack (AHL affiliate of the Rangers) and there has been no confirmation of this from anywhere else. The article is now 3 days old and still the only source. Just to reiterate, Dater did not write or verify this and only tweeted a link to it.
Is this possible?
Perhaps. 14 teams own their own AHL affiliate so those aren't available, and most others have stable & willing owners but there could be a couple out there for sale. According to the article, Colorado and Arizona have already purchased these franchises and Anaheim is looking vigorously for one to move to San Diego. I find this a little harder to believe, such a run on franchises would drive prices through the roof.
Would KSE buy an AHL franchise? If so, would they locate it in Denver/the Front Range?
Under the right conditions, I can see KSE owning an AHL franchise. They're not going to do it just so prospects can save a few hours getting to the Avs for a callup tho'. They'll do it because it's going to make money. The proximity issue is way overblown, if anyone can tell me when not having a prospect close enough to the team has lost somebody a game, please let me know. Besides that, NHL staffs are busy enough as it is with running their teams, having the youngsters close by doesn't mean they'll stop by practice once in a while to check things out. Not their department.
I couldn't begin to guess if there's enough excess hockey demand on the Front Range to support an AHL team. What KSE would need is 6-8 thousand in average attendance and a building where they can make bucks off people buying hot dogs, beer and Calvin Pickard jerseys. They would also need to own the building, so the Coliseum is not a long-term potential home. I could see a new smaller arena/Avs practice facility/shopping-and-who-knows-what-else type complex built in a strategically located place making some cash. Just throwing stuff out there, I'm sure they've studied the issue and know what if anything is going to work.
The AHL seems dead set on moving West, is this a smart move in general?
Nope. As far as I can tell there are 3 or 4 teams that really want this and the others probably range from apathy to vehement opposition. There isn't much inter-conference play in the AHL so the teams that are or will end up in the East really aren't affected. For the teams in the West it's a different story. Travel expenses are going to be high for the trips out to California/Arizona/Vegas/??? and those trips will eat up some time better spent on practice and development.
What I've always been perplexed by, is what are the gains here? How does this make for a better league and better prospects? All I see is San Jose and LA saving a few thousand bucks per season on plane flights from Boston while everyone in the WC's travel budget just increased by $100k a year. NHL teams are on the road half the time, chances that playing near LA reduces the time a prospect spends traveling to wherever LA is playing aren't even that good.
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There's enough buzz around this topic and has been for a couple of years now that it seems like it's going to happen, perhaps as soon as a year from now. Whether the Avs are a part of it remains to be seen, they don't openly own a franchise to move at this point and their affiliation agreement with Lake Erie goes through 2017 so they lose nothing by not joining in. The WC has 3 5-team divisions so it makes sense to have 5 teams pioneer this at first. Obviously LA & San Jose will be in it and Anaheim and Arizona if they can find teams to buy. My guess is that Edmonton would move the Barons to join them.
When and if the NHL expands to 32 teams, there will be 2 new AHL franchises created and probably a re-alignment to 2 8-team divisions in the WC. If the Avs haven't made a move by then, that might be the right time. The Kroenkes are smart and conservative, they will do this when it makes the most sense for them regardless of what others are doing.
The Avs have a good thing going with the Monsters. Now there's an ECHL affiliate just down the road and Lake Erie are playing in a division against the prospects from all the Midwest teams so they can learn to hate each other early. Other than the fact that the players are a 4-hour plane ride away from Denver (which isn't a big deal) there aren't any drawbacks.
As far as that blog post goes, I don't put much stock in it. The guy has all sorts of fantasies about teams shuffling back and forth between leagues as if the owners couldn't care less about where or what level their teams play at going forward. Lots of people want to see everything nice and neat in the minor league affiliation landscape and that's never been the case nor will it be in the future.