After years of rumors, the American Hockey League has officially announced a mass relocation of teams to the Western half of the United States to form the AHL's Pacific Division and better support Western Conference NHL teams and to saturate the growing hockey market out West. The San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, Los Angeles Kings, and Edmonton Oilers are moving their current AHL affiliates to cities in California, while the Anaheim Ducks are purchasing their AHL affiliate Norfolk Admirals and moving them to San Diego. Here are the relocations by city:
- The Worcester Sharks are moving to San Jose to play under a new name in the SAP Center with the San Jose Sharks.
- The Manchester Monarchs are moving to Ontario, California.
- The Norfolk Admirals are moving to San Diego.
- The Oklahoma City Barons are moving to Bakersfield.
- The Adirondack Flames are moving to Stockton California.
That's a lot of upheaval for the AHL, but also the ECHL who will se the Stockton Thunder, Bakersfield Condors, and Ontario Reign replaced by AHL squads. The most interesting move is probably that of the Worcester Sharks. San Jose will now be in the enviable position of having their AHL team practicing in the same city as the big club and playing their games in the same arena. Not only will travel costs be incredibly low for call-ups, but you can imagine that there will be some increased fraternization between their AHL and NHL players. It's an impossible for teams that share their arena with an NBA franchise so don't bet on an AHL team in the Pepsi Center, but on the surface it looks like a great way to develop a farm team.
For now the Colorado Avalanche's affiliation with the Lake Erie Monster's remains in tact with a contract running through the end of next season, but the establishment of AHL hockey in the West certainly opens the door for the Avalanche to purchase their own affiliate and move the farm team closer to home. Mike Chambers speculated on the Denver Post's blog that the Avalanche could try to move their affiliate to Colorado Springs, Salt Lake City, or even, as many have speculated, into the void left by the Denver Cutthroats suspension of operations.
UPDATE: Although the Norfolk Admirals are leaving for greener pastures, they will be replaced with a new ECHL team in Norfolk to be announced tomorrow. If the ECHL is announcing their own set of relocations and expansions, that could explain the mysterious Avalanche press conference slated for late this week. Could the Avalanche be changing their ECHL affiliation? Could the Cutthroats be re-opening next season? We'll know soon.