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The AHL: Westward ho?

22 September 2014 - 11:54 PM

I know this is a bit old, but I wanted to speak a bit on the AHL relocation rumors and Albany's situation specifically.


For those of you who don't know, many of the western NHL teams have been making noise about wanting their AHL affiliates closer to home.  Things have progressed to the point where we know it's going down eventually, we just don't know exactly which cities will become AHL markets or when this will all start.  Obviously nothing's happening this upcoming season, there's simply not enough time to put anything in place.  A lot of people think there will be some shuffling in the 2015 offseason, others say it won't be until 2016 or even later.  There's an idea I've seen floated around the past couple days wherein the westward shift will be put on hold until the next NHL expansion, which is rife with its own rumors about location and timing.


The teams that are almost definitely involved and their current AHL farm clubs are:

  • Los Angeles:  Manchester (NH) Monarchs
  • Anaheim:  Norfolk (VA) Admirals
  • Arizona:  Portland (ME) Pirates
  • San Jose:  Worcester (MA) Sharks
  • Vancouver:  Utica (NY) Comets
  • Calgary:  Adirondack Flames (Glens Falls, NY)
  • Edmonton:  Oklahoma City (OK) Barons

(Bold denotes the NHL club owns its AHL affiliate.)


Also, it is rumored that Colorado (Lake Erie Monsters in Cleveland), Dallas (Texas Stars in Austin), and/or Winnipeg (St. John's [Newfoundland] IceCaps) might get involved.  The Avalanche don't own the Monsters, but the other two pairings are O&O situations.  Before all the west coast talks got heavy, the Jets had announced that they would eventually move the IceCaps to Thunder Bay, Ontario; nobody knows where that's at as there doesn't seem to be any progress on building an AHL-caliber arena in Thunder Bay.


I noted above that Anaheim and Arizona do not currently own their AHL affiliates, so they would need to purchase AHL franchises or partner with an independent group that would handle all the dirty work.  This has led to various rumblings about who might be in trouble; however, as far as the league is willing to state publicly, nobody's for sale.



Now, about Albany:


I'm still curious to see what is the reason for the Albany devils attendance issues. Is the local economy tough or the locals apathetic? From what I remember the team on the ice have not been great but they haven't been that bad either.


Wellllllll... to put it bluntly, we're a bunch of front-running cheapskates.  The local economy isn't that bad, but the locals chafe at what are, IMO, some pretty reasonable ticket prices.  (Single-game prices this year for adults are $17 on the ends, $20 in the corners, $23 in the center sections, and $27 on the glass everywhere; season tickets range from $540 to $755.)  However, when the team isn't doing all that well, people around here will throw out every excuse in the book not to show up, including whining about the ticket prices.  Occasionally someone will man up and admit that they don't want to go because the team sucks.


You're right in that the A-Devs have been fairly meh; however, the River Rats in the last few years as a Devils farm club were TERRIBLE, and the locals were only just starting to get over that when the Rats (who had been mediocre as a Hurricanes affiliate) left for Charlotte four years later.  As Fiesty said, attendance had been near the bottom of the league since the end of the '90s anyway, but a decent number of fans were turned off by the Devils' return.  (It didn't help that there were rumors at the time that the Rangers wanted out of Hartford and that Albany was a likely destination.  Obviously that never happened.)  The two playoff games Albany hosted this past season generated a fair amount of excitement, though; favorable scheduling (a Friday-Saturday duo) and an aggressive ticket discount campaign resulted in crowds of 6500 and 8000.  Hopefully some of that excitement will translate to better crowds this year.


And to tie the two topics together, I'm not optimistic about the future of the Devils in Albany.  This has nothing to do with the attendance; clearly the Devils aren't all that concerned with the number of butts in the seats.  And it doesn't have anything to do with the fact that the Devils continue to insist upon playing a few games in Atlantic City.  My thought is that the two AHL franchises Anaheim and Arizona need for the west coast move are going to have to come from somewhere, and I haven't heard anything about how committed the new Devils owners are (or aren't) to continuing to own and operate their own AHL team.  They might prefer to revert to a traditional affiliation agreement and let the locals do all the dirty work (especially after Lou finally retires), and as such they might be more willing to sell than most of the other AHL ownership groups.  I may be completely off-base on this, but that's where my mind is at right now.