The NHL may be a geographically distributed North American league, but the American Hockey League is not. While the prevalence of teams in the East may be good for the Boston Bruins (with a Providence farm team), the Philadelphia Flyers (with a Lehigh Valley farm team) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (with a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton farm team), it’s not so good for the Anaheim Ducks or the San Jose Sharks — or for any new team that may end up playing in Las Vegas or Seattle.
It’s been hard for the AHL to move west: an attempt to keep a team in Abbotsford, B.C., died when the Flames moved to Adirondack after suffering some huge losses. For the AHL to work out west, it will take a cluster of teams to make travel work. In fact, it may take something like splitting the AHL into two divisions with new teams out west a la Minor League Baseball. But the fact is, officials both with the NHL and the AHL are talking change. From the Boston Globe:
The future initiative, therefore, is for the AHL to migrate west. As much as San Jose and Los Angeles like their prospects to play three-in-three sets, bus home after away games, and maximize practice times in New England, they want their future NHLers closer to their headquarters. This would most likely require relocation for some AHL clubs.
“We need a critical mass of teams to replicate what we have in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania,” Andrews said.
It’s not keeping Andrews up at night. But it’s a movement he’d like to see happen sooner rather than later. The AHL’s footprint is set to expand.
Of course, the issue is going to be hard: owners need to be persuaded, and new markets need to be wooed, as it’s unlikely the AHL would expand by, say, four teams to address NHL concerns.