In a recent radio interview, Seattle NHL CEO Tod Leiweke indicated that the organization is zeroing in on Boise, ID and Palm Springs, CA as potential locations for an AHL affiliate.
The Seattle NHL expansion franchise is preparing to launch for the 2021-22 campaign, and the organization is aiming to have an AHL affiliate begin play that same season. Aside from giving Seattle a top affiliate by its inaugural year, the future AHL squad would also expand that league to 32 teams–making it even with the NHL once Seattle begins play.
Exact plans for where Seattle’s AHL affiliate will play have not been finalized, but it appears that club officials are narrowing their options. In an interview Tuesday on Sports Radio 950 KJR’s Softy and Dick, Leiweke indicated that Boise and Palm Springs are the locations that the franchise has zeroed in on for its AHL affiliate. “It’s a really big deal and we want to create the perfect environment for our hockey staff to develop players,” Leiweke said in the interview, per King 5. “We’re still doing an analysis of the two markets, but I will acknowledge those are the two markets.”
Boise is already a minor-league hockey market, as it is home to the Idaho Steelheads (ECHL), who play at CenturyLink Arena. Having an affiliate in Boise would give the Seattle NHL franchise a presence in a solid Western market, though there would likely be a process involved if the Steelheads are to make the jump to the AHL. For instance, when the Colorado Eagles moved up to the AHL for the 2018-19 season, they had their application to withdraw from the ECHL accepted and were added to the AHL as its 31st team. The Eagles’ move to the AHL also required upgrades to facilities at Budweiser Events Center, and it remains to be seen if the same would be needed at CenturyLink Arena.
Palm Springs is a solid market in its own right, and a team there would give the AHL six clubs in California. However, there is not a current facility in the area adequate for an AHL franchise. A group called the Coachella Sports and Entertainment Stadium Authority has proposed an indoor multipurpose sports complex as part of a larger development adjacent to The Classic Club golf course with a potential 2021 opening, but if/when that proposal would move forward remains to be seen.
It will likely take time for Seattle to settle on a final decision, but the organization appears to be focused on its leading options. Either Boise or Palm Springs could slot into the AHL Pacific Division, which launched in 2015 to accommodate a number of clubs that moved from the east coast to be closer to their NHL parent.