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The AHL's westward expansion and the ripple effects on the Coyotes

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The AHL's is moving five teams to California for the 2015-16 season. None of those teams are affiliated with the Coyotes. What does this mean for the future of Arizona's prospects?

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I recently wrote a piece for Today's Slapshot that broke down the AHL's announcement that they are moving five teams to California in time for next season. It's a huge transition, as the AHL has moved teams further east and north. They have never had a franchise in California, now they will have five of them.

The five teams that are moving are the Adirondack Flames, the Manchester Monarchs, the Norfolk Admirals, the Oklahoma City Barons and the Worcester Sharks.

The Flames are obviously Calgary's farm club, the Monarchs are the Kings' affiliate, the Admirals are aligned with the Ducks, the Barons are affiliated with the Edmonton Oilers and the Sharks are the farm club for, well, the San Jose Sharks.

Adirondack is moving to Stockton, CA. Machester will now be headquartered in Ontario, CA. The AHL is moving Norfolk to San Diego. Oklahoma City will relocate to Bakersfield and Worcester will make the trek to San Jose.

If you notice, there are five teams moving and there are seven teams in the Pacific Division.

The Vancouver Canucks farm club, the Utica Comets will still be in New York next year and the Portland Pirates, the Coyotes' AHL farm club, are staying put as well.

How did this happen? The major reason is that the Flames, Kings, Oilers and Sharks all own their affiliate clubs. So they have ultimate control of their fate and made it easy to make the appropriate moves. Anaheim will be purchasing the Norfolk Admirals as part of the Western expansion agreement, allowing them to move.  While the Canucks and Coyotes are currently in affiliate deals with their respective franchises, they do not own their AHL farm teams. And that puts them both behind the eight ball.

Here is an excerpt from what I wrote in the piece:

Now the California teams will have similar advantages that teams further east enjoy. The Maple Leafs’ AHL club, the Marlies, play in Toronto. The Bruins farm club is stationed in Providence, RI. That’s only an hour drive on I-95 or a 40 minute train ride. The Hurricanes share a state with their farm club in Charlotte. The Blackhawk’s affiliate is in Rockford, IL. There are plenty of teams with close proximity to their farm club and it’s a significant advantage. It’s easy for a player to make the trip if their is an injury or illness. A GM, or other members of the front office, can easily travel to practices or games to see the progression of prospects up close and personal.

It's a huge competitive advantage that many teams outside the Pacific division have enjoyed for years. Being able to recall a player on the day of a game due to injury or illness is a major advantage. For Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose, they don't even have to get a player a flight, they can just jump in their car and make the drive.

Just how big is the discrepancy for Vancouver and Arizona now? Look at this chart I made thanks to distancesonline.com:

Team Affiliate City Distance in miles
Arizona Coyotes Portland, Maine 2789
Vancouver Canucks Utica, New York 2930.1
Edmonton Oilers Bakersfield, California 1742.7
Calgary Flames Stockton, California 1436.7
Anaheim Ducks
San Diego, California 95.2
Los Angeles Kings Ontario, California 36.8
San Jose Sharks San Jose, California 0 (both will play in SAP Center)

A player joining the Coyotes in Glendale will have to cross three or four timezones depending on the time of year. A player joining the Kings may only have to worry about leg cramps from making an hour long drive. A GM for Edmonton or Calgary could make a trip to see their affiliates play easily in the gap between two home games in a row for their NHL club. It won't be that easy for those in charge of the Canucks.

It is a major development for the AHL and the NHL, but it creates a seriously uneven playing field within the Pacific. Is there any way for this situation to be rectified soon? Well, the reports are that the Kings will simply flip the league representations of their teams, with the Manchester team actually moving to the ECHL, so that fans in the region won't be losing their franchise as much as they will be demoted to a lesser league. Oklahoma City was moving anyways, as the Oilers were trying to reduce travel costs.

This gives Arizona and Vancouver options. There has been some scuttlebutt that the Pirates are preparing to move to the ECHL in the wake of this announcement. If this were the case, where would the Coyotes' affiliate be? Options include Prescott, which up until last season was the home of the team's Central Hockey League affiliate, the Arizona Sundogs, Tucson and Albuquerque. Possibly even Salt Lake City or Portland, Oregon.

In the 80's and early 90's, Phoenix was home to the Roadrunners, who were the Kings farm club in the now defunct IHL. Without the Roadrunners, I don't know if I would be writing pieces such as this, because they were what turned an interest in hockey into an obsession as a child. So the idea of more western expansion for the AHL makes sense and there are markets that may be "non-traditional" that would embrace a minor league hockey team.

The Coyotes have been used to being in situations that are less than ideal. They survived, and even thrived, without a dedicated owner for over three years. The rumors of relocation still swirl around this franchise to this day. But just because they have been in bad situations doesn't mean they have to stay in one. They need to find a way to get their AHL team closer to home. Imagine being able to drive to go see Henrik Samuelsson, Brandon Gormley and the budding Coyote prospects during a weekend? It's a dream that may come true sooner than you think.