Throughout Minor League Baseball, you'll find MLB's Triple-A affiliates are relatively nearby to the parent club. This is also largely true in the NBA's Development League.
The NHL has lagged a bit behind, thanks in part to hockey's concentrated footprint in the Northeast as well as the American Hockey League's lengthy history (the AHL was founded in 1936 compared to the NBA D-League's inaugural season in 2001). But the last couple of years, that has changed thanks to the addition of the AHL Pacific Division, which will now boast eight teams with the addition of Arizona's Tucson AHL franchise.
In its first year of existence, the Arizona Coyotes were left out, still dealing with having their AHL affiliate on the opposite side of the continent.
"The requirement was that you had to own your own affiliation," Coyotes CEO and president Anthony LeBlanc explained. "There was only one team that was up for sale last year, and that was the Norfolk Admirals, who were affiliated with the Anaheim Ducks, so Anaheim went ahead and purchased that franchise and relocated it to San Diego."
The Ducks actually alerted LeBlanc to the possibility of a franchise being available for purchase this year, and in just about three months, the Tucson relocation is happening.
The quick move to Tucson has the people in charge of the on-ice product thrilled about what they could have from a hockey operations perspective.
"This is nothing short of a game-changer for our organization," Coyotes GM John Chayka said at the introductory press conference. "We're going to be using a shared resources model here so that not only our players feel close, but our staff throughout the team can also be close and work together in that synergistic way."
To drive home the game-changer point, Chayka explained a conversation he had with equipment manager Stan Wilson, who has been with the team since it moved to Phoenix.
"We had a discussion the other day and he told me this is the single biggest step we've taken as an organization to invest in being a competitive team and invest in being a championship-caliber organization, and I can concur. I think that's the level of step we're taking here."
So how will the coaching staff be able to take advantage of this move?
"The synergy between the two teams is something we'll be able to monitor a lot closer," head coach Dave Tippett explained. "Both teams will play very similar, and have prospects that go up and down, so one night, people will be watching an American Hockey League player, and then he has a heck of a game, and the next night he'll be playing in Arizona with the same style. We feel like the synergy between the two places is a huge boost for our franchise."
"There are so many benefits, you can't even list them all," Tippett continued. "The ability of our management team to go back and forth. The ability for us to pull kids up, even on a game day which we couldn't ever do before is a huge benefit for the organization."
"The NHL is an awfully competitive place, and when all the other western teams have their affiliates on this side, we were at a disadvantage."
Western Conference teams that have already made the decision to have their AHL team close to home gave the Coyotes plenty of positive feedback of their new situation.
"All the things above are things they all mentioned," Tippett explained of what other Western Conference head coaches told him. "The synergy of the two teams improves, and the ability to use it to your benefit because of location."
"Across the board it's all positive," Chayka tacked on about what other GMs have told him. "At the end of the day you're trying to integrate the two organizations as best as possible; that proximity allows you to do that and at the highest level that you can."
One thing that may go overlooked in the distance factor was the inability for the AHL players to watch the parent club on TV, especially when it's a team like the Coyotes that aren't necessarily on national TV very often.
"To be able to turn on the TV and see the Coyotes, I think that's a huge help for their psyche," Chayka said. "If they get called up it's a much more comfortable situation."
"Now our young kids have the ability of sitting down in Tucson and watch our games on TV every night," Tippett added. "I think that's a huge benefit."
No matter what way you look at it, this move is nothing but positive for the entire organization, and really for the City of Tucson. And it will also help grow the game even more on the west coast.
"I look at it as you see the NHL teams have their followings, but now you see the American League teams coming in and that will continue to filter down into the minor hockey league levels," Tippett said about growing the game. "You look in Phoenix, the minor hockey continues to grow, so hockey in the west, especially the southwest, will continue to thrive."
"It bodes well for the future of hockey in the Southwestern United States."