Tuesday, 3 May 2016

New Home For The Pups

It's been no secret in the hockey world that the AHL is slowly moving west. For a league that was primarily on the eastern seaboard, particularly in the northeast, the AHL expanded west with the addition of five teams in California starting this past season. They played a reduced schedule due to travel, but it appears that the AHL is looking at filling the gap in the Mountain Time Zone by adding and/or moving more teams westward. Today, we have another guest post/email about this phenomenon that is currently gripping the AHL's focus in the off-season.

Peter S. write a very short piece/email about the Springfield Falcons being bought by the Arizona Coyotes with the intent to move the franchise to Tucson, Arizona. Having their AHL affiliate an hour away is a lot more convenient for the Coyotes instead of the team being a day's worth of travel away, but is this the right move for the AHL? Here are Peter's thoughts on the matter.
"The Springfield Falcons are potentially on the move as the Arizona Coyotes have bought the club and will move it to Tuscon. Tuscon, if you remember, is located in the same state as the Coyotes, which continues the trend of teams on the West Coast relocating affiliate franchises closer to home.

While the actual move is not yet finalized, it does raise some interesting questions as Tuscon has had only one brief foray into hockey - the Gila Monsters of the WCHL for a season and a half.

Obviously, getting people to fill the arena is one thing as the Coyotes have trouble filling their own arena, but, more to the point, exactly what level of interest is there for a hockey team outside of the Phoenix and surrounding areas, and how will the team market it?

Certainly, having a newly formed hockey team on a college level isn't bad as Arizona State joined the collegiate hockey party, but the AHL is a major step. It not as easy as swapping leagues as Los Angeles and Calgary did with their AHL and ECHL franchises nor is it introducing hockey to places where hockey has had a decent history as San Jose and Anaheim and their AHL affiliates. Moving it to a largely unknown quantity is a big risk, and if it proves to be problematic for the Coyotes it may be another bad decision among many in the team's two decades in the desert."
Great comments, Peter, and this move could prove to be another burden on an already-taxed Coyotes franchise that is currently looking at new arena leases and ways to attract more fans.

The deal to move the Falcons out of Springfield ends a long history of AHL hockey in Springfield, starting first with the Indians, changing into a lease by the Kings, and followed by the Falcons.

The Indians, as most hockey fans know, were made famous by the penny-pinching ways of Eddie Shore who did everything he could to save a buck during his running of the team. Many famous players went through the Springfield organization including the likes of Don Cherry, Brian Kilrea, Kent Douglas, Bruce Boudreau, Billy Smith, and Butch Goring.

Losing one of the iconic AHL cities should both traditionalists and historians of the game, but the game of hockey is a business in today's world. While I'm not defending the move, one needs to keep that in mind.

Peter's argument, though, holds a ton of water in that Tucson has shown very little interest in hockey. Perhaps the Arizona Coyotes have done the market research needed to justify the move and can attract between 4000 and 6000 people to games. That's information that hasn't been released to the public, but it will come down to the AHL Board of Governors who will determine if this move is in the best interests of the league.

Since an NHL team is footing the bill, I can't see the move being stopped in any way.

Does it make the AHL stronger? Absolutely. It gives the two Texas-based teams in the Stars and Rampage another team to play within the Pacific Division as well as giving the five California-based teams another city to visit more often.

There could be some realignment as the Eastern Conference loses a team and the Western Conference gains a team. The Charlotte Checkers, who played in the Central Division despite being neither western nor central could potentially move back east as the new Tucson team moves into the vacated Central Division spot. Sure, it's not perfect, but neither was Charlotte's inclusion in the Western Conference.

When all is said and done in the AHL this off-season, though, expect a team in Tucson, Arizona that will house the Coyotes' future players. Unless something dramatic happens that changes the evolution of the AHL, the expansion to the west will most certainly continue with little regard as to whether Tucson makes money or not.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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