Wednesday, 29 May 2019

If One Expands...

There was some interesting news that came out of a radio interview today in Seattle as 950 KJR, Seattle's "Original Die-hard Sports Station", had CEO Tod Leiweke from the Seattle NHL group on to talk about the progress being made with the team. It seems that 950 KJR might be where you want to tune your radio to or get hooked up via an internet stream if you're interested in Seattle NHL news because it seems that Dave "Softy" Mahler and Dick Fain may have an exclusive "Tuesdays with Tod Leiweke" segment where the CEO talks all things related to Seattle NHL hockey after replacing the previous "Tuesdays with Tip" as Dave Tippett was doing before his departure. I'll admit I hadn't tuned in before today, but I might make a regular habit after Tod Leiweke broke some news on their show yesterday.

The full segment is 19 minutes, but there are some interesting comments on all sorts of Seattle NHL news here from Tod Leiweke - AHL affiliate locations, names, colours, and more. Give it a listen, and I'll continue below.

There's a lot to process here, but let's focus on the one reason why this article is being written: AHL expansion. As you're likely aware, the AHL is the sole development and affiliate league for the NHL, so the two cities identified by Tod Leiweke would need some analysis to see if it's right for an AHL franchise. Those cities, if you didn't listen, are Boise, Idaho and Palm Springs, California.

We'll start with Boise where the ECHL's Idaho Steelheads currently play. The Steelheads currently play out of CenturyLink Arena in Boise which has a maximum ice hockey capacity of 5,002 fans, so the arena may be a little on the small side for AHL play. The 22 year-old facility opened in 1997 when the Steelheads played their first game as part of the WCHL, and has been the home of the ECHL franchise since their move to the ECHL in 2003. The Treasure Valley area of which Boise is a part has a population of about 710,000 citizens, and major companies in and around Boise include the J.R. Simplot Company, Micron Technology, and nearly two dozen call centers for businesses such as DirecTV, EDS, and T-Mobile, giving Boise strong corporate partners if the team lands there. The Steelheads have never played below 78.1% capacity of CenturyLink Arena since joining the ECHL, so it seems like the hockey following in Boise is strong.

Palm Springs, California is an interesting choice as an AHL locale due to their year-round population of 45,000, but the winter months see that number balloon to somewhere near 150,000 thanks to snowbirds and tourists. Being within 150 miles of all of Ontario, Los Angeles, Anaheim, and San Diego would make for a nice location as there are millions of people in that region and a high number of hockey fans who may be more willing to stay near Palm Springs than travel to see pro hockey. While there is no current rink for an AHL team to move into and begin play, there was an announcement of a 12,000-seat arena complex that would be built off Interstate 10 in July 2018, the main artery for Palm Springs, that would be suitable for hockey. Completion is slated for 2021, so this would be an almost-perfect timeline for a Palm Springs AHL club. If there is one concern, it's that Palm Springs doesn't have the corporate partners in town like Boise does, but this is southern California - I doubt Leiweke would have to look hard to find corporate support.

While I know a lot of people would love to see Palm Springs get the team, the choice will be interesting as the AHL has looked to cover the map very evenly. Their expansion into Tucson with the Coyotes and into Colorado Springs with the Avalanche have given them a strong presence in the Mountain Time Zone, and Boise's addition would give them another strong hockey city for Mountain Time road trips. On the other hand, the proximity of Palm Springs to current AHL cities such as Ontario, San Diego, San Jose, and Tucson doesn't hurt either when planning a road trip on schedules.

From everything written here, I don't see either city being significantly ahead of the other regarding demographics, corporate support, facilities, and location. This may simply come down to where Seattle wants to place its team and whether they want to bump a successful ECHL franchise in the Idaho Steelheads out of their current city. If I were a betting man, I'd say that Seattle will likely opt for Palm Springs considering a lot of divisional play will require players to be available for recall on the west coast near NHL cities such as Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Las Vegas on a moment's notice. Of course, I could also be wrong and they could opt for a stronger hockey market like Boise, so the analysis of these two cities may simply come down to dollars and cents for Seattle.

Regardless of where this new affiliate lands, we do know a few things about Seattle based on Leiweke's interview above: the team name and colours will be released sometime around December for what appears to be a Christmas marketing and merchandise plan, the team colours will not be like the current Seattle teams with neon green, blue, and silver, and the search for a GM in Seattle continues. That GM will be responsible for putting players into the Seattle system, and that likely means players will need to be prepared to play in one of Palm Springs or Boise.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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