The AHL did as expected today, announcing a new five-team Pacific Division comprised of California teams that will begin play next season.
From the press release:
• The Anaheim Ducks will purchase the Norfolk Admirals AHL franchise and will relocate it from Norfolk, Va., to San Diego, Calif.
• The AHL franchise owned by the Calgary Flames will relocate from Glens Falls, N.Y., to Stockton, Calif.
• The AHL franchise owned by the Edmonton Oilers will relocate from Oklahoma City, Okla., to Bakersfield, Calif.
• The AHL franchise owned by the Los Angeles Kings will relocate from Manchester, N.H., to Ontario, Calif.
• The AHL franchise owned by the San Jose Sharks will relocate from Worcester, Mass., to San Jose, Calif.
The realignment is seen as both a strategic move for the five NHL teams that will now be closer to their prospects (who, with less travel time, will have more time to practice), and also as evidence that the popularity of hockey has grown by leaps and bounds in The Golden State.
“The immense growth of the game of hockey in the state of California shows that hockey fans here love the game and they support it,” said Sharks COO John Tortora.
“Having our top prospects playing on the same coast as our National Hockey League team will greatly enhance our ability to monitor and enhance their development.”
It’s not known at this point if there will be more teams moving west. The Vancouver Canucks, for example, are tied to Utica through next season, but are expected to explore their options ahead of 2016-17.
Prescott, Ariz., and Boise, Idaho, are two potential AHL markets, according to Sportsnet’s John Shannon.
Prescott could make sense as the Arizona Coyotes’ affiliate, which is currently based in Portland, Maine.
The Coyotes extended their affiliate agreement with Portland in May, but only for one more year.