Monday, April 21, 2014

AHL Commissioner Says Second, Third Rounds Could Move to Five Games; Talks AHL in Houston, West Coast

AHL president Dave Andrews hands out the AHL MVP Trophy to Travis Morin.
(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
With the Texas Stars earning a total of eight end-of-season trophies, the American Hockey League commissioner and president, Dave Andrews, was in town to present the trophies and plaques. It was also a chance to talk to the league boss about many of the topics swirling around the AHL these days. He had thoughts on the potential west coast relocation of many teams in the league, the future of hockey in Houston, the potential for an All-Star game in Cedar Park, advanced stats in the AHL and a very interesting take on the future of five-game playoff series.

Potential for Pacific coast relocation and importance of a deep development system

Since the last time I spoke with Andrews, the league has been rolling strong with thirty teams for four years now. Andrews said it was a long-time goal to get to thrity teams in the league and matchup one-to-one with the National Hockey League.

"It's probably more important for the NHL for every team to have a full development system, which they did not have until we got to 30 teams. When you look at the numbers in the NHL, we're close to 90% of the players who have come through our league. This year alone, we've had 360 players called up to play."

"One of the stats I looked at recently, I think we've had 6,000 man-games played by AHL recalls in the NHL [this year]. If you think about that, it's a lot of games played by AHL players, which points to the need to have a good deep system for every NHL club. We are fortunate to get the best players outside the NHL, and they are playing hard to get to that next step."

To the point of each team having its own deep development system, Andrews feels that the Texas Stars are one of several model franchises in the league with regard to geographic setup.

"This is one example of how well it can work. There are other examples in the league if you look at Toronto or Providence and Boston. It is an advantage for an NHL team to have their players close"

With the recently announced departure of the Heat from Abbotsford, conversations have again popped up regarding the league's potential to create a Pacific or West Coast Division to create a situation more like the Dallas-Texas connection for teams such as Los Angeles, San Jose, Phoenix and Anaheim.

"There is a fair amount of truth behind [those rumours]. At the same time, there's a lot of conjecture that isn't accurate. We have been involved in a process over the last two years or so starting with eight of the NHL teams that are Western based moving down to about five of them that are active right now who are looking to get closer to the Pacific coast at some point. Recently, it's heated up again, and we've been looking at what the process will be and how it might take place and the timelines."

"We still haven't identified markets, and neither have they in terms of where they would like to place teams on the west coast. We haven't really understood what the timeline is likely to be. We're closer to it happening, but we're not sure when and if it will happen. There are a number of hurdles. We're not going to create more AHL franchises so to relocate five at one time or more perhaps is a very significant challenge. I would say there's half-truths in some of those stories and half wishful thinking."

Further, Andrews does not feel like adding a West Division will have to necessarily restrict scheduling. AHL scheduling is already heavily rivalry-based. No team plays every other team in the league. The goal for the AHL office is to put together a schedule that is best for player development and that ownership believes is best for their business interests.

Rick McLaughlin, Scott White and Andrews with the Kilpatrick Trophy
(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Returning AHL hockey to Houston 'not on the horizon'

Regarding travel, the Texas Stars certainly would have an easier travel schedule if it weren't for the departure of the Houston Aeros this past offseason. Unfortuantely, Andrews does not see a future for AHL hockey in Houston right now.

"I would love to say that we saw a future for the AHL in Houston. In order to do that, we need a facility that we can play in. As I'm sure you know, leaving Houston wasn't high on the list of priorities. Houston was one of our most successful franchises in the league. The three teams in Texas have been really successful over the last number of years, so to lose one of the top franchises and move them out of Houston was not something the Minnesota Wild or the AHL wanted to see happen. We didn't control the building. The Houston Rockets do, and they determined that they didn't want a professional hockey team in the building. "

He was also able to add some color to the contingency plans the Wild explored to keep the team in Houston.

"The Wild looked carefully for other sites that they might be able to use, including one of the rodeo facilities and trying to retrofit that as a hockey arena. It just wasn't viable. Would we like to be in Houston if we could find a 7000 or 8000 seat building in Houston? We sure would. It would be great for the Texas Stars, and it would be great for San Antonio as well. I don't know that that is on the horizon."

Expanding the five-game series to rounds two and three?

The Stars are preparing for a playoffs series that will see them start on the road in OKC despite winning the league's best overall record. Andrews talked through the economics of the decision, which has less to do with travel costs than you might think.

Moving to [first-round] best of five was a decision that was made two or three years ago. We reduced our schedule to a 76 game schedule, and in doing so we expanded the length of the season to try to recapture the revenue by getting more weekend dates. In doing that, we obviously pushed ourselves back further than we wanted to be from a playoff point of view. So the way we recapture that time was by moving to best of five in the first round."

The American Hockey League ends their regular season a full week after the NHL and ECHL, which does put pressure on the league to catch up with the other two. The Texas Stars are a good example of the weekend date revenue bias that Andrews mentions. In Sunday through Thursday games this season, Texas averaged just 4,603 fans. On Friday and Saturday, they greeted an average of 5,697 fans.

Andrews actually sees the league moving to more five-game series in the future.

"If I were looking at what I think the future holds for us, I would believe that we may play shorter rounds in the playoffs in the future in the second and third rounds. I don't think you'll ever see it in the fourth round and probably not the third. There's some sense that a best of five second round may make sense as well. We've had good success with the first round playing mostly weekend dates. Playoff sales are tough. We don't have a lot of lead time to sell. It's challenging for our teams. Fewer games and better dates is always a good format."

Other notes...
  • When asked about the potential for an All-Star Game in Cedar Park, Andrews put the pressure on Rick McLaughlin, who was standing nearby in the room, smiling and saying, "I think Rick would really like to have an All-Star Game."
  • On advanced stats, Andrews noted that league VP of PR and communications, Jason Chaimovitch, is a huge stats geek and would love to get the league more involved in those things. He added, "I expect that most people who are diehard sports fans connect with stats, trying to analyze the game and understand it in a better way. As that begins to unfold in hockey in a more meaningful way, I'm sure we'll try to be a part of that and participate in it."

1 comment:

  1. Great, 5 game series and the first two the lower seed get at home. Lets just flip a coin to decide winners. Sucks, we get the AHL here and they start to go bush league.

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