Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Report of New AHL Team in Kansas City Puts Chicago Wolves in Awkward Place

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Almost as a throw-in item at the bottom of his notebook on the Blues, NHL.com's Lou Korac started a firestorm in the AHL today. The section begins, "The Blues will house a new home for a new American Hockey League team, according to a source."

The report goes on to say that the team is closing in on a deal to put their AHL team in Kansas City, working with the current owner of the Missouri Mavericks. The Blues have been affiliated with the independently owned Chicago Wolves for four years. The Missouri Mavericks vehemently denied the report.

However, the connective tissue of this story makes sense in context of some other things I've heard around the league. With the entry of Las Vegas to the NHL, there are suddenly 31 NHL teams and only 30 AHL clubs. AHL president Dave Andrews believes in the one-to-one relationship between the two leagues but has been mum so far on definitive plans to add another team to match the Vegas expansion.

Of course, the interesting thread in all of this is that most folks assumed that Vegas would want in on that sweet deal the California Five (and Tucson) have worked out: playing fewer games against the same geographically convenient opponents. Cities that were mentioned included Salt Lake City, Fresno and Sacramento. The Utah Grizzlies, currently in SLC, hosted AHL hockey as recently as the mid-2000s when they were Dallas' AHL affiliate. Fresno hosted the Falcons, but Sacramento has never had a pro team.

Meanwhile, you could make the counter argument that Las Vegas is going to have enough on its plate next year what with starting an NHL team from scratch. Maybe this makes sense. St. Louis moves their affiliation to KC and Chicago pairs up with Las Vegas. They won't get the 68 game deal because Chicago is independently owned and would never stand for it. But you'd have a team that has been developing players for decades instead of also starting an AHL team from scratch.

The awkward situations that could arise are in two places:
  1. Las Vegas decides that they do want to kick off their own AHL franchise in the west and get the 68-game schedule and close travel times and all the other benefits associated with the local AHL team. Suddenly, Chicago has no NHL team. By my records, there isn't a deal ending this season that I would consider in jeopardy of moving. This leaves Binghamton, St. John's and now Chicago all without AHL teams in 2017-18.
  2. Las Vegas goes with Chicago next year with the plan being to eventually get their own franchise. That's the above scenario just delayed by a few years.
Either way, it's a rough spot for one of the signature franchises in the AHL.

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