Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Manifest Destiny: The Westward Expansion of the AHL in Maps

The American Hockey League has marched slowly and steadily westward, most notably first lurching west with the International Hockey League merger in 2001. As we kick off a new season, it's a great time to look back at all the moves that got us to this place.

The below map shows us the movement of the geographic center of the league. It's pretty clear to see how the league has progressed west since 2001 (maps link).

(click to enhance detail)
And here's a great visualization of the westward move in GIF format.


For each season below, we'll take a look at the map, what moves were made to get there and give a link to the map of the teams in Google Maps.

2000-2001
This is our baseline. The league looked as above before the AHL-IHL merger. It's basically a Northeastern league at this point. Cincnnati was in the South Division, if that gives you an idea of where we're at here. Maps link.

2001-2002

After the IHL merger, the AHL became a much larger league, adding Milwaukee, Chicago, Houston, Utah, Manitoba, and Grand Rapids. Bridgeport was also granted a team in the same year and there were a few other changes, but those were unrelated to the IHL merger. Maps link.

ADD
Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Chicago Wolves
Houston Aeros
Manitoba Moose
Milwaukee Admirals
Utah Grizzlies

REMOVE
Louisville Panthers

RELOCATE
Kentucky Thoroughblades become Cleveland Barons


2002-2003
2002 saw additions in Texas and upstate New York. Over the next two years, Hamilton would be the epicenter of a movement for some Canadian teams. In 2002-03, the Quebec franchise merged into the Hamilton franchise. Maps link.

ADD
San Antonio Rampage (previously dormant Adirondack)
Binghamton Senators (previously dormant PEI Senators)

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None.

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Quebec Citadelles merge with Hamilton Bulldogs

2003-2004
The second half of the Hamilton transition came this year as Toronto joined the league with the Roadrunners

One could easily say that the teams out west had a pretty severe travel disadvantage in the heavily northeastern league. However, teams from the former IHL won the first three Calder Cups post-merger: Chicago, Houston and Milwaukee. Maps link.

ADD
Toronto Roadrunners (split from Hamilton)

REMOVE
Saint John Flames (dormant this year)

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None.

2004-2005
2004-05 was a banner year for the AHL, even if it wasn't a great one for hockey generally. In the lockout, the AHL was the top league in North America and attendance surged. Toronto's club moved to Edmonton, retaining the Roadrunners name. Maps link.

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None.

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None.

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Toronto becomes Edmonton

2005-2006
Several new teams popped up following the NHL lockout. Maps link.

ADD
Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights (from dormant Saint John)
Iowa Stars/Chops (from dormant Louisville)

REMOVE
Edmonton Roadrunners
Cincinnati Mighty Ducks
Utah Grizzlies

RELOCATE
Worcester IceCats become Peoria Rivermen
St John's Maple Leafs become Toronto Marlies

2006-2007
2006-7 was a surprisingly quiet year. Cleveland moved to Worcester to backfill the departed IceCats. The Barons themselves would be backfilled in short order. Otherwise, Lowell changed names from the Lock Monsters to the Devils after being purchased by New Jersey. Maps link.

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None.

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None.

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Cleveland Barons become Worcester Sharks

2007-2008
In 2007, the short Omaha experiment was over as the Flames moved to Quad City (Moline, IL). Another midwest entrant appeared as well with the Rockford IceHogs leaving the UHL (as reigning champs no less) and joining the AHL with the franchise license from Cincinnati. Finally, Cleveland got a team again as the Monsters came in on Utah's franchise license. Maps link.

ADD
Rockford IceHogs (from dormant Cincinnati after leaving UHL)
Lake Erie Monsters (from dormant Utah)

REMOVE
None.

RELOCATE
Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights become Quad City Flames

2008-2009
2008-9 was a very quiet year. No one moved and there was just a name change. The Iowa Stars became the Iowa Chops as Dallas pulled its sole affiliation in anticipation of the Texas Stars arrival in 2009. Maps link.

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None.

REMOVE
None.

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None.

2009-2010
This is obviously a big one for readers of this site. The Texas Stars were granted a temporary franchise license to expand to Cedar Park. The temporary status would be resolved later when the ownership group purchased Iowa's license. Quad City moved to Abbotsford, BC, to be closer to their parent team, Calgary. It was the first ever AHL team in the Pacific time zone. Elsewhere, the Philadelphia Phantoms became the Adirondack Phantoms after moving to Glens Falls, NY. Maps link.

ADD
Texas Stars (temporary franchise license until 2010-11)

REMOVE
Iowa Chops

RELOCATE
Philadelphia Phantoms become Adirondack Phantoms (Glens Falls, NY)

2010-2011
New markets abounded in 2010. Oklahoma City picked up a team using dormant Edmonton's license while Albany headed south to Charlotte, NC. Charlotte was already a hockey town with an ECHL team. Lowell backfilled in Albany, becoming the Albany Devils and leaving Lowell without a team. The Hartford Wolf Pack also temporarily rebranded as the Connecticut Whale. Maps link.

ADD
Oklahoma City Barons (from dormant Edmonton)

REMOVE
None.

RELOCATE
Albany River Rats become Charlotte Checkers
Lowell Devils become Albany Devils

2011-2012
As the Atlanta Thrashers became the Winnipeg Jets, the Moose were pushed out of the MTS Centre. Way out. The Moose headed to Newfoundland became the St. John's IceCaps. Maps link.

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None.

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None.

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Manitoba Moose become St. John's Ice Caps

2012-2013
The calm before the storm. Literally nothing changed in 2012-13. Maps link.

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None.

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None.

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None.

2013-2014
Seeing the success of so many close-pairing NHL/AHL affiliations, teams started making moves to limit travel time between their affiliates. With an unwilling building owner in Houston, it was only too easy for the Minnesota Wild to take the Aeros away from their home of the last 19 years and drop them in Des Moines, just a short flight from Minneapolis. Somewhat inexplicably, Peoria moved to Utica and affiliated with Vancouver. Finally, the Connecticut Whale once again became the Hartford Wolf Pack. Maps link.

ADD
None.

REMOVE
None.

RELOCATE
Houston Aeros become Iowa Wild
Peoria Rivermen become Utica Comets

2014-2015
The Abbotsford situation became financially untenable and the team retreated, temporarily eastward, as the league prepared for the worst kept secret in the hockey world: the eventual westward expansion of the league. Abbotsford relocated to Glens Falls as the Phantoms moved to a new home in Allentown, PA, rebranding as the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Maps link.

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None.

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None.

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Abbotsford Heat become Adirondack Flames
Adirondack Phantoms become Lehigh Valley Phantoms

2015-2016
Here's the tectonic shift. Of course, if you have been paying attention to the AHL for a few years, you would be familiar with all the reasons why this move happened. The biggest takeaway is that the AHL was a northeastern league as recently as 2001 but teams saw the big advantage of having their affiliate nearby. Here's the end result. Maps link.

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None.

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None.

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Hamilton Bulldogs become St. John's IceCaps
St. John's IceCaps become Manitoba Moose
Manchester Monarchs become Ontario Reign
Norfolk Admirals become San Diego Gulls
Adirondack Flames become Stockton Heat
Worcester Sharks become San Jose Barracuda
Oklahoma City Barons become Bakersfield Condors

2016-2017
One more team joined the west coast crew as Arizona shifted their affiliation to Tucson. The Portland Pirates, who had had some building issues, moved to Springfield to backfill the departing Falcons. Maps link.

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None.

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None.

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Portland Pirates become Springfield Thunderbirds
Springfield Falcons become Tucson Roadrunners

2017-2018
More proximity relocations followed in 2017. Belleville picked up a team in affiliation with the Senators, and Laval gained St. John's IceCaps in affiliation with Montreal. Binghamton saw the Albany Devils move to town and continue their history in upstate New York. Maps link.

ADD
None.

REMOVE
None.

RELOCATE
Binghamton Senators become Belleville Senators
St. John's IceCaps become Laval Rocket
Albany Devils become Binghamton Devils

2018-2019
With the NHL expanding to 31 teams the prior year, the AHL did the same. Colorado joined the league in 2018 and will play in a division exclusively with the other teams that only play 68 games. Maps link.

ADD
Colorado Eagles (new franchise license)

REMOVE
None.

RELOCATE
None.

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