AHL Pacific Division could affect area teams

If and when the American Hockey League decides to create a Pacific Division, the move could ripple t

If and when the American Hockey League decides to create a Pacific Division, the move could ripple through the Capital Region.

More recently, it’s looking more like “when” than “if.”

The announcement last week of the Calgary Flames’ purchase of their ECHL affiliate, the Stockton Thunder, sparked more speculation of what a

Pacific Division of the AHL might mean for local teams. The Flames’ affiliate Adirondack Flames is in Glens Falls. The New Jersey Devils own their AHL franchise in Albany, which will host Springfield tonight at 7.

A statement from AHL president and CEO Dave Andrews acknowledges the desire for a more western reach in the league, accommodating such NHL clubs as the Flames, Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks, all of whom have AHL affiliates on the East Coast.

“The AHL has been in discussions with a number of Western-based NHL teams for over 30 months with regards to their objective of creating a Pacific Division in our league,” Andrews said. “While progress is being made, there remains much work to be done, and there is still no timeline for the establishment of a Pacific Division. Rumors of potential franchise sales and/or relocations remain simply speculation.”

The AHL’s Board of Governors meets Jan. 25, and considering Andrews’ statement that the league is working toward a Pacific Division, it stands to reason that topic would have a place on the agenda for the meeting. Andrews, though, said he could not comment on that possibility.

Last month, it was announced the Oklahoma City Barons (affiliate of Edmonton) will cease operations after this season. The Oilers own the ECHL’s Bakersfield Condors, and could move their AHL operation there and find a different venue for their ECHL franchise.

It has been reported Los Angeles may consider moving the Manchester Monarchs to Ontario, Calif., where their ECHL team currently plays.

The Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, Mass., has reported the Sharks “desire” a western move. The Virginia-

Pilot reported the Norfolk Admirals are in the process of being sold for a move west, likely to San Diego.

Local impact

While the eventual creation of a Pacific Division could leave the Glens Falls Civic Center looking for a new tenant, Times Union Center general manager Bob Belber is hopeful the proposal he recently sent to New Jersey will go a long way to keeping the Devils in Albany.

Though New Jersey would not move its AHL affiliate to a Pacific Division, there will be four to six cities in the East trying to replace franchises that vacated their venues. The TUC lease agreement with the Albany Devils expires after this season, so if a western migration happens as soon as this year, the Devils will be one of the franchises receiving proposals from those vacated venues.

“We’ve been in negotiations for the last couple of months,” Belber said. “So, we’ve got a proposal in their hands and, at this point, we’re waiting for a response back.”

That proposal was sent out late last week, he said, so a reply is not expected right away.

He also said he does not expect a resolution to the negotiations until after it is determined whether or not there will be a Pacific Division at the beginning of next season. He acknowledged those teams whose lease agreements are up will likely find it wise to wait and listen to all offers on the table before recommitting to their current cities.

Belber mentioned construction of the Albany Capital Center and the walkway connecting it to the TUC and Empire State Plaza Convention Center as a selling point for Albany. Also, there will be six new LED video-capable message boards installed in the South Pearl Street atrium of the TUC, increasing visibility for all events at the arena.

“That is going to really almost make our area of downtown more or less become like Times Square,” Belber said. “The visibility for the Devils, and for Siena and for other events, on event nights and even just putting up future announcements about events and games taking place, is something that is very unique. There won’t be any other facility that will be potentially vying for an AHL team that can do what we’re going to do. The new bells and whistles, I think, are going to make a huge difference.”

Five years ago, Belber helped lure the Devils back to Albany from Lowell, Mass. He said the 41⁄2 seasons that have transpired since have strengthened the relationship between the franchise and the arena.

“I think if you were to ask Chris Ciceri, the CEO of the Devils, how he feels about his relationship with me and our staff, and how our commitment to his team and making sure their player development — which is their primary focus — is second to none, I think you’d find both he and Chris Lamoriello and even his father Lou, that they would indicate we’ve really got a first-class facility with a very dedicated customer-service staff,” he said. “That is important.”

Though Albany Devils general manager Chris Lamoriello declined comment on negotiations, he spoke about the impact of travel on player development, and how it is just one of many factors that go into deciding where to place an AHL affiliate to develop young prospects.

Lamoriello also spoke about why the New Jersey Devils moved the franchise to Albany in 2010 and about their relationship with the region.

“For us, making the decision to come back to Albany, there were a number of factors involved,” Lamoriello said. “There were many more that were more important for us [than proximity to Newark], and certainly, the history of being in Albany, a place we called home for over 10, 12 seasons, the relationship with the building, and certainly the commitment of our fans that we had experience with, the fans prior to us coming back there had to the American League, the hospitality of the building and the improvements made to the facility were certainly very, very high on the list. One of the logistics we like to look at is the TV markets, as far as our fans getting to experience both teams playing, even if it’s just on television.

“I think you’re fortunate when you’re at home and a recall is made. It’s easier for everyone, but you can’t count on that, because you’ll never know when these come up. For us, we’ve only known Northeast travel in our time having relationships, whether it’s going back to Maine, Utica, certainly Albany, Lowell and now Albany again. We haven’t experienced anything else, and have felt very comfortable being in this region. We’re certainly very comfortable in Albany.”

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