Maine Hockey Journal

AHL officials say no franchises have been sold or transferred

AHL Officials say no franchise has been sold or transferred.

AHL Officials say no franchise has been sold or transferred.

PORTLAND – The creation of a Pacific Coast Division in the American Hockey League has once again hit social media and created a firestorm of rumors and speculation that the AHL could have a division in place as soon as next season.

The latest comes from an online blog that claimed through unnamed sources that the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche have each purchased an AHL franchise and will relocate their current affiliations as soon as the 2015-’16 season.

Maine Hockey Journal will not cite the report because it could not independently verify any of the claims made within the article. However, AHL Vice President of Communications Jason Chaimovitch said that he was aware of the article and that it was “100 percent inaccurate and no franchise purchases have taken place.”

Likewise, Coyotes’ GM Don Maloney through Rich Nairn, Coyotes Vice President of Communications said the team has not purchased an AHL franchise.

For nearly a decade there has been talk of the AHL attempting to create a Pacific Division at the request of several west coast National Hockey League teams. However, talk of such a division has simmered down, at least among AHL owners and members of the AHL Board of Governors, over the last couple of months.

“There has been no talk of a west coast division since the annual meeting in Hilton Head. Zero,” said Portland Pirates’ Chief Operating Officer and AHL Governor Brad Church. “Nothing has been brought to us to look at or even consider. No American Hockey League franchise have been bought, sold, transferred, loaned, leased, borrowed, bartered, nothing.”

The topic of a Pacific-based division in the AHL began when Henry and Susan Samueli purchased the Anaheim Ducks in 2005. They, along with general manager Brian Burke, never hid their desire to have its minor league affiliate located in Southern California.

Prior to Samueli’s purchase of the Ducks, previous owners Walt Disney Company signed an affiliation agreement with the Portland Pirates, which last from 2005-2008. The Samueli’s attempts at purchasing an AHL franchise failed and instead of renewing their affiliation with Portland they opted to move their affiliation to Des Moines, Iowa, citing they wanted to their prospect closer to California. Since that time, the Ducks have placed its prospects in Des Moines, Syracuse, New York and currently in Norfolk, Virginia.

The Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks have also indicated they’d like to move their AHL operations to the west coast. Unlike Anaheim, the Kings and Sharks own and operate their AHL franchises, giving them more flexibility in where they want locate their minor league club. Currently, the Kings own and operate the Manchester (N.H.) Monarchs, while the Sharks operate its farm team in Worcester, Massachusetts. Both AHL franchises have lease agreements in place at their respective venues til 2016.

The AHL is presently a league made up of 30 franchises with two-thirds of its teams based in the Eastern Time Zone, making for easier travel among teams in the league. The Abbotsford Heat, located nearly 1,500 miles away for their nearest competitor, relocated recently from British Columbia to Glens Falls, NY after city officials and team owners’ Calgary Flames reached an agreement to dissolve the contract.

The Kings and Sharks are one of 14 NHL organizations that own an AHL franchise, while 16 franchises are privately owned such as the Pirates, who are owned by Ron Cain.

For an NHL organization that wishes to move its AHL operation to another location they have only three options available to them. Currently own a franchise, purchase an existing AHL franchise and relocate it or affiliate with a private owner of an existing AHL franchise.

AHL President Dave Andrews has said on several occasions through various media outlets the league is exploring its options in creating a Pacific Division to accommodate west coast NHL organization, but has said that it would be have to be a cluster of teams making the move, not just one or two franchises due to travel cost within the league.

Andrews has also said they are not looking to expand to beyond more teams than what is currently in the NHL, maintaining the current 1:1 ratio.

That has created a log jam for those NHL organizations that wish to move its AHL operations closer to their home city because of a lack of franchises that are available or the cost to purchase an AHL, which is expected to fetch as much as $5 million or more.

“I’m not even sure if there’s an American Hockey League franchise for sale at the moment,” Church said. “The board of governors is not aware of anything for sale. I know (the Pirates) are certainly not for sale. (Pirates’ Majority Owner) Ron Cain has a long-term vision for Portland as do I. We are working toward building something really special here in this city. We wouldn’t have made the moves we made last January – referring to Cain’s purchase of majority ownership of the franchise – if we weren’t committed to Portland for a long time.”

Church said any attempt at linking any discussion, speculation or conjecture between what the AHL may or may not do in the future in regard to a Pacific Division to what is currently happening in the Central Hockey League is egregious at best and disingenuous at its worst.

The CHL has only seven teams at the moment after two teams, the Denver Cutthroats and the Arizona Sundogs, former CHL affiliate of the Pirates, to suspend operations last week. There has been rampant speculation that those two franchises folded to pave the way for the AHL to move into the markets vacated by those teams.

Church reiterated his previous statement when asked about whether those markets could have an AHL franchise within a year.

“There’s been no sale or transfers of any franchise nor has any sale or transfer of a franchise been brought to the board of governors for review or approval. Nothing, I really am not sure how clear I can make myself on this topic.”