As the NHL prepares to officially open up business in Seattle, the AHL has announced that it is set to put down some roots in Palm Springs.
On Monday, mere months after the Seattle franchise’s intentions to locate its minor-league affiliate in California became clear, the AHL announced that the league’s Board of Governors has awarded an expansion team to Palm Springs. The AHL’s newest franchise, which will hit the ice in 2021 and see its inaugural campaign coincide with that of its NHL parent club, will play out of a new $250-million, 10,000-seat downtown arena at Agua Caliente that is slated to open its doors in September 2021. Plans have also been laid out for a training center for the AHL team.
“On behalf of the AHL’s Board of Governors, I am thrilled to welcome the NHL Seattle and OVG(Oak View Group) ownership teams and the city of Palm Springs as the league’s 32nd franchise,” said AHL president and CEO David Andrews. “Palm Springs has all the makings of an outstanding hockey market, and will further strengthen the growing base of our sport in California.”
In speaking to media Monday, NHL Seattle president and CEO Tod Leiweke said getting the AHL team right was “mission critical,” calling it the proving ground for future players and coaches for NHL Seattle. The goal isn't simply to put the team in place and utilize it as a place to store their up-and-comers, though. Rather, the idea is to utilize the farm team as a place for the next generation to grow, and the goal is for the AHL club to achieve its own on-ice successes. “Ultimately, we’re going to bring a Calder Cup here,” Leiweke said.
In putting the team in Palm Springs, the AHL will see its presence in the Golden State expand to include a sixth team and the introduction of a new team to California will see the growth of the Pacific Division completed, so to speak.
As part of a mass relocation ahead of the 2015-16 season, five AHL franchises – the Adirondack Flames, Manchester Monarchs, Norfolk Admirals, Oklahoma City Barons and Worcester Sharks – were moved to California as part of a league realignment that saw the respective organizations become the Stockton Heat, Ontario Reign, San Diego Gulls, Bakersfield Condors and San Jose Barracuda. The result of the shift to California was the creation of a Pacific Division, which has since grown to include the Tucson Roadrunners and the Colorado Eagles, the latter of which debuted in the AHL last season.
At present, the AHL’s other three divisions, the Atlantic, North and Central, each consist of eight teams. The Pacific is the only division that presently consists of seven teams. Thus, Palm Springs’ addition will standardize division sizes throughout the league, much like the introduction of Seattle will balance the NHL's Eastern and Western Conferences.
The location of the Palm Springs franchise is also noteworthy in its relative proximity to Seattle. In recent years, there has been an increased drive by NHL organizations to locate their AHL affiliates closer to the big-league city. Several teams, including the Barracuda, Manitoba Moose and Toronto Marlies, play in the same city as their parent clubs, and the addition of the Pacific Division had allowed several of the NHL’s Pacific Division teams, including the Calgary Flames (Stockton) and Edmonton Oilers (Bakersfield), not to mention the trio of California-based NHL clubs, to limit the travel distance between the NHL and AHL franchises.
Much like the Seattle franchise, it’s not yet known what the AHL club will be called. According to The Desert Sun, OVG, which is behind the renovation of Seattle’s arena, “filed paperwork to trademark several potential names, including the Firebirds, Sun, Dragons, Falcons, Hawks and Eagles.” Asked when a team name and a logo would be made public, Leiweke said that they’ll take their time, “but it won’t be too much longer.”
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