|The Hershey Bears lead the Eastern Conference Finals two games to none over the Toronto Marlies. Photo: Nina Weiss/The Home News.|
This week's Monday Catch Up & Links focuses on not only the league's movement of teams for the upcoming 2016-17 season but also on all of the coaching changes going on in the league right now as well as updates on which teams have coaches, which AHL cities will have teams and much more.
The plan is to continue to bring more AHL content than ever before here at Highland Park Hockey and spoiler alert, big things are in the planning stage for the 2016-17 season already. So stay tuned all summer long for not only the best and latest Lehigh Valley Phantoms news, information and features but perhaps a lot more to come.
You can keep up with up-to-the-minute quick hits on breaking news on Twitter by following both @TonyAndrock and @H_P_Hockey. For those who are Facebook-friendly, breaking news and links to tons of my AHL content will also be shared there so be sure to like the Facebook page.
You can help keep me on the road providing live coverage of AHL hockey next season by making a donation via GoFundMe or PayPal.
AHL's Ever Changing Landscape
Last summer saw big changes in the American Hockey League before the 2015-16 season got underway. The league's big westward expansion that was believed to be in the works for quite some time finally gave five NHL franchises in the Pacific Time Zone the opportunity to have their AHL franchises closer to home for better prospect development, easier access to call ups and the same advantage that teams in the East have with regards to salary cap savings.
In total, there were 11 affiliation changes and/or relocations last summer in AHL with the biggest movement coming in the form of the California Five - Ontario Reign (LA Kings), San Jose Barracuda (SJ Sharks), Bakersfield Condors (Edmonton Oilers), Stockton Heat (Calgary Flames) and San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks).
To make those five relocations possible, several cities lost their AHL franchises - Manchester Monarchs (LA Kings), Worcester Sharks (San Jose Sharks), Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oilers), Adirondack Flames (Calgary Flames) and Norfolk Admirals (Anaheim Ducks). As the 2016-17 season approaches, all but the Oklahoma City area will have seen pro hockey return in the form of an ECHL franchise.
The 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs haven't even determined the who the two finalists will be for this year's championship series, but there has already been more re-locating of teams and potential moves in the works for the 2017-18 season - further changing the landscape of the league.
- The Arizona Coyotes purchased their AHL franchise in Springfield, and with the approval of both the league and the city of Tucson, Arizona in recent weeks the Coyotes will have their AHL franchise roughly two hours away playing in the Tucson Convention Center. Some investigative reporting by fellow Hockey's Future AHL writer Sean Shapiro uncovered that the Coyotes' AHL club was taking season ticket deposits for 35 events - 1 NHL preseason game and 34 regular season AHL games. What that means is that while the rest of league will play 76 games in 2016-17, that the Coyotes' new AHL team will be joining the California Five in the Pacific Division and play 68 games.
- It seemed like the city of Springfield was going to lose their AHL franchise (they did) and be without pro hockey in the city where the AHL's league offices are housed. Fortunately for the city of Springfield and unfortunately for the city of Portland, Springfield appears to be retaining AHL hockey for next season. The Pirates released an intent to sell their franchise without much notice to the Falcons shortly after their playoff run ended in the first round against the Hershey Bears.
It was later reported the sale was to a group of outside investors that planned to place the AHL franchise in Springfield. The Board of Governors is currently reviewing the application for the transfer of ownership and relocation of the Portland Pirates AHL franchise from Portland, Maine, to Springfield, Mass., for 2016-17. It is expected the Board will reconvene to vote on that request within two weeks, said the league in a press release 13 days ago. A decision should be coming soon. EDIT: The AHL approved the sale and move of Portland Pirates to Springfield today and the Florida Panthers subsequently announced they will have their prospects in the AHL with the new Springfield team.
The decision came relatively without warning and stunned the city of Portland. So much so, that a Pirates season ticketholder started an online petition in a last ditch effort to reach out to the local Maine community and raise awareness to show the people care about the team and want it to remain in southern Maine like AHL hockey has for the last 23 years.
- Some future AHL movement could be had involving the Ottawa Senators organization after a report by Bruce Garrioch for the Ottawa Sun stated the Senators were looking to move their AHL club to Belleville for the 2017-18 season despite having an agreement in place to keep their team in Binghamton that doesn't expire until after the 2018-19 season.
- The Montreal Canadiens moved their AHL franchise from Hamilton to St. John's for this past season after the Winnipeg Jets removed their AHL franchise from St. John's in order to bring it back to Manitoba in the return of the Moose at MTS Centre. The end goal is still for the Canadiens' AHL franchise to be housed in Laval, Quebec upon the arena being ready.
Teams relocating to new cities and players relocating to new teams is not the only movement going on in the AHL, as several coaches have been on the move - leaving at least four teams currently without a head coach.
- From Mike Sullivan to Jay Leach and then to Clark Donatelli, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have had their own coaching carousel in the 2015-16 season. Of course, Sullivan moved on to the head coaching spot in Pittsburgh after Mike Johnston was relieved of his duties. Jay Leach, then-WBS Penguins assistant coach, became the interim head coach until the AHL Penguins hired Clark Donatelli as their head man with Leach as an associate coach not long thereafter.
Where does Wilkes-Barre/Scranton go from here? Donatelli told the local media on exit interview day that he'd love to come back and be the head coach next season for a full season from beginning to end.
- Shortly after AHL concluded its regular season in mid-April and the Ottawa Senators hired Pierre Dorion as their new general manager, Binghamton Senators head coach Luke Richardson resigned as the Senators' affiliate's head coach. In an interview on TSN 1200, Richardson explained that Dorion told him he wouldn't be considered for Ottawa's current head coaching vacancy in the NHL.
After seven years in the organization's coaching staff, Richardson has moved on to pursue another head coaching venture. The latest reports indicate he'll be interviewing for the Anaheim Ducks' coaching vacancy.
- The Syracuse Crunch made a coaching change as Benoit Groulx will be the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning's AHL affiliate in 2016-17, replacing former head coach Rob Zettler who was let go after three and a half seasons behind the Crunch's bench. Groulx led the QMJHL's Gatineau Olympiques to a record of 46-19-2-1 this past season and had been the team's head man the past 13 seasons. According to Crunch beat writer Lindsay Kramer of syracuse.com and the Post Standard, Groulx prioritizes three traits in a hockey player.
- The Winnipeg Jets decided not to renew Manitoba Moose head coach Keith McCambridge for the 2016-17 season a few days after their regular season finale capped a 26-win season - tied for the 2nd least wins in the AHL this past season. Patrick Williams, AHL writer for NHL.com and Sportsnet, offered a list of possible replacements to be the next head coach of the Moose over at 'Around The A'.
- The Charlotte Checkers will be looking to fill their head coaching vacancy this summer as Mark Morris resigned after his first season with the Carolina Hurricanes organization to return to coaching at the collegiate level as the new head coach at St Lawrence University in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) where he was once an assistant coach. Morris was seventh on the AHL's all-time wins list with 374 upon his departure from Charlotte.
- The San Antonio Rampage are also in the hunt for a new head coach as Dean Chynoweth was relieved of his duties after the Rampage finished last in the Pacific Division this past season.
As Rampage beat writer Nathan Mallet of 'Running with the Herd' hinted, there might be more going on than discussed publicly with regards to the Colorado Avalanche organization and the development process in San Antonio. Several players have already left the organization for Europe.Weekly Links
Last week at The Home News, my story on the Philadelphia Flyers' announcement that they will be playing a preseason game at the PPL Center in downtown Allentown, Pa. on Wednesday September 28th against the New Jersey Devils. It will mark the second time the Flyers played at the Lehigh Valley Phantoms' home rink in preseason action.
Over the weekend, I took a look at the Eastern Conference Finals matchup between Hershey and Toronto in Saturday's Morning Skate. The Bears have since taken a 3-2 overtime win to extend their series lead to 2-0 over the Marlies. The teams switch venues to Toronto's Ricoh Coliseum for Games Three, Four and if necessary Five starting Wednesday night.
I've been providing in-depth updates on Philadelphia Flyers prospects on a weekly basis, and the fourth long-read feature will be online this week taking a look at Lehigh Valley Phantoms' rookie defesnseman Sam Morin. Stay tuned for that later this week, but here are the first three I have completed for those who might have missed them:
final installment of the monthly prospect report.
My latest for Hockey's Future is a feature on Boston Bruins prospect Danton Heinen, who got a quick taste of pro hockey this spring with the AHL's Providence Bruins.