|AHL President/CEO David Andrews addresses media at the annual state of the league address. Photo: Highland Park Hockey|
ALLENTOWN - The American Hockey League's (AHL) annual state of the league address was held Monday morning at the PPL Center, and the most noteworthy topic brought up was the relocation or possible relocation of teams for the 2017-18 season.
AHL President/CEO David Andrews spoke to media for about 45 minutes Monday, and when asked about the future of the Albany Devils franchise and their inevitable relocation to Binghamton for next season declined to comment on making the move official.
"I can't address it, but I can tell you that it will be addressed [Tuesday] in Binghamton," Andrews said Monday. "The future of hockey in Binghamton will be addressed by the Senators organization [Tuesday] in a media event, and I'd like to leave it to them to do that."
This afternoon, the AHL's Board of Governors unanimously approved the relocation of the franchise owned by the New Jersey Devils from Albany, N.Y., to Binghamton, N.Y., effective with the 2017-18 season.
After the jump, an overview of the details of this year's state of the league address that include expansion of the AHL to 31 teams, a new amendment to the scheduling process, updates on the two new teams joining AHL in 2017-18 - Belleville Senators and Laval Rocket - and much more.
On AHL Expansion - a 31st AHL team for the new Las Vegas NHL team:
We still have the potential of expanding our league to 31 teams. There will be 31 NHL teams next year. That is a work in progress at this point. We don't not have an expansion applicant. We are in discussions with a couple of different markets and a couple of different potential different owners who may or may not be able to pull it together in time for next season. So it remains to be seen whether we will be at 31 or 30. Of course if we're at 30, it creates a problem for one NHL team. That NHL team has yet to be determined. More news on that in probably the next four to six weeks. I don't think we can go much beyond the middle of March without having a commitment with respect to where each of these NHL clubs are going to play [their AHL players] and whether we are ready to expand. I'd say it's better than 50/50 that we'll have a 31st team next year, and I think it's probably certain we'll have a 31st team by the following year [2018-19].
That's basically all I can tell you at this point. There have been a lot of media reports that are not accurate. I can tell you Kansas City is not accurate. We are not going to Kansas City unless something happens that I don't know about yet. That one is not in play.
"I think it's good for our league. It creates more job opportunities for players. I think the challenge that you face with expansion, I have talked to George McPhee about it recently, is the expansion process will stock them with a core group of players to play in the NHL but their first entry draft will be this year. As you know, our league is very much a young league with young developing players that have been drafted by organizations. The Las Vegas franchise in the NHL, in order to have young players available, are going to have to sign a lot of free agent players out of college or Europe - we'll see what they do. I would say the only question mark is how they will stock an AHL team from a perspective of the younger players." - David Andrews, President/CEO of the AHL
On new amendment to scheduling process:
We did [Sunday] approve a new amendment to our scheduling process with our Board of Governors. That amendment is going to move our scheduling up probably by 5-6 weeks in terms of the release of our schedule. We have, as you know, been waiting for the NBA schedule over the last number of years to be released before we could actually finalize ours. We are no longer going to do that. We will be hoping to have our schedule done at some point in July. The earlier the better. That's a big step for our league. It will help most of our teams, 28 of them for sure. The NBA teams - Cleveland and San Antonio - will be a little bit burdened by having to submit their dates sooner to us than what they have done in the past. As you can imagine, if you are operating a building like [PPL Center] as an example and we don't release our schedule until mid to late August, There are a lot of events trying to come into this building so the sooner we confirm our schedule the better dates we can hold for the AHL because we have committed ourselves. The longer we wait, the more other events - concerts, trade shows, etc - come in and pick off the prime dates across the league so that was an important decision our board made [Sunday]. We are looking forward to delivering that schedule much earlier. - David Andrews, President/CEO of the AHL
On Belleville joining the AHL in 2017-18, where they're at in process of building franchise:
I think they're in pretty good shape. They are just staffing up now. The interest that has been shown in the community in terms of ticket purchasing support and committments for season tickets is strong. It's been very encouraging. I looked at the history in Belleville with junior hockey and they were certainly falling off at the end when that team was sold and moved to Hamilton.
I think the renovations to the building are going to be very important. The response in the community and the community support both politically and corporately has been strong. Mr Melynk is the owner of the team, it's interestingly enough the Senators - Mr Melynk himself purchased the franchise. Obviously the commitment from the Senators to help market the team will be there.
I'm encouraged. I think geographically it'll be a good fit for Toronto and Laval and it's not too tough a trip for the New York state teams either to get up to Belleville to play. We're looking forward to it and we're going to do everything we can to help them be successful.
I think when a building goes dark which it has, and the community is left without hockey - it creates an opportunity. I wouldn't be worried about that, and I certainly wouldn't be worried about our quality of play kind of standing up to junior hockey. That's not a slight on junior hockey, the caliber of players we have and the parity we have competitively because of the way our league is designed. You get pretty good games almost every night. It's a tough league, competitive and really talented.
There's some synergy between the Belleville market and the Ottawa market both as a TV coverage area and fan bases. I think fans in Belleville going up to play for the Senators is going to be a value.
We always rely and have to rely on the judgement and research and market development of the individual who has decided to buy a team and put it there. I think the Senators put it there for a number of reasons. One of them was they like the proximity to Ottawa. I think they like the fact of having their team in Canada and having them closer, and like the ability to build their fan base to a broader region and down through Belleville.
[The building] won't be ready, at least we are not expecting it to be ready for opening night. We do have a calendar for when we do anticipate them being ready and there's a Plan B kind of in place in case they have any kind of construction delay, but they are submitting their dates at the same time as everyone else which is tomorrow and the next day. We have all the contingencies in place if there's any kind of delay, but we don't expect there to be. We think they're on schedule. - David Andrews, President/CEO of AHL
On Binghamton's longevity in the AHL:
Unfortunately we have, over the years, the weaker markets fall off and we've had that happen. In a perfect world, we wouldn't have moment at all. We'd have 30 great franchises that were sold out every night.
Binghamton has not been a market that we had been concerned about falling off. We've had really strong management from Tom Mitchell for as long as I have been around. The political support for the arena and the team has always been strong in Binghamton. The fan support has been strong. I think our commitment to Binghamton as a league is simply been that we would support what they tried to do and wanted to do and we would support it because they have been great partners of our league for almost forever minus the hiatus of the team going to Hartford for a little while. It's a good, solid AHL market. It's all about ownership, wuality of the building, fan support. Binghamton has been good partners. - David Andrews, President/CEO of the AHL
On fighting being down a little over 20% this season, and what's the next step for fighting in the AHL:
I don't know that a next step is required. We'll have to see how the year plays out and what's happening. You always have to be careful how you word this, but if you look at the changes that we made they were intended to be a drag on players who primarily fought.
They weren't intended to necessarily eliminate fighting in our league. If you look at our statistics, they have achieved what we set out to achieve - which is to hopefully reduce/eliminate staged fights and to make it less likely that a player would be playing in our league for essentially the sole purpose of being a fighter.
We've seen what's happening the NHL kind of organically. Unfortunately for us what happened in the NHL put a lot of players into our league who really had played that role over a period of time. It became clear that we had too much of that happening and we wanted - it wasn't a crusade - but at the same time we had, surprisingly to me, when we brought this most recent rule forward at our annual meeting it was a unanimous vote. 30 teams voted in favor of this rule. - David Andrews, President/CEO of the AHL
On Bridgeport/Islanders affiliation and a possible move to the Nassau Coliseum:
To be completely candid, which I try to be all the time, we haven't had any discussions about them going anywhere else. None. I haven't had any conversations about the Nassau Coliseum in probably two years, and when we had that conversation about the potential of Nassau Coliseum it wasn't the new ownership group, it was the old ownership group. I can't tell you there wouldn't be something to happen in the future, but there has been no discussion at all with respect to any relocation in Bridgeport. - David Andrews, President/CEO of the AHL
On AHL going back to Quebec with the new Laval team in 2017-18:
It means we have to get our CBA translated into French again. The last time we did that was Quebec City. But I think it's an opportunity. The one thing that has always been a bit of a concern is when we put an AHL team into a major hockey market - like the city of Montreal and the city of Toronto when we first went there. I was always concerned if we don't do well there it's really not great for our brand.
What's happened in Toronto over the years now, with the success of the Marlies and the commitment the Maple Leafs have made on the marketing side. I think going back, Brian Burke really made a difference there in putting a focus on the AHL in Toronto and Dallas Eakins when they had the great team that went to the finals. That helped to put us on the map in Toronto and now the visibility of the Marlies nationally is very valuable to us. Of course being back in Winnipeg with the Manitoba Moose.
Where I'm leading here, is I really have the sense because of the amount of contact we've had with the Canadiens organization and their management team that's going to run Laval both the building and the hockey team. They are fully invested. They are really optimistic that this is going to be a home run franchise for us.
We certainly hope it will be, because if we're in the center of the province of Quebec in Montreal and Montreal's farm team and their history. If that's great, it's so good for us as a league. If it failed, not so good. I don't think there's any chance - I've been around a long time I can feel it when people get it and know what they're doing. These guys get it. - David Andrews, President/CEO of the AHL
On Utica/Vancouver affiliation:
There has been no chatter, no conversation about Vancouver re-locating out of Utica. And I think if they ever did, it would probably be to British Columbia somewhere which is not a very good fit with our teams in California geographically so it's not an automatic fit. There has been no talk at all other than on the other side of it, the Vancouver hockey personnel saying they love it there and are happy there. I don't think there's any concern in Utica. - David Andrews, President/CEO of the AHL
On Charlotte being a potential candidate to move to the Eastern Conference:
We have to see how this expansion plays out. Charlotte is obviously, geographically, a candidate to come East. We are 16-14 right now, we don't want to be 17-14. There's a number of reasons why Charlotte might be a better fit in the East now that they are not in an NBA building.
For those of you that don't get that, we had Charlotte in the West primarily because they were in an NBA building. For scheduling purposes, we always scheduled the Western Conference last because we didn't get the dates until later. Once they moved into the Bojangles Coliseum, that whole NBA issue went away. I think there's a chance that Charlotte could be a team that comes to the East but we won't make that determination final, in terms of Conference alignment until May. - David Andrews, President/CEO of the AHL
The AHL is working on a national television deal in Canada:
We are working on a national television package in Canada that we think presents a good opportunity for us. All four Canadian-based teams essentially have regional partnerships with TSN in Canada. All four teams are interested in helping us put something together. We'll see how that plays out, but I do think it presents an opportunity for us. - David Andrews, President/CEO of the AHL