Five AHL teams relocating to California cities in 2015

The American Hockey League made a major move today that will leave us with a ton to discuss and speculate about over the next several months.

The AHL, in cooperation with five NHL clubs, announced the relocation of five teams to five California cities to form the new Pacific Division for the 2015-16 season. The top affiliates of the Ducks, Flames, Oilers, Kings and Sharks will be closer to home next season.

There's so much to dig into and I want to tackle as much as possible in this blog post, so bear with me. For each of the five teams, I want to discuss three topics:

  • Moving Day · Details about the AHL club being relocated and the town losing a team;
  • In The Market · A look at the city where the team is moving and any existing hockey franchises that will be displaced;
  • Name That Team · No team names were discussed during today's news conference, so we'll explore some possibilities.

This will be a significant shift for the AHL and promises a lot of news for Icethetics readers to track over the summer. It's also going to have a big impact on the ECHL as all three of its California-based teams will be displaced. The ECHL is expected to address this in a press conference on Friday.

For now, let's dig into these AHL changes.

Adirondack Flames to Stockton


Adirondack Flames, we hardly knew ye. In fact, ye barely got to play four months of your first season before the rug was ripped out from under ye.

The Flames arrived in Glens Falls, N.Y. over the summer after five seasons as the Abbotsford Heat. Abbotsford, B.C. was a long way from any other AHL city, so the Calgary Flames, the club's owner and NHL affiliate, decided they needed to be closer to the group.

Now the franchise moves back west to Stockton, California.

Glens Falls had long been home to the Adirondack Phantoms, AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers. But the plan for that teams was always to move back to Pennsylvania once a new arena was completed. That happened in Allentown last fall. At this point, Glens Falls hockey fans have to be suffering from some serious whiplash.


As part of all the maneuvering that's resulting in the relocation of five AHL franchises, the Calgary Flames purchased the ECHL's Stockton Thunder, effective today. Members of the Adirondack Flames will play in Stockton beginning next season. As for members of the Thunder, it may be curtains for them.

The Thunder moved from Atlantic City in 2005 and are celebrating their 10th anniversary.


This is an easy one. The Stockton Thunder already have a decade of brand equity in their market so I would imagine the Flames simply keep the existing name. But I would love to see them come up with a fiery "S" logo for the Stockton Flames.

The sad part is that the resurrection of the Atlanta Flames logo in Adirondack only lasted a single season. Atlanta hockey really can't catch a break.

Existing Thunder branding — logos and uniforms — may be a bit too minor league, even for the AHL, so I wouldn't be surprised if they cleaned it all up a bit.

Manchester Monarchs to Ontario


The Los Angeles Kings bought an AHL franchise in 2000 and decided to set up shop in New Hampshire. The Manchester Monarchs played their inaugural season in 2001-02 and will now be leaving town after 14 years.

Notable former Monarchs include Jonathan Quick, Matt Moulson and Dustin Brown.


Ontario lies just east of Los Angeles, which will keep the Kings' AHL affiliate very close to home. But the Kings already own a team that plays there — the Ontario Reign of the ECHL. The Reign arrived in 2008 after moving from Beaumont, Texas.


Since the Kings own both franchises — the Manchester Monarchs and Ontario Reign — this seems to me like a simple player swap. The Monarchs join the ECHL while the Reign become an AHL team. Keeps the marketing fairly easy too.

That being said, wouldn't you love to see the nickname alliteration carried over? Imagine for a moment the Manchester Monarchs becoming the Ontario Oligarchs!

Norfolk Admirals to San Diego


The Norfolk Admirals joined the AHL in 2000 as an expansion franchise. The team owners previously ran an ECHL club in Norfolk named the Hampton Roads Admirals, founded in 1989 — so there's a lot of hockey history coming to an end here.

On Thursday, the Anaheim Ducks announced they were purchasing the Admirals and moving the franchise to San Diego. The Ducks entered an affiliation agreement in 2012 with the Admirals, who had just won their first Calder Cup championship (as the Tampa Bay Lightning's affiliate).

Notable former Admirals include Dustin Byfuglien, Corey Crawford and Brent Seabrook.


San Diego is currently without a pro hockey team but was most recently home to the San Diego Gulls until 2006. That club was founded in 1995 in the West Coast Hockey League — which was absorbed by the ECHL in 2003.

The other WCHL teams that formed the ECHL's original Pacific Division were the Anchorage Aces, Bakersfield Condors, Fresno Falcons, Idaho Steelheads, and Long Beach Ice Dogs.


I think it's safe to say the Admirals nickname will disappear with this move. Ever since the AHL merged with the International Hockey League in 2001, it has dealt with the unusual problem of having two teams with the same nickname with the arrival of the Milwaukee Admirals.

San Diego Admirals has a fine ring to it, but I can't see the league allowing the dual name issue to continue on. And when you consider it from a marketing perspective, how do you explain to new hockey fans in San Diego that one of your opponents shares your name?

I can only see this going one way — San Diego Gulls. The Gulls moniker actually dates back to 1966 with the city's original Western Hockey League team. Their claim to fame, perhaps, is that Willie O'Ree — the first black NHLer — played seven seasons for the Gulls.

The original Gulls shut down in 1974 when the WHA's San Diego Mariners came to town. That lasted just three seasons. In 1990, a new IHL team took on the Gulls name but relocated to Los Angeles in 1995. That's when the WCHL team started up.

Gulls is the only way to go here. There's some built-in hockey history around it, plus it works great thematically for a Ducks affiliate/subsidiary being another kind of bird.

Oklahoma City Barons to Bakersfield


In 2010, the Edmonton Oilers resurrected a dormant AHL franchise they owned by creating the Oklahoma City Barons. After five years, that club will join the handful of others now moving to California. Specifically, they're going to Bakersfield.


Bakersfield makes perfect sense for the Oilers' AHL affiliate since the NHL club already owns the ECHL's Bakersfield Condors — purchased about a year ago, in fact.

The Condors were founded in 1995 as a founding member of the WCHL, only under a different name. Through their first three seasons, they were known as the Bakersfield Fog. Then in 2003, the Condors became part of the merger with the ECHL.


The Bakersfield Condors have built a rabid fan base over the years with their clever marketing, including some bizarre theme nights every now and then. The Oilers would be crazy not to bank on that brand equity. If they're smart, they keep the Condors name.

By the same token, it would make sense to move their ECHL operation back to Oklahoma. They're in the same boat as the Kings owning both the AHL and ECHL franchises in question here. So it really is a bit of a no-brainer. Let the Barons and Condors continue!

Worcester Sharks to San Jose


The San Jose Sharks moved their AHL operation from Cleveland to Worcester, Massachusetts in 2006 — renaming the club to match its own branding. The Worcester Sharks would've celebrated their 10th anniversary next season. Instead, they're off to San Jose.

Before the Sharks arrived, Worcester was home to the IceCats for 11 years. When the team moved to Peoria, fans went nuts trying to get a new team. I'm sure they'll be just as eager this time around to make sure pro hockey stays in Worcester.


This is an interesting case. Unlike the other relocations announced today, the Sharks are not just moving their AHL club closer to home. They're moving them into their actual home. The AHL club will play its home games at SAP Center in San Jose.

This may be the first time an NHL team and AHL team have shared an arena at the same time. I haven't been able to find any other examples. The AHL's Philadelphia Phantoms both played at the old Spectrum, but only after the Flyers moved out in 1996.

As a side note, the Bay Area's previous ECHL team was the San Francisco Bulls, who shut down in the middle of the 2013-14 season — their second year in action. That team played at the Cow Palace, which was the original home of the San Jose Sharks.


The one bit of nickname-related news we got today was the San Jose Sharks confirming their newly relocated AHL affiliate would NOT be named the Sharks. Obviously it would be chaos if they allowed that. Two teams called the San Jose Sharks?!

So what should the new name be? This is the toughest one out of all five teams for me. There's no built-in easy answer. Maybe that's an opportunity to think outside the box.

How about the Barracudas? That's another toothy ocean-dweller where the teal/black color scheme would work nicely. Have any other ideas?

That should give us enough to chew on for a while. I'm sure some of you are already drawing up concept art in your head. I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say we can't wait to see it!