On Thursday, the AHL announced significant changes coming to the league next season with the relocation of five franchises to California. These moves are causing a domino effect that's having a big impact on the ECHL.
So if you're wondering how it's all going to shake out, I'm compiling everything we know so far in this post. I'll update it as new information is released. To keep things organized, information is grouped by NHL team since they are the driving forces behind what's happening.
THE BASICS · The Anaheim Ducks have had an affiliation agreement with the AHL's Norfolk Admirals since 2012. But on Thursday, the Ducks bought the Admirals franchise and announced they were moving it to San Diego, California.
NAME & LOGO · The name and logo for the new team will be unveiled on Sun., Feb. 22 at San Diego HockeyFest, a special fan event being organized by the Ducks.
THINGS TO KNOW · While the team has not yet made the name official, the fact that the event — complete with free T-shirts promised to have the new logo — is happening so soon indicates this has been in the works for a long time.
The obvious choice is San Diego Gulls. The Gulls' history dates back to 1966 across four different leagues — WHL, IHL, WCHL and ECHL. And since 2008, it's been the name of a junior team in the Western States Hockey League.
Some evidence for this idea? A simple WHOIS search shows H&S Ventures LLC, a company associated with a Ducks executive, just registered the domain SanDiegoGulls.com.
There could be potential trademark concerns to work out with the WSHL team, but I doubt that would be any real trouble. So the new team could just bring back the old logo. Plus thematically, Gulls fits nicely within the Ducks organization.
As for the ECHL, the Ducks remain affiliated with the Utah Grizzlies since 2013.
THE BASICS · The Calgary Flames, who own their AHL affiliate, the Adirondack Flames, will relocate the franchise to Stockton, California next season. The A-Flames just began play in Glens Falls, N.Y. this season after leaving Abbotsford, B.C. over the summer.
The Flames also purchased the ECHL's Stockton Thunder, who will play in Glens Falls next season to fill the void. It's a simple franchise swap.
NAME & LOGO · Neither team will retain the previous team's names or logos. On Friday, a press release from the Thunder said the new AHL club "will hold a ‘Name the Team’ contest where fans can weigh in on their favorite choices."
Regarding the Adirondack void, a press release from the A-Flames said: "The new ECHL team plans to present its new name and logo at a future date."
THINGS TO KNOW · If you're curious where they're leaning, the Flames recently filed trademark applications for two names — Stockton Grizzlies and Adirondack Thunder. Neither is particularly creative, but hopefully that contest will save the day in Stockton.
The Flames also bought the StocktonGrizzlies.com domain in recent weeks. However, AdirondackThunder.com was purchased a few weeks ago by a kids basketball team. (Maybe just let them keep it.) But the Thunder moniker is problematic for another reason.
The ECHL absorbed the Central Hockey League at the beginning of this season and now has a team called the Wichita Thunder. With the Stockton Thunder going away, I can't imagine the league wanting to continue with that confusion.
No specific timetable has been announced for names and logos yet.
THE BASICS · The Edmonton Oilers will move their AHL team, the Oklahoma City Barons, to Bakersfield, California — which is currently the home of their ECHL club, the Bakersfield Condors. The Oilers own both franchises. The Condors will move to Norfolk, Virginia which is being vacated by the Admirals (now owned by the Ducks).
NAME & LOGO · The Bakersfield AHL franchise is accepting submissions in its "Name the Team" contest until Feb. 15. In the announcement, the Condors pointed out that a team named the Bakersfield Oilers actually played one season in 1994-95 in an obscure minor league. And prior to becoming the Condors, the ECHL team was known as the Bakersfield Fog.
As for the ECHL, the Norfolk Admirals will return from whence they came. Before joining the AHL, they played in the ECHL as the Hampton Roads Admirals from 1989 to 2000. It sounds like they will stick with the Norfolk name this time around though.
THINGS TO KNOW · For what it's worth, the Oilers bought the BakersfieldOilers.com domain last year around they time they bought the Condors. I really hope they don't go down that road. It's annoying talking about teams and their affiliates when they share the same name.
Regarding the Admirals, it doesn't seem like any changes are coming. The latest ECHL iteration of the franchise may well use the same logo its had since 2004. Of course, it would be fun to see a Hampton Roads throwback.
Los Angeles Kings
THE BASICS · Like the Oilers and Flames, the Los Angeles Kings own their affiliates in the AHL and ECHL and will basically have them switch leagues for 2015-16. The Manchester Monarchs will shift to the ECHL while the Ontario Reign are promoted to the AHL.
NAME & LOGO · The Reign will keep its name as it transitions to the AHL but new logos will be unveiled on Wed., Feb. 11. It also seems from the press release that the Monarchs franchise will keep its name and logos.
THINGS TO KNOW · My first thought regarding "new" logos for the Reign was that they'd simply be recolored to black and silver — a treatment the Monarchs' logo just got this season. But you wouldn't really need a big unveiling for that. They likely have something else in store.
The Reign's logos, which debuted in 2008, are a bit cartoony and kid-oriented. It wouldn't surprise me to see them tone down those aspects in favor of something more traditional. But they'll almost certainly be black and silver — perhaps even inspired by the Kings' own logos.
Speaking of which, the Reign wore a specialty jersey in 2010 that was styled after the Gretzky-era Kings logo — complete with a customized Reign crest. Just saying.
The Monarchs are unlikely to make any changes to their design. But this will create an odd situation when they play a team they were previously affiliated with — the Reading Royals. The two teams' logos are nearly identical. This was intentional as the Royals were affiliated with the Kings from 2001 to 2008.
San Jose Sharks
THE BASICS · The San Jose Sharks will relocate their AHL affiliate, the Worcester Sharks, to their own arena in San Jose next season. They will be the only NHL/AHL affiliates playing in the same building. That will be quite an experience for fans.
NAME & LOGO · All the press release said was: "The name, logo, colors and schedule for the San Jose AHL team will be released at a later date." But during the news conference, we got confirmation that the new team will not be named the Sharks. What a relief.
THINGS TO KNOW · There's really not much more to know at this point except that there's a growing movement to have the team named the California Seals in honor of the first NHL team to call the Bay Area home. That seems unlikely but not impossible.
I have to say I'm still surprised by the decision to move this team to the Bay Area after an ECHL team crashed and burned in a big way just a couple seasons ago. The San Francisco Bulls played at the Cow Palace, but fans were not showing up to the games.
Maybe the AHL team will have better luck since the competition will be at a higher level and they will be sharing a building with the Sharks. I sure hope so anyway. I'd hate to see another one go. Or maybe I'm just bitter that despite the AHL's big push to the west coast, Oregon and Washington got stiffed. I would've gone to AHL games in Tacoma or Portland.
Odds & Ends
Here are a few other takeaways from AHL's Pacific Division domino effect.
League upheavals create identity confusion
I mentioned the Monarchs-Royals conundrum above, but this certainly wouldn't be the first time something like that has happened to minor league hockey.
For the last 14 years, there have been two teams named the Admirals in the AHL. The Norfolk Admirals joined in 2000 after 11 years in the ECHL. And the Milwaukee Admirals arrived in 2001 as part of the IHL merger. That problem goes away as Norfolk returns to the ECHL.
This season, the ECHL — home of the Stockton Thunder — absorbed the seven teams of the Central Hockey League — home of the Wichita Thunder. But once again, that problem is being solved by the AHL's western shift. That is assuming the Flames don't end up naming their new Adirondack ECHL team the Thunder.
Wranglers shut down permanently
In other news, the ECHL also announced Friday that the Las Vegas Wranglers — known for their wicked sense of humor and theme night stunts — have officially withdrawn from the league. The club was taking this season off to sort out arena issues. Things didn't work out.
We'll remember the Wranglers for their Indoor Winter Classics, their 18 and over topless nights, and that time they and the Condors dressed as prison inmates for "Rod Blagojevich Night." That was a true classic. R.I.P.
ECHL limits league to 30 teams
The last decade has been a turbulent time for the ECHL. Teams come and go so quickly — a number have even ceased operations entirely right in the middle of the season. But during their Board of Governors meeting last week, the league decided to set a cap of 30 teams.
The ECHL currently has 28 teams in operation. (That number will remain even after all the movement associated with the AHL's Pacific Division.) The NHL and AHL each have 30 teams. By avoiding having more teams than the big leagues, the ECHL is setting itself up for one-to-one affiliation agreements, which could help with franchise stability.
Big changes leave two cities in the dust
Lastly, as exciting as it is to see the AHL expanding to the west coast, as hockey fans we should keep something in mind. When the dust settles, two cities are losing pro hockey.
Worcester, Mass. will not have a replacement when the Sharks head west next season. It seems the ECHL is interested in the market, but not until 2016-17 at the earliest.
Oklahoma City, meanwhile, was destined to be without a team next season anyway. Word came in December that the Barons would shut down as soon as their season ended. Perhaps this isn't a huge loss considering fans weren't turning out for games in the first place.
Still, every town has its die-hard hockey fans, now matter how few and far between. And it's always disappointing to see your team disappear — even if you only had it briefly.
I think that's about as much as I can write for now. Feel free to add your thoughts/rumors/ideas to the comments below.
UPDATE · Feb 5 · The ECHL released its divisional alignment for the 2015-16 season on Tuesday. Here's how it breaks down with the three new markets.