In chats with those in both the Kings’ hockey and business operations, it became clear during the process of the American Hockey League’s westward migration that the five new AHL teams in California were likely to play a reduced schedule compared to the rest of the league due to travel costs and the desire to avoid stretches of three-games-in-three-nights, which some see as an impediment to development and attractive play.
“The feeling in development is if you play three-in-three, it’s a tough game. The third game is not a real development game,” Los Angeles Kings assistant general manager Rob Blake said in February. “We can get away from that if it’s a reduction if there are a certain amount of games during the season.”
That reduction means that the California-based Ontario Reign, San Diego Gulls, San Jose Barracuda, Bakersfield Condors and Stockton Heat will play a 68-game schedule, American Hockey League Commissioner David Andrews confirmed to LA Kings Insider during the first intermission of Friday’s Calder Cup Finals game in Utica, N.Y. All teams outside of California will play 76 games, which means that five Pacific Division teams will play 68 games, and two Pacific Division teams (the Texas Stars and San Antonio Rampage) will play 76 games, an AHL spokesman confirmed to LA Kings Insider.
Per the AHL’s website, the final schedule will be released later this summer; the AHL’s Board of Governors has scheduled its Annual Meeting in Hilton Head, S.C. from July 6-9.
Unbalanced schedules have been a part of formatting seasonal play in both the NHL (which has uneven amounts of divisional games and home-road splits of non-divisional conference games) and the AHL.
“Our entire league plays an unbalanced schedule,” Andrews said. “We play predominantly in our divisions, and we play within our conferences, so it won’t be really much less balanced or any less balanced than any of our other divisions.”
The league’s plans for playoff seeding will be discussed, and likely determined, at next month’s Annual Meeting.
More from my conversation with American Hockey League Commissioner David Andrews:
On characteristics of the Ontario organization and market that foretell success:
I think they’re very well run. I think Darren Abbott is one of the top senior management people in our league. They’ve had a very good run in the ECHL, there’s obviously a very good fanbase. When I traveled out with Luc for the announcement in Ontario of the AHL coming and the Reign joining the American Hockey League, there was real strong fan support. The energy level of the fans for the move was very positive. So I have no doubt that it’ll be bigger and better and really positive for our league in Ontario.
On whether Manchester’s strong retention and support could foretell an AHL return:
I don’t think we anticipate the AHL going back into Manchester. The Monarchs, and the L.A. Kings have done the right thing here relative to keeping their brand in Manchester and moving their ECHL team there, and I think there will be good support for the team. The fans have been very supportive of the American League over the years, and we don’t look to move into ECHL markets, so it’s an ECHL market now, and I hope they have great success.
On whether growing USA Hockey registration in warmer climates indicate the AHL could continue to move westward and into a more national footprint:
The movement in our league, I think we’ve really settled in for a little while now. We moved seven teams this year in all, and we’ve changed a number of affiliation relationships as well, all of them designed to bring AHL affiliate teams closer to their NHL club. I think we’re going to settle in now for a little while with what we have, but to the extent that any of our teams encourage growth in participation within USA Hockey, that’s something we’re very proud of and we really would like to growthe game. To the extent that we can do that, that’s a positive.
On the Calder Cup, and the success generated by the Utica Comets:
It’s been great. I thought the support in Manchester, considering our circumstances there on the opening weekend was really positive, and certainly here in Utica, this has been a wonderful success story. If you can’t have fun at a hockey game here, you can’t have fun, because this place is jumping, and it’s full and people are having a great time, and support for their team is spectacular. In the same way that I would say we’re proud to help grow hockey out on the west coast next year and beyond that, I think what the Comets have done for this community is pretty spectacular. There’s an energy here, and some of the cities in our region – I live up this way – some of the cities in this region really benefit from a lift like this. When the economy’s struggling a little bit, it’s really been good here. It’s been good because of really the leadership of Robert Esche, who has just done a spectacular job as a former National Hockey League player and an American Hockey League player, and a guy who has rolled up his sleeves in this community. Two years ago, this building didn’t look like this. They completely rebuilt it. They’ve just done a wonderful job, and the fanbase is appreciative of it, and obviously the hockey team has really benefited from the support as well.
*UPDATE, 2:55 PM ET: This story was edited to reflect the news that the Texas-based Pacific Division teams will play 76 games, and that the league’s plans for playoff seeding will be discussed at next month’s meetings.