As if the Westward Movement was daunting enough, the American Hockey League approved another pair of moves for the 2015-16 season.
- Effective immediately, the Montreal Canadiens ownership group has purchased the Hamilton Bulldogs.
- Effective next year, the team will transfer to St. John’s, NF and will be called the Ice Caps
- True North Sports and Entertainment, owners of the Ice Caps and Winnipeg Jets, will transfer the team to Winnipeg, MB to play at the MTS Centre beginning in 2015-16. The team has yet to be named
- In a subsequent move, Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer has purchased the OHL’s Belleville Bulls. He will move the team to Hamilton and call them the Bulldogs.
This is in addition to the move of Adirondack, Manchester, Norfolk, Oklahoma City, and Worcester to California to create a new AHL Pacific division about a month ago. Since the moves were announced, the new teams have made announcements regarding new branding for their first AHL season. Adirondack’s replacement in Stockton most recently announced they would be called the Heat. The Stockton Thunder ECHL team will move to Glens Falls, NY and be called the Adirondack Heat. the Anaheim Ducks owned farm team also announced a new name, the San Diego Gulls. Bakersfield and Ontario will retain their nicknames. San Jose has yet to name their AHL franchise to play alongside the NHL team at SAP Center.
The Canadiens and Jets swap was rumored for the past couple of weeks. it was the hope of Audlauer that the AHL would remain in Hamilton, but he believes his OHL team will be sucessful.
“Hamilton Bulldog hockey will be around for many, many years to come,” he said in a press conference announcing the changes.
Meanwhile, the move means the geographically isolated St. John’s Ice Caps will remain in the league for at least two seasons.
“We’re here today, Glenn and I, to announce very proudly that Mile One will be the home for the next two years of the Montreal Canadiens’ AHL farm team, formerly the Hamilton Bulldogs,” announced IceCaps president Danny Williams.
It was believed that the Ice Caps franchise would move to Winnipeg after the season. Jets’ officials have stated that travel issues from St. John’s and extended road trips have caused issues with player callups and staff visits. They were reportedly interested in moving to Thunder Bay, ON. However,there has been no movement in the planning process for a new hockey-ready facility.
Meanwhile, with a nonstop flight to Montreal, St. John’s will be a solid home for the iconic Original Six franchise’s top minor affiliate. The Canadiens are reportedly interested in moving their AHL team to Laval, QC when a new building is completed.
Perhaps more important in this move is the addition of a 16th NHL owner. This is the first time the AHL will have more than half of its Board of Governors members representing their parent directly. The 15th team was the Anaheim Ducks after they purchased the Norfolk Admirals in January. This will be important in the future of the league as the Board of Governors vote on league bylaws from scheduling to relocation to overtime rules and beyond. Although they need a two-thirds majority on many changes, a simple majority will help the league line up with the wishes of their AHL parents.
When the last relocation was announced, I posted my proposed alignment. Throw that out the window, it’s time to start fresh. We know the Pacific Division, but the rest is a guessing game. Here is my guess:
San Diego Gulls
San Jose AHL
San Antonio Rampage
Grand Rapids Griffins
Lake Erie Monsters
St. John’s Ice Caps
Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Hartford Wolf Pack
Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Albany and Hartford could swap, and Hartford would then swap with Binghamton. Other than that, these divisions look fair. Toronto finally is home in the East.
Now, with the changes made, what is next. Divisions will be officially assigned. Then, a schedule will be made. There are still discussions that the Pacific and rest of the league will operate different schedule lengths. A source with a Western Conference team said that other conference teams have been told they will make one trip to California and that Californian teams will make one visit to each Conference city.
Stay with Inside Hockey as the AHL continues its revolution into a truly cross-country league.