Better Know An Affiliate: Arizona Coyotes

The season is right around the corner, so why not let people into the whole line of teams that their parent team will be dealing with throughout the season. I did this a few years back on another website of mine, so why not revive it and go from there??

AHL: Tuscon Roadrunners (34-25-5-3, 5th in Pacific, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs)
TEAM LINEAGE: After the California teams moved, the Coyotes bought the Springfield Falcons and moved them to Tucson in 2016. Much like the rest of the AHL Pacific, the reasoning was so that players didn’t have to make cross-country flights in the event of a call-up. Before the Roadrunners, the Coyotes bookended their affiliation with Springfield– who was their first affiliate from 1996 until 2004, with the IHL’s Las Vegas Thunder taking some players in 1998-99. After the first time with the Falcons, the Coyotes put their prospects with the Utah Grizzlies, San Antonio Rampage, and Portland Pirates before returning to Springfield and the moving to Tucson.
FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: Goalie Adin Hill is a likely candidate depending upon the health of the goalies above him, but it could be a look at the blue-line for guys moving up and down. Robbie Russo, who signed a one-year, two-way deal this summer, has a lot of offensive upside that could be useful for the Coyotes moving ahead. Though, Russo’s age could play a factor– which means that another talented blue-liner– who already had some time with the Coyotes– Kyle Capobianco has the same offensive upside, but is four years younger and has a better two-way play element that Russo has; albeit very slightly.

ECHL: Rapid City Rush (30-33-5-4, 6th in Mountain, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs)
TEAM LINEAGE: The Coyotes moved back to the Black Hills of South Dakota, as the Rush return as the ECHL affiliate after the Coyotes left in 2017. The Coyotes have had a bevvy of secondary affiliates across a couple leagues– ECHL, UHL, and CHL– over the 23-year franchise history. In fact, the Coyotes have had multiple secondary affiliates four times in their franchise history: 2001-02 (Mississippi Sea Wolves and BC Icemen), 2006-07 (Phoenix Roadrunners and Laredo Bucks), 2010-11 (Las Vegas Wranglers and Laredo Bucks), and 2012 until 2014 (Gwinnett Gladiators and Arizona Sundogs).
NOTABLE GRADUATES: There have been a couple of Rush players who have moved up from the Rush to the NHL, including Adin Hill, Marek Langhamer, and Michael Bunting– all of which were called through the Coyotes system.

Better Know An Affiliate: Anaheim Ducks

The season is right around the corner, so why not let people into the whole line of teams that their parent team will be dealing with throughout the season. I did this a few years back on another website of mine, so why not revive it and go from there??

AHL: San Diego Gulls (36-24-5-3, 3rd in Pacific Division, Lost in Western Conference Final.
TEAM LINEAGE: Among the core-five of the Pacific Division, the Gulls came to be after the Ducks purchased the Norfolk Admirals and moved them to San Diego. The Gulls used to be the top affiliate for the Ducks between 1993 and 1995 when the Gulls were a part of the IHL. Previous affiliation stop for the Ducks include the Baltimore Bandits, Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, Portland Pirates, Iowa Chops, Syracuse Crunch, and Norfolk.
FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: It’s a mixed bag with the Ducks, who are in the transition period with their current roster and what they need in the future. Sam Carrick is in the older side of the scale at 27, but also was a point-per-game player last year and had 32 goals on the campaign. More realistic is that younger players in Sam Steele and Troy Terry, who will be given more than a far shot at training camp to make it off the bat. Both had 41 points last season, but Terry put up those numbers in only 41 games compared to Steele’s 53.

ECHL: The Ducks are one of the few teams without an ECHL affiliate. With only one team, the Norfolk Admirals, without a NHL parent club– pickings are slim should the Ducks want to have more spots for their prospects. It will be their second season without an ECHL affiliate, as the Ducks were left without one when the Utah Grizzlies moved over to the Colorado Avalanche in 2018. Previous stops for the Ducks in the ECHL include the Greensboro Monarchs, Raleigh IceCaps, Columbus Chill, Huntington Blizzard, San Diego Gulls, Augusta Lynx, Bakersfield Condors, Elmira Jackals, and then Utah.

The Reboot of Hunter Miska

Coming out of Minnesota-Duluth, there were high hopes for Hunter Miska. Sure, he only put in one season, but got the Bulldogs to the final of the National Championship, was the most outstanding goaltender in the NCAA, and looked to be on a solid collision course with success in the pros; especially since he signed with the Arizona Coyotes— who probably was looking for a young, hungry talent to be the new franchise goalie.

Then…something just didn’t click. While he did have a stellar rookie season with the Tucson Roadrunners (22-9-0), his sophomore season wasn’t all it was cracked up to be with a 10-8-4 record, coupled with a 3.08 GAA and .889 save percentage. Because of that– he wasn’t tendered and became an unrestricted free agent. He caught on with the Colorado Eagles for the 2019-20 season, but how did he get there from a promising outlook out of his one year in the NCAA??

Maybe it was just that– only one year in college when he should have taken another year or two more in order to get his game a little more honed before jumping– but can’t blame someone for wanting to get paid for their job. That first year looked promising as many players didn’t have tape on him to figure him out, but obviously the fate was changed in year two while Adin Hill and Merrick Madsen passed him by on the depth chart.

An upside for Miska is that he has a winning pedigree. Before his time at Duluth where he help lead them to the National Title game, he was a big part of the Penticton Vees BCHL title in 2015, while also being named top goalie in the league that year. Following that, he went to the USHL and helped Dubuque get to the Clark Cup Finals in 2016, though he and the Fighting Saints came up short.

With a new team and a new reset on his career at a young age, it could be crunch time for Miska, especially since he’s only under an AHL contract and the Avalanche do have a bit of goaltending depth coming up. He’ll be teamed up with Adam Werner, who will be coming over from Sweden for his first North American season– which could be a bit of an opening for Miska to get playing time should Werner struggle getting adjusted to the North American style.

You just hope that for Miska’s sake– the risk he took coming out of the college early didn’t stunt his progression moving onward in his career.

Regicide Happens in Manchester; Monarchs Cease Operations

Photo via Manchester Monarchs Twitter

With the Manchester Monarchs folding up shop, it can looked at either one of two ways. One way is that it’s a failure of ownership to adjust to the changing landscape of entertainment and couldn’t maintain an audience. Another way is that a league change wasn’t received well and the only form of protest fans knew was to not show up.

For me, it’s combination of both because the ownership couldn’t handle was what going on and people in the community couldn’t find themselves to put money towards a team that didn’t seem to be getting better. Not only that, but dropping down to a lower-league, though there’s talent in that league, didn’t sit well with fans who were coming off their first and only Calder Cup in the AHL, only to see that team move west to Ontario.

There is some kind of bitterness I could understand with a team moving down a level of play. Some people were very happy with their AHL standing and the move to the ECHL was one that could be represented as a shot at the community not being good enough rather than a logistical thing for the LA Kings to bring their affiliate closer. What they may not have realized is that the team they were getting had been on a four-season streak of 40-plus wins. It was all about status.

Attendance dropped by 1,000 people in that first season and never rebounded. That said, the last few years in the AHL were middling at best given outside influence in life and money being tight everywhere. Regardless, the drastic drop could have been due to the league change, but the team charging the same price for the team they did in a higher level– I don’t have that access to the books.

Plus, it’s not like this team was horrible– they put together over 37 wins each season they were there, made the playoffs each of the four seasons, and had plenty of things going for them in terms of prospects just starting out so people could get in on the ground floor. But it wasn’t the AHL.

In comparison, the other teams who were moved out east found some kind of success in the move– Adirondack has grown by almost 1,000 people a game in those four seasons, though they hit a downturn when they moved to ECHL. Norfolk had plenty of rumors about their future with the declining attendance, but have gotten back to over 3,500 fans a game for a non-playoff team; but also dealt with a drastic hit from the move and ownership quarrels.

Yet, how were they able to survive and keep on going despite the move and other rumors and shake-ups?? Was it understanding the market better and adjusting?? Was it the fans actually really trying to give it an honest shot at a lower level?? How come Manchester didn’t do what was needed to survive??

To say that “ECHL hockey is not viable in Manchester” is a giant cop-out and a shot to the community of Manchester who actually supported the Monarchs through it all. On top of that, it seems that the ECHL gets painted badly due to the fact that a team that was so successful in attendance a league higher couldn’t make it a league below. Probably not many people thinking that if they’re following along, but from the far outside it could look bad overall for the league to be not looked as exciting enough for a former AHL championship city to be a viable area for ECHL hockey.

In the end, maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder. One place that maybe prospective Manchester hockey revivalist could look towards is Worcester. The AHL Sharks were a team that had its ups and down, but had a decent showing before they moved out west to become the Barracuda. After two seasons offs, the ECHL Railers came into town and have topped the 4,000-plus a night their first two seasons. That’s an ownership group who did their homework, looked at the area, and adjust accordingly to be successful off the ice, with the on-ice product learning the ropes of the ECHL and hovering the .500 mark.

Manchester can be a good hockey town. History has shown us that. It’s just a matter of the fans not feeling entitled to just having the AHL and the ownership group being smarter with the product they are trying to sell to the area.

On the Topic Of Utica, Vancouver, and Affiliation Distance

When the westward move of the AHL began and many of the Western Conference teams started to move their affiliations, people thought it was a matter of time before the Vancouver Canucks moved their affiliation out of Utica, New York for a closer destination.

Saturday’s announcement put a damper on that idea, at least until the 2020-21 season. That’s because the Canucks and Comets agreed to a new six-year affiliation extension; though it has an option for the Canucks after two seasons to depart upstate New York for somewhere else.

Business wise, Utica is great with president Robert Esche having built a great entertainment outlet. They’re in the midst of a 133-game sellout streak that started in April 2015, while they have been producing plenty of talent of the retooling Canucks– including head coach Travis Green. On the ice, it’s been solid as well with a 193-136-35-16, though the team only has two playoff appearances in the five full seasons the two teams have been affiliated. The Comets haven’t had a season under 35 wins, either.

Obviously, the distance between Utica and Vancouver is something that should be a worry when it comes to call-ups. However, does moving a team closer to the Canucks, namely the Fraser Valley region of British Columbia, make sense when the AHL has tried and failed once before?? Of course, you can say the shortcomings of the Abbotsford Heat was the Calgary Flames being in Canucks territory– but would people actually be enthused to have AHL hockey when the NHL team is maybe an hour away??

Hockey fans can be fickle, so maybe seeing the future of the team may not be as good as seeing the team itself. Plus, when you’re the Canucks and own the Comets (leasing it to Esche and Utica), the fact that money and loyalty keeps rolling in up in Utica, you don’t want to kill that golden goose when it’s making profit. Plus, maybe keeping the young players away from the cutthroat media and possible extreme expectations that would come with being closer to the Canucks may be best for development of some players to be able to learn the system first before having it dissected by everyone in the Vancouver area.

It’s always a struggle when it comes to situations like this. You don’t want to move an affiliation when it’s working so well on the business and hockey side of things, but you also don’t want to have your prospects so far away in a place that’s not a major airline hub that it cuts into the roster of the NHL team. The Canucks have a delicate balancing act they’re doing, but as of right now– they seem to be winning out thus far with the marriage they have in Utica.

AHL Gets It Right With New AHLTV

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Ditching NeuLion was the only thing the AHL had to do to really sell to the masses. Today (September 5th), the AHL announced their new streaming platform for 2018-19 which will give fans the chance for All-Access to every team in the AHL for only $79.99 a year, excluding the taxes and stuff. But this is in comparison to $349.99 from last season with NeuLion.

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Seriously, if you don’t think a $270 difference will get people to subscribe, you’re wacky. Plus, the fact that they’re trying to get away from the whole NeuLion situation of using the jumbotron feed and radio call and call it a day. Of course, we don’t know how this new platform will be put out there and it could be the same old style…but at least the price is much more bearable to deal with. What NeuLion put out there is what the price now for AHL TV should have been.

Yet, the pressure is now onto the AHL TV system. They’re promoting all the bells and whistles with real-time highlight clipping, fan controlled camera, highlight sharing, all kinds of stuff detailed in their YouTube presentation. HockeyTech, who is helping with the AHL TV, is a company I haven’t heard many bad things about– but I’m sure they have their foibles as much as any other company. Yet, they could probably only go up from what was had with AHL Live.

The one thing the AHL wasn’t able to do with NeuLion is the price– with Hockey Tech at the helm, they close that gap to the fans and will be able to gather a better audience with a much better price point for the whole season. Hell, even the All-Access option is $20 more than the one-team All Access situation, so why not go for the whole league??

Smart move, AHL and here’s hoping it’ll be as good as they’re making it out to be.

Summer Reading: Barracuda Nostalgia Sparks Idea For Other Retro Nights

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With the announcement of the San Jose Barracuda having jersey/theme nights to honor the affiliates of the San Jose Sharks past, it made me wonder if more teams should go and do it. Nostalgia is a helluva selling point for people, both in-arena and online. A gimmick like this creates a lot of buzz and could move a lot of tickets and a lot of merchandise to help out a team.

On the flip side, it’s a bit morbid. It’s a showing of failed teams, possibly failed markets, and while it’s nice– could rub some people the wrong way if they are bitter enough about losing their team.

Regardless of that, however, and regardless if you asked my opinion or not– but here’s some teams who I’d enjoy seeing honor their old affiliates. Of course, my top pick would be the Capitals to show off the old Richmond Robins, Baltimore Skipjacks, and Portland Pirates jerseys….but a team like the Hershey Bears wouldn’t give up their tradition to honor someone else’s– especially since they have outlasted those teams.

So– in no particular order:

ANAHEIM DUCKS: First in the alphabet, first one on this list. The Ducks have had some great affiliates– the short-lived Baltimore Bandits and Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, but they weaved their way through some solidly established teams, like the Syracuse Crunch and Norfolk Admirals. However, if there’s one team I want to see again, it’s the Iowa Chops. One season wasn’t enough and if the San Diego Gulls wanted to move merch, that’s the way to do it. Of course, the Gulls are at the top of attendance and probably merch, so they don’t need that big of a boost.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS: While the Bridgeport Sound Tigers are the longest affiliate the Islanders have had, the stops they’ve had along the way has been great and aesthetically amazing. The Thoroughblades are represented again (as seen above), but also the gaudy Salt Lake Golden Eagles jerseys, the early Lowell Lock Monsters jerseys, and the Utah Grizzlies‘ jerseys with a giant shoulder patch would really steer the memories, especially from the IHL fans.

CAROLINA HURRICANES: Including the Charlotte Checkers, the Hurricanes have only had five affiliates– but what affiliates they have been. The Beast of New Haven could have the worst logo of all time, the Cincinnati Cyclones, Lowell Lock Monsters, and Albany River Rats add to the memorable logos of affiliates past for the Hurricanes.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: What’s not to like about the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as the Muskegon Lumberjacks, the Baltimore Skipjacks, or the Broome Dusters….jacks. While the motif is pretty much the same in the black and gold, the older logos would be solid in a modern setting.

MINNESOTA WILD: While the Iowa Wild is the third of the AAA-affiliates for the Wild, the Houston Aeros look would be nice– but why not add some ECHL flavor?? The Louisiana IceGators looks would be solid, same with the Texas Wildcatters, Mississippi Sea Wolves, and Johnstown Chiefs; though it seems like a better option for the Allen Americans to do with their new ECHL affiliation with the Wild.

There’s plenty to go around. Minor league teams change like the tide, though thanks to teams owning their affiliates and markets being very solid in the industry– that’s slowed down a bit. Maybe there’s entire weekends that could be “Turn Back the Clock” weekends to bring back a little retro flavor and put some much needed attention onto the minor leagues. Anything in the name of a good gimmick.

Maryland Hockey History: Baltimore Failed NHL Expansion, WHA Completion

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Things could have been a lot different for the history of hockey in Maryland if you were to believe press clippings around the first rounds of expansion in the NHL. It would have definitely changed the way things are now and who knows if it the Washington Capitals would even be in the league if Baltimore would have gotten the expansion bid in 1967 or 1970.

During early expansion, Baltimore had put a bid in behind the strength of their new Civic Center, which was able to expand up to 12,700 seats for hockey– a size that was 200 seats more than the smallest arena at the time in Detroit. The biggest argument from Jake Embry– President of the Baltimore Clippers of the AHL and spokesperson for Baltimore’s 1967 NHL bid– was that Baltimore was a big league city in other sports and he felt hockey should be big league, too.

To that point, the Clippers in the AHL had been to the playoffs three times in five years and only got past the first round twice. They were brought into the Civic Center as an AHL expansion team in 1962 after the first incarnation of the Clippers played in the Eastern League out of the ashes of the Coast Guard Cutters. When Carlin’s Iceland burnt down in 1956, the Clippers moved to Charlotte with 12 games left in the 1955-56 season.

The one issue is that while the Civic Center could have expanded to 12,700, it was normally at 11,200 for hockey and even then they couldn’t fill half the arena over average with the Clippers. Embry’s idea that maybe a top league would bring more butts to the seats in the new arena, which is why he put the bid in on top of the idea that Baltimore is a big-league city. The AHL felt threatened enough to create an indemnification plan for not only Baltimore– but for Buffalo and Pittsburgh, who were also in the first expansion bids.

Obviously, Baltimore didn’t get into that first round of expansion, but they were still in the running for the next round. In fact, they were originally supposed to join Vancouver as the other team in the 1970 expansion, as Clarence Campbell felt the market was valuable. However, thanks to some stalls along the way leading up to the next round of expansion and a stronger proposal from the Buffalo area– Baltimore had to stick with the AHL for the time being.

There was a time where “pro” hockey did come to the Civic Center. In the middle of the 1974-75 season, the Michigan Stags of the WHA couldn’t afford to play there anymore and moved to Baltimore. That year was also the first for the Capitals and with the Capitals doing that badly, maybe the idea was to perhaps steal some entertainment dollars from Landover and put into Baltimore. Of course, this wasn’t without hurdles– as Embry said that he had the exclusivity rights to the Civic Center and didn’t want the WHA to use the building– which tried at first at the end of 1973-74 season with the Jersey Knights. Yet, WHA president Dennis Murphy was able to get a lease with the Civic Center management and play out the rest of the 1974-75 season (all 17 games) in Baltimore as the Baltimore Blades, while the Clippers were forced to disband.

Since local ownership was not able to found for the Blades to continue, they folded up in May of 1975 and Baltimore hockey went into a bit of a tailspin with the Clippers coming back in the AHL, the Southern League, then the Eastern League before folding completely, leading the way for the Skipjacks to start up in 1981.

While the end results didn’t happen for Baltimore in the NHL or WHA, there’s some that still may believe that if they were given the chance– they would have been able to shine a little more. However, some people don’t get over the minor league doldrums and shun a product just because. Who knows what could have happened if Baltimore had won the expansion bids in either 1967 or 1970– they could have succeeded and then the Capitals wouldn’t be around or they could have tanked and been on the move two years after their incarnation– thoroughly killing the area because of lack of support and killing the Capitals hopes.

The world will never know.

On the Topic Of European/North American Hockey Relations

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Photo from @OntarioReign

Did you know that there as an international friendly that happened on Tuesday in Ontario?? More likely not, as there wasn’t much pomp and circumstance on the grand scheme of things, but the Ontario Reign took on Eisbaren Berlin on Tuesday, with Ontario cruising to a 6-3 win in front of  over 8,700 fans– according to the Ontario Reign.

Looking at the highlights from their Twitter, the Berlin fans who were in attendance really made it for a European feel of chanting and constant energy throughout the game. However, it didn’t seem to get much of a ground swell outside of the Ontario and Berlin community. Hell, this is the first time since 2014 when Farjestad took on the AHL All-Stars and then the Toronto Marlies that international teams took on North American teams during the regular season– as far as I know, that is.

There’s something to be said about the idea of international teams coming to North America to play against AHL teams, something more to be said when it has to deal with the AHL squads beating those international teams. Sure, the teams coming over may not bring their best line-up, especially since those teams are also in season. However– wouldn’t it be something to see more of these international friendlies and actually have them promoted by outside media sources in order to garner a little more appeal?? Of course it would, we all love hockey and getting to know more teams outside of the North American bubble would be a nice change of pace for some people.

When it comes to something like this, there’s two ways to go about it. First, get more teams active in forming a sister cities approach to international teams. Have each AHL or ECHL team adopt a European team and keep track that way. While it would be much harder to get the ECHL team to agree to it since they often have players defect to Europe to play, the idea could be there for the AHL by the parent organizations to almost compare ideas of coaching and playing styles and all that fun crap. It may be a hard-sell, but something that could be done. Ontario and Berlin came together if only because The Anschutz Group owns both teams.

The second way to go about it is to find a way to have more international tournaments for the minor league teams to participate in. While the Spengler Cup is a tournament that once in a blue moon invites AHL teams to their party (mainly the Rochester Americans), there needs to be more ideas.

One could be the idea of putting the Calder Cup champions in the Champions Hockey League. Yes, it could create havoc on scheduling, but to have a North American representation would be a big boost for the North American game and get people more invested in the European side of things. But, like I said, the schedule in Europe allows a lot more leeway for the teams to play in their country league and the Champions’ league– so many North American leagues would be pretty hard pressed to have involvement, but at the same time– one can dream about it.

There’s untapped potential when it comes to having European teams come over to North America more frequently and vice versa. The hardest point is to actually find a way to make it happen logistically and not just force down people’s throat like an outdoor game we’ve seen time and time again. You need to have it frequent enough to make people want to see it, but infrequent enough that you don’t over-saturate the marketplace.

Sadly, hockey marketing teams everywhere have yet to figure out that balance. So it goes. The dream is alive, but sleep hard before it becomes a reality.

Minor League Weekly: Puempel Powering Griffins, LaValle-Smotherman on Fire, SPHL MVP Contenders

AHL

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Photo by Icon Sportswire

-It’s taken the Grand Rapids Griffins a while to get going, but with points in eight of their last ten games– they’ve regained their championship form. A lot of that success is due in part to the play of Matt Puempel, who’s in the midst of a nine-game point-streak (6g 7a), while having 40 points in 35 games with the Griffins and putting Puempel fourth in the AHL in scoring. This season is looking to be Puempel’s best in the AHL. With 43 points (19g, 24a) already this season, Puempel is only five points away from tying his AHL high, which he set in his rookie season of 2013-14 with the Binghamton Senators.

-When it comes to Thatcher Demko, it’s a matter of when he’ll get the full-time call-up to the Vancouver Canucks. His play this season has been stellar (17-7-5, 2.27 GAA, .929 Sv%) and will give the Canucks an interesting move late in their season– whether to call him up to get some NHL playing time, as he’ll luckily move into that role next season– or will they allow him to stay with Utica for the rest of the season and get a taste of a playoff run??

ECHL

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-Since the turning of the calendar, Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman has turned on his game big time with 11g, 12a in 14 games in 2018. The Monarchs forward has been on quite the roll with multi-point games in six of his last season, which has quietly put him in second spot for league leaders in points (52) and second in the league in goals (26). Not bad for a guy getting back into the North American game full-time after traveling around Europe from 2011 until towards the end of the 2016-17 season.

-There might be a chip in Joe Cannata’s shoulder because his play right now is really telling the Colorado Avalanche he wants to be promoted. The minor-league vet is 16-2-1 with a 2.13 GAA and .934 Sv%, which puts him 2nd and 1st respectively in the league. After years of being in the AHL– whether it being the veteran back-up or the stop-gap veteran– he’s in the ECHL full-time for the first time since 2014-15. With a championship team in front of him, he could be marking his way for when the Eagles move up to the AHL next season.

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-While Jake Hauswirth has had a great season– it’s going to be hard-pressed for him to go ahead and win the MVP on a non-playoff team. For me, Berkley Scott could be the front-runner, especially with the month he just had in January (9g, 7a)–which earned him Player of the Month honors. Tomas Shall should also get some kind of recognition for the year he’s had with Evansville thus far with a 14-2-2 record, while ranking top-five in GAA and save percentage.