With Las Vegas confirmed to be the home of the 31st NHL franchise, there is the distinct possibility of an expansion in the American Hockey League.
After one of the largest realignments in the AHL’s long history, it’s somewhat fitting that Vegas should be the next port of call for the NHL.
It certainly makes an expansion AHL team out west a more feasible prospect with a ready made division for them to compete in alongside Ontario Reign, San Diego Gulls, Texas Stars, San Jose Barracuda, Bakersfield Condors, Stockton Heat and San Antonio Rampage.
In saying that, there’s no obvious option at this stage for Vegas to place their future affiliate.
Of the teams in the East Coast Hockey League, I believe there are four possible choices to consider.
With the exodus of many ECHL outfits last season, Idaho are left as the most westerly team in the league. The Steelheads have been affiliated with Dallas for eleven seasons, a length of term unusual due to various changes in the league. Approximately 630 miles separates Idaho from Vegas but there’s an airport on the doorstep in Boise.
Utah have hosted IHL and AHL teams before this season but began their time in the ECHL as an independent outfit.
Currently affiliated with Anaheim (two years), they may be the best potential fit if Vegas chose to go the ECHL route. Only 420 miles separate the teams and Salt Lake City’s international airport is near by.
Rapid City Rush
The Rush are the least likely alternative for Vegas with 1000 miles between Rapid City and Vegas, and just a regional airport to call upon. A recent addition to the ECHL (were part of disbanded CHL), Rapid City have two seasons behind them in this league and have only recently tied themselves to the Arizona organisation.
Colorado are the most interesting of the four teams I’ve proposed.
The Eagles are 800 miles north-east of Vegas but have no airport. There is however an international hub in Denver which is just an hours drive south.
Without an NHL or AHL affiliate as I write, despite having been previously linked with Winnipeg and most recently, Calgary.
The ECHL would certainly not be best pleased to lose another West Coast team, as they are already thin on the ground in that department.
As you might imagine, lots of possible locations for a brand new expansion team have been banded about by various sources.
The Fresno Falcons were an ECHL team and apparently their home, Selland Arena, is available.
A team in Sacramento would also be local rivals to San Jose Barracuda and Stockton Heat. What facilities they have in SA to house a team I’m unsure of at this point in time.
Reno, Nevada has been mentioned in dispatches and from a marketing point of view would make sense for Vegas. The Reno Events Centre is a possible home but does house various other sports and teams.
All three of those listed are easily accessible from Vegas with regular flights taking around an hour.
What if Vegas chooses to have an AHL team closer to home?
Summerlin, which is a suburb in the west of Vegas, has been touted as a site for a practise facility in which they Vegas could house a farm team
The now defunct Las Vegas Wranglers (ECHL) played five seasons before being unable to find a home rink to call their own before the 2014/15 season.
The Orleans Arena was the Wranglers home but the Orleans Hotel and Casino refused to extend the lease. Could they possibly be re-engaged with to provide a short or long term home?
Then there is the current Winnipeg format.
The Jets share MTS with the Manitoba Moose and there’s nothing to say Vegas couldn’t employ the same tactic at the T-Mobile Arena.
There’s never been a better time for the AHL to expand in terms of it’s popularity as shown by the information below.
Taken from AHL.com:
“In its first season with teams stretching from the easternmost point in North America to the California coast, the American Hockey League celebrated its 80th anniversary by establishing a new attendance record in 2015-16.
An all-time high of 6,693,526 fans attended AHL games during the regular season, which ended Sunday – an average of 5,982 fans per game. Both surpass the previous records set during the 2004-05 season.
Nine of the AHL’s 30 teams saw average attendances of more than 7,200 fans per game, with the Hershey Bears (9,790) leading the league for the 10th consecutive season. Attendance league-wide was up 8.6 percent from last year.”
There are lots of factors for the Vegas management to consider as regards their farm team.
With having to promote a brand new NHL team in their city it’s more likely that their affiliate would be housed outside Vegas to create a separate fan base, which works for many other teams in the league.
It should provide an interesting watch for those involved with the AHL if indeed the 31st team is introduced for 2017/18.