The idea of a Pacific Division of the American Hockey League is not a new one, and certainly no cause for concern to the Portland Pirates, according to Brad Church, the team’s new chief operating officer.
“It’s something that has been talked about for years,” said Church, who played for five different AHL teams during a 13-year professional career that included a brief stint with the NHL Washington Capitals. “Those Western teams have always grumbled about getting their affiliates closer to them and, to date, there really hasn’t been much traction behind it.”
A report from Fox Sports in Arizona indicated the AHL may realign with a Pacific Division as early as the 2015-16 season and would include affiliates of Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, San Jose, Calgary and Vancouver.
“I don’t know what prompted that story,” said Jason Chaimovitch, the AHL’s vice president of communications. “It’s nothing new and nothing is imminent but it is something that’s been coming up.”
The Pirates are currently finishing up the third season of a five-year affiliation agreement with Phoenix. In the past decade, the Pirates have also been affiliated with Washington, Anaheim and Buffalo.
“Our current relationship with Phoenix is very, very good,” Church said. “We’re communicating all the time. We’re very happy with the way things have gone.”
The distance between Portland and Phoenix — 2,748 miles — can make travel difficult and costly for players and front-office personnel to go back and forth between Maine and Arizona. Two Western NHL teams own their AHL affiliates based in New England — Los Angeles (Manchester, N.H.) and San Jose (Worcester, Mass.).
Other NHL clubs who own AHL franchises: Minnesota (Iowa), Calgary (Abbotsford, B.C.), New Jersey (Albany, N.Y.), New York Islanders (Bridgeport, Conn.), New York Rangers (Hartford), Edmonton (Oklahoma City), Vancouver (Utica), Buffalo (Rochester), Winnipeg (St. John’s, N.B.) Toronto (Toronto) and Pittsburgh (Wilkes-Barre).
Even with ownership, those franchises could not pull up stakes and move without approval from the AHL board of governors.
“It’s not as simple as waving a wand and saying, â€˜We’re going to put six franchises out on the West coast,” Chaimovitch said. “If that’s the direction those (NHL) teams want to go, as a league, we’re at a stage of trying to figure out what the process is. So it’s early discussions. Nothing is imminent.”
The Pirates, who have played all their home games this season in Lewiston because of a since-resolved contract dispute with trustees of the Cumberland County Civic Center, entered the weekend in last place among the 30 AHL teams, with the lowest attendance.
Church said he expects that to turn around next season, when the team returns to a refurbished Civic Center.
“We’re in a good place, with the (refurbished) building downtown and the practice and training facility in Saco,” he said. “We’re a top destination for any NHL club to house their prospects.”
Phoenix entered the weekend two points behind Dallas in the race for the eighth and final playoff berth in the NHL’s Western Conference.
“This is not a new topic,” Church said, “and absolutely no concern of ours at this point.”
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 orGjordan@pressherald.com Twitter: GlennJordanPPH