Maine Hockey Journal

Andrews paints positive picture for the AHL

Worcester, Mass. – Although the economy has seen better days in recent days, the American Hockey League is still prospering despite hard times among other forms of entertainment.

During the AHL’s annual State of the League address held in Worcester, Mass. as part of the All-Star Classic festivities, AHL President Dave Andrews noted that the league was on solid footing and able to withstand the hard times ahead.

Andrews said that league revenues were only down 3% compared to last season, which was positive compared to the economy as a whole.

Andrews also spoke about the future of a franchise in both Cedar Park, TX and Abbotsford, British Columbia, and the fate of Philadelphia Phantoms after this season.

The Dallas Stars still are looking for a franchise to place in Cedar Park (a suburb of Austin, TX) despite selling season tickets and promoting the team to take to the ice in the fall of 2009.

“If I had a 30th franchise, we’d be at 30 (teams) today,” said Andrews. “We’ve got a 30th city ready to go in Austin, Texas and the Dallas Stars will eventually be an owner of an AHL franchise in Austin. We are in the strange position of having someone ready to go and buy a franchise, but not being able to find a seller”

“We have more than one group looking to buy a franchise, but no one is ready to sell.”

One of the major stumbling blocks in the equation remains the Edmonton Oilers, who still owns an AHL franchise. It’s currently inactive as Edmonton has an affiliation deal with Springfield, but still has the intentions of activating the franchise.

Speculation around the league has been the possibility of Edmonton moving their affiliation to another city, namely Oklahoma City, mentioned by several news organizations as a potential home for the AHL.

“There was some grounds for that report, but that report was eight months late,” said Andrews. “Edmonton was in Oklahoma City and they did have discussion in Oklahoma City, but situation has changed.”

“There is now an NBA team there… and I don’t know if Oklahoma City is quite an attractive option as it once was eight months ago.”

Andrews also noted Abbotsford, B.C. did present a proposal to the AHL Board of Governors at least year’s All-Star game in Binghamton, NY and were in attendance at this year’s event, but no transfer application has been brought forward.

“We don’t have any application for any franchise to transfer to Abbotsford,” said Andrews. “(Abbotsford) made it very clear to us they’d like to have an AHL franchise. It’s a long way outside our geography.”

“It is part of that discussion about the West Coast solution – should we have a presence on the West Coast.”

“I don’t know the answer to that. It would be an expensive place to travel to and from, but it’s going to be a good building, good market and there are folks there deeply interested in owning an AHL team.”

As for Philadelphia, Andrews said that he believed that Comcast Spectacor is close to making a decision and while the league would like to stay within the Philadelphia market that may not be an option, for the near future. One option for Comcast is Glens Falls, NY, who housed an AHL franchise for 20 years, (1979-1999). The arena Glens Falls Civic Center hasn’t had a permanent tenant since 2006 when the UHL’s Adirondack Frostbite ceased operations and the building would be in need of an upgrade before AHL hockey could be played.

“No question there would need to be some improvements to the arena,” said Andrews. “(Civic Center) is not at a professional hockey level and certain infrastructure behind the scenes would need to be improved.”

“The Phantoms have a lot of choices to make. They may make an announcement within a month. It won’t be our announcement; it will be the Flyers.”

Andrews said the AHL is exploring options to the league’s schedule format, which is usually a hot topic in Portland with the lack of Western Conference teams that come to town.

“One thing I am going to do is sound out our teams again on our schedule format… for how many times each team play’s other teams and how many teams they play each year,” he said.

“I’d like to get a better feel than sort of the status quo we have every year. This year, I’d like to really make sure we start from a zero base and make sure our teams tell us what it is they really want, and then we’ll have to see if we can give them what they want.”

“Which, for some of them, I know we can’t because they don’t want to play anybody. If Philadelphia were still in the league, Philadelphia and Hershey would elect to play each other 20 times, but that’s not going to happen.”

The AHL also had discussion about reducing the schedule from 80-games to 72-games, but those discussions have been table for the time being as there are differing opinions on the positives and negatives to reducing the schedule.

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