Several changes are ahead for the American Hockey League next season.
Headlining the plans are a number of franchise shifts for the NHL's top developmental league. The New Jersey Devils announced Tuesday that they will relocate the Albany Devils to Binghamton, New York, for the 2017-18 season. That team will replace the Ottawa Senators-affiliated Binghamton Senators, who will move to Belleville, Ontario, next season.
The Belleville Senators will bring hockey back to a city that housed the Ontario Hockey League for 34 seasons.
In July 2015 the Montreal Canadiens announced that they will move the St. John's IceCaps to Laval, Quebec, for the 2017-18. The Laval Rocket will play in the new 10,000-seat Place Bell, which will open this fall. The team unveiled its logo and jerseys Tuesday with a look that pays tribute to Canadiens legend Maurice "Rocket" Richard.
The moves continue the trend of NHL and AHL teams establishing geographically convenient affiliations that make for easy movement of players between the leagues. Five Pacific Division teams moved their AHL affiliates to California before the 2015-16 season. The Arizona Coyotes followed with their own westward move, establishing an in-state affiliation with the Tucson Roadrunners this season.
Montreal and Laval are 13 miles apart. New Jersey and Ottawa will have their new affiliates approximately 2-1/2 hours away.
AHL president and chief executive officer Dave Andrews also outlined several other developments in his annual state-of-the-league address this week. His comments accompanied the Lehigh Valley Phantoms hosting the AHL All-Star Classic presented by BlueCross before sellout crowds on back-to-back nights.
With the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights next season, Andrews said the AHL might expand to 31 teams. Though there has not been a formal application submitted yet, Andrews said that there is a "better than 50/50 chance" that the AHL will have 31 teams next season. If not, he said that it is "probably certain we'll have a 31st team by [the 2018-19 season]."
If the AHL does not expand next season, one option for the Golden Knights would be to enter into a dual affiliation with another NHL team.
Andrews also said that the Montreal-Laval affiliation could find the same success that the Toronto Maple Leafs have built with their AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. The San Jose Sharks (San Jose Barracuda) and Winnipeg Jets (Manitoba Moose) also have their affiliates playing within their respective markets.
"What's happened in Toronto over the years now, with the success of the Marlies and the commitment the Maple Leafs have made on the marketing side, I think going back [former Maple Leafs general manager] Brian Burke really made a difference there in putting a focus on the AHL in Toronto [along with former Marlies coach] Dallas Eakins when they had the great team that went to the [Calder Cup final in 2012]," Andrews said.
"That helped to put us on the map in Toronto, and now the visibility of the Marlies nationally [in Canada] is very valuable to us. Where I'm leading
to here is that I really have the sense because of the amount of contact we've had with the Canadiens' organization and their [Laval] management team [that] they are fully invested. They are really optimistic that this is going to be a home-run franchise for us."
"I don't think there's any chance [of failing]. I've been around a long time. I can feel it when people get it and know what they're doing. These guys get it."
Chicago Wolves forward Kenny Agostino leads the AHL in scoring with 58 points (17 goals, 41 assists). … Lehigh Valley's Greg Carey leads the league with 22 goals. … Albany goaltender Ken Appleby leads the AHL with a 2.05 goals-against average, and Troy Grosenick of San Jose has a league-leading .929 save percentage. … Lehigh Valley's 3.67 goals per game lead the league; the Grand Rapids Griffins and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins each have a league-best 2.33 goals allowed per game. … Grand Rapids' power play leads the AHL at 27.3 percent. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is first on the penalty kill (87.1 percent). … The Bridgeport Sound Tigers hold fourth place in the Atlantic Division thanks to a seven-game winning streak. … The Iowa Wild have a six-game point streak (4-0-2-0) and are 7-1-2-0 in their past 10 games. … A four-game winning streak has Toronto one point out of a playoff spot in the North Division. … Forward Jordan Weal of Lehigh Valley has an eight-game point streak. … Wilkes-Barre/Scranton captain Tom Kostopoulos became the 91st player in AHL history to reach 500 points when he scored a goal at Binghamton on Saturday. Kostopoulos, who turned 38 on Jan. 24, has 33 points (15 goals, 18 assists) in 45 games for the league-leading Penguins. … Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Eddie Lack went 1-1-0 with a 1.50 GAA and a .952 save percentage in a two-game rehabilitation assignment with the Charlotte Checkers.
On the move
The Chicago Wolves added veteran help last weekend by signing defenseman James Wisniewski. The 32-year-old has played 552 NHL games and spent part of this season in the Kontinental Hockey League. … St. John's received defenseman Zach Redmond from Montreal. … Defenseman Petter Granberg has been assigned to the Milwaukee Admirals. … Albany lost defensemen Seth Helgeson, Steve Santini, and Karl Stollery on recall to New Jersey. … Defenseman Christian Djoos and forward Chandler Stephenson of the Hershey Bears are on recall with the Washington Capitals. … The season-ending injury to Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov means the San Antonio Rampage will be without goaltender Spencer Martin. Veteran Jeremy Smith is expected to take over the No. 1 job in San Antonio. … Charlotte has signed veteran forward Kris Newbury to a contract. ... Forwards Ivan Barbashev (Chicago), Kalle Kossila (San Diego Gulls), and Carter Rowney (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) each made their NHL debuts this past week. Through Tuesday, 72 AHL players have played their first NHL game this season.