West Coast Bias: What AHL shakeup will look like

Fans take in the AHL Skills Competition. (Mark DiOrio/AP)

Hockey’s two primary minor league circuits had quite the dance this week, with the American Hockey League and the ECHL trading towns like hockey card collectors at a trade show.
 
When the dust settles, we’ll have a Pacific Division of five teams in the AHL and a migration in the ECHL — which at one time stood for East Coast Hockey League — to the Eastern side of the continent. Then, over time, I believe we’ll see Vancouver bring their AHL affiliate from Utica into British Columbia (likely Abbotsford), Colorado open up an AHL affiliate in-state, and the Coyotes go from Portland, Maine to Tucson or the Prescott, Arizona area.
 
Expansion Las Vegas will set up an AHL farm club somewhere nearby, and if Seattle ever comes on board we could see as many as 11 AHL clubs out West, including the Texas Stars in Austin.
 
For now though, the five-team Pacific Division will have some growing pains. They’ll play fewer games, more in-Division obviously, with the bright side being more practice time in a developmental league. They’ll play “64 to 66 (games), in that range,” said Calgary GM Brad Treliving. That’s down from 76 games.

“This whole move is just (about) being closer. We’ve spent a lot of time at the manager level saying, ‘How can we really put the focus on development?’ This creates more practice time.”
 
Calgary’s AHL affiliate goes from Glens Falls, N.Y. into Stockton, while their ECHL affiliate moves into Glens Falls. Edmonton’s AHL team shifts from Oklahoma City to Bakersfield; Anaheim’s AHL club goes to San Diego from Norfolk, where Edmonton’s ECHL club slides in; Los Angeles Kings go from Manchester, N.H., to Ontario, Calif.; San Jose Sharks shift from Worcester, Mass. to San Jose.
 
“We anticipate 20 to 25 extra practice days. In a season that’s roughly 180 days, that’s a big percentage of time,” said Edmonton’s Kevin Lowe. “The fact that Calgary’s farm team is in the division — a team we haven’t played a lot in recent years — is going to benefit our players and you’re going to have a high-level rivalry with the three California teams who have been successful in the NHL. Ultimately, it will benefit in terms of the improvement in our players.”
 
Vancouver’s commitment in Utica is still in effect, with openers available to either side in coming years. I believe the Canucks will prefer to extend their brand within the province rather than join everyone else in California, the thinking being that a Canucks AHL affiliate could work in Abbotsford, where the Flames affiliate failed. Vancouver tried to buy that team but the Flames wanted too much dough.
 
CLENDENING CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR CANUCKS
Speaking of Vancouver, Adam Clendening — acquired from Chicago in a trade for Swedish defenceman Gustav Forsling — arrives ready for his first true shot in the NHL. He’s spent the past three seasons on Chicago’s farm, racking up 118 points in 185 games.

“I don’t know if bored is the right word, but he’s ready to play in the NHL,” said a Western Conference exec. “He’s great with the puck, very confident. Always calling for it. He’s kind of like Kevin Bieksa, but without the nasty streak. Doesn’t fight like him, but he can be chippy.”

Vancouver has been looking to replace Sami Salo ever since he left after the 2011-12 season. Clendening will get that chance on a Canucks defence that is topped by Alex Edler’s five goals and 15 points this season.
 
WHY OH WHY WOULD COYOTES TRADE EKMAN-LARSSON?
What could Arizona GM Don Maloney reap for his top defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, after Chris Stevenson reported that Maloney listed Shane Doan as his only untouchable in a radio interview?

OEL has three years left on his deal with a $5.5 million cap hit and is a 23-year-old franchise defenceman. Would Edmonton give up its high first-round pick in a package, knowing they still have the late first-rounder from Pittsburgh from the David Perron deal?

What about Vancouver? Would they dangle a first and a prospect such as Bo Horvat? How about Toronto: James van Riemsdyk and a first-rounder? Imagine OEL and Jacob Trouba together on Winnipeg’s blueline. Frankly, the biggest question here is, why on Earth would Arizona even think of dealing a stud like Ekman-Larsson? If it’s for financial reasons, then perhaps it’s time to move out of the desert.


 
CALGARY ARENA VS. EDMONTON ARENA TALKS
As the five-year saga of the rink in Edmonton unfolded, the Flames organization just sat back and watched, taking notes on how to proceed when it became their turn to lobby government support for a new rink. The problem is, Edmonton’s downtown is in far more need of revitalization than Calgary’s, and that helped Oilers owner Daryl Katz squeeze half the arena costs out of the city.

The province said no to Edmonton on funding, so can’t possibly help with the Calgary building. And Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi has said unequivocally that no civic funds are forthcoming.
 
I predict the city will and should end up helping the Flames in some capacity — free or discounted land, service, etc. — but NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was in town this past week to beat the drums for a new rink.

“This is a building that needs to be replaced,” he said of the Saddledome. “A new facility can be a catalyst for a whole host of things that positively impact the city. But, from my standpoint, things are in the preliminary stage.”
 
The two biggest differences between Edmonton and Calgary? One, Calgary’s downtown doesn’t need the civic investment Edmonton’s does. And two, Rexall Place was built in 1974.

The Saddledome was built in 1983, but when Detroit, the Islanders and Edmonton get into their new rinks in the coming years, that will leave the Flames playing in, “A building that is 10 years older, in effect, than the oldest building we’ll be playing in over the next couple years,” said Bettman, who met with Nenshi while in Calgary.

Stay tuned, this won’t happen quickly.
 
BEST WISHES TO STAN MIKITA
Very sad news this week, with Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita being diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia.

It is akin to Parkinson’s Disease, a form of progressive degenerative dementia — the same illness that killed legendary disc jockey Casey Kasem and afflicted Robin Williams before his suicide.

My favourite visual of Mikita, whose career came slightly before my time, was that famous Northland helmet. I believe Lanny McDonald adopted it. Today, the statues of Mikita and Bobby Hull outside the United Center in Chicago are two of the game’s most impressive monuments, great hockey legends in a great hockey city.

Hang in there, Stan.