ONTARIO, Calif. – Before the American Hockey League Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Monday morning, Commissioner Dave Andrews gave a press conference regarding the state of the league. In the midst of All-Star Classic festivities, topics ranged from attendance and revenue being up from last year, NHL player recalls on pace to reach 360 this season, the new Palm Springs AHL team beginning play in 2021-22 & breaking ground on their arena next month, Andrews’ successor being named towards the end of February, and the completion of a five-year collective bargaining agreement & four-year officiating agreement.
Then, as reported by on-site AHL correspondents Patrick Williams and Tony Androckitis via social media, the most interesting piece of news from the presser came to light: the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights want to purchase and relocate an AHL franchise to Nevada.
Vegas has interest in buying a franchise. Timeline isn’t clear yet.
— PATRICK WILLIAMS (@pwilliamsNHL) January 27, 2020
Andrews: Las Vegas has interest in buying an AHL franchise and has talked to various owners about it.
— Tony Androckitis (@TonyAndrock) January 27, 2020
According to local Nevada media outlet SinBin.Vegas (no relation to The Sin Bin), the plan would be for an AHL team to play at the Orleans Arena (former home of the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers) next season and in 2021-22 before moving to a newly built, AHL-specific venue. SinBin.Vegas has also reported that the plan is to brand the AHL team’s name as the nearby suburb of Henderson, not Las Vegas or Vegas.
All of this news is preliminary, with Commissioner Andrews saying that a purchase and relocation of an AHL club to Vegas “would have to happen pretty soon” if the team were to play next season in The Silver State. Even so, that has not stopped the rumor mill from churning as to which teams could possibly be moved by the Golden Knights organization to play in Vegas next year.
WHY THE CHICAGO WOLVES WON’T STAY VGK’S AFFILIATE
Some outlets have reported Vegas as interested in keeping their current AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, and moving them out to Nevada. While the Golden Knights did sign a five-year affiliation agreement with the Wolves before their inaugural 2017-18 season, SinBin.Vegas states that there is an option to opt-out after three years — conveniently, at the end of this season.
Chicago has two International Hockey League and two AHL championships, seven conference championships between the two leagues, and 12 division titles (read: they are a continuously successful franchise). You can also factor in the fan base, which has averaged between 7,500 and 8,000 attendees per game in 19 AHL seasons and is eighth-best in the league this year (6,720 per game). And, with Chicago’s 25 plus years of existence between the now-defunct IHL and AHL, it would be hard to imagine the independently-owned Wolves selling out to allow Vegas to pull up their roots and head west.
Wolves General Manager Wendall Young released this statement on Monday:
“The Chicago Wolves and Vegas Golden Knights continue to be partners with a common goal to win championships. If there comes a time when Vegas purchases the rights to another AHL franchise, then the Wolves will find a new NHL partner that also believes in the importance of competing for Calder Cups.”
WHY ANOTHER ILLINOIS TEAM WOULD FIT THE BILL
Another name has come up for a possible purchase-and-move scenario, and Vegas wouldn’t have to even go outside the Land of Lincoln to pursue it.
11 of the bottom 12 AHL teams in attendance are owned by their NHL parent clubs. Which one is the odd team out? The Rockford Icehogs, who are actually owned by the City of Rockford itself and have seen a steady decline in attendance over the past five seasons (-26.45%). Rockford is also 26th in attendance for 2019-20, averaging 3,688 people per game. Their legacy isn’t super impressive, either, making the postseason six times in their 13-year history with only one conference final appearance in 2017-18.
With the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks as the IceHogs’ parent club, a fairly easy transfer of AHL team affiliation could occur should Vegas buy Rockford. The Wolves could become the Blackhawks’ new AHL affiliate, and the Golden Knights would ship the former IceHogs out to the desert and rechristen them however they see fit. Even with Rockford under an affiliation contract through 2021-22, there certainly must be an out clause built in for extenuating circumstances such as these.
SinBin.Vegas was one of the first media entities to cover the Golden Knights during Vegas’ NHL genesis. They are widely recognized as a legitimate outlet for Vegas hockey news, and have been the main news source regarding these AHL rumblings over the past 24 hours. In my book, this gives credence to the Golden Knights wanting to act now on purchasing an AHL team.
Non NHL-owned teams with AHL affiliate contracts that expire soon are Hershey (2020), Chicago (2022), Grand Rapids (2022), and Milwaukee (2022). However, all four of these teams are in stable markets and not looking to sell. If the Golden Knights organization wants to make the push to purchase a team to move to Nevada next season, the struggling Rockford franchise seems like the best choice.
In the meantime, the organization handed down this statement after the AHL commissioner’s press conference Monday morning:
“We have had discussions with American Hockey League representatives regarding the possibility of securing an AHL club on an ongoing basis since our team’s inception. While we remain very interested in the opportunity, specific details related to an acquisition or the potential location of the acquired team are yet to be determined.”
C.C. Hawkley is the AHL Editor and Colorado Eagles correspondent for The Sin Bin. He has been with the site since 2017, covering the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads in Boise for two seasons before moving to Denver to take the Eagles beat in 2019. Follow him on Twitter, but don’t forget to also follow The Sin Bin on Facebook and Twitter for all additional AHL, ECHL, and SPHL minor league hockey coverage and insights!