In long expected news, the New York Islanders' ECHL affiliate in Stockton has been gobbled up in the swarm of franchise sales that will create a new five-team Pacific Division in the American Hockey League.
The Calgary Flames have purchased the Stockton Thunder, and will keep the franchise there -- likely under a new name -- as it becomes part of the AHL.
That means if the Islanders want to keep an ECHL affiliate next year, they'll have to look elsewhere, geographically speaking at least. It's possible the Stockton ECHL franchise will be moving much closer to home.
Over the past two seasons the Isles have used the affiliation to get some of their prospects extra ice time that they couldn't get in AHL Bridgeport. Sebastian Collberg had a stint there this season coming off injury and during a light period in the AHL schedule. 2014 draft pick Lukas Sutter has spent the entire season there and was named to the ECHL All-Star Game.
AHL President and CEO Dave Andrews spoke of the moves during a press conference Thursday:
"Relocating five teams is a complex process, and we are very excited to have brought this initiative to a successful outcome," said Andrews. "The Western-based NHL clubs have been in dialogue with our league for almost three years, and today’s announcement launches a new era for the American Hockey League and for professional hockey in California."
Other than a likely name change -- the Flames said they would run contests to let fans "weigh in" on the matter -- this is good for hockey in Stockton. Current season ticket holders' commitments will be honored.
Flames General Manager Brad Treliving spoke to why his NHL club is happy to do this, as quoted in the Thunder's official release:
"To use a baseball analogy, this will be our top ‘Triple-A’ affiliate," Treliving said. "This move is significant to our development of a Stanley Cup champion in Calgary for multiple reasons. First off, Stockton Arena is a world-class facility that is the envy of not just ECHL teams, but AHL teams as well. Having our players play at a top-notch facility was paramount. Also, the fans pack the house here every night; we look forward to that same support for the new team."
But the musical chairs means many eastern cities lose their clubs -- frequent Bridgeport Sound Tigers opponents Worcester and Manchester among them -- though some may be filled by ECHL franchise relocations.
From the SB Nation story on the moves:
- The Worcester Sharks are moving from Massachusetts to San Jose, joining their NHL club in playing home games at SAP Center. The team will be renamed.
- The Adirondack Flames are moving from Glens Falls, N.Y. to Stockton, Calif. Stockton is currently home to an ECHL club, the Stockton Thunder.
- The Manchester Monarchs, AHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings, are moving to Ontario, Calif. Ontario is currently home to the ECHL's Ontario Reign.
- The Edmonton Oilers will remove their AHL affiliate from Oklahoma City. They'll replace the ECHL's Bakersfield Condors in Bakersfield, Calif.
- The Anaheim Ducks' affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, will move to San Diego. Their new nickname will be announced in February, but it's possible they pay homage to the old San Diego Gulls of the WCHL and IHL. Norfolk is expected to land an ECHL franchise.
It's expected the Stockton ECHL franchise will be transferred to Glens Falls -- tossed around as much as any AHL city in recent years -- while L.A. will basically be swapping its current AHL and ECHL affiliates in Manchester and Ontario (California), respectively. The AHL sees some form of musical chairs just about every summer, though this seismic one is more than two years in the making, and likely to continue if the Sharks later find a new AHL home beyond their own backyard.
And you thought the Islanders' move to Brooklyn was traumatic. At least they aren't switching leagues.