AHL officially announces Pacific Division, five teams head west

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After months of speculation, the AHL officially announced on Thursday that five teams are moving to California for the 2015-16 season. The teams will form the new Pacific Division.

On hand for the announcement were AHL president Dave Andrews, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and representatives from the five clubs – the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames – that will have affiliates in the AHL’s newest division next season.

The relocations were voted through unanimously by the AHL’s Board of Governors. Read more

AHL moving West just one of several key U.S. hockey projects

The Ducks and Sharks will move their AHL teams to California (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Say hello to the American League’s Pacific Division. The dramatic shift that will see five AHL teams shifted to California not only shakes up the continent’s second-best circuit, but will also have big ramifications for how the game is embraced by the population in the Golden State.

“Hockey is growing in California and the West Coast,” said Anaheim GM Bob Murray at the official press conference. “This is going to take it one step further.”

From a grassroots perspective, the Pacific Division will nurture more hockey fans in a state that is already producing some pretty nice talent. Because it’s not just important that kids can watch players and prospects in the process of achieving NHL dreams, but that cities such as San Diego and Stockton get anchor teams that hopefully help the kids themselves start to play the game locally.

The AHL announcement is one of just several big projects on the go that will help the game as a whole. Here are four others to keep an eye on:

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Rumor Roundup: Maple Leafs, Kings, and Hurricanes buzz

Phil Kessel (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Toronto rumor mill continues to churn with speculation over possible moves by the struggling Maple Leafs leading up to the March trade deadline. TSN’s Darren Dreger believes the next few weeks will determine if the Leafs become deadline buyers or sellers.

Over the weekend, the Toronto Star’s Kevin McGran cited a source claiming the Leafs were quietly shopping defenseman Dion Phaneuf, winger Phil Kessel and others exclusively to Western Conference teams. McGran claimed nothing was imminent, suggesting interested clubs could wait until the deadline to pursue Phaneuf and Kessel because of their hefty contracts. Read more

Separation between East’s have & have-not teams will make NHL trade deadline unique

Cody Franson (Abelimages/Getty Images)

If you don’t know by now the NHL’s points system is essentially a competitive funhouse mirror designed to give more teams the appearance they’ve got a shot at a playoff spot, you should. The league has, to the credit of its business acumen, recognized more teams can sell tickets to fans deeper into their regular-seasons if those fans see the teams are only four or five points out of a post-season berth; now, there’s very likely a very slim chance that team can leapfrog a bunch rivals playing each other down the stretch for one of the last playoff positions, but that’s not the point. It’s a mirage of sorts, and it works.

But the way things are shaping up in the Eastern Conference this year, not even the “loser point” looks like it’s going to create the illusion of competitiveness between the teams that make the post-season and the ones that don’t. Of course, most teams still have approximately 35 games to play, so you can’t be sure about anything just yet, but with the trade deadline set for March 2, it’s starting to look like the East’s eight non-playoff teams are going to serve as a feeder system for the much tighter West. Read more

Mike Richards will actually make more money playing in the minors

Ken Campbell
Mike Richards (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images)

If things go swimmingly well for Mike Richards, he won’t even have to take one trip on the old iron lung. The Manchester Monarchs of the American League don’t have a road game until a week from Friday and even then, it’s only a 100-mile ride to Providence.

And there’s a chance everything will be cleared up for Richards by that time and he’ll be back in the NHL. Since the Los Angeles Kings put Richards on waivers earlier this week, he has been the subject of considerable trade speculation. The only problem is that Richards’ trade value is currently at an all-time low. In order for the Kings to deal him now, not only would they have to eat salary, they might even have to give their trading partner an asset to do the deal. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Richards heads to AHL, Jagr drawing interest

Lyle Richardson
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NHL)

Any hope Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi had of a rival club plucking Mike Richards off waivers came to naught Tuesday. The 29-year-old veteran center cleared waivers and was demoted to the Kings’ AHL affiliate in Manchester. It’s the first time Richards has played in the minors since a brief stint with the Philadelphia Phantoms during the 2005 AHL playoffs.

It was a bold move by Lombardi, though one which shouldn’t be surprising. While Richards helped the Kings win two Stanley Cups, his performance since 2011-12 has been in steady decline. His numbers prior to his demotion (15 points through 47 games) put the center on pace for a career-low 26 points. He was seeing reduced ice time centering the Kings’ fourth line.

In recent weeks there was speculation Lombardi was trying to trade Richards, with most linking the center to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman believes a swap of Richards for Leafs’ captain Dion Phaneuf was “seriously considered”, but fell through because the Kings refused to include either Tanner Pearson or Tyler Toffoli in the deal. Read more

L.A. Kings place Mike Richards on waivers. Who will grab him?

Matt Larkin
Mike Richards' cap hit and term make it highly unlikely any team claims him. (Getty Images)

The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings fed the NHL a harsh dose of reality less than 24 hours after the league displayed its silliest side at the All-Star Game.

The Kings placed center Mike Richards on waivers Monday, per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. Yes, that Mike Richards, the world junior champion, the 2010 gold medallist, the two-time Stanley Cup winner. Richards had appeared in many recent trade rumors, most commonly involving Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf, but the Kings reportedly could not find a taker. It’s not exactly a shocker no team wanted to give up something to acquire Richards, 29, at a $5.75-million cap hit for five more seasons after this one. He is nowhere near the player he was as a Philadelphia Flyer, and it appears he’s even lost a step since last season. Richards has sputtered to 15 points in 47 games, he’s won fewer than half his faceoffs, and it’s fair to wonder if Kings GM Dean Lombardi regrets not using a compliance buyout on Richards this past off-season. The euphoria of a second championship in three years understandably clouded his judgment.

As per the new(ish) collective bargaining agreement, the Kings can’t fully “bury” Richards’ contract for full relief from his cap hit. If he clears waivers, they will only save $925,000. They obviously hope some team claims Richards.

The question is – does any team have the stones to blow that much cap space on Richards? Re-entry waivers no longer exist, meaning the claiming team must take on his full cap hit and term. Richards still has some value to a contending team, as he’s still a plus in the possession game and he’s a winner who elevates his game in the post-season. But that may not matter at his price.

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