There’s a pause on the other end of the line, long enough to assume Dave Andrews didn’t hear the question. Perhaps he’s tired from his Friday afternoon racquetball workout. But really he’s just deep in thought.
When asked to name his proudest accomplishment as American League president, Andrews thinks about it and eventually settles on the assimilation of the International League into the AHL in 2001. That watershed moment paved the way for the AHL to become the NHL’s premier development circuit under his leadership. “We have brought the league to a place where it’s far more important in the world of hockey than it was 20 years ago,” Andrews said. “One league at the highest level of minor pro hockey that would serve all 30 NHL teams – it was almost a dream that we would create something like that and it took a fair amount of time to get there.”
In many ways, Andrews’ two decades-long tenure as head of the AHL has mirrored Gary Bettman’s 20-year reign in the NHL, though Andrews points out the leagues aren’t aligned as much as one might think. He’s managed the AHL’s own Sun Belt expansion (Texas, San Antonio and Oklahoma City), put out dozens of franchise fires and coaxed all 30 owners to work together for the good of the league. He estimates he’s handled about 200 changes in market location, affiliation or ownership, many of which went sour and needed mediation. “I’m sort of the marriage counsellor that deals with all of those breakdowns,” Andrews said. “I don’t think we would be where we are today if both sides of those relationship breakdowns didn’t trust me to give them the right direction and do the right thing.”
One of Andrews’ biggest coups was getting all 30 franchises to release financial information to the league. It’s based on an NBA model Andrews learned from the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers, which own the San Antonio Rampage and Lake Erie Monsters. The program pools financial information from all 30 markets and updates daily so the league can learn what works and what doesn’t.
As a minor pro outfit, the AHL will always be somewhat in flux. And Andrews’ powerful patience and deliberate thinking will continue to be put to the test, with markets still to stabilize, relationships to mend and western relocation on the horizon. “We’re more stable and more sustainable than we have been and I think every year it gets better,” he said. “But we still have room to grow.”
Ronnie Shuker is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRonnieShuker.