Another step closer.
Norfolk’s days as an AHL franchise are numbered–but we knew that already. The last, and most important detail, was the Board of Governor’s meeting during this weekend’s All Star Classic in Utica. Before Chris Wagner, Colin Miller, Drew Shore, and Richard Bachman took to the ice to show off their skills, they were given new places of residence. According to Jim Hodges of the Virginian Pilot (who has been doing outstanding reporting), the Board decided to create a division that will play in California.
A few machinations were part of the vote. One of them was the sale of the Admirals from Ken Young to Anaheim and a subsequent move, as well as other franchises moving to the Golden State. Once more, with feeling: the teams moving are the Ads (San Diego), Manchester Monarchs (Ontario), Adirondack Flames (Stockton), Worcester Sharks (San Jose), and the Oklahoma City Barons (Bakersfield, probably). Some vacated arenas will be filled with ECHL teams. It is common knowledge now that the Bakersfield Condors will become the re-animated three-time Kelly Cup Champion Norfolk (nee Hampton Roads) Admirals.
Some would argue that the area is not really losing hockey. The truth of the matter is that it will be different and this will be the second time in less than five years that an NHL franchise with compliments that are spitting white noise. Anaheim will undoubtedly have a press conference, delivering store-bought platitudes they swear are hand crafted. I can anticipate it now, from Bob Ferguson or some other official: “Norfolk and the Admirals have been very good for us. The staff, the fans, and the community have been so welcoming. We will not forget our time here in Norfolk. Ken Young has been an excellent partner, and it is good to see that he could keep hockey in Scope. We had to do what was best for our franchise, and could not pass up the opportunity to have our prospects close to us in Anaheim.”
I would be surprised to see anything different. An ECHL team will be coming here, and I will do my best to embrace those players and staff. Not the Oilers–NHL teams will just move at their own whim. The players, coaches, and staff, though will have to embrace a new challenge. They want to play and hopefully get to the NHL. They’re well aware that their ladder starts at the ECHL, with a wide distance to the next rung of the AHL.
Players and coaches do not decide to move these teams. Current (and former) Admirals love the area, and grow accustomed to it. Obviously they want to become permanent citizens of Anaheim–as NHL players. Owners and management make these decisions. Fans, players, and coaches have to live with those decisions.
As for the AHL West or Pacific or Golden State? The division may play itself to the point of boredom. According to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, those squads wanted to play each other and a schedule of about 60 games. Essentially, the San Diego Gulls would play the AHL Ontario Reign FIFTEEN times in a season. While that develops rivalry, it seems like a disservice to the fans and players. Norfolk fans already knew what its like not to play Western Conference teams, even if some are reasonable foes like the Amerks. Players will not play against different systems, and would be depraved of facing the affiliates of Nashville, Dallas, and Chicago. Playing 4 opponents for a total of 60 games appears to discredit the idea of a “developmental league”.
Are those West Coast teams concerned with the success of their franchises? Will they work? Do they really just want short commutes for extra practice bodies? I suppose we will find out in the future.
The Norfolk Admirals, the 2012 Calder Cup Champions, play their next game against the rival Binghamton Senators on Friday.