The Utica Comets have failed to reach the AHL playoffs this season. From a developmental perspective, it’s unfortunate that players like Thatcher Demko, Jake Virtanen, Nikolay Goldobin and Jordan Subban would’ve benefitted from the experience.
With the Canucks season over, it’s time to look ahead to next season, and that includes their AHL team. That includes the location of the Comets.
To be clear, Utica has been a fantastic home for the Canucks AHL affiliate. The fans have been supportive since day one, and the location in upper New York State allows the Comets to have many rivals within a short distance.
The Vegas Golden Knights entering the league will have a trickle down effect on the AHL, though. The Chicago Wolves are likely to be the Golden Knights’ affiliate next season. Sin.Bin Vegas has been following the story closely, with updates a few weeks ago when the Golden Knights only signed player, Reid Duke, was signed to an ATO by the Wolves.
Many around the league expect Vegas will announce their partnership with Chicago in the coming weeks.
That means that St Louis, currently affiliated with the Wolves, will be looking for a new AHL team. At this moment, many expect the Blues will build their own AHL expansion franchise. And they’ll get to choose its location, pending league approval, etc.
It makes sense because the AHL and the NHL prefer to have one AHL affiliate to one NHL team. Though these arrangements aren’t official yet, they’re fair conclusions to reach
That brings us to the Canucks and the Comets.
The obvious flaws of having their AHL affiliate on the other side of the continent. At various times through the season, the Canucks were left to dress a defenceman as a forward or even had Anton Rodin just sit on the bench for a game. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it was clear that given the Canucks schedule, being so far apart doesn’t make sense.
Jeremy Davis looked at the distance and the challenges it presented last summer.
One important note in all this is the Canucks have 41 home games plus 16 away games in the Pacific and Mountain time zones. So 70% of their schedule was ‘close’.
The best way to remedy this would be to move their AHL affiliate to one of those time zones, and the Pacific timezone makes sense. I’ve broken down the location of AHL franchises for you below:
This is the movement expected prior to the 2017-18 AHL Season:
- The Albany Devils relocated to become the Binghamton Devils to replace the Binghamton Senators.
- The Binghamton Senators were purchased by their parent club, the Ottawa Senators, and relocating the team to Belleville as the Belleville Senators.
- The Montreal Canadiens’ AHL franchise, then operating as the St. John’s IceCaps, is announced as relocating to the Montreal suburb of Laval, Quebec, as the Laval Rocket
Through the shuffling there, Albany and St. John’s will be losing their team. It’s entirely possible that the St Louis Blues will be granted an expansion franchise, and slide right into one of those markets.
But Albany is currently 30th in the AHL in attendance, while Utica is 28th, and St John’s is 26th. The difference here is that the Comets are selling out their building every game, and there is a huge passion for the team.
What could happen here is the Canucks could negotiate a deal with the Comets and Blues groups, where the Blues would move their expansion franchise into Utica. The Canucks would then be able to get out of the final two years of their six-year agreement and move their franchise closer to Vancouver.
Davis will speculate and suggest some spots in California in the future as it makes the most sense because of the Pacific Division already set-up there (it would be the most logical choice). But there would be some other options in the mid-west to set up the AHL franchise, whether that is in California, Nevada, Utah, British Columbia, Washington or Oregon.
It would solve the Canucks travel issues between their AHL affiliate and NHL team. With the Pacific Division set up in California and Arizona already, the Canucks farm team would have a geographically close division to play in already, thus reducing their travel time to a manageable amount. Not the same benefits that the Comets experience right now, but not an outrageous amount of travel. Jeremy created this image to show the distance between NHL and AHL teams:
Information is taken from Google maps and is actual distance, not travel distance. Furthermore, doesn’t include the changes that will happen next season. But as we can see, Vancouver and Utica is currently the farthest by a large margin.
The reason why the Abbotsford Heat were unsuccessful was that they were so far out on their own, the newly formed division helps to nullify that concern.
Lastly, the Pacific Division plays a shorter season (68 games compared to 76) to make up being in the west. This would aid in the concern of ‘practice time’ that the Canucks management preaches for the development of their AHL team.
There is no doubt that the Comets and their fans have been fantastic to the Canucks organization. They have done everything they can to support the team. But as Jeremy pointed out in the article linked above, the Canucks have the furthest distance between their AHL team and the NHL parent club.
The expansion franchise the AHL will add allows the Canucks to take advantage of the rearrangement to fix this issue and move forward. There are obvious roadblocks, including but not limited to the agreement, but these won’t be unable to overcome.
This year might be the best opportunity for the Canucks to get their AHL team in the West and make it a more streamlined process for the entire organization.