Five NHL teams will soon have their top minor-league affiliates closer to them as the American Hockey League unveiled a new Pacific Division that will begin next season.
The Edmonton Oilers will have their AHL team in Bakersfield, the Calgary Flames in Stockton, the Los Angeles Kings in Ontario, the Anaheim Ducks in San Diego and the Sharks in San Jose.
"We know that the players are going to benefit from the proximity of the teams," Oilers president Kevin Lowe said at a news conference in San Jose. "This is going to enhance development."
Previously, the Oilers' top minor-league team was in Oklahoma City, the Flames' in Glens Falls, N.Y., the Kings' in Manchester, N.H., the Ducks' in Norfolk, Va., and the Sharks in Worcester, Mass.
Calgary general manager Brad Treliving thanked fans in Glens Falls but acknowledged the difficulties of having an AHL team so far away.
"I can tell you from having a team on the East Coast ... those cross-country flights, dealing with a different time zone when you play a game Friday night and you need a guy in Saturday, there are challenges involved in it," Treliving said.
This idea has been bandied about for several years. Ducks general manager Bob Murray said he and former GM Brian Burke talked about it as soon as they got to Anaheim. The Pacific Division is the first phase of trying to geographically balance out the AHL, which historically has been centred in the East.
AHL president David Andrews called relocating five teams a complex process but one that "launches a new era for the American Hockey League and for professional hockey in California."
The Kings, Sharks and Ducks will get the benefit of having their teams in the same state. San Jose's AHL team will even share SAP Center with the Sharks, something that hasn't been done with an NHL team thus far.
The Toronto Maple Leafs' top affiliate, the Marlies, are in the same city, and the Philadelphia Flyers once had the Phantoms in another arena across the parking lot.
Edmonton to Bakersfield and Calgary to Stockton isn't that close, but it's an improvement. Lowe estimated that the AHL's Condors will have about 20 to 25 extra practices per season than the Barons had in Oklahoma City, when the closest opponent was a six-hour bus ride away.
This isn't a full-scale relocation as the Vancouver Canucks' AHL team will remain in Utica, N.Y., and the Winnipeg Jets' in St. John's, N.L., for at least next season. But there are rumours of each NHL club wanting the same type of move as their Western Conference Canadian counterparts.
The Jets have been linked to Thunder Bay, Ont., and the Canucks potentially to Abbotsford, B.C., which used to be the home of the AHL's Heat.
With the addition of the Pacific Division, the AHL has one team in the Newfoundland Time Zone (St. John's), 18 in Eastern Time, six in Central Time and five in Pacific Time. That could change as early as the 2016-'17 season as more Western Conference NHL teams seek to have their minor-league affiliates closer.