This past season, the American Hockey League saw a distinct shift in a westward direction with the establishment of the Pacific Division.
To create that division, five existing AHL clubs moved west:
- The Adirondack Flames became the Stockton Heat
- The Norfolk Admirals became the San Diego Gulls
- The Worcester Sharks became the San Jose Barracuda
- The Oklahoma City Barons became the Bakersfield Condors
- The Manchester Monarchs became the Ontario Reign
In an effort to minimize travel and maximize development time, the five new California teams played 68 games – eight fewer than everyone else in the league. But with the announcement this week that the Arizona Coyotes will now have an affiliate in Tucson, Arizona that will join the Pacific Division next season, will the wacky Pacific Division schedule become more balanced?
In 2015-16, the Stockton Heat’s schedule was as follows:
- 68 games total
- 60 within the division
- 12 against Bakersfield
- 12 against Ontario
- 12 against San Diego
- 12 against San Jose
- 6 against San Antonio
- 6 against Texas
- 8 outside the division
- 4 against Manitoba
- 2 against Iowa
- 2 against Rockford
The schedule was incredibly skewed towards California, even within the division. But Tucson is much, much closer to the California teams than the Texas teams are.
For reference (these are all driving distances from Google Maps):
- 6 hours to San Diego
- 6.5 hours to Ontario
- 9 hours to Bakersfield
- 12 hours to San Jose
- 12 hours to Stockton
- 12 hours to San Antonio
- 13 hours to Cedar Park (Texas)
Suddenly, imagine a schedule that’s a bit more balanced. Ten games (five home, five away) for the California teams (and Tucson) against each other would mean the Heat would play 50 games inside that cluster instead of 48 and they could potentially lower the amount of traveling they have to do outside of their division. Or they could maintain the 12 games against each close team (clustering Tucson in with them) and potentially bump up the games they play total, giving each team a few more dates and eliminating the wacky “points percentage” playoff qualification rule.
|Stockton||68 games||76 games||68 games|
The AHL could easily cluster Tucson in with either the California teams (10 or 12 games against each other) or the Texas teams (six games against the California teams) while reducing the amount of travel each team has to do AND potentially bringing the California teams up to a 76-game schedule.
We’ll find out what the league will actually do when their schedule is released later this summer.