As bad as the Iowa Wild has been, if you ask Minnesota, the relocation of its American Hockey League affiliate last year from Houston to Des Moines has been a great benefit.
From last-second player callups to the ability of GM Chuck Fletcher, assistant GM Brent Flahr, director of minor league operations Jim Mill and director of player development Brad Bombardir to get there, it’s a lot easier to have the affiliate a 3½-hour drive away than a flight away.
“It gives us the ability that after a morning skate even if we need to get a guy here in time for the game, we could let a guy know at 2 o’clock and he can be here by 5:30,” Mill said. “It gives us the ability to be very flexible with our roster and make adjustments on the fly.”
Having Iowa so close is one reason why the Wild has kept its roster at 22 players the past few weeks as opposed to the maximum 23. It saves money and salary-cap space.
It’s an advantage the Anaheim Ducks (Norfolk is their affiliate), Arizona Coyotes (Portland, Maine), Colorado Avalanche (Erie, Pa.), Los Angeles Kings (Manchester, N.H.), San Jose Sharks (Worcester, Mass.) and even the Calgary Flames (Glens Falls, NY), Edmonton Oilers (Oklahoma City) and Vancouver Canucks (Utica, N.Y.) don’t have.
That’s why as early as next season, there could be a titanic transformation in the AHL. The NHL’s chief development league is well on its way toward several relocations of eastern markets to western markets that’ll include some and eventually maybe all of the above teams.
“It’s a work in progress,” said David Andrews, the AHL’s president and CEO who attended Wednesday’s Wild-Montreal Canadiens game. “It has been for about 30 months. I would say the work is getting a little more intense, and I would say it’s eventually going to happen. We’re essentially working on a framework.
“Our relationship with each of the NHL teams is what our league is about, so if that’s what they want for player development, we’re committed to work with them and make it happen.”
The Avs could end up with an affiliate in Colorado, the Coyotes in Arizona. Markets rumored in California? Ontario, Fresno, San Diego, Bakersfield, Stockton and Long Beach. The Canucks could put their team in Abbotsford, B.C.
Andrews will be part of several meetings in Florida this week that could accelerate the process. The Kings and Sharks, who own their AHL franchises, want this to happen for next season, and the Ducks are working toward buying a franchise.
“To move four or five teams is a fairly difficult thing to do,” Andrews said. “So the only thing not definite is the timeline, but it’s going to happen. We’re committed to doing it. And those teams are committed to doing it. It’s just a matter of how and when we can pull it all together.”
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, who coached in the minors a long time, said the Ducks’ affiliate moving to California “would be a big help for us as long as the kids wouldn’t have to bus to Springfield. It’s been an advantage for the Bruins having Providence so close or the Leafs and Marlies in Toronto or even Montreal and Hamilton.”
When the Ducks call a player up from Norfolk, Boudreau said, “it’s quite a toll on their body the day of if they have to play.”
Andrews feels for the markets that are destined to lose teams.
“It’s really tough,” he said. “But a number of teams own their franchise as the Wild do, and it’s our obligation to work with them if they feel they want to relocate. It’ll be a pretty dramatic change in our geography, and it’s going to impact a number of existing markets that have been good, loyal markets in our league for a long time.”
NHL Short Takes
Losing an idol
Hall of Famer Guy Lapointe, the Wild’s chief amateur scout, lost his former Montreal Canadiens teammate Jean Beliveau last week.
What did Lapointe learn from his idol?
“Everything was about being a hockey team, to be a teammate, not about your individual stats whatsoever,” Lapointe said. “Somebody need help, you help him, enjoy somebody else’s success even if you’re not having it. Be a family.
“Respect your fans, have time for them, he’d tell us. Respect the media, he’d tell us. They’re going to be good with you. At times, they’re going to be critical. Accept that. Be a man. They’ve got as much a job to do as you guys on the ice.”
Lapointe compared Beliveau’s skills back in the day to those of Mario Lemieux. When Beliveau retired in 1971, he ranked second in NHL history with 1,219 points and fourth with 507 goals.
It’s not Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos or Patrick Kane who leads NHLers in All-Star Game voting. It’s Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons in large part because his native Latvia, a country of 2 million people, is stuffing the ballot box.
I envision former Latvian players Sandis Ozolinsh and Arturs Irbe clicking refresh all day on their computers.
“I’m definitely surprised. I still find it funny,” Girgensons said. “There’s not a lot I have to do with it. It’s not me voting. It’s the fans back home. We got some crazy hockey fans back home.”
The Oilers are off to another embarrassing start and are once again staring at a top draft pick. Friday, fresh off an 11th straight loss, Oilers GM Craig MacTavish addressed the media.
“Visually we’re a better hockey team, and I think our most ardent detractors would have to admit that we are a better hockey team visually,” MacTavish said. “But there isn’t any tangible evidence of any of that improvement, and that’s what so difficult for everybody to swallow.”
Wild’s week ahead
Tuesday: vs. N.Y. Islanders, 7 p.m. (FSN)
Thursday: at San Jose, 9:30 p.m. (FSN)
Saturday: at Arizona, 7 p.m. (FSN)
Player to watch: Brock Nelson
The Islanders have been awesome this year, and it’s not superstar captain John Tavares or former Gopher Kyle Okposo leading in goals. It’s Nelson, a Warroad native and former University of North Dakota first-rounder.
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Zach Parise on the mumps striking a fifth Wild player, Ryan Suter, this season.