Big big news out of the AHL today. Some interesting rule changes, but most importantly for Checkers fans, another division change. The full release is here.
For the third time in three years, the Charlotte Checkers will play in a new division. Three years ago, it was because Michael Kahn (THANKFULLY) bought the River Rats and moved them to Charlotte, so the AHL placed the Checkers in a division with the likes of Hershey, Norfolk, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and others. Next season, Charlotte will be a part of the newly named South Division, which includes Texas, San Antonio, Houston and Oklahoma City.
Last season, the AHL announced a major realignment, which in a controversial decision, moved the Checkers to the Midwest division. I was a huge proponent of this move. I did gobs (that’s a technical term!) of research, and wrote a couple of different pieces on it. This one, more general and reactionary, and this one, which lists all of the benefits of joining the Midwest division.
The Midwest division was a good one for Charlotte. Heck, the entire West was a good place for Charlotte to play as far as numbers are concerned. Other than the East division and those Calder Cup winning Norfolk Admirals and Hershey Bears, the Checkers were nearly dominating in their Western Conference play. Just look at these numbers:
So the Midwest division was a good fit for Charlotte. On the three-in-three weekends, the team would generally fly into Chicago or Milwaukee, and bus from there. I did the roadtrip twice (once in the dead of winter, once in the spring) so I have a pretty good idea at what road-travel to Illinois and Wisconsin is like, and none of the cities are more than 3-4 hours apart, and the drives were relatively pleasant.
The Texas (and Oklahoma) teams are a different beast. They aren’t as close together. The Checkers flew from one city to the next on most occasions, especially if they were in Oklahoma City. That meant 4 or 5 a.m. wake up calls, to take a bus and hop on a plane, where the players and personnell had the “privilege” of experiencing the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport for a layover, to finally make it to their destination around lunch time for an evening or late afternoon game. Travel was BRUTAL for those Texas weekends. (I could write an essay on the sponsorship agreement the Checkers have with a major airline and how that might help the pockets of the organization, but hurts the play of the team, but that’s for another time and place.) I firmly believe that a 3-4 hour bus ride following a game is better than a 4 a.m. wakeup call to fly to the next city, and that opinion comes from YEARS of traveling with a theater company for work. Busing short distances is far superior to flights with layovers at odd times of the morning and night.
I guess my opinionated self just doesn’t buy that this is going to be a good move for the Checkers. It seems unfair to the organization and the fans, who are getting tossed around again, and will have no chance at establishing the great rivalries that being a Hockey fan are built on. It’s not fair to the team or it’s amazing fans to keep moving them around from division to division.
As the summer continues, I’ll have some get-to-know you pieces about the Checkers new division mates. I’m hesitant to use the term rivals anymore, since a rival insinuates there’s an ongoing relationship between the organizations, and at the rate the Checkers are going, they might be playing in a division with Toronto, Hamilton and Abbotsford in 2013!
I should stop writing and let some of my bitterness simmer down….
I will have more on the other (exciting) rule changes and what to expect out of the 2012-13 season in the coming days.
A few thoughts before I sign off:
- July 1 is only three days away. What UFA’s would you like to see the Hurricanes and Checkers target? Jonathan Bombulie, who writes for the WBS Penguins, wrote an INCREDIBLE piece that lists and ranks the top 250 (and more) AHL UFA’s. Any names you’d like to see in Charlotte?
- Paul Branecky wrote an interesting piece this morning on the plight of the goaltenders in the Hurricanes organization. It seems Brian Boucher is injured, and will miss two to four months of the season, leaving the Hurricanes without a number two, and John Muse the only other goaltender signed and in the system. Here’s Capgeek’s list of UFA goalies. Who should the Hurricanes target? Some interesting names are available, including Carolina’s Justin Peters. While the Hurricanes drafted two goalies this year, I still think they may need to sign two immediately that can play this season at the NHL or AHL level.