The plight of realignment for the Charlotte Checkers – an editorial by @RedDogHockey

Yesterday’s article about AHL realignment created a lot of great dialogue with a number of readers, and this came from one of those conversations.  In his first post for Chasing Checkers, Tony shares some of his opinions about recent realignment.  You can follow Tony on Twitter at @RedDogHockey
The new AHL realignment structure came out yesterdayday, and it looks like more of the same for the Checkers schedule-wise for 2013-14.  That means another season out of place geographically in their division, too many games against their closest competitor, Norfolk, and the likelihood that they will not face a handful of teams in their own Conference.  
I think it is remiss that the Checkers and many other teams in the AHL do not play all of the teams in their own conference in the regular season.  It makes the conferences and divisions almost insignificant.  For example, if either of Norfolk or Charlotte are exceptionally weak teams this season and therefore one of them gets an advantage by playing more games against the other than the rest of their respective Conference foes do, how does that skew the standings and playoff possibilities?  The same goes for other teams that might play a team from another Conference more than their other Conference foes currently do for the sake of “geographical convenience”.
 
Talk about travel inconveniences for teams from smaller markets all you want, but how is it convenient for Charlotte to have division rivals as far as 3,000 miles away and no closer than 1,000 miles away and yet not play other teams in their Conference that are less than 1,000 miles away?  It sounds to me like the Checkers are taking one for the league because they have a major airline hub in town, and travel is seen as “easier” for them as it might be for other teams in smaller markets.
 
My solution?  Move Iowa to the West Division from the Midwest, put Lake Erie in the Midwest Division from the North, have Utica move from the North to the East Division, and place Charlotte and Norfolk in the North Division. Charlotte in a division named North is far less non-sensical than having them in a division named West.  Charlotte and Norfolk would get to continue their geographic rivalry (and, oddly, maybe play each other less than they do now?) while still fulfilling their travel obligations as a Western Conference team.  Norfolk’s travel dilemma is easily rectified.  Schedule Norfolk for games out West right after they play here and then they can use Charlotte’s airport as a gateway out West the next day to fulfill their away Western Conference schedule.  Do the same for Iowa.  Have them play in Chicago, then use O’Hare to head West to play their division foes.  The Midwest Division teams can use Chicago in this same way as well.  And Austin and Oklahoma City are close enough to Dallas/Fort Worth that this same scenario can be used by playing in Austin or OKC and then heading out from DFW to Vancouver (Abbotsford), Des Moines, Charlotte or Toronto. 
 
I am one of many relocated Western New Yorkers that has planted roots in Charlotte over the past 20 years, and I would love to see the Amerks come to town.  They, along w/Toronto and Hamilton (all three fellow Western Conference teams like Charlotte is) should be here at least once per season, and vice versa w/Charlotte visiting those three cities.  I imagine there are many other Charlotte residents that have come here to live from Western New York and the Golden Horseshoe area of Ontario that would love to see their local teams play in Charlotte.  Attendance for those games couldn’t be worse than they are for the 6th home date against Norfolk.  
 
If increased attendance is a primary objective of the league, then it just makes sense to give fans as much variety as possible.  The NHL tried a decreased travel schedule a few years ago, and the result was that the same teams played each other too often.  Some NHL teams did not visit other NHL teams every year, and in some instances the duration between visits by some teams in some NHL cities was longer than that.  The NHL ended up scrapping this schedule format and one of the reasons it did was that fans wanted to see all of the teams visit every other NHL city at last once per season as it had been previously, and which now happens again.  I know the AHL does not have the star power that the NHL does, but to not have all teams grouped efficiently geographically, and even worse, to not have Conference foes play each other at all in the regular season (yet still have the opportunity to meet in the first, second, or third round of the playoffs) or maximize the number of teams faced seems like a watered down product to me.  Let’s hope that changes soon.

 

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7 thoughts on “The plight of realignment for the Charlotte Checkers – an editorial by @RedDogHockey

  1. Please explain to me how any division Rochester plays in doesn’t include Syracuse ( or Bingo for that matter…) but DOES include Utica? Ummm….don’t you have to drive through Syracuse to get to Utica? And what about the Rochester/Syracuse rivalry? How does this work? The AHL stands for AssHat League. The 2 New England divisions and the Midwest division make most sense but the rest of them leave me shaking my head. Why don’t we get rid of the divisions that are meaningless anyway and go to 2 15 team conferences? Play each team 3 home and 3 away. Top 8 teams go to the playoffs and the winners play each other for the Calder Cup. Sounds pretty simple to me? Or better yet… have 2 leagues and have the winners play for the Calder Cup. That might fix all of this sillyness

    • I agree! I said the same thing about the skewed divisions. If being in a division isn’t going to matter towards the schedule (other than playoff seeding), I’m not sure what the point of having them is.

    • Nice job Red Dog! I noticed somebody posted a response (a link to an article he posted previously) wherein he defends the AHL scheduling. In it he posts some attendance numbers for the Hershey Bears where a game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton outdrew games against everybody else by a wide margin. He credits this to geography but the point he misses is that WB/S, being a Pittsburgh Penguins farm team, may hold more interest to the fans of Hershey, PA than most other teams in the league.

      His article seems to be driven from a San Antonio point of view. He makes the argument how a game against Houston will far outdraw a game against Bingo because they might get some fans from Houston to attend where the chance of getting Bingo fans in their arena is virtually zero. I can see that but it doesn’t hold water when you try to use it as a defense as to why two teams play each other 10 times in a season, ala Charlotte-Norfolk. He talks about the AHL trying to draw the “casual fan”. Somebody posts a reply to that saying if that’s what the AHL wants, then that’s all they’re going to get because the real fan won’t be interested in that sort of product. Amen, brother! If I’m looking for something to do on a Friday night, and I’m considering a hockey game, I probably won’t go if they are playing a team I’ve already seen them play that year, regardless of the level of the league.

      • You and I agree. I think Stephen has good points about the Texas teams and traveling to a neighboring city to see a team play, and maybe even to some extent the north eastern teams that are so close and do see an attendence boost, but in Charlotte that isn’t the case. We need to see more variety at the AHL level in Charlotte. The “rivalry” found at an AHL level seems, to me, to be more related to an interest in the visiting team’s parent club than a true “rivalry” with the AHL club. If the Rochester Americans came down, all of the former Buffalo residents who still love the Sabres would come out in full force to a Checkers game, even if it was on a Monday night. But playing Norfolk a dozen times of year isn’t interesting because there isn’t really an influx of people from Annaheim, California in Charlotte (I guess I’m the exception… I was born 5 minutes from there) but really, I don’t care enough about the Ducks to get excited by their prospects playing.

        This year, if the Utica Comets play in Abbotsford, the rink will be sold out, and those two teams have never met….. but the local fans want to see Canucks prospects. So for cities like Abbotsford and Charlotte, I think the NHL club has more to do with fan interest than proximity to our fine city.

    • Stephen,

      I think you have some good points, especially in regards to Texas Teams and the teams in the north east that have dozens of other cities in driving distance, but for Charlotte, it’s a different situation. As one of the AHL “Islands” (like Abbotsford, St. John’s and even Oklahoma City), we have a different set of obstacles. And I think our rivalries have more to do with NHL parent clubs than anything else. Abbotsford will sell out this year when Utica plays, and those two cities have no rivalry at all, beyond the fact the Canucks prospects are in NY. If Rochester played in Charlotte, we’d be overrun with Sabres fans, because there are a lot of Buffalo transplants in Charlotte. Same with WBS… lots of Pittsburgh fans who are local. So when the AHL limits the number of teams the Checkers play to only 12, it hurts our fanbase a lot, especially in the area of “casual” AHL fans.

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