AHL Realignment and the Charlotte Checkers, Part V.

In their fifth major realignment related move in their six seasons in Charlotte, the Checkers will be joining the brand-new Central Division of the western conference for the 2015-16 season.

The American Hockey League is changing from a six-division league to a four-division league that mimics the National Hockey League. The Checkers Central Division rivals include the Milwaukee Admirals, Rockford IceHogs and Chicago Wolves (from their 2011-12 season in the Midwest Division), the Iowa Wild (from the past two seasons in the West Division. The Grand Rapids Griffins, who has been a part of the Midwest Division since the Checkers vacated, also join the Central Division, along with the Lake Erie Monsters. The Manitoba Moose, who return to the AHL after a four year hiatus, will be the eighth and final team in the Checkers Midwest Central Division.

So… who are the NHL squads affiliated with the Checkers new division rivals?

  • The Nashville Predators are the parent team of the Milwaukee Admirals. Milwaukee, like Charlotte, is a city filled with great craft beer. It’s a city passionate about their hockey team, and I’m already tentatively planning another roadtrip there to sample their hops… I mean, hockey!
  • The IceHogs of Rockford, Illinois is the birthplace of my favorite NASCAR cheater crew chief Chad Knaus, and home of the famed Rockford Peaches of A League of their Own. Their parent club is the Chicago Blackhawks, ranked number 30 on my personal list of favorite NHL teams.
  • The Manitoba Moose of Winter Winnipeg is home to both the NHL and AHL teams. The Jets and Moose will share an arena in the 2015-16 season and beyond.
  • The Chicago Wolves are currently the AHL affiliate of the St. Louis Blues. Their arena is one of the loudest in the AHL, but they have never played in Bojangles Coliseum, and I’m certain the Checkers will be taking over the “loudest” honors this year.
  • The Lake Erie Monsters have a new NHL affiliate, and that’s the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Monsters arena in Cleveland is the easiest drive for Checkers fans, a mere seven hours north on I-77. I forsee a visit by yours truly there in the near future. (Plus, Cleveland is another great beer city, and home of the incredible Great Lakes Brewing Co.).
  • The Iowa Wild of Des Moines are affiliated with the Minnesota Wild. I think it’s a travesty that they chose the name the “Wild” instead of adopting the past hockey team name of the “Chops” in honor of the hog farming industry of Iowa. Iowa is not known for it’s beer, but the corn fields likely provide many of the adjunct grains required for good farmhouse ales.
  • The Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins are located a little over two hours apart. The Griffins share their hometown with Founders Brewing, who make a number of outstanding beers. Grand Rapids is just north of one of my favorite breweries in the land, Bells.

With the departure of the Manchester Monarchs, Norfolk Admirals and Worcester Sharks to California, three teams from the Western Conference were able to move East. Though many speculated Checkers would be one of them, all three teams are (barely) further east then Charlotte. The Rochester Americans (who the Checkers have still never played, despite sharing a conference for four years), Utica Comets and Toronto Marlies all join the Eastern Conference in 2015.

What does another division realignment mean for the Checkers as far as the schedule go? Likely, not much will change due to their new division mates. The biggest difference Checkers fans will notice is the lack of Oklahoma City and Norfolk on the travel schedule. These two teams represented approximately one-third of the Checkers games over the past two seasons, and both teams were bought and subsequently moved to California. Travel to Manitoba will be the most challenging for the Checkers, but at only 1600 miles, it’s only a bit more than half as far as Abbotsford, British Columbia, who the Checkers spent a season with as division rivals.

So, Checkers fans: What do you think of the latest AHL alignment? Is there a division you would have rather seen them in? What about the AHL’s decision to go from six to four divisions? There’s lots to think and talk about!

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The AHL and western expansion: What does the future hold?

The AHL is bound to be a very different league next season, with as many as four teams moving west to a time zone that currently doesn’t have a single AHL squad.

The chips are falling, one by one, and soon the AHL will have their coveted “Pacific Division”… teams that will mostly be based in California, and will be closer to their NHL affiliate.

Most NHL teams will state they desire to have their AHL squads closer to home. It enables them to have easier call ups (Zach Boychuk can probably drive up I-85 to Raleigh with a blindfold on) and allow them to monitor their development, but the close by model is one that doesn’t always work. Charlotte has had success as an AHL franchise since 2010. Thanks to a dedicated front office, a strong fan base and consistent ticket sales, the Checkers seem to have found a home here, and the upcoming move home to Bojangles Coliseum only solidifies that.

The Checkers move (three miles east, to BoCo) shows a long term commitment to the city of Charlotte and its hockey fans, which is comforting to see when so many AHL clubs are being ripped from their homes and moved to California. The Checkers have found success where other franchises far away from the overly saturated AHL north east, despite a tough travel schedule thanks in part to being a member of the Western Conference but also because their closest AHL team is the Eastern Conference team of Norfolk, 325 miles and over five hours away. For the past five seasons, the Checkers have played the Admirals an average of 10-12 games per season, and the same can be said for the Oklahoma Barons, who have been the Checkers most common Western Conference opponent for the past four seasons. Next year, both of these rivals will be in southern California, and become cornerstones of the new AHL Pacific division.

Oklahoma City already announced the Barons will cease operations at the end of the 2014-15 season.  The Barons have been the Checkers most frequent opponent over the past four season, and they will (likely, unconfirmed but as the old magic eight ball says, all signs point to YES) play in Bakersfield, replacing the current ECHL squad there that the Oilers own. As of right now, there are no plans for another team to replace the Barons, which is quite the blow to the loyal fans in OKC. Neal & Co. at Tend the Farm have had great coverage of the move, and it’s worth a read for more in-depth information.

The Norfolk Admirals have been trying to deny a move for weeks, with facebook posts promising that they are staying, yet nobody was buying it.  Yesterday, Ken Young, the owner of the Admirals said in an interview that he had been forced to sell his team to the Anaheim Ducks.  You can read more about it here, but it’s a pretty sad story.  In a nutshell, since the Ducks want their team close, the only way to have that happen is to buy an AHL franchise (much Michael Kahn did to bring the River Rats to Charlotte in 2010.. the difference there was that Albany was ultimately able to keep an AHL team, albeit with a different NHL affiliate, but at least they kept the high caliber of hockey the fans of Albany were used to.

The good news for Norfolk is the Admirals have a replacement ECHL team that will relocate from California to Norfolk next season.  The Oilers plan to move the Bakersfield Condors to Norfolk, who no longer need an ECHL team in SoCal since they will have their AHL squad instead. It is rumored that the Ducks AHL team will be located in San Diego, leaving a vacancy in Stockton for another potential AHL move.

Another domino that’s recently fallen in the Pacific division is the news a couple of days ago that the Worcester Sharks would be moving to San Jose, California and will share a building with their parent club.  No word on what the AHL team will be called, since having two teams named the Sharks in one city and one building would be confusing.  If it was my team, I think I’d name them the Minnows, in honor of my favorite pool game “Sharks and Minnows” from summer camp.

The third NHL team in California is, of course, the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings. Their AHL affiliate is the Manchester Monarchs, who the Checkers haven’t faced since their inaugural season in 2010-11.  The Monarchs are owned by Anschutz Entertainment Group, the same group who owns an ECHL team in California.  The Ontario Reign have had great success in the ECHL, breaking attendance records and would have no trouble continuing that should they get promoted to the AHL next season.

So, what other Western Conference teams might be affected by the TBA Pacific Division of the AHL? Only time will tell, but here are a few facts and figures:

  • The Utica Comets are owned by the Vancouver Canucks. It’s their second full season in New York, and they are hosting the AHL All Star Game next week. While it seems easy to consider the Comets moving west since they are owned by their NHL club, they signed a lengthy lease and spent a lot of cash on arena improvements in Utica, so only time will tell if the Canucks decide moving their prospects closer to home is worth the broken contracts and expense.
  • The Arizona Coyotes’ AHL team is the Portland Pirates. Last year, the Coyotes purchased a the Arizona Sundogs, a CHL team in Prescott, AZ, but decided to cease operations, though rumors have them joining the ECHL in 2015. They are a team that would obviously like to have their prospects closer than Maine.
  • The Colorado Avalanche also purchased a CHL team last year, and like the Coyotes, decided to cease operations in August, prior to the start of the CHL season. Rumors continue to circulate that the Denver Cutthroats could resume operations in 2015-16 as a member of the ECHL or AHL. Currently, the Avalanche’s AHL squad is the Lake Erie Monsters in Cleveland, OH.
  • The Calgary Flames have said they want their AHL squad closer, and there may be an opening in Stockton, CA. It must be noted, however, that their attempt to have an AHL team close by in Abbotsford failed due to lack of fan support and a brutal travel schedule (remember last season, folks, when they were in the same division as Charlotte…) The Flames are playing their first season in Glen Falls, NY after moving their AHL Flames from Abbotsford following the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. Glen Falls has a three-year contract (they are in year one) with the Calgary Flames, but contracts are easily broken.
  • Albany, which has been the home of the New Jersey Devils AHL squad since the Hurricanes left in 2010, is in the final year of a five-year contract.
  • The Winnipeg Jets, who own the St. John’s Ice Caps, are planning to move the team to Thunder Bay, ON. Despite being in a time zone of their own and traveling more miles than any other team in the AHL, the IceCaps have had great success since they moved to St. John’s in 2011. Sell out crowds and a consistent winning record are just a couple of examples of this.  While it’s not as far west as California, Thunder Bay is about 2000 miles from St. John’s, and almost as far from every AHL team in the league as St. John’s is.

So… what does all of this mean for Charlotte? Only time will tell.

It is certain that Norfolk and Oklahoma City are gone, and in those two teams are 20-24 of the Checkers 76 games each season. Another realignment will have to happen in the AHL, since three to four eastern conference teams are leaving for California, and St. John’s is probably moving west to Thunder Bay. This makes rooms for “Eastern” Western Conference teams like Charlotte, Toronto, Hamilton and Rochester to potentially move conferences, though changing conferences won’t necessarily improve travel for the Checkers. Many I’ve spoken to with the Checkers have told me the Western conference travel is much nicer than the bus runs the Checkers used to make in the north east.

The AHL Board of Governors meet this weekend in Utica, so we will likely know something sooner than later.

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.

 

Four-for-four – The Checkers will play in the West Division in 2013-14 following AHL realignment

I feel like I left my CD player on repeat… because I believe I’ve written about the Checkers changing divisions a few times already…

For the fourth time in the Checkers four seasons in the AHL, they will be in a new division in 2013-14, though this time, for the most part, the change is in name only.  For the AHL’s official release, you can go here.

The new division will be called the West division, which is comprised of four teams from last year’s South division, and one new addition.  The Abbotsford Heat are set to join the Checkers West  division, and nothing says West Division better than a team from North Carolina, in a city a short drive from the Atlantic ocean and about as far East as you can get! 

With the Houston Aero’s departure to become the Iowa Wild, the move of Peoria to New York to become the Utica Comets, other division moves occurred as well.

The Iowa Wild will become a part of the Midwest Division, filling in the hole that was left by the departure of the Peoria Rivermen.  The Utica Comets will join the North Division of the Western Conference, where Abbotsford was last year.

It’s interesting to note that the city of Utica is farther east than a number of New York Eastern Conference teams, including Syracuse, Binghamton, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Hershey.  They will have to ride a bus through the Eastern conference city of Syracuse to reach their Western Conference division mates in Rochester, Lake Erie, Hamilton and Toronto.

With the AHL’s realignment news comes very little information on how these divisional changes will affect game scheduling.  Unlike the National Hockey League, the American League does not have an exact formula it uses when scheduling teams as far as how many times each team faces their division, conference and opposite conference teams.  Instead, it is a mix of choosing opponents, and deciding whether or not they wish to play teams outside of their conference.

In 2012-13, the Checkers had an all-time low of only 12 opponents over the course of the season’s 76 games.  They faced only 11 Western Conference opponents, and one in the Eastern Conference.  In the Checkers three seasons in the AHL, they have never played Toronto, Hamilton, Rochester or St. John’s (or it’s previous home of Winnepeg).  All of the other teams in the Checkers division last season faced each of the teams in the Western Conference at least twice. 

Just to put into perspective how few opponents Charlotte faced, here are a few examples of what other teams schedules were like in 2012-13:

  • Abbotsford, a team like Charlotte that has no conference teams within driving distance, faced only Western Conference teams, but played all 14 of them.
  • By contrast, the Rochester Americans, also a Western Conference team, had 15 different opponents.  Six of them were Eastern Conference teams, and the remaining 11 were from the Western Conference.  They only faced one team from the Midwest (Grand Rapids), and did not play the Checkers.
  • The Syracuse Crunch, an Eastern Conference Team, had 15 different opponents, including four in the Western Conference.  They did not play two teams in their own conference though.

While I understand that travel, particularly in the West, can be more of a burden than in the East where a team such as Springfield can travel to 10 different cities without needing a hotel room, it seems unfair to the teams, the competition and the fans, that there is such a huge difference between the number of teams faced.

Many in Charlotte are already concerned about the addition of Abbotsford to their division.  Will the Checkers face them a dozen times? No, of course not, and the AHL’s Jason Chaimovitch has already addressed that via Twitter.

 

Will the Checkers play Abbotsford more than the four games of two and two schedule of the past two seasons? I’d have to assume so, but one more trip to beautiful British Columbia won’t be any more brutal than Charlotte’s usual travel (though the 10 p.m. starts for us on the East Coast will make for some late nights of listening to Jason Shaya!)

 

 

Do I anticipate the Checkers getting to play new teams, or having a more balanced schedule this season? Probably not. With the majority of it’s teams in north east, the AHL isn’t designed for balance, and has become even more unbalanced with one more team in New York, and one less in the west.  The biggest chance for a new city the Checkers will visit in 2013-14 will be Des Moines, home of the Iowa Wild.  I’ve heard the Checkers may return to the cities of at least one of their former Eastern conference foes, but the official word on that won’t come out until August when the schedule is released.

 

So, Checkers fans… what teams do you wish you could see in Charlotte? What about less of?  Who do you think I want to see in Charlotte? (Have I mentioned enough times here at Chasing Checkers and on Twitter what team(s) I want to see in Charlotte? Ha!)

 

 

 

Rivermen franchise sold to Canucks…. what other AHL teams might move as well?

I was hoping to have trade deadline updates, but it’s been pretty slow today.  So instead let’s see if I can get all of this franchise movement straight….

According to the knowledgeable Dave Eminian in Peoria, moves are still in the works following the April 1 (not fools) announcement that the Rivermen had been sold.

The Vancouver Canucks have purchased the Peoria Rivermen from the St. Louis Blues, but it seems that the Canucks have no interest in moving their AHL affiliation from Chicago (where it is currently, and has been for two seasons) to Peoria, a couple of hours away.  Ideally, they want to move their team to Abbotsford, where Calgary’s franchise currently plays and has a long-term lease.

Minnesota had been working on a deal that would move their AHL team (currently the Houston Aeros) closer to them in Des Moines, Iowa.  That deal is allegedly on hold (or cancelled altogether) and Peoria is being considered as an another site.

Calgary wants to move their AHL franchise to Utica, NY, but first has to find a way out of their lease and agreements with the city of Abbotsford.   The other moves make a lot of sense, but moving an AHL team for a far-west team like Calgary to the middle of upstate New York doesn’t make sense to me.  Sure, travel would be a breeze for a team in Utica (Binghamton, Albany, Glen Falls, Syracuse and Rochester are all within a couple of hours of Utica…) but easy travel is a small part of operating a successful franchise, and call-ups would be a hassle. Ticket sales and sponsorship revenue is incredibly important to running a successful sports franchise, but if Calgary thinks there is enough potential in Utica, a city of 62,000 people, then I say go for it.  Clearly, the AHL has done well in small towns in New England for a long time, and expanding to major markets outside of that small region doesn’t seem to be a focus of the league.

As a fan of the sport of hockey, and a team outside of the north east, I’m disappointed that this kind of move would be approved by the league and the Board of Governors.  I don’t think that oversaturating New York and the north east with yet another team is going to help the AHL brand, or the league itself.  If the AHL brand is to grow and expand, it needs to be in recognizable markets with the potential for growth. In cities where there is real name recognition and the opportunity to reach a totally new audience.

 

Other odds and ends from the east (the AHL conference I admittedly don’t pay enough attention to) that also may affect franchise movement:

  • Any move of a western team (Abbotsford or Peoria) to New York means the Western Conference divisions will have to be re-worked again. Just for fun, can the Checkers move to the division with Rochester, Hamilton and Toronto? Maybe then Charlotte will actually play those teams.  Plus, four divisions and two conferences in four years would be a pretty epic stat, eh?
  • Allentown, PA will have a completed arena in 2014, and the plan is to move the Adirondak Phantoms out of Glen Falls, New York.
  • There’s plenty of chatter about the desire for the NY Rangers to move their team in Hartford to Bridgeport. I have no idea where the Sound Tigers/Islanders would go, but the rumors are out there.  There’s also the possibility of moving the Rangers team (currently the Whale) to Glen Falls.
  • I’m probably missing some of the chatter… what have you heard?

An opinionated, slightly snarky take on the Checkers move to the new South division.

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:

Midwest West (South) North East
Charlotte 19-11-0-2 11-11-1-1 5-1-1-1 3-6-1-2
 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.
Stay cool!

Thoughts about the NHLPA’s no-go on realignment

I’d thought about mentioning this, but since it’s an NHL issue and doesn’t directly affect the AHL and Checkers, I decided against it.  Until I read Jason Shaya’s commentary about the situation in his weekly ten thoughts, and figured I’d offer a stab at it, and share my opinions.

Two months ago, the NHL announced this grand realignment plan that would divide the 30 teams into four divisions, and have every team in the NHL play each other twice, and within each division, teams would play each other six times each.  For the most part, the divisions were divided geographically, with the exception of the two Florida teams, which were lumped in with the teams in Eastern Canada, forcing them to travel a few extra times across the border for games.

The teams all voted, and 26 of 30 said yes to the new realignment.  (I’m assuming, that since the Phoenix Coyotes are “owned” and operated by the NHL that their voting right was with the NHL, but I could be wrong.)

So yesterday, over a month after the alignment deal got the NHL stamp of approval, the NHLPA said NO GO, as the players association had determined it unfair.  As Jason Shaya mentioned in his ten thoughts, just weeks ago the players were enthusiastic about the deal, but are now being forced to side with the NHLPA and it’s decision that the new alignment goes against the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Now, here’s where I feel I have to insert my own personal experience with unions (even though the NHLPA claims to be an “Association” and not a “Union”, in this case, it’s the same thing.)

I’m a very proud, and card-carrying member of a Union.  I live and work in a “Right to work” state, but my Union membership has benefited me a great deal, and without it, I would be

My union "bug"... you've probably seen it in the credits of just about every TV show and movie you've watched. Look for it in the upcoming Hunger Games film, which I worked on last summer!

lucky to be making minimum wage.  In a business that relies on hundreds of independent freelancers to work on shows, movies, events, etc., my membership in the I.A.T.S.E. (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) is the one unifying thing I have with my colleagues.  It’s an organization that is responsible for the behind-the-scenes works in films and television, Broadway shows, and large concerts and events all over the world.  The local in Charlotte gives all of us who freelance the ability to negotiate with employers on wages, benefits, working conditions, etc., and allows the companies we work with in Charlotte to have the most skilled, experienced and educated staff possible for their events where safety, skills, timeliness and experience are of the utmost concern.

With this in mind, and my personal experience with the I.A.T.S.E., I know all Unions aren’t like this.  Some have gotten out of control as far as strikes, wage demands, etc. are concerned.  I’ve heard stories about pilots unions forcing flights to be delayed and faking mechanical concerns just to make a point and get what they want as far as wages, etc., but that’s not been my personal experience.

So the NHLPA is saying they are vetoing the move by the NHL to have a four-division realignment.  From what I’ve read and heard, one of the biggest issues they are citing is travel.  The teams in Florida and Eastern Canada, in particular, are going to have to go through the hardship of clearing customs a couple of extra times a year, and that takes about 90 minutes each way to do, which on top of a long flight over the east coast, makes travel a hassle.

But when I think about the benefit to the league… to EVERY SINGLE TEAM in the 30-team league, I’m overwhelmed.  For example, having a team like the Red Wings in Raleigh every year would be a huge boost to ticket sales, not to mention facing teams like the Penguins, Rangers and Devils three times each at home.  For the Canadian fans who love to travel to warm places, fans in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa would be able to travel to Florida three times a year, where what they pay for tickets is probably 1/5 of what they would at home in Canada.

So for the NHLPA to cite “travel hassles,” I’m having a hard time getting on board.  They travel in luxurious, private charter planes.  The teams often fly out of private airports that make security easier to manage, and while I’m sure it sucks to go through customs a couple of extra time, isn’t that why the 700 or so players in the NHL, as top-tier athletes and therefore compensated greatly to play a sport, do exactly that, when there are millions who only dream of that kind of opportunity?

This year, the Montreal Canadians have to clear customs about 26 times at the most, assuming all games are one offs when they come to the U.S. (which of course, they rarely are).  Next year, under the new now-defunct realignment, they’d have to clear it at the maximum, 34 times.  Tampa Bay, on the other hand, currently only has to cross the border for games approximately seven or eight times, and the new alignment would require them to go to Canada for 12 games.

But really, in the whole scheme of things, what amounts to an extra hour here and there, is that REALLY worthy of throwing the whole scenario down the toilet? I don’t think so.

I guess I keep coming back to the travel issue because it’s such a hot button topic with me, personally.  In the last workplace negotiations I faced that almost resulted in my co-workers signing an agreement with a union to allow them to negotiate for us, we were faced with major workplace changes, and travel situations that were much more complex than an extra 90 minutes 5 or 6 times a year.  We wanted fair turnarounds between shows and performances, and compensation when that wasn’t possible.  We would leave one show, have to DRIVE a 24′ truck to another state, and then load in another show, all within an eight-hour window.  No time to sleep, no hotels between events, nothing.  That to me is something worthy of a discussion, but not when we’re talking private planes and a whole assembly of staff who take care of the details, handle the luggage and gear, and so on, it just seems like it’s less of a hassle in the whole scheme of things.

The NHLPA says that the change in divisions essentially changed the nature of the job, and the contracts players signed with their respective teams.  They also say the NHL didn’t come forward with an example of what the schedule might look like next year even though it was requested.  I’m not saying that creating a 30-team schedule is a breeze, but wouldn’t it have been worth the effort by the NHL to create a hypothetical one based on this years dates, conflicts, etc. so the NHLPA could have all of the information they requested?  I thought it was fishy from the beginning that the NHL didn’t fully list what divisions would play each other in the playoffs, and how the Stanley Cup finals would be reached, but to completely shut down the proposal I think is a step in the wrong direction for both parties, especially with a Collective Bargaining Agreement that’s set to expire this year.

 

So Checkers fans… what are your thoughts?

 

 

 

 

 

The one about the Peoria Rivermen

And now for the second installment of the “Getting to know the Midwest Division.”  Before I begin, I have to give a shoutout to the Admirals Roundtable for getting the ball rolling and giving me the idea to do this!

If you missed the first post, here’s the Q&A with the Admirals Roundtable.

Zachary at the Lets Go Rivs  blog was kind enough to answer my questions, both serious and not-so-serious.  You can follow the blog on twitter at @LetsGoRivs

Another plug about this experience is by “meeting” fellow bloggers in Milwaukee and now Peoria, I’ve guaranteed two beers when I visit their arenas this season.  (And of course, I will be returning the favor if and when they come to Charlotte!)  I still need to follow up with Zachary on what the heck a “Prancer” is, and why that was the name of the hockey team that pre-dates the Rivermen…  Take note of where he predicts the midwest team ranks.  I like it.

So without further adieu…

1.  What can you tell us about hockey in Peoria?  What’s the history of the team, and hockey in the community?  How has the city embraced the team, and the team the city?  Do the Riverman get regular media coverage?  Anyone Checkers fans should follow in the media or with the team to keep abreast of one of our new rivals?

The Peoria metro is actually several small communities anchored by the City of Peoria. Therefore, the hockey community in Peoria actually draws from several towns. There are two organizations in the area for youth hockey, one centered in Pekin, and the Peoria Youth Hockey Association (PHYA).

We are a small hockey community, really, but we are very tightly bound together. The youth hockey associations and the Rivermen have a very good working relationship, and as such the hockey families are really rabid about supporting and cheering for the Rivermen. Some of the nights the kids talk about the most is when they get to play in front of the crowd at intermission. The Rivermen staff do it up right, sounding the horn when the kids score, and the crowd cheers for each team as if they were their own kids.  With the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup in 2010 and Team USA’s silver medal in the Olympics there has been a significant uptick in interest in hockey in the area, and this can only be viewed as a good thing. I coach my son’s mini-mite team, and along with other coaches and the Rivermen we have over 100+ kids just in the 4-6 age bracket alone hooked on hockey. On game nights it isn’t uncommon to see parents, players, or other coaches in the stands. We know each other very well, and all of us really gather around the Rivermen.

I wouldn’t call Peoria a hockey town, at least not right now, but the Rivermen are working to change that. We have decent attendance on the “off nights”, though it could be better. I like to think of the Rivermen as the hidden gem of the sports world in Peoria. Most of the media coverage in the fall goes to the Bears, Bradley University basketball, and then a mention of the Rivermen. It’s okay, though, because those of us who go to the games all the time know that this is our team, and I think that the players know that they have a very,very dedicated core.

Media members to keep an eye on:

Dave Eminian – Peoria Journal-Star Rivermen beat writer. There are times when Mr. Eminian and I do not agree on the finer points of the game, but he is a great guy to have as the beat writer for the Rivermen. Rumor has it he is joining Twitter soon… stay tuned.

Brendan Burke – Rivermen play-by-play man on the radio. Great guy to listen to call a game. He just has a touch. Knowledgeable about the game, does it all without a color analyst and makes it sound seamless. Follow him on Twitter @brendanmburke

As for history, the franchise of the Peoria Rivermen has been around since the 1982-83 season when it was known as the Peoria Prancers. The following year the name changed to the Rivermen and every team to play in Peoria since has had that name regardless of league affiliation. There is a Kelly Cup championship in the team history as well, coming in 1999-2000 season.

The Rivermen have been in the AHL since the 2005-06 season, with 2011-12 marking our seventh year in the league. All seven have been with a St. Louis Blues affiliation. We’ve been to the playoffs three times, all three times opening round losses against the Houston Aeros, twice being swept out, and once losing a game 7 on home ice. If I never see Houston in a playoff game again it will be too soon.

2.  Do the Rivermen have icegirls/cheerleaders?  Are they well received?  In a fight between a Hurricane flag waving polar bear, and a Riverman, who would win?

Continue reading

The one about Brett Bellemore, and the Checkers need for more veteran defensemen

The Carolina Hurricanes announced that defenseman Brett Bellemore has signed a two-year two-way contract, beginning with the 2011/2012 season.  Bellemore, 23, spent the past two full seasons in the Hurricanes organization at the AHL level with Albany, and most recently the Checkers.  Prior to that, he spent four seasons with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL.

Bellemore will be another welcome addition to the Checkers line up.  Last season, he was Michal Jordan’s defense partner.  Assuming the two stay together, I’d expect more great things out of that combination.

Bellemore’s two years of AHL experience make him our most experienced defenseman.

The Chasing Checkers contract spreadsheets have been updated to reflect this signing.

 

Hurricanes and Defense:

Currently, the Hurricanes have seven defenseman under contract who will probably begin the season with them in Raleigh.  For their minor league squad, including Bellemore, seven defenseman are under contract, two of whom (Justin Kruegar and Tommi Kivisto) have European transfer agreements and contracts and can choose not to play in North America.

Other defenseman include Michal Jordan, who spent the entire season in Charlotte last year, Kyle Lawson who played all but 18 games in Florida, Rasmus Rissanen who played one game for Charlotte, and Justin Faulk who played two rounds of the playoffs with Charlotte.  Needless to say, it’s a very young squad that still lacks veteran leadership.  Hopefully the Hurricanes will complete contract negotiations with Bobby Sanguinetti, and either re-sign Casey Borer or find another skilled veteran defenseman.

If I had my choice, that veteran would be two-time Calder Cup Champion Andre Benoit.  He had 55 points last year (11G, 44A) and served as an Alternate Captain with the Binghamton Senators.  Benoit’s fast, offensive style of play would be a huge benefit to the Checkers, especially with the loss of Bryan Rodney on defense.  Of course, I’m hearing rumors of Benoit going back to Europe, but if he ended up in Charlotte, I’d be incredibly happy.

 

Schedule rumors and realignment:

Many feared that realignment might mean the end of interconference play.  Thanks to a buddy (@MarkRAndrews) on Twitter, I got a glimpse at what teams the still-unnamed St. John’s team is going to play.  They will face two western teams (Toronto and Hamilton) eight times each, and won’t play all 14 Eastern opponents.  I think this leaves hope for us Checkers fans who still want to see some of the Eastern teams we faced during our inaugural season.  Hopefully, we find out sooner than later what the verdict is going to be!

 

Thoughts to ponder:

  • I have a blank, black Checkers third jersey in my closet.  I hate blank jerseys.  But I have no idea who’s name or number to put on it.  Suggestions?
  • Has everyone bought their tickets to the Hurricanes/Jets preseason game?  I’m excited about where I’m sitting… in the GOOD seats at center ice, as opposed to the cheap-os I usually sit in (though I did upgrade from the five hole section this year!)!
  • Coming in a few days, a Q&A with the guys over at Admiral’s Roundtable.  They’ve got some great insight on their city, team and division.  Look for it mid-week!

Quick Hits – More realignment news, Canes signings and Checkers losses, and a plea for Terry for Captain!

A few thoughts a day after the big realignment announcement was made:

  • I did some quick hypothetical plane ticket buying research.  The average price of a flight to Chicago is only $238.  Average price of a roundtrip flight to Harrisburg, PA (for a Hershey/WBS/Binghamton roadtrip) was $348.
  • You’d drive 488 miles between Chicago and the other Midwest cities in a big loop from Chicago, to Milwaukee, Rockford, Peoria, then back to Chicago.
  • You’d drive 602 miles from Harrisburg/Hershey to Wilkes-Barre, Binghamton, Albany and back to Harrisburg.  (Putting Norfolk in the mix made the trip closer to 1000 miles)
  • If you were to drive to Chicago and hit every city in a Midwest division roadtrip, you’d drive 1864 miles.  An East division roadtrip (to Norfolk, Hershey, Binghamton, and Wilkes-Barre) is nearly 1473 miles, and lots of back roads.  Chicago is interstate the whole way!
  • I found another midwest division blog last night for the Peoria Rivermen.  Check it out!  http://rivermenblog.wordpress.com/  Three of the five teams in our division have fan run blogs, which I think is pretty great.  I plan to do a quick review of our new division rivals soon, and will post it here at Chasing Checkers.
Checkers Quick HIts:
  • The Charlotte Observer did a piece on the move west, highlighting the travel situation and how it won’t change much for the Checkers.  It will even be shorter flights for the team by flying to Chicago or Milwaukee on direct flights.  (I’m sure Bobby Goepfert will be happy to hear that!  Less puddle jumper planelets and non-direct flights!)
  • The Hurricanes made a big trade yesterday, sending Joe Corvo to the reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in exchange for a fourth round pick.  I must admit, I didn’t follow the deal too closely, but a fourth round pick seems like a pretty unequal swap, unless the Hurricanes were desperate to dump some salary.  They also signed UFA Defenseman Tomas Kaberle to a three-year deal.  We’ll see how it pans out for the Canes… they have veteran Defensemen now in Raleigh, I’m just not sold they are the right veterans for the job.  But this is why I am a Checkers fan first, and only follow the Hurricanes from a very outside perspective!
  • Former Checkers captain Bryan Rodney signed a one-year deal with Anaheim.  I will miss his veteran leadership.  He was a great inaugural captain, and spent time in Raleigh during parts of the past three seasons.  His experience will be missed, and he leaves a huge void on the blue line as far as veteran leadership is concerned.  Sometimes I wonder if Corey Perry, 2011 Hart Trophy winner and Rocket Richard winner has an influence on his team signing his former teammates from the London Knights.  Last summer, Danny Syvret, the Captain of the Knights when Perry, Rodney and Syvret won the Memorial Cup in 2005, signed a deal with Anaheim as well.
  •  I can’t decide if signs, posters, a letter-writing campaign or a written petition are my best bet to begin the “Chris Terry for 2011 Captain” campaign.  He’s a former winner for his leadership in Plymouth, where he was team captain and the inaugural winner of the Mickey Renaud Trophy for the Captain of the Year in the OHL.