New AHL Pacific Division benefits both Kings and Ducks

Anaheim defenseman Sami Vatanen spent time with the AHL's Norfolk Admirals as well as the Ducks during the 2014 Western Conference semifinals. Having the Ducks' AHL affiliate on the west coast will make it much easier on players who have to travel.

Gary A. Vasquez/Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It took about 10 hours — maybe more — of travel for the Anaheim Ducks to get one of their young defensemen to Los Angeles in time for a playoff game last spring. 

Sami Vatanen had been with the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals in the midst of a playoff run. The Admirals were playing the St. John’s Ice Caps, a team located closer to the polar ice caps and even Vatanen’s native Finland than the Staples Center. But his services were needed for Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals, so he flew from St. John’s to Toronto to Los Angeles and made it there in time for the morning skate.

Those trips are far too common, but that’s about to change. And it’s not difficult to see why.

The announcement of the American League’s new Pacific Division will put the top talent in the NHL’s Pacific Division teams right in their own respective backyards. The Kings will move their affiliation from Manchester, N.H., to Ontario, and the Ducks will purchase their current affiliate in Norfolk, Va., and expand to San Diego.

The benefits of westward expansion are countless.

"To use a word from our recently-retired player Teemu Selanne, this is unbelievable," said Ducks’ General Manager Bob Murray. "Having an AHL team in California is a dream come true."

AHL approves Pacific Division, with five California teams, for 2015-16

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The players, development coaches and executives of the Pacific Division teams have been subjected to extra-long travels and as a result, they’ve lost practices and some players have even missed out on NHL service time. The Pacific Division will give the teams 25-30 extra practices and give their parent clubs more availability than they’ve ever had before.

"If I needed a goalie today, I couldn’t get one," Murray said. "On a Tuesday morning in November now, like some of these guys used to do, I can get up out of bed and instead of going to our own practice, I can drive down the coast, which is kind of nice, and go to San Diego and watch my minor league team. There’s no price tag you can put on that."

And if you want to talk price tags, a 90-mile drive from the Honda Center to the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, is a lot cheaper than a round-trip ticket from John Wayne to Norfolk. The Kings will have it even easier, if they know how to navigate traffic right, going from El Segundo to Ontario. The Kings’ ownership group, AEG, already owns and controls the ECHL Reign and Citizens Bank Business Arena.

There wasn’t any opposition from the parties involved as it was a unanimous vote by the league’s board of governors, but it did take work to get it approved. This initiative has been in the works for years and western-based club executives are finally seeing their efforts come to fruition.

"They found a way to get us in a room and get a deal done," said Kings’ President of Business Operations Luc Robitaille. "This was a true work-as-a-team effort to get this done."

Manchester, which has been home to the Kings’ top minor league team since 2000, isn’t going to completely lose the team. The Kings are doing a simple ECHL-AHL swap as the Monarchs will now become an ECHL team.

The Kings and Ducks are already model franchises in the NHL. Bringing some of hockey’s best and brightest talents out west where the clubs can more closely monitor them will only make some of the strongest even stronger.