Sources tell TSN several NHL western conference teams are involved in ongoing discussions to improve the geographic challenges some teams face in trying to develop their players from afar.
Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Phoenix, Colorado, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary attended a private meeting with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly earlier this month, where the group conceptually talked about the introduction of a western wing to the American Hockey League to ease the burden of travel on prospect players, as well as provide NHL teams with a more hands on approach in day to day development.
Most in that group are content with their existing AHL partnerships; however, there are some who who like to see change and are considering a more extreme approach if necessary.
The possibility of creating an entirely new league primarily based to serve some of the NHL's pacific and northwest division teams has also been suggested by some involved.
Sources say the main group intends to hire outside counsel to thoroughly investigate all existing partnership agreements and building lease commitments with existing AHL affiliates to get a clear view of how realistic such a drastic move is, within the next 2-3 years.
American Hockey League president and CEO, David Andrews, tells TSN he is aware of the ongoing discussions that have taken place at the NHL level and says he has made it clear he is willing to work to create a true western division and help facilitate such a move.
Although the AHL has trimmed its schedule from 80 games to 76 this season to eliminate the instances where teams were burdened by playing four games in five days, the view of the NHL clubs most interested in change, or intrigued by the concept of starting a new league; is based on the belief that their players aren't being properly developed because of the American Hockey League grind, limited practice schedules, and the fact most of the farm teams are thousands of kilometres away from their NHL cities as illustrated below.
Syracuse, NY to Anaheim --- 3,745km
Manchester, NH to Los Angeles --- 4,143km
Worcester, Mass to San Jose --- 4,263km
Portland, Maine to Phoenix --- 3,773km
Cleveland to Denver --- 1,974km
While the National Hockey League is sensitive to the concerns of their western based teams, the league also feels a deep sense of loyalty to the American Hockey League and recognizes, like each NHL partner, the AHL is operating a business and has certain scheduling necessities to ensure operating costs are covered.
It should also be noted, most NHL teams remain firmly in support of the American Hockey League and don't want to be part of either a public or private campaign that may poison their relationships with their AHL partners.
Some involved in the process remain highly skeptical a new league will spawn from the latest round of discussions, primarily because of the enormous expense required to start up what would have to be a minimum 5 or 6 team loop. The more practical and likely solution is the introduction of a true western division...more geographically friendly for the clubs most impacted by the existing issues.
While this latest attempt to improve affiliate conditions may be far more extreme, in terms of the potential of an entirely new league, the idea of an AHL western division was originally introduced by Brian Burke during his time as general manager of the Anaheim Ducks.
Burke's push was fueled by the logistical hurdles his players had to endure to get to Anaheim from Portland, Maine, which included all day travel.
Burke's effort to garner enough support to urge the AHL to reshape its divisions and affiliate cities fizzled, but issues remain and the quest to find a solution has once again become a priority.