Ian Clark's On Hockey: Could Monarchs be headed for West Coast?
Are the Monarchs' days in Manchester numbered?
The short answer is maybe, but New Hampshire hockey fans shouldn't worry because minor league hockey is likely to remain in town in one form or another.
There has been an underlying buzz for many years for AHL affiliates of west coach NHL teams such as the Monarchs (whose parent team is Los Angeles) to have a minor league team closer to California to facilitate call-ups more conveniently.
That buzz reached a louder volume when Mayor's Manor, a website focused on West Coast hockey (which has a presence in town with Andy Tonge covering the Monarchs), wrote last week that the pieces are coming together for several teams to move within the next few years.
That includes the Monarchs and their AHL playoff opponent Norfolk (Anaheim's minor league team), which they hosted in Saturday night after taking a 1-0 series lead with a 2-0 win Friday night.
But Monarchs president Darren Abbott said that, while it would only be fair for the west coast NHL teams to have their affiliates closer, local hockey fan shouldn't panic.
"Nothing is imminent at this point. This is a thing that's been ongoing for six-plus years in our league, the desire for not just the west coast teams but all the NHL teams to get their AHL affiliates closer together," Abbott said. "(It's) picked up traction lately, but still nothing is imminent and it's business as usual here in Manchester and that's the way we're going to play it."
The company that owns the Kings and Monarchs, AEG, has a lease with the Verizon Wireless Arena through the 2015-16 season, but that would not prevent the team from leaving according to Abbott.
"It doesn't prevent anything. It could be worked around. But we're not even going in that direction yet," Abbott said. "We've been working hard with the building and AEG and the community that, should something like this happen, we can keep the Monarchs here."
Abbott said that he is confident that the market here is too good to be without a team.
"Oh, there will be a team here. We'd like to keep it being the Monarchs, for sure," Abbott said. "This market is too strong and it's been too strong since day one and is just as strong as ever. We've had two or three good years strung together and we've got a great fan base. Because of that, I wouldn't lose sleep."
Keeping an AHL team would be a priority, but the next level down, the ECHL, could also be a possibility.
"I think the preference would be to keep it at the American Hockey League level," Abbott said. "There will be a team here in some shape or form, but the preference is to keep an AHL team here."
Teams in New England that have West Coast NHL parent clubs aside from Manchester include Portland (Phoenix) and Worcester (San Jose). Both those markets have been steady, but might not be a sure thing to retain teams.
That could lead to an altered landscape for travel for whatever Manchester team emerges, but Abbott points out that East Coast teams such as the Bruins and others will always need an affiliate in the region.
"I don't think it would be as luxurious as it is now as far as our travel with our geographic rivals. But it's still a pretty good situation when you look at it," Abbott said. "Providence, the Rangers, the Devils, all those teams are not going anywhere so there's going to be plenty of teams to play up here. We've been spoiled geographically. There will still be enough teams to play and there will still be an American League footprint up in the northeast."
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.