The American Hockey League Board of Governors unanimously granted conditional approval of the sale the AHL’s Springfield Falcons to the Coyotes on Tuesday at the BOG’s meeting in Chicago. The board also approved the relocation of that franchise to Tucson, beginning with the 2016-17 season.
The vote was a major hurdle for the Coyotes in their efforts to bring their AHL team closer to home.
“We are very pleased that the American Hockey League’s Board of Governors today unanimously approved the transfer of ownership of the Springfield Falcons AHL franchise to the Arizona Coyotes as well as the relocation of that franchise from Springfield, Massachusetts to Tucson, Arizona beginning with the 2016-17 season,” Coyotes President and CEO Anthony LeBlanc said in a statement. “We will continue to work with the City of Tucson to finalize an arena lease agreement in the near future.”
LeBlanc met with Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild last week to discuss some of the concerns the Mayor had, including costs and the amount of dates the new franchise would require at the Tucson Civic Center. He also met with council members individually so he would not violate open meeting laws. LeBlanc said he came away with the impression that council’s concerns had been addressed. Rothschild’s office did not immediately return calls requesting comment.
The Rio Nuevo district, where the Tucson Convention Center sits, funded nearly $8 million in upgrades to restrooms, concession stands, new seats, lights, a sound system and a new entryway two years ago. Rio Nuevo recently approved $3.2 million in upgrades to the team areas (locker room, training and medical facilities) to get the Tucson Convention Center ready for hockey by October.
The Tucson City Council is expected to vote on a deal with the Coyotes as soon as May 17.
The Coyotes ownership group has long coveted Tucson as the site of the team’s AHL franchise because it is the second-largest market in Arizona. The proximity of Tucson would make it far easier to call up players in the event of injuries and it would allow the team to manage the entire business of the franchise, including the coaching and development systems. The team also hopes to expand hockey’s footprint across the state and this move is seen as a step in that direction.
“Huge benefit,” coach Dave Tippett said of the move. “Especially when you’ve got young players, you’d like to flip somebody out for the other guy — sometimes to send a message, sometimes just to look at a guy. We never had the ability to do that.
“To have them so close where you can keep track of each other and you watch each other’s games every night, it’s a benefit that with our team on the East Coast we haven’t had.”
The AHL is the top-level farm system for NHL clubs. The Coyotes’ new affiliate would compete in the AHL’s Pacific Division. That division was created last season when five NHL clubs moved their AHL affiliates west.
The San Jose Sharks’ affiliate also plays in San Jose at the SAP Center where the Sharks play. The Calgary Flames’ affiliate plays in Stockton, California; the Edmonton Oilers’ affiliate plays in Bakersfield, California; the Los Angeles Kings’ affiliate plays in Ontario, California; and the Anaheim Ducks’ affiliate plays in San Diego.