The AHL is coming to Tucson.
The Arizona Coyotes cleared the final hurdle in bringing their top minor league affiliate in state when the Tucson City Council unanimously approved an arena lease agreement for the team to play its games at the 6,700-seat Tucson Convention Center with a 7-0 vote in council chambers Tuesday.
“Tucson is obviously the second-largest market here in Arizona,” said Coyotes President and CEO Anthony LeBlanc, who attended the council meeting. “It’s one that’s a short two-hour drive from our NHL facility in Glendale, but most importantly, it’s a market that we’ve been looking at since we bought the team three years ago.
“We’ve looked at the amount of hockey in this area. We’ve also looked at the number of people in the area that are buying Coyotes tickets and driving two hours, and it’s tens of thousands of people every year. So we knew this was a market that can support hockey. We’re just beyond thrilled to finally get this approved.”
The AHL’s Board of Governors approved the sale of the Springfield Falcons to the Coyotes last week. LeBlanc said that deal is expected to be finalized on Wednesday now that the council vote has taken place.
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 (including the locker room, training and medical facilities) to get the Tucson Convention Center ready for the Coyotes by October.
The new lease agreement is 10 years long; with a five-year out clause for the Coyotes should the team fail to reach an average game attendance of 2,500. The team also agreed to reimburse the city for renovations to the arena not yet recouped.
The Coyotes will become the sixth Pacific Division club to move their minor league affiliate west to play in the AHL’s year-old Pacific Division. The San Jose Sharks’ affiliate 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.
Vancouver is the only Pacific Division team whose AHL team still plays in the East. The Canucks’ affiliate plays in Utica, New York.
There are numerous advantages to having an AHL team so close. First and foremost, it enables the Coyotes to call up players quickly when injuries or illness occur. When the team’s affiliate was in Portland, Maine or Springfield, Massachusetts, it would require a full travel day to reach Arizona, so the team was often left shorthanded.
Coach Dave Tippett recently joked that East Coast trips were the best time for Coyotes to fall ill or suffer injuries. “If you look at the stats, we flipped out more players when we were traveling than we were here,” he said.
Tippett also said the proximity will provide more consistency in the franchises’ business, coaching and training practices, and it will provide flexibility for the NHL roster.
“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,” he said. “It changes the dynamic because you can have a guy who might play and might not play. Maybe you have a guy that doesn’t feel well at the morning skate. You’ve got to supplement that guy there. (An AHL) player might come and he might not play.”
Next season’s AHL club should be especially intriguing to watch because it should feature many of the team’s top prospects, including 2014 first-round pick Brendan Perlini, 2014 second-round pick Ryan MacInnis, 2013 second-round pick Laurent Dauphin and 2014 second-round pick Christian Dvorak, if he doesn’t make the NHL club.
“It’s a huge asset for us in terms of player development,” Coyotes co-owner and president of hockey operations Gary Drummond said.
As he had previously suggested would happen, LeBlanc announced that the Coyotes have launched a name-the-AHL-team contest.
The Coyotes have scheduled a press conference for Thursday at noon at the Tucson Convention Center. LeBlanc, GM John Chayka and Tippett are scheduled to attend.
RIEDER OUT AT LEAST A MONTH
Coyotes forward Tobias Rieder suffered a knee injury while playing for Germany at the IIHF World Championship in Russia last week and will miss the rest of the tournament. The German team announced that Rieder would miss four to six weeks and the Coyotes confirmed that Rieder would miss about a month with the injury.
“Tobi has a long summer to recover and get his training in,” Coyotes General Manager John Chayka said. “We expect him to be ready to go at training camp in September at 100 percent.”
Rieder had a goal and an assist in four games for Germany before colliding with forward Corey Perry in the second period of a game against Canada on May 12.
Coyotes trainer Jason Serbus is in Russia with the U.S. team and was part of the initial diagnosis, Chayka said. He will also be part of the rehab process. Chayka is still uncertain what that process will look like.
“We’re just waiting for the swelling to go down before making any concrete plans at this time,” he said.
MALONEY STILL TAKING HIGH ROAD
Recently fired GM Don Maloney said he is enjoying some down time after a nine-year run with the Coyotes, but he declined to discuss the past.
“Having a conversation regarding my thoughts on what the Coyotes have done since my departure is not beneficial to anyone,” he said via text. “I was treated fairly by the Coyotes and wish them well.”
Maloney is uncertain what the future holds.
“All is good,” he said. “I’m spending some time recharging my batteries, watching the playoffs (some great hockey being played) and looking forward to my next challenge, whenever and whatever that might be.”
— Drummond said the team’s search for an assistant GM to help Chayka is still in progress with some candidates still involved in the NHL’s postseason. Dallas assistant GM Les Jackson is still believed to be a possibility.
— Chayka said preliminary talks with Shane Doan on a new contract are ongoing. Doan has already said he is returning for another season so Chayka does not anticipate any problems. He termed the talks “all positive.”
— There is nothing new to report on the Coyotes’ quest for a new arena downtown or in the East Valley.
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