The Curious Case of Jack Combs

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This season could be one that could be chalked up to “what could have been” for Jack Combs.

Playing for the Allen Americans at the start of the season, Combs racked up 22 goals and 56 points in 32 games. He and Chad Costello (currently the top scorer in the ECHL) were tearing it up with Gary Steffes right along side chipping in here and there. Yet, it seemed like the allure of being one of the best players in the ECHL wasn’t enough for Combs.

On January 13th, the Allen Americans announced they had suspended the contract to Combs, who accepted an offer to play with IF Bjorkloven in Sweden’s second division. It would be the second time that Combs was in Europe during the 2014-15 campaign as he came over to Allen after playing Toros Neftekamsk in the Russian second division, where he got seven assists in 11 games. With Bjorkloven, it was a much shorter trip, as Combs only played three games and registered one assist.

Assuming that Combs wasn’t going to come back, the Americans didn’t want to keep a roster spot taken up and placed him on waivers, where the Stockton Thunder claimed him. Upon returning to North America, Combs reported to Stockton on February 25th and put up five goals and 13 points in his 10 games with Stockton before being released from his contract and put on waivers. The Missouri Mavericks  were the next team to claim Combs, but as of yet– he has not reported to the team.

Mavericks head coach Richard Matvichuk is very high on Combs, saying he’s the best player in AA hockey. However, Combs wants to play on a winning team and was hoping that Allen would reclaim him. The problem is that Allen is so far ahead, they would have never gotten a chance go claim him. It’s not as if Missouri is a terrible team and as Joe Rozycki addressed on The Sin Bin Mailbag, he would be welcomed by the fans:

Combs wants to play for a team that is poised to make the postseason, and that’s understandable. What I hope he realizes is that this season was an anomaly for the Mavs, and they will return to their winning ways next season. If he sticks around, he would immediately be a fan favorite, and adored by the Orange Army. This team has had a lot of great players come through, and Jack Combs would have the chance to put his name towards the top of that list.

Rozycki is right. It’s been an odd year for the Mavericks, who are in their first year in a new league and with a new coach. Some things didn’t fall into place, therefore troubles were bound to happen. With the lineage that the Mavericks had, having the right personnel out there will allow them to rebound quickly from this year’s sub-par performance.

The decision lies with Combs and Combs alone. It’s almost a question of whether or not he has an ego and if that will get in the way of a solid career. His idea that he’s better off in Europe got him off a championship contender team and put him into a limbo state, which was all due to a decision that he thought would be best for him. Now, the question is whether or not the Mavericks can convince Combs to join the rebound by his solid contribution or if they want to convince him given his nature of being indecisive on where he wants to stay.

Figuring Out The Flames’ AHL Nomadic Ways

CalgaryflamesBradTrelivingportrait2MAIN_560x350As the AHL Pacific starts to prepare themselves for next season, one team that should be a little concerned with what’s going on with them is the Stockton AHL team. It’s not because it’s not a good enough market or not the right people are in place. The problem could be who is moving in, as the Calgary Flames seem to be the death of many markets in the AHL; leaving a trail of worry and merchandise in their wake.

After the Saint John Flames left after the 2002-03 season, their 10th and final season in New Brunswick; the Flames have moved their affiliation all over North America. Two years in a split affiliation with the Carolina Hurricanes in Lowell with the Lock Monsters, then two seasons in Omaha as the Ak-Sar-Ben Knights, then another two season in Moline, Illinois as the Quad City Flames before heading super westwardly in Abbotsford, British Columbia as the Heat. The Heat lasted five seasons before going to Glens Falls, New York as the Adirondack Thunder. As the Stockton area is looking at the AHL as a nice upgrade– and it seems like it can’t fail; the history of going through North American cities should be a little bit worrisome going forward.

The downfall of the Abbotsford Heat and the millions of dollars in losses they caused the city is well documented the happenings in Moline and Omaha weren’t as well noted; but the same issue of lack of ticket sales, thus bringing a lack of attendance were cited. The Quad City incident saw the Flames release the Quad City ownership group that was in place, despite three years being left on the deal with the city and arena.

This year, the Adirondack team is averaging 3,543 people in the 4,806 Glens Falls Civic Center, which is down 600 from when the Phantoms were in the same arena and same league. However, the Flames believe, as many do, that the Glens Falls area is a great place for hockey….just not for a team in the Western Conference:

“Adirondack was excellent. It’s been a great setup for our development team, but the problem always is that we’re in Calgary and it’s in upstate New York,” (Flames GM Brad) Treliving said. “Location is No. 1. With this one, it’s just the ease of travel. What I mean by that is you’re in the Pacific time-zone and you’re in a climate that — touch wood — you expect you’ll have less travel/weather issues than you would on the East Coast.”

At least the Flames see the destination as a place to make a profit, which is why they are moving their ECHL team into Glens Falls under the same Thunder name that Stockton has had for the past decade. The AHL name is to be announced shortly, but you can bet it will have something to do with Flames or hot temperatures.

But can the Flames be trusted to stay in Stockton?? Odds are, yes, due to the fact they have company on the west coast with everyone else joining. Yet, with the nomadic ways the team has and the itch to move into a new market– who’s to say this is going to be a forever kind of thing. People can cite the deal the team made with the city of Stockton, but as with the case the Quad City Flames; those pacts can be broken at any time.

Yet, when you look at the history– is it the team that is really the problem or their choice of markets that’s a problem?? When you look at where they have gone since 2005 (when they didn’t have to share an affiliation), they have picked areas who have had a solid following for hockey on a lower level than the AHL, but it never translated over. Omaha has a strong Junior A and College following, Quad City had the Mallards of the UHL for the longest time, and Abbotsford had many BCHL ties to the city. Though, when the AHL came moving in– whether it was being unfamiliar with the league, the team, or hating the team because they have ties to a closer team (like Vancouver and Abbotsford); the Flames fizzled when all was said and done.

Despite all of that, however– this could be the thing that sticks for the Flames that they haven’t had in over a decade. They have a team that is not only close to their home base of operations, but also close to other teams; making the travel cost and time more bearable for all involved. Even with that, though, I will remain skeptical of the Flames being able to hunker down in an area for more than three years– especially if they haven’t made the mark they thought that they could.

When Rebranding Isn’t Necessarily Needed

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When it comes to branding in hockey, you always want to make sure you have something that connects to either the parent team or the community in some way. That’s why, for me, it’s hard to actually figure out why the teams in Bakersfield and Stockton are looking to rename the team as they move up into the AHL. It’s not as if these teams are expansion teams– both have been established in their areas and the name is synonymous with the hockey landscape.

Of course, the “Name the Team” gimmick is something that could connect the fanbase to the team coming in– but it should be something for a team moving in, like San Diego and San Jose’s AHL team coming into play, as the Ontario Reign will stay the same with the regal name staying in effect for the Los Angeles Kings pipeline. Even with San Diego, as the WSHL Junior team announced they’ll be renamed next season to the Sabers; it clears the way for the Gulls to be the nickname for the San Diego AHL team– a name that really sticks to the landscape of hockey in that area for decades across many leagues.

Yet, as it comes to the Condors and Thunder, both are solid names that are ingrained in the community as it is. Granted, those names may work well in the ECHL, but why can’t they work as well in the AHL?? There comes a time where parent teams can muddle into the business of the minor league team they own a little too much, but since they own the team; I suppose they have the right– regardless of how right or wrong it may be.

What will become of these two teams, though?? Bakersfield seems to enjoy the Condors‘ name over other options– which is open-ended. The Fog, Oilers, Barons, and Drillers are up there, too. The good thing with Bakersfield gimmick is that they’re allowing fans to actually make a sketch for the jersey and logo design to coincide with the name change. For Stockton, it seems the Flames don’t want the Thunder name at all and are listening to ideas– but given their track record with minor league affiliates; it very well could be fire related if it’s not called the Flames outright.

Currently, there are only eight teams in the AHL that go under the same moniker of the NHL affiliate/owner, the Flames are one of them. While it’s not the worst idea to have that in terms of branding– you’d almost would think that changing things up for the love of merchandise revenue would be a good idea when it comes to choosing a new name. For the San Jose AHL team, they’ll be forced to change the name because two San Jose Sharks would prove difficult to deal with, I believe. Though, so long as teams don’t outfit their minor league teams in the parent template with a logo slapped onto the jersey– then all the better.

Overall, the idea of Name the Team is good if used for a good cause. What will happen when the final votes are tallied– who’s to say, but in the case of the Condors especially– sometimes keeping the past around is better than changing for change sake.

ECHL Fall-Out

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NOTE: OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE AT THE END OF THE POST

With the AHL officially making the move to the AHL Pacific, there’s obviously a trickle down effect and some that has been document here and on the podcast before.

First, with Norfolk moving to San Diego for the AHL; the Edmonton Oilers announced that they will move their ECHL operation from Bakersfield (where the AHL is going to be now from Oklahoma City) to Norfolk and be named the Admirals. The Norfolk area is well-versed in the ECHL, as the Hampton Roads Admirals played in the ECHL from 1989 until 2000 and were one of the top teams in the league with three Kelly Cup championships to their name.

Next, with the Calgary Flames buying the Stockton Thunder and moving them up to the AHL; the Flames announced that their ECHL affiliate will now be in Adirondack, where the AHL team currently resides. The area is known for Double-A hockey with the Adirondack IceHawks and Frostbite from 1999 until 2004. Also in the swapping game– the LA Kings have said that the Manchester Monarchs will be the ECHL affiliate now, moving from Ontario, California.

There is no word on what will happen with the Worcester area as the Sharks moved their AHL team out of there and they do have an affiliation agreement with the Allen Americans; although some have said that the Vancouver Canucks are “kicking tires” on buying the Allen Americans for their AHL affiliate. The Anaheim Ducks could keep their ECHL team in Utah, which would be the only team to not change something or another in this whole deal.

For the ECHL, the biggest questions are what’s going to happen to the west coast teams that are now in the ECHL. The Alaska Aces have already said they’re all-in, but they always know they’ll be out in the lurch for the most part and will be fine regardless. The other three teams left in the West after this shake-up– Colorado Eagles, Idaho Steelheads, and Utah Grizzlies– should all be fine as their programs are solid ones and have been successful regardless of the area they have been in . Realignment wise could be better off for these teams, most likely pulling in the Rapid City Rush, Wichita Thunder, and one or both of the Tulsa Oilers and/or Allen Americans.

Realignment may be a little bit tricky, but overall– there’s a lot more time to figure this out than it was to figure out how to make the Central Division fit into the schedule in under two weeks before opening puck-drop. The ECHL is getting back to their roots almost, shifting back to the east coast, but they are more importantly not leaving good hockey markets in the dark with the AHL moving out of them.

EDIT 1:00 PM MT: The ECHL has released the official press release of the changes of the teams, Las Vegas leaving, and the membership cap of 30 teams.

Report: AHL West Announcement Tomorrow

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In the worst kept secret in the world, it seems that the official unveiling of the AHL West division will be rolled out tomorrow in San Jose, California at the SAP Center at 12:30 PM PT. This is from a release to the media from the AHL:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 28, 2015

AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE TO MAKE MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The American Hockey League will be making a major announcement related to the 2015-16 season on Thursday, January 29, at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif.

WHO:
David Andrews, President and Chief Executive Officer – American Hockey League
Bill Daly, Deputy Commissioner – National Hockey League
Michael Schulman, Chief Executive Officer – Anaheim Ducks
Bob Murray, Executive Vice President and General Manager – Anaheim Ducks
Brad Treliving, General Manager – Calgary Flames
Kevin Lowe, Vice Chair, Oilers Entertainment Group – Edmonton Oilers
Luc Robitaille, President, Business Operations – Los Angeles Kings
John Tortora, Chief Operating Officer – San Jose Sharks
Doug Wilson, General Manager – San Jose Sharks

WHEN:
Thursday, January 29, 2015 – 12:30 p.m. PT

WHERE:
Rinkside Room – SAP Center

This obviously means that the Calgary Flames have bought the Stockton Thunder and will move their team, currently in Adirondack, to Stockton to complete the all-California Division for the 2015-16 season. However, it shouldn’t stop there. Sportsnet insider and former executive at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment John Shannon tweeted the following:

Obviously, the Arizona Coyotes would be the team to put their AHL affiliate in Prescott Valley, but the interesting portion is to see what team will go for Idaho. Should the Avalanche pass on putting a team in Loveland– where the Eagles in the ECHL play– then you’d have to think that Idaho could be the place for the Avalanche. If not, then perhaps the Vancouver Canucks would be the team that would come calling to make Boise home.

This will be a monumental day for the AHL, as it will probably see their first foray out in the west work for the longer-term, as times in Abbotsford, BC and Salt Lake City, Utah went by the wayside in a short time. The big sticking point for the AHL to make this work is having enough support from NHL teams to put their teams out west and make sure that they stick.

Now, the big issue and concern is what will happen with the cities that are being vacated. Are they going to get swallowed up by other NHL teams looking for affiliates?? Will they switch and become ECHL areas instead?? What will happen with the other western ECHL teams??

While this announcement answers some questions, it leaves plenty left to answer and opens some new questions, as well.

Farm Report Podcast 01.11.15

This week, the AHL West news hit the fan with teams buying, selling, and completely making the silly season come in full force just at the start of the year. Scotty will try to sort it all out, but could leave you more confused as ever. One thing not confusing is Olie Kolzig’s reasoning to step down to a development coaching role and how he’s adjusting to it, Drew MacIntrye is not confused with his place in AHL history, the Columbus Cottonmouths players aren’t confused with why they moved down from Edmonton, while the AHL and ECHL All-Star announcements will be as confusing as you let it. All that, some news and notes and We Hardly Knew Ye

AHL All-Star Rosters: http://theahl.com/rosters-announced-ahl-all-star-classic-p195655
ECHL All-Star Starters: http://www.echl.com/starters-named-for-echl-all-star-team-p195663
ECHL All-Star Reserves: http://www.echl.com/reserves-and-alternates-named-for-all-star-classic-p195683

CLICK TO LISTEN/DOWNLOAD

Report: Anaheim To Buy Norfolk; Calgary To Buy Stockton??

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Coming from NBC’s Pro Hockey Talk via WAVY in Hampton Roads, Virginia– the Norfolk Admirals will be sold to the Anaheim Ducks and then move out west. This comes on reports of the Calgary Flames looking to buy the Stockton Thunder to get themselves their own ECHL affiliate and maybe move them west, as well as the Edmonton Oilers’ issues that happened a month ago that could move their AHL team to Bakersfield– the AHL West is going to be a thing.

This also doesn’t take into account that the San Jose Sharks are probably looking for a western location since their lease with the DCU Center in Worcester is up, as well as the Arizona Coyotes looking at maybe pulling their team out of Portland, Maine to bring them to quite possibly Prescott Valley, Arizona– former home of the Sundogs and a place that is looking to get hockey for next season. Let’s not forget that the Los Angeles Kings will probably take the Monarchs out of Manchester, New Hampshire and move to the Ontario– where LA owns the Reign.

All-Star Weekend in Utica is supposed to yield an announcement from AHL President Dave Andrews and the more and more this goes on, it seems that the announcement will be about this particular issue.

Yet, when you look at what these teams will leave behind in some decent markets– what will happen to those hockey starved masses that will be losing out to AHL West?? Norfolk off the jump could very well get back into the ECHL fold or maybe the SPHL fold if all else fails. With Worcester and Portland leaving, you could almost wonder if the Federal Hockey League will jump into those markets and start to make a name for themselves– if other NHL teams don’t get into those markets for AHL purposes.

Plus, what’s the impact on the other teams out there?? The Idaho Steelheads, Rapid City Rush, Colorado Eagles, and Utah Grizzlies could be left out in the cold in the Pacific Division with all the teams migrating from the west to the AHL. Not only that, the Canucks and Avalanche also could be looking in the future for teams closer to their bases of operations. The Canucks still have a few years left on their contract with the Utica Comets; so that should be safe.

If it were only as easy as swapping the ECHL and AHL teams (which it could be) then this whole thing could very well be skirted. However, when you have to start things from scratch for a new league– it could be a little more easier said than done.