SAN JOSE –- For months, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has been preaching about his plan to transition to a younger roster.
Thursday’s announcement should make that a whole lot easier.
Representatives from five NHL teams officially revealed the formation of the American Hockey League’s Pacific Division, to begin play in 2015-16, in a press conference at SAP Center. The Sharks, Ducks, Flames, Oilers and Kings are all relocating their AHL franchises to the state of California.
None will be closer in proximity to their parent club than San Jose’s team, currently in Worcester, which will play at the SAP Center. (The club has yet to be named, but expect that announcement in February).
“It’s a piece of the puzzle that’s very important,” Wilson said. “You’ve got young players now that our development coaches can get their hands on. We can see them on a daily basis. Where we are in that cycle, it really helps with what we’re trying to accomplish now.”
Wilson said the initial conversations about the mass relocation began ten years ago, but really sped up in the last two. Wilson and Ducks general manager Bob Murray are thought to be the primary spearheads. Anaheim’s minor league affiliate will be relocating from Norfolk, VA.
Wilson said: “This is not something that we wanted, it’s something that we needed for competitive purposes. I think everybody in his business knows that the foundation of what you do is drafting and developing. The advantages to having your team in your own market, you can’t even put a number on that.”
The minor league club will practice at Sharks Ice, and a locker room will need to be built there, according to Sharks C.O.O. John Tortora. They will also play a handful of Saturday afternoon games before the Sharks play later that night, as well some mid-week afternoon games.
Price points have not yet been set, but Tortora said they would be in line with the average AHL ticket price. The Worcester Sharks currently charge anywhere from $17 to $34 per ticket for a single game.
Tortora is confident that the new team will succeed, based on a few experiences over the past several months. He pointed to a prospect scrimmage in July that drew 9,000 fans at $10 per ticket, and a fan fest last September, when 15,000 fans showed up – 81 percent of which did not have any sort of ticket page with the Sharks.
The way in which tickets moved for the upcoming outdoor game is also encouraging, as fewer than 500 of 68,000 tickets remain for the Stadium Series game against the Kings at Levi’s Stadium on Feb. 21.
“There’s an underbelly, if you will, of our fans here who connect with the Sharks, are willing to experience the brand, but may not be able to make the NHL games on a regular basis,” Tortora said. “That was compelling for me.”
He expects the new minor league club to attract between 3,000 and 5,000 fans per game.
Whether this is a permanent relocation remains to be seen, and even Tortora admitted that the setup would be evaluated “a year at a time.” There were other options, like playing at San Francisco’s Cow Palace, or other California cities like Stockton (now home of the minor league Flames), Sacramento and Fresno.
Regardless, the Sharks can now count on having their prospects in close proximity, and that was the biggest motivating factor into making the AHL’s Pacific Division a reality.
“To have players right in your backyard, to have the ability to access them and bring them up and down and develop them, it’s a crucial piece of what West Coast teams need to do,” Wilson said.