HERSHEY, Pa. -- Two years ago, Glens Falls was a hot topic during the league president’s speech at all-star weekend.
The city merited merely a footnote Monday as American Hockey League President & CEO David Andrews delivered the same address at the Hershey Theatre.
As far as the city’s hockey fans are concerned, that’s a good thing. No news is good news in the city’s quest to prove it can once again be a viable long-term AHL market.
At its 30-team maximum, the league is as stable, in terms of movement, as it’s been in a while, and Glens Falls fits in the status quo.
“Glens Falls is fine,” Andrews said. “Last year was really good in Glens Falls. The building is working at a serviceable level.”
His all-star speech two years ago came amid the city’s frenzied push to land the Phantoms, who were set to be free agents at the end of the season.
Everyone wanted to know: could hockey work in Glens Falls? What needed to be done to the Civic Center to make it viable? Andrews voiced those concerns.
Midway through the Adirondack Phantoms’ second season, the queries are less urgent. The city is treading water as a hockey market, although not quite swimming safely.
“Every year you look at the makeup of teams and say, ‘Where are we? Where are the soft spots in terms of attendance or possible weakness in the market place, and this is one of those years where I’m not looking at any of them as being threatened or challenged as far as next season goes,” Andrews said.
That’s not to say things are perfect. Average attendance for the 22 games at the Civic Center is 3,121, down 18 percent from last season’s 39-game average. Albany is the only city with worse attendance.
“It’s fallen off this year a fair amount. Not where it’s troubling, but it’s fallen off a bit.” Andrews said. “But take a look at the standings. There’s a correlation between how a team plays, especially in a traditional hockey market and how many people are going to the games.”
The movement in Glens Falls bucks the trend league-wide, where attendance is up about four percent from last season, according to Andrews.
If winning is critical, as Andrews suggests and the box office indicates, perhaps the more pressing question is whether the league structure is fair to teams like Adirondack.
The Phantoms have a straight NHL developmental agreement with Philadelphia. The Flyers provide and pay for all the coaches and players, the majority of which are considered NHL prospects. They sprinkle in a few veterans to help the team win.
In markets like Hershey, Manitoba, and Chicago, local ownership shares the salary burden of several high-end, AHL-only veterans. Teams with those types of arrangements have won the last five Calder Cups.
The Phantoms have the league’s worst record over the past season and a half.
“Teams that are the most successful from a revenue point of view — certainly have the opportunity, should they so choose, to jump in and work with their NHL partner to sign and bring in players who are perhaps more career-type star players in our league who will stay year to year,” Andrews said.
“The question is, is that a guarantee of success? I would argue that it’s probably a guarantee of getting into the playoffs every year... (but) not all of those teams have been successful with that model. When you point to the history of who wins and who are the strongest teams in the league, I can almost point you every year to some teams that are straight, typical AHL model teams who are there in the hunt and going right to the end.”
For instance, Andrews said Manchester went to the Eastern Conference finals last season without a player considered a veteran under league rules. This season, traditional affiliates Wilkes-Barre and Manchester lead their divisions.
“We’ve got some teams that haven’t traditionally been out front that have been doing pretty well that are fully affiliated teams that are not working with some different model,” Andrews said. “You look at Peoria, you look at San Antonio, Texas, Oklahoma City, those teams have been very successful with a standard model affiliation agreement.”
Some around the league have bandied about a salary cap as a way of leveling the playing field.
Andrews said it never came up in the long-term collective bargaining agreement worked out with the players prior to the season because there’s not a consensus among league teams that one is even needed.
“A salary cap for us is a difficult notion. A salary cap in our league would hamstring the National Hockey League teams’ ability to move players,” Andrews said.
Loose pucks: Andrews said that video replay for goals is likely coming to the AHL someday soon, but not next season. Logistics and cost still need to be arranged. .. A reduced schedule, possibly down to 72 games, was debated at this week’s league meetings, but no action was taken. The proposal will be taken up again in the spring. ... Andrews floated the idea of a new concept for next year’s all-star game, with the AHL all-stars playing a European League champion. No site has been selected yet.