The carousel has officially been set in motion.
With several AHL leases set to expire at season's end and other NHL teams looking to ice teams of their own instead of sharing an affiliation, the first franchise relocation was announced yesterday afternoon.
As expected, the San Jose Sharks held a press conference in Worcester yesterday afternoon to announce their primary affiliate would be moving from Cleveland, Ohio, to Massachusetts for the start of the 2006-07 season after signing a 10-year lease agreement. The new team will be known as the Sharks.
Worcester was home to the St. Louis Blues primary affiliate for 11 years before moving to Peoria, Ill., for the 2005-06 season.
Cleveland is last in attendance in the AHL, and the Sharks ownership group said it lost "millions" during the past five seasons.
"We think Cleveland is a great market with a great arena," Sharks president Greg Jamison told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in yesterday's edition. "At this point, however, it's not a good fit for us."
There is still a chance Cleveland could remain in the loop next season, as Dan Gilbert, who owns the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers and the building where the Barons and Cavaliers play, is rumoured to be interested in pursuing a secondary tenant for the building. Two Cavaliers executives, president Len Komoroski and Kerry Bubolz, were involved with the Cleveland Lumberjacks, who folded after the final season of the International Hockey League in 2001.
After taking a year off, Cincinnati is interested in returning to the AHL next season.
The franchise already has a new name, the RailRaiders, and a season-ticket drive is ongoing. The only thing missing is an NHL affiliate.
Both Cincinnati and Cleveland would love to become the new affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who currently operate the Syracuse Crunch.
There are currently three shared affiliations in the AHL (Buffalo Sabres/Florida Panthers with the Rochester Americans, Montreal Canadiens/Edmonton Oilers with the Hamilton Bulldogs and Carolina Hurricanes/Colorado Avalanche with the Lowell Lock Monsters), and don't be surprised if all 30 NHL franchises want to run AHL teams of their own.
MOVING ON UP: High-scoring forwards Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf have rejoined the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim after lighting it up with the Portland Pirates.
Both Perry and Getzlaf, who starred for Canada's 2005 gold medal entry at the World Junior Hockey Championship, opened the season in the NHL but were sent down for more seasoning.
Perry had 16 goals and 34 points in 19 games, while Getzlaf had eight goals and 33 points in 17 games with the Pirates.
Speaking of the Pirates, Winkler product Dustin Penner leads the team in scoring with with 19 goals and 43 points in 27 games.
TOP GUN: Iowa Stars winger Junior Lessard was named AHL player of the week yesterday.
Lessard, a former Portage Terrier in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League who went on to win the Hobey Baker Award as top player in the NCAA, had three goals and three assists -- including a five-point night in a 5-1 win over the Chicago Wolves on Saturday.
"Since I came back from my shoulder injury, after the first two games, I really started playing better," Lessard told the Des Moines Register. "I've been keeping it simple, and I've had a little bit of luck, but when you shoot the puck, good things happen."