The American Hockey League (AHL) is an ice hockey professional league with its headquarters within Canada and the United States and Canada that is the primary development team for the National Hockey League (NHL). From the 2010-11 season onwards every team in the league has an affiliation agreement with an NHL team. If NHL teams do not have an AHL affiliate players are assigned to AHL teams which are affiliated with other NHL teams. 26 AHL players are located within United States and the remaining six are in Canada. The league's office is located in Springfield, Massachusetts, and its current president is Scott Howson.
In general, a player has to be at least 18 years old to participate in the AHL or not currently be beholden to a junior ice hockey team. The league has a limit on the number of experienced professional players that can be on an active roster at any one game. Five skaters can be able to accumulate four full seasons of play or more on a professional scale (goaltenders are exempt from this rule and can stay in the AHL for as long as they wish without being bound to this limit). The AHL permits practice squad contracts.
The annual playoff champion is recognized with the Calder Cup, named for Frank Calder, the first president (1917-1943) of the NHL. The defending champions are the Chicago Wolves in 2022, who are one of the teams to take home the Calder Cup since the Charlotte Checkers in 2019.
The AHL originates its roots directly to two prior professional leagues: and the Canadian-American Hockey League (the “Can-Am” League) that was established in 1926 and the first International Hockey League, established in 1929. Although the Can-Am League never operated with more than six teams. However, the departure from the Boston Bruin Cubs after the 1935-36 season slashed it to four member clubs – they were the Springfield Indians, Philadelphia Ramblers, Providence Reds, and New Haven Eagles – for the first time in its history. Additionally it was the case that the IHL dropped half of its eight members after the 1935-36 seasonas well, making it four member teams which included the Buffalo Bisons, Syracuse Stars, Pittsburgh Hornets, and Cleveland Falcons.
Both leagues had dwindled down to the minimum number of teams necessary to sustain, the leaders of both leagues understood the need for action in order to guarantee their club's longevity. Their solution was to use an interlocking schedule. While the Can-Am was located on the Northeast and the IHL was located in the Great Lakes, their footprints were sufficiently close for this to be an option. The two leagues' eight surviving clubs began joint play in November 1936 as a new two-division “circuit of mutual convenience” known as the International-American Hockey League. Four Can-Am teams were then merged into the IAHL East Division while the IHL quartet playing as the West Division. The IHL also contributed its former championship trophy that was the F. G. “Teddy” Oke Trophy. It was presented to the regular-season champions of the merged league's West Division until 1952. It was awarded in 1952. Oke Trophy is now awarded to regular-season winners of the AHL's Northeast Division.
In less than one month into this first season in the new circuit, the balance and symmetry of the new circuit was hit by one setback, when its membership unexpectedly fell from seven teams. Buffalo Bisons from the west. Buffalo Bisons were forced to shut down operations on the 6th day of December, 1936, after playing just 11 gamesas a result of what proved to be an insurmountable financial burden and the absence of access to an appropriate arena. Bisons' original arena, Peace Bridge Arena, was destroyed in the previous season (a brand new Buffalo Bisons team would return to the league in the year 1940 following they built a new arena to accommodate the Bisons). The impromptu new I-AHL played the remaining games of its inaugural season (as as well as the following seasons) with just seven teams.
In the final game of the 1936-37 campaign, a new three-round playoff format was devised and a new championship trophy named the Calder Cup, was established. In 1936, the Syracuse Stars defeated the Philadelphia Ramblers in the final, three-games to one, to claim the first ever Calder Cup championship. It was the first time that this tournament has been held. Calder Cup continues on today as the AHL's championship trophy for playoffs.
Following two years of lock-up play, the governors of the two leagues' seven active teams were at New York City on June 28, 1938, and agreed it was now time to formal to unite. Maurice Podoloff of New Haven who was previously the head of the Can-Am League, was elected to be the first president of I-AHL. Former IHL President, John Chick of Windsor, Ontario, became vice-president with responsibility for officials.
New I-AHL has also been added as an eighth franchise at the 1938 annual meeting to fill the void in its membership left by the departure of Buffalo two years before with the addition of the two-time reigning Eastern Amateur Hockey League (EAHL) champion Hershey Bears. These Bears remain the sole one of these original I-AHL/AHL teams to be present in the league without interruption since the season of 1938-39. The newly-merged circuit has also expanded its regular season schedule for the teams each by 6 games from 48 to 54.
The 1939-40 season was the time when the I-AHL renamed itself the American Hockey League. The league generally experienced consistent results on the ice and relatively stable financial performance over its initial three decades operation. The late 1960s and the early 1970s the cost of doing business in professional hockey began to increase sharply as a result of NHL expanding and moving (the NHL placed teams in Pittsburgh and Buffalo which forced two long-time AHL clubs The Pittsburgh Hornets and Buffalo Bisons to go under) and in particular the 1972 creation of the World Hockey Association (WHA) which forced the move and then the eventual folding of Cleveland Barons, Baltimore Clippers and Quebec Aces. The number of major league teams competing for players increased from six to 30 teams in only seven years. All levels of player salaries were soaring with rising demand and increased competition for their services.
This did not seem to affect the AHL initially, however, it was expanded to 12 teams by the year 1970. In order to compensate for the increasing salary for players, a lot of NHL clubs reduced the amount of players they retained in development contracts, and players with AHL contracts are now able to need to earn more money to remain with their clubs. As a result, nearly half of teams from the AHL were shut down between 1974 and 1977. The league bottomed out in the middle of summer in 1977, with the announcement that the Rhode Island (formerly Providence) Reds – – the last unbroken franchise since the 1936-37 season, and also the longest continuously operating minor league franchise in North America – had decided to shut down operations after 51 years of operation in Rhode Island.
The AHL appeared to be in danger of losing its existence if the downward trend was not reversed. However, two developments in the fall of 1977 contributed to bring the trend back. The first was the decision of the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers to return to the league as the team's owner and the other was the unexpected demise of the North American Hockey League just two weeks prior to the start of the 1977-78 hockey season.
The Flyers are now an AHL franchise was immediately successful Maine Mariners which earned the newly-created AHL town of Portland, Maine both the regular-season and Calder Cup playoff titles in each of the club's initial two seasons in operation. The collapse of the NAHL also made two of its most powerful teams, that of the Philadelphia Firebirds and Binghamton, New York-based Broome Dusters, without a league to play in. The owners of the Dusters resolved their issue by buying their Reds franchise and transferring it to Binghamton as Binghamton's Binghamton Dusters, while the Firebirds switched into the AHL out of the NAHL. These Dusters and Firebirds, together with the Hampton Gulls (who had joined the league through The Southern Hockey League), helped to increase the AHL to nine clubs before the 1977-78 hockey season began. Hampton ended its existence in February of 1978 but was replaced the following time by New Brunswick Hawks. As the stability of the franchise improved following the dissolution of the WHA in 1979 The league continued grow in the following years to reach 20 clubs by the 2000-01 season.
Absorption of the IHL
In 2001-2002, AHL's membership rapidly grew to 27 teams. This was mostly by the absorption of six teams, Milwaukee, Chicago, Houston, Utah, Manitoba, and Grand Rapids–from the International Hockey League. The IHL had established itself as the second top-level minor league in North America, but folded in 2001 due financial issues. One of the peculiarities that resulted from the AHL's 2001 expansion was the fact that it had two teams sharing the same name: the Milwaukee Admirals and the Norfolk Admirals. The latter team moved into the league from the lower-level ECHL in the year 2000. This was the case until the end of the 2014-15 season when the Norfolk team moved to San Diego and was replaced by another ECHL team that had that same title.
The Utah Grizzlies suspended operations after the 2004-05 season (the franchise was sold in 2006 and returned to the field in Cleveland in 2007 under the name of The Lake Erie Monsters, now known as the Cleveland Monsters). They are the Chicago Wolves (2002, 2008), Houston Aeros (2003), Milwaukee Admirals (2004), along with the Grand Rapids Griffins (2013, 2017) have all claimed Calder Cup titles since joining the AHL from the IHL. Chicago and Milwaukee were also among the teams that made several journeys to Calder Cup Finals, and Houston has made their second Finals appearance in 2011.
The Manitoba Moose moved to St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador in 2011 and named The St. John's IceCaps after the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg as the second version of the Winnipeg Jets. They moved to the city in 2013, Houston moved into Des Moines, Iowa to become the Iowa Wild. This left Chicago, Grand Rapids and Milwaukee as the sole ex-IHL teams still in their original cities until the 2015 relocations after which the IceCaps relocated back into Winnipeg to become the Manitoba Moose.
Relocations and western shift
Since the start of the 2015-16 season the franchises of twelve have since relocated due to NHL parent clubs' influence over their players and teams for development. Of the twelve franchises that were relocated nine were relocated as they were directly owned by NHL teams, and teams owned by an NHL parent club wanted to make calls from the AHL easier by having more affiliates.
In January 2015, the AHL announced the relocation of five existing AHL franchises–Adirondack, Manchester, Norfolk, Oklahoma City, and Worcester–to California as the basis for a new “Pacific Division” becoming Stockton, Ontario, San Diego, Bakersfield, and San Jose respectively. The teams that were relocated were connected and owned and purchased by NHL teams that were part of the Pacific Division. The franchise movements continued with two more relocations for Canadian teams, with being the St. John's IceCaps going back to Winnipeg as the Manitoba Moose and the Hamilton Bulldogs being a different version of the IceCaps to fulfill an arena lease in St. John's.
In the following seasons, more NHL organizations had an impact on players' league membership. In 2016 there was a change in ownership of the Springfield Falcons franchise was purchased by the Arizona Coyotes and relocated to become the Tucson Roadrunners and join the one-year-old Pacific Division. The Falcons were later replaced by the Springfield Thunderbirds, the relocated Portland Pirates franchise under a new ownership group. The Montreal Canadiens owned IceCaps have relocated to Montreal neighborhood of Laval, Quebec, and changed their name to The Laval Rocket in 2017. In 2017, the Binghamton Senators were also purchased by the Ottawa Senators and were relocated to Belleville, Ontario, to be the Belleville Senators while the New Jersey Devils' owned Albany Devils were relocated to become Binghamton Devils. Binghamton Devils.
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The 2018-19 season saw an additional team was added to the league alongside it being the Colorado Eagles as the NHL's Colorado Avalanche affiliate. With the NHL looking to increase its size to 32 teams in 2021, with the Seattle Kraken, the Seattle owner group was approved for an 2021 AHL expansion team. Later, the team was named known as the Coachella Valley Firebirds based in Palm Springs, California, after the building of a new arena. The original plan of the arena's construction was later put on hold and the team delayed their debut by one year, while new arena plans were created.
In February 2020 In February 2020, the San Antonio Rampage franchise was transferred to the NHL's Vegas Golden Knights for the 2020-21 season. They were renamed their Henderson Silver Knights and was moved into the Pacific Division. In the 2021-22 season the Vancouver Canucks relocated their franchise from Utica to Abbotsford while the Utica Comets agreed to relocate and operate the franchise that was operating under the name of the Binghamton Devils. On the 23rd of May, 2022, it was revealed that the Stockton Heat would be relocating to Calgary, Alberta, starting the 2022-23 season.