Part of putting together an expansion team in the NHL is building your farm system from the ground up. To establish that ground level, you first need a minor league affiliate. Just like the NHL, the AHL will grow by one in 2017-18, and the hunt has begun for that 31st member.
Steve Carp of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Las Vegas owner Bill Foley has begun to look for locations for his second franchise purchase, and there are pros and cons to many of the possibilities. The AHL has seen a western migration in recent years, making the establishment of a team near Las Vegas an easier mission. Foley does not want to share Las Vegas with the AHL franchise, like soon-to-be conference rival San Jose, but is looking at other locations nearby. Reno, Nevada, Fresno, California, and Salt Lake City, Utah are the leading candidates so far, and a move is expected shortly.
While free agents are not usually concerned about AHL locations when signing with an NHL team, Las Vegas will lack the full farm system that all of it’s competitors have when it begins operations next season. The AHL roster will only feature leftovers from the Expansion Draft and potentially an overage Entry Draft pick or two. Thus, GM George McPhee will have to work some magic on the open market next summer in order to help populate his new AHL team with some free agent prospects. The location that they end up choosing will be a big selling point for the new team, as many signing on will understand that they’re needed to keep the AHL team going in Year One.