In a surprising move, especially given the AHL’s return to action in less than two weeks, the Stockton Heat will not be playing in Stockton in 2021. Scott Linesburgh of The Stockton Record writes this evening that city and county officials have confirmed that the club does not intend to play out of their home city this season. Instead, the Calgary Flames’ affiliate is expected to share a home with their parent club. Linesburgh reports that this is likely just a one-year change related to the Coronavirus pandemic and cross-border logistics, though he does note that this was the final year on the Heat’s current lease at Stockton Arena.
This move will have quite the ripple effect on the AHL just ten days away from the planned start to the season. Stockton’s move north of the border, and the impossibility at this time of playing American opponents as a result, means that the AHL will have to realign on the fly once again. The Heat will be placed in the Canadian Division alongside the Belleville Senators, Laval Rocket, Manitoba Moose, and Toronto Marlies. This will mean that the Pacific Division will drop to six teams this season and the schedule, which was already released on Friday, will need to be amended. The Heat leave behind a 40-game schedule against the numerous AHL clubs in the American Southwest for an unknown slate in the Canadian Division, which has yet to release a schedule and features only one team within 1,600 miles of Calgary.
Of course, for the Flames’ purposes this means a much simpler strategy for moving players to and from the minors this season. Players who cross the border into Canada this season require a mandatory 14-day quarantine period. While the taxi squad has been implemented to offer a small group of stand-ins, any other additions for Calgary from Stockton would have left those players out of commission for two weeks. Now the team will require no wait time at all with their AHL squad expected to be sharing a facility.
The Heat’s move leaves the Edmonton Oilers as the only Canadian NHL team whose AHL affiliate remains in the U.S. or who hasn’t otherwise negotiated an agreement to send players to another AHL team in Canada, such as the Vancouver Canucks’ and Manitoba Moose’ relationship. If the Oilers plan to make such a move, they have limited time before the AHL season begins.