SAN JOSE, Calif. – It’s about 30 steps to the NHL for members of the San Jose Barracuda.
You go out the sliding glass door of their offices in Sharks Ice, walk straight for maybe 20-30 seconds and then cut into the team’s practice facility.
“All of us want to eventually go across the hall and play for the Sharks,” Barracuda forward Trevor Parkes said. “If a guy gets hurt it’s a two minute walk to the dressing room and it’s a big opportunity for guys like us because the chance for getting called up makes it a little easier rather than having to go on a big flight across the country.”
All the American Hockey League teams that relocated to California have their own specific advantages to their parent clubs.
But the Barracuda give the San Jose Sharks the greatest hockey operations benefit of all the groups. If a Sharks player gets hurt, it’ll be easy to quickly bring in a reinforcement. If management wants to know how a player is performing, watching a game involves a short drive to the SAP Center in downtown San Jose, rather than a cross-country flight to Worcester, where the Sharks’ AHL team played last year.
If a player needs extra coaching, the Sharks’ development staff will be nearby.
“They’re right here in our own building,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said. “I can walk across and I can watch both practices. To get it to this point, it really benefits the players but it benefits us, plus the players know, if they play well, they’re probably going to get promoted. If they’re struggling a little bit they can go down and work on their games.”
Except for the Barracuda, all the new California AHL teams are not located in the same city as their parent clubs.
The Stockton Heat are aligned with the Calgary Flames. The Bakersfield Condors are with the Edmonton Oilers. The San Diego Gulls are the feeder team for the Anaheim Ducks and the Ontario Reign are the Los Angeles Kings’ AHL team.
All those teams – except the Gulls – existed in some form or fashion before the AHL announced the California franchise relocation. Facilities didn’t have to be rebuilt or created. The Gulls will be a tenant in a facility that they did not build.
The Sharks trumpet the fact that their Barracuda practice facility and offices were created with their ownership’s blessing.
“Our owner stepped up in a big way spending millions of dollars to bring this franchise out here and build the facility to the Barracuda. That’s a commitment to the hockey team – huge commitment,” Wilson said.
Barracuda Games at SAP Center will not be like Sharks games. The upper levels will be curtained off and the arena will seat approximately 8,000 people. SAP Center holds 17,562 for Sharks games.
There are some questions as to whether this will impact Sharks attendance, since the Barracuda will be a cheaper ticket. But the team sees the ability for fans to watch their players grow and mature into NHLers as a positive.
Added Wilson, “It was a decision from our organization that it was the best case for the players, best case for the hockey side, really exciting I think for our fanbase.”
What about the players?
The biggest issue between Worcester and San Jose would probably involve cost of living.
The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most expensive places in the United States and San Jose is near the top of priciest spots in that region.
According to General Fanager, Sharks prospect Jeremy Langlois is set to make $70,000 on his AHL contract next year. Per Sperling’s Best Places, that salary in Worcester equates to $131,217 in San Jose.
AHL careers aren’t as lucrative as NHL careers and there was some fear that a few players would have issues with a potential devaluing of their income. According to Langlois, this hasn’t been the case at the moment.
His one bedroom apartment is about $400 per-month more than what he paid in Worcester for the same size. Parkes said his rent for his place is about $1,200 per-month unfurnished, which is what he paid for a furnished place in Worcester last season.
“It is more expensive but it’s also nicer … this one has a pool and a hot tub and more amenities and stuff like that,” Langlois said. “Last year in Worcester was like snowstorm after snowstorm. They got hit a lot. We didn’t have a pool or anything like that there though.”
Even if the change isn’t as bad as expected, there probably will have to be some more watching of disposable income for players.
“It’s definitely a lifestyle change. The cost of living is what you make of it. You can live like an NHLer or you can live within your pay grade,” Barracuda coach Roy Sommer said. “There’s certain things out here that are more expensive but it depends on where you go out and where you eat. It’s no different there. If I want to spend a lot in Worcester I could and go to the chophouse and all those places. It’s all relative, you know?”
But that’s the only tangible ‘downside’ for the players, who tout the beach, the mountains and proximity to the Sharks their decision makers as major positives.
Sommer notes that his players tended to have an extra pep in their steps whenever Wilson arrived in Worcester to watch that group.
“I think there’s more of an emphasis on these guys to be ready to play hard every night,” Sommer said.
Emphasis and perhaps less pressure. Instead of having to impress the Sharks brass a handful of nights during the year, the players won’t feel the same level of stress when San Jose management types watch their games – because there’s a likelihood they’ll see all of them.
“If they just come up to see one weekend and you don’t perform well, that doesn’t look as good,” Langlois said. “But if you can see your body of work over the whole season, I think it’ll benefit guys in the long run.”
And a player will have a greater chance at success when he’s called up to the NHL. It won’t involve some sort of cross-country circus flight that will throw his body out of whack. He’ll be able to keep the same physical and nutritional routines
“My guess is (the travel) is definitely not the best thing for your body when you get a chance,” Langlois said. “You want to be able to prove what you have right away and you don’t want to be getting in there and not doing well, so you want to be as prepared as possible for when you can finally get there.”
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