Palm Springs Changes Direction on New AHL Arena, Delays Opening By A Year; Seattle Kraken Will Likely Be Without AHL Affiliate For Inaugural Season

A year after the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and the Los Angeles company Oak View Group announced plans for a $250 million sports and entertainment arena in downtown Palm Springs, officials confirmed this week that the site of the project is moving to the mid-valley — and the tribe will no longer be involved in the project.

On September 13, 2019 American Hockey League (AHL) President and Chief Executive Officer David Andrews announced that the AHL Board of Governors had awarded an expansion franchise to NHL Seattle and the Oak View Group.

The AHL’s 32nd team was to be located in Palm Springs, Calif., and was to begin play as the primary development affiliate of the NHL’s expansion Seattle franchise in the fall of 2021. (More from AHL here). That opening date has now been pushed back a year.

Agua Caliente Chairman Jeff Grubbe said in a press release that the tribe “re-evaluated its economic development priorities” and is instead focusing on its new casino in Cathedral City and cultural center in downtown Palm Springs.

“After more than a year of good faith negotiations we were unable to finalize an agreement with the Agua Caliente tribal leaders for OVG to lease, develop and operate the privately funded arena,” said Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group. “We appreciate the ongoing support and encouragement from the community and are very pleased to be partnering with the Berger Foundation who share our vision for creating a world-class venue for the Coachella Valley and what will be one of the most premier music and professional sports arenas in the world.”

As a result, on Wednesday it was announced that the new Seattle Kraken franchise would likely not have an AHL affiliate for their first season.

For 2021-22, since the team will not have the full complement of minor leaguers, the most likely scenario will be finding places for them elsewhere.


Ground-breaking and arena construction are scheduled for 2021. The project will be complete during the last quarter of 2022 with the Kraken’s inaugural AHL Palm Springs franchise targeting to begin play in the 2022-23 season. Kraken general manager Ron Francis and assistant GM Ricky Olczyk are exploring all options for finding other competition options for a certain number of reserve players during the 2021-22 NHL season, including the possibility of sharing an AHL roster with another NHL team.

“We’re excited the deal is done and Palm Springs will be our home for the AHL franchise,” said Francis Tuesday. “We will be doing everything we need to do on the development front, from top to bottom, for the good of the organization. We will be engaged and in communication with every player in our organization.”

Olczyk explained all 18- and 19-year-old players selected by the Kraken in the 2021 NHL Amateur Draft who don’t make the NHL roster are required to return to their Tier A or Tier B junior hockey teams, NCAA college hockey teams or, in the case of European youngsters, respective teams in Sweden, Finland, Russia, Germany and several more nations on that continent. The rule encourages further development of young players’ growing body and hockey skills.

“Only a handful of draftees make NHL rosters in a typical year,” said Olczyk. “In fact, some seasons, you might even have a thumb or pinkie finger left after counting. It is extremely difficult to make the NHL roster [as a teen]. These are talented young players but for the most part they are not physically, emotionally or psychology mature enough to play against men who might be five, 10 or even 15 years older with stronger bodies and deep hockey skills and experience.”

Olczyk said the Kraken hockey operations group will have “full control of developing all of our players” drafted or acquired in 2021 and beyond. He echoed Francis’ enthusiasm for an anticipated best-of-AHL arena and state-of-the-art training complex.

That arena and complex will be located on 43-plus acres of land at Interstate 10 and Cook Street in Riverside County near the city of Palm Desert. The arena will be more than 300,000 square feet and feature 10,000-plus seats plus modern suites and premium hospitality clubs. The arena and adjacent facility will serve as a year-round community gathering space in addition to the training center for the AHL team and a future site for youth hockey, figure skating, adult skating and other community-friendly activities.


About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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