Before becoming an award-winning journalist, I was studying to become a weatherman. You know, the guy who universally pisses everyone off in a three-minute television segment and can “get the forecast wrong 80 percent of the time and still have a job.” (Which, by the way, is the most absurd statement ever…but that’s a rant/tangent for another time.) Yep, that was going to be me.
There is a lot of skill involved in forecasting the weather, many moving parts that the end user simply doesn’t understand because of the complexities involved. Trust me, whenever I explain anything weather related to my wife…she quickly acquires the “deer-in-the-headlights” look when I get deep in the weather weeds.
Hockey affiliations somewhat fit this mold. But in recent years, the formula has been simplified to be one of convenience, especially for the parent clubs. If you are in search of a prime example, look no farther than the AHL westward migration from a few years back. We can debate forever the ramifications of that move and whether it was good for the health of minor pro hockey or not.
The other way hockey affiliations can be like weather is in predicting who the dance partners will be. Without years of intensive math and physics, I can guess who will pair up, and if I’m wrong (which is highly likely,) I still get to keep writing about hockey.
As we enter the offseason, there are 14 ECHL clubs that will be looking to renew affiliations or seek new ones out for next year. Worcester (err…Bill Ballou) announced their’s already, and Norfolk announced their new NHL partner last Thursday night. By the end of the Kelly Cup Playoffs, nine ECHL clubs will have their deals expire, that will join five more that are currently open; Adirondack; Cincinnati; Fort Wayne; Jacksonville; and Kansas City.
There will be at least eight more affiliations coming open after the end of the 2017-18 season. The only ECHL team with an affiliation that has no end date is the Florida Everblades, who are owned by Peter Karmanos, the owner of the NHL Carolina Hurricanes.
Since the ECHL has a rule limiting teams to one official affiliation, this forecast will account for that. Teams may have “unofficial” second partners, too.
I’ll have a follow-up to this in early October, to see how I did. So, now that I have set all that up, let’s start with the predictions.
Prediction: Buffalo Sabres
Reason: The Adirondack Thunder are no longer owned by the Calgary Flames, and it makes sense that with the Flames’ AHL affiliate being in Stockton, CA, the Flames will want their ECHL affiliate to be closer to Stockton. Insert Buffalo, who will be looking for a new ECHL partner after the Elmira Jackals closed up shop in April. This new partnership would mean that every minor pro affiliate is a drive down Interstate 90, and all in the state of New York.
Prediction: Stay with San Jose Sharks
Reason: Everything appears to be working in harmony for everyone in the San Jose affiliation tree. With new owner Jack Gulati in the fold in Allen and Steve Martinson remaining in Allen for another four years, expect to hear something on a long-term affiliation agreement this offseason.
Prediction: Stay with Montreal Canadiens
Reason: Colin Chaulk is building something special in Brampton, as evidenced by their run to the second round of the playoffs. The main reason for their success in these playoffs, goaltender Zach Fucale. With Laval entering the AHL, the two minor league affiliates will be separated by five-and-a-half hours. I would expect to see more interaction with them next season.
Prediction: Columbus Blue Jackets
Reason: As Dakota Johnson wrote last Friday, the Cyclones and Blue Jackets have had an unofficial partnership the last couple of years. Expect for this to become official during the offseason and for Interstate 71 to become “hockey road.”
Prediction: Remain unaffiliated
Reason: The Komets had a tremendous season going alone and have the pieces for a championship core moving forward. Bobby Shea, Trevor Cheek, Shawn Szydlowski, Brady Vail, Mike Cazzola and Garrett Bartus all received callups to the AHL, while the Komets were able to have a pillage-proof roster going into the playoffs. It really was the case of “having your cake and eating it, too” for the Komets and should serve as an interesting recruiting tool for players during the offseason.
Prediction: Ottawa Senators
Reason: “What’s old is new again,” would be the most apropos saying if this partnership happens again. Prior to moving their affiliation to Wichita, reports indicated the Senators were pleased with their IceMen organization & their player amenities. It’s a four-and-a-half flight from Jacksonville to Ottawa, which may be the tipping point for both sides to rekindle their working relationship.
Prediction: Calgary Flames
Reason: The Flames organization is pretty deep with talent, much like the New York Islanders organization. Players like Stepan Falkovsky, Greg Wolfe, Keegan Kanzig and Mason MacDonald have been nice depth pieces for the Heat and have been difference makers for the Adirondack Thunder. With the ECHL having a dearth of teams west of the Rockies, this is a move that makes sense for the Flames, since it puts everyone at a five-hour flight from each other.
Prediction: Remain with Tampa Bay Lightning
Reason: The Wings and Lightning had a decent year as affiliates with Nick Riopel and Adam Comrie saw time in Syracuse this season. Look for this to continue into next year.
Prediction: Florida Panthers
Reason: The Panthers have been working unofficially with the Monarchs during the regular season, especially with their AHL affiliate located in Springfield, MA. If Florida is looking to build organizational depth and get back into the affiliation game, this would be a great place to do it.
Prediction: Remain with Toronto Maple Leafs
Reason: The Solar Bears and Maple Leafs have had a good working relationship the last several years, and one would expect that to continue and improve even more next season with Drake Berehowsky behind the bench.
Prediction: Stay with Minnesota Wild
Reason: It was the best year of the Wild/Mallards partnership so far, thanks to the addition of Derek Lalonde behind the bench in Des Moines. I would expect to see this partnership continue to grow with Phil Axtell moving into his first full season at the helm.
Prediction: Winnipeg Jets
Reason: This may be the one team whose prediction I’m not sure about. Joe Ferras is about to make his first coaching hire and even though the Rush ownership has made a commitment to the Black Hills for ten more years, attendance is slumping and the organization has gotten stale. A new coach could help with the staleness, but so could a new affiliation. The only reason Winnipeg is the prediction here is because it’s out of convenience. It’s a four-hour flight from Rapid City to the ‘Peg, which could provide a steady stream of players to and from the Black Hills.
Prediction: Los Angeles Kings
Reason: The Kings organization no longer owns the Manchester Monarchs and have some familiarity with Oilers head coach Jason Christie from his days coaching the Ontario Reign, as the two clubs worked closely together. Much like Wichita had with Binghamton, the Manitoba Moose pillaged the Oilers roster during the season. If the Oilers are going to take the next step with Christie remaining on the bench, a new affiliation would be a fine first step.
Prediction: Edmonton Oilers
Reason: To say Thunder fans were less than enthused about being pillaged by Binghamton is a significant understatement. It may be worth looking out there to see what is available for Thunder brass. One thing is for sure, regardless if Wichita is affiliated with the Senators, Oilers, or anyone else, the Thunder cannot have another season in which they fall victim to an AHL coach who calls players up just to sit them and not see game action for 65 days (see Greenham, Scott).
So there you have it. Fourteen teams could potentially make moves this offseason and I only need to get three right to live up to the knock on meteorologists (you know, how they are wrong 80 percent of the time…that BS?)
I got this.