MOLINE, IL – As Matt Harding mentioned in his May 9th article, the Quad City Mallards’ affiliation with the Minnesota Wild has ended. While he believes it would be beneficial for the Mallards to continue their affiliation with the Minnesota Wild, I have a differing opinion. I believe it would be best for the Mallards to affiliate with the Vegas Golden Knights. I know, I know, I’m crazy and that makes no sense, right? Well, I actually think it does.
Hear me out here, okay?
The Golden Knights are a brand new team, without any sort of pool of talent to draw from. Mallards coach Phil Axtell has been a draw for players recently, as he had been with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders with the likes of Michael Parks, Sam Warning, and Justin Kovacs. The fact that the Golden Knights would be creating an NHL team from scratch will probably mean that their AHL team could be decimated (I would speculate on who the AHL team could be; I’ll leave that to someone else). If the AHL team gets decimated, that would mean the ECHL team would also see a lot of call-ups. It would work well, as players would most likely only have ECHL contracts and therefore the AHL team would have more options as to who to call up. Of course, that would also require the AHL team not having another affiliate.
The Mallards haven’t seen much of a kickback from Minnesota or Iowa the past seasons. While they have received players at the beginning of the season or even during the season, that’s all the affiliation has consisted of. The Mallards get a few players, and the Mallards lose a few players to the AHL team. While we’ve received some great players — Steve Michalek, Adam Vay, Brady Brassart to name some – there have also been some absolute duds sent to the QC team. While it’s not my place to go into detail why some players were duds, it’s just a fact of life – and minor league hockey. I’d be disappointed to see some of the Iowa guys no longer with the Mallards, but those that I really wish would return are those no longer on Minnesota’s payroll (funny how that works out). But Minnesota or Iowa have made no real appearance in the Quad Cities; it was the Chicago Blackhawks’ Ice Girls that appeared at a game this season, not Minnesota or Iowa’s Ice Crew. While some argument could be made that because Chicago is closer it’s likely there are more fans of that team so it would be a bigger draw for the Mallards, Chicago isn’t the Mallards’ affiliate so it made little sense in my mind. Other than announcing before every game that the Mallards are the “proud affiliate of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild and the AHL’s Iowa Wild” and a few of the players wearing Iowa t-shirts during two-touch, there’s no real presence by the Wild.
The Mallards recently finished their 20th season, complete with an alumni game and a special 20th anniversary logo and sweater. What better way to continue the excitement of such a milestone than to sign an affiliation agreement with a brand new team? It would make sense for the Mallards, as many fans have expressed discontent with the current affiliation agreement. A breath of fresh air might reinvigorate fans into following their parent team more closely, which would help the Golden Knights.
On that same note, the Wild haven’t been a shining beacon of playoff success. While I cover neither Minnesota nor Iowa, I do my best to follow them closely throughout the season – helped by the fact that my father is a Minnesota fan and the near-constant occurrence of a Mallard being in Iowa. One can’t help but wonder if there is some trickle-down in the system causing a problem. Minnesota drafts players, and generally they either go to Minnesota or Iowa. The players then stay in Iowa, or they go to the Mallards. While I admit this season was the best one that Iowa has seen, they still missed the playoffs. Further north, Minnesota had a great year but was still eliminated in the first round – just like the Mallards. System-wide failure in engineering is normally solved by going back to the drawing board and reworking from the beginning since some part is not meeting expectations. While the Mallards can’t craft an affiliate team from scratch, they can affiliate with a team that’s working from scratch.
Now to look at some benefits for the Golden Knights. For one thing, the Mallards are in an established market with a dedicated fan base, while the Golden Knights definitely aren’t. It’s been a few years since the Las Vegas Wranglers last played – they suspended operations in 2014 and then folded the next year. The Wranglers lasted for 11 seasons in the ECHL before being forced out by the lack of an arena; the Golden Knights will be playing in the year-old T-Mobile Arena. By affiliating with the Mallards, the Golden Knights would essentially be buying some fans via the agreement. I mean, what fan doesn’t want the parent team to do well, right? (Mostly, of course; some rivalries can’t be overcome by affiliation). If the Golden Knights play their cards right – do some public relations stuff, make their presence known in the Quad Cities, do more than just put the name on the website – the affiliation could work great and they’d have fans in the Quad City area. Yes, it would be nowhere near as large a fan base as say the Blackhawks or the Wild have – or even dare I say the Blues – but Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’ll take some time for the Golden Knights to have a solid fan base, so any little bit helps.
I know I said I wasn’t going to speculate about the AHL team, but let me present some facts. The Chicago Wolves will be unaffiliated in the fall; Reid Duke – who was drafted in 2014 by Minnesota, by the way – is playing with the Wolves after finishing his juniors career with the Brandon Wheat Kings on a professional try-out agreement. Duke is famous for being the first player signed with the Golden Knights. Could it be coincidence that he’s playing there? Maybe; there are only so many AHL teams and even fewer in the playoffs. But if Las Vegas were to choose the Wolves as their AHL affiliate, it’s only an 180-mile trip between Chicago and Moline via I-80 – and the Wolves actually play in a northern suburb, Rosemont. If the team was to pony up some more money, a player could fly from Chicago to Moline in about an hour in dire emergencies: the arena in Rosemont is five miles from O’Hare (or a mile and a half as the crow flies).
**EDIT** Following the submitting of this article, this tweet was posted.
— Scottrade General (@The_STG) May 11, 2017
This supports my conjecture that the Wolves will be the affiliates. However, it hasn’t been released by either the Wolves or the Blues.
Will the Mallards change their affiliation to the Golden Knights? Honestly, probably not. The Wild organization is closer than Las Vegas, and it’s a bit of a risk to affiliate with a brand new team.
Is it worth the risk, though?
I think so.