It is a question that has been asked with great regularity since the seven former Central Hockey League teams joined the ECHL almost 11 months ago.
Will (insert team name here) have an affiliation?
Since that time, six of the seven former CHL teams have linked up with National Hockey League clubs. Here is a list, in case you need a reminder:
Allen Americans => San Jose Sharks
Brampton Beast => Montreal Canadiens
Missouri Mavericks => New York Islanders
Quad City Mallards => Minnesota Wild
Rapid City Rush => Arizona Coyotes
Tulsa Oilers => Winnipeg Jets
Wichita Thunder => ?
In fact, it is likely three ECHL Western Conference teams — Alaska Aces, Colorado Eagles and Wichita Thunder — will enter the season not having NHL affiliations.
Thunder General Manager Joel Lomurno explains that there are two types of affiliations.
“You got an affiliation where your parent club tells you what to do and you got an affiliation where you work with the parent club and you guys work on mutual decisions — it’s a real mutual partnership.”
Lomurno said Saturday the organization had talked with the St. Louis Blues about a possible affiliation, however, the Blues wanted an ECHL affiliate within driving distance of their AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.
The team also held discussions with the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but both teams expressed a desire to have east coast-based ECHL affiliates, Lomurno said. Boston announced an affiliation agreement with the Gwinnett Gladiators on August 6, while the Lightning still do not have an ECHL affiliate.
In addition, the organization was contacted by the Arizona Coyotes, however, that turned into a dead-end when the Coyotes linked up with the Rapid City Rush.
Despite the lack of a formal affiliation, Lomurno said the team will likely have a “few players from NHL teams” assigned to Wichita, because “there are going to be open teams that need a place to place players and being independent, we have a leg up on that.” Last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning sent defenseman Dan Milan and forward Danick Gauthier to Wichita, both were in the final years of NHL entry-level contracts, even with the Lightning having an affiliation with the Florida Everblades.
While not completely discounting the chance an affiliation could be formed prior to the start of the season, Lomurno said the team could wait until the 2016-17 season, their 25th year of existence, to pursue an affiliation with a team head coach Kevin McClelland is comfortable working with.
For the three teams going the independent route this season, the litmus test will be to see what players the teams are assigned and how the teams do, especially when the injuries start to mount up. While an affiliation is not the be-all-end-all, it can be a good bargaining chip in recruiting and a good asset to have during the season.
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