WICHITA, Kan. – Despite having a plan that was on the verge of falling through a month ago, an arrangement to bring hockey back to St. John’s, Newfoundland is very close to being announced.
According to a report from Robin Short of the St. John’s Telegram, the ECHL is expected to announce the addition of a 28th franchise to be located in the Canadian province in the coming days. The announcement comes after a compromise between St. John’s Sports and Entertainment and local businessmen Dean MacDonald and Glenn Stanford was reached within the last week.
They will join another expansion franchise, the Maine Mariners, and both will start play in the 2018-19 season.
The new addition would be the continuation of a pattern for the ECHL that started when the American Hockey League did their California landrush in 2014; going into old AHL markets and turning them into ECHL markets. Since then, the ECHL has gone into Norfolk, Manchester, Adirondack (Glens Falls, NY,) and Worcester. Adding Portland, ME & St. John’s, NL to the fold would mean six cities have moved down a league since 2014.
Moreover, the addition would significantly increase the already east-heavy ECHL footprint and create a significant travel burden for teams, since it would take at least one flight to get to the island.
Alignment wise, the two new teams would slot into the ECHL North Division, joining the Manchester Monarchs, Adirondack Thunder, Brampton Beast, Reading Royals and Worcester Railers in the seven-team division. It also stands to reason that with the Wheeling Nailers would move to either the Central or South Division, though, the Central makes more sense travel-wise for the Nailers. The final move would be to have the Kansas City Mavericks in the Mountain Division to replace the Colorado Eagles, who are leaving for the American Hockey League at the end of the season.
According to the report, the new franchise would become the ECHL hub for player development in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, which would end the multi-year relationship the NHL club had with the Orlando Solar Bears.
Once announced, the team will become the second Canadian ECHL team, joining the Brampton Beast.