For months there have been rumors speculating that the Phoenix Coyotes would be moving their American Hockey League prospects to a city closer to home – such as Tucson, Las Vegas and most recently, Salt Lake City.
But, after weeks of serious negotiations, the Coyotes have decided to stay right where they’ve been since 1994, when the franchise was known as the Winnipeg Jets. Yesterday, the Falcons and Coyotes announced that they have signed a three-year affiliation agreement. The new affiliation agreement ends Springfield’s two-year relationship with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who will look for a new home to place their prospects.
The deal means that Phoenix will be responsible for placing up to 16 players in Springfield. The Coyotes will also supply the coaching staff, which means that head coach Marty McSorley will likely return for his second season behind the bench. Assistant coach Norm Maciver, who is under contract with Tampa Bay, is not expected to be back.
“The fact that we are extending our affiliation with Springfield speaks volumes about our belief in the ownership, the management and the fans of the Falcons,” said Coyotes general manager Mike Barnett. “We feel very fortunate that our future NHL players will experience the positives of fine-tuning their skills in a hockey community that has sent many players over the years to the NHL.”
Also, for the first time in franchise history, the Falcons will sign four free agents to AHL contracts. These players will not be available for the Coyotes to recall and will help add stability along with veteran leadership to the Falcons’ roster.
“Mike Barnett made it very clear to me that he wanted to make a commitment to Springfield and that his organization would do everything possible to assure that we iced a competitive team,” said Falcons president and general manager Bruce Landon. “They have agreed to enter into the free agent market to add valuable depth to our team and have recognized the need for veteran leadership.”
Although the Coyotes/Jets organization has been affiliated with the Falcons for the past nine seasons, they have almost always relied on help from another NHL organization in stocking Springfield. During the Falcons’ first three seasons, the Hartford Whalers shared the Falcons with Phoenix/Winnipeg. Los Angeles supplied Springfield with a handful of players the following two seasons, while the New York Islanders served a similar role in 2000-01. And, the past two seasons, Tampa Bay teamed up with the Coyotes for a dual affiliation in Springfield.
“In taking over the responsibilities ourselves, rather than in a shared arrangement with another NHL club, the Phoenix Coyotes believe that the Falcons will benefit in many ways, first and foremost on the ice,” Barnett said. “The singular direction, commitment and focus will eliminate many of the nuances that arise in a shared affiliation agreement. We are excited to get started.”
This past season, after failing to qualify for the playoffs for two consecutive seasons, the Falcons swept the Hartford Wolf Pack in a best-of-three qualifying series to win their first postseason series in six years. They were eliminated by the regular-season champion Hamilton Bulldogs, three-games-to-one, in the following round.
Next season, the Springfield Falcons will celebrate their tenth anniversary season. It will also mark the 54th consecutive season of AHL hockey in Springfield.