The affiliation merry-go-round has been busier than usual already this offseason. A full 10 NHL teams are either changing their AHL affiliate or relocating a franchise they own for 2005-06.
The American Hockey League’s goal of having 30 teams, to align with the NHL’s 30 teams, is taking a step backwards as the league will go from 28 teams to 27. Because of this, there will be more shared affiliates in 2005-06.
Four new teams will join the AHL for the 2005-06 campaign. They are:
·Iowa Stars (Dallas Stars)
·Omaha Ak-sar-ben Knights (Calgary Flames)
·Peoria Rivermen (St. Louis Blues)
·Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs)
This past season, Calgary’s prospects played in Lowell, and Dallas assigned prospects to Hamilton and Houston. These two NHL teams will now have their own affiliates, though Dallas may open its doors to some from the Edmonton Oilers as well.
The Toronto Marlies and Peoria Rivermen are relocations of 2004-05 teams, the St. John’s Maple Leafs and the Worcester IceCats. The AHL operated in both markets for over a decade.
In total, three teams will not return for next season, the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, the Utah Grizzlies and the Edmonton Road Runners. Each team was granted a voluntary suspension for 2005-06 by the AHL. In the case of Cincinnati, they were unable to secure a new NHL affiliation agreement. The year off will allow the franchise to work on needed capital improvements.
The Edmonton Oilers will likely send prospects to the Hamilton Bulldogs as well as the Iowa Stars, until they find a suitable new location. Edmonton and Montreal recently shared an affiliation in Hamilton as recently as 2003-04.
Utah has announced that they will ice a team this fall in the ECHL. The AHL franchise will be put up for sale and relocation.
In other moves, the Colorado Avalanche will be sending players to the Lowell Lock Monsters next season. Lowell is the top affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, who shared the affiliate with Calgary for the past two years.
Colorado started the musical chairs this offseason by not renewing their agreement with the AHL Hershey Bears. When Hershey opened up, the Washington Capitals decided to let their agreement with the Portland Pirates expire, and capitalized on the opportunity to sign with Hershey, which is relatively close by. Portland didn’t stay vacant long though as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim moved in from Cincinnati.
The most intriguing situation is the San Antonio Rampage. San Antonio has served as the Florida Panthers’ farm team for the past two years, and two years remain on their affiliation agreement. However, Florida become disenchanted with the situation, and even took the radical step of loaning players to other teams for their Calder Cup playoffs. Florida desires to move its AHL team in Orlando, but it will take both time, and the purchase of a full AHL franchise, to make happen. In the meantime, the Florida Panthers may send some prospects to the Toronto Marlies.
The Phoenix Coyotes, who found themselves without an affiliate when Utah suddenly closed up shop, will take over as San Antonio’s sole affiliate.
All of these moves mean that there could be at least four AHL teams with shared affiliations in 2005-06: Lowell, Hamilton, Iowa and Toronto.
The ECHL is doing some reshuffling of its own and like the AHL will also go from 28 to 27 teams. In 2004-05, 23 of the 28 ECHL teams had NHL affiliations.
The league will welcome three new members this fall:
·Stockton (CA) Thunder
Stockton is the relocation of the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies, which was a New York Islanders affiliate.
The Peoria Rivermen are no longer in the ECHL, having given up the franchise to welcome the AHL. The St. Louis Blues will reportedly align with the Alaska Aces at the ECHL level instead.
The Louisiana IceGators (Minnesota Wild affiliate) will not return in the fall and Minnesota will have to find another team to take on some players.
The Cincinnati Cyclones, the expansion Gulf Coast Swords and the Pee Dee Pride have all been granted a voluntary suspension for 2005-06.
The Dallas Stars have gone back to a winning relationship with the Idaho Steelheads. The Steelheads won the Kelly Cup in 2004 with the help of Dallas prospects. Phoenix, formerly with Idaho, will be looking for a new partner at the AA level.
Continuing their relationships will be (among others) Vancouver/Columbia, Carolina/Florida, Edmonton/Greenville, Atlanta/Gwinnett, Tampa/Johnstown, Toronto/Pensacola, Anaheim/San Diego and Washington/South Carolina. No shared affiliations have been announced.
Holly Gunning contributed to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.