The coming of the summer means a lot of movement in the ECHL. The crowning of the Colorado Eagles as Kelly Cup champion in a four-game sweep over the South Carolina Stingrays puts a cap on the 2016-17 season allows us to look ahead to 2017-18.
Upcoming are the league meetings, at which divisional alignments will likely be announced and potential other league business voted on. One potential is the addition of a 28th team – long-rumored to be Portland, Maine. Commissioner Brian McKenna said Thursday in Worcester that an announcement will be made in a few weeks about a market “familiar to local hockey fans” in Worcester.
Of course, the roster movement will begin after the 2017-18 season begins on the ECHL calendar, which happens June 16. However, leading up to that are the two carousels – the organizational and coaching ones.
As far as organizations go, there have been several changes of NHL affiliation, including three teams that will likely be in the Fuel’s division – Cincinnati, Kansas City and Quad City. The Fuel will be beginning the fourth year of a five-year agreement with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2017.
- There are two new franchises in the ECHL. The expansion Worcester Railers will affiliate with the New York Islanders, whose AHL team, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, is nearby in Connecticut.
- The Quad City Mallards recently announced an affiliation with the expansion Vegas Golden Knights and the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, who also are affiliating with the Golden Knights. The Mallards previously had an affiliation with the Minnesota Wild.
- The Missouri Mavericks changed their name to the Kansas City Mavericks, although they will continue to play in the KC suburb of Independence, Mo. The Mavericks announced they will affiliate with the Calgary Flames (AHL: Stockton Heat) is a year-to-year agreement that is renewable at the end of the season. The Mavs had previously been affiliated with the New York Islanders for two seasons. The working agreement the Mavericks had with the St. Louis Blues is also defunct.
- The Cincinnati Cyclones announced they will affiliate with the Buffalo Sabres after a decade with the Nashville Predators. The Sabres’ previous affiliate in Elmira suspended operations this spring. The Sabres’ AHL affiliate is in Rochester, N.Y.
- Meanwhile, the Norfolk Admirals will become the Predators’ new ECHL affiliate. The Ads had previously been affiliated with the Edmonton Oilers. It keeps the nickname in one organization, as the Milwaukee Admirals are the AHL affiliate. Norfolk also announced a new logo.
- The ECHL’s lone independent team last season, Fort Wayne, is talking to NHL teams, but has made no definite decisions on an affiliation.
- The Tulsa Oilers and Winnipeg Jets are also severing their year-to-year affiliation agreement.
- Three teams have yet to announce affiliations for next season. In addition to Tulsa, the Adirondack Thunder and Jacksonville IceMen also have yet to announce an affiliation. The Thunder had previously been affiliated with the Calgary Flames, but also had a working agreement with the New Jersey Devils. Jacksonville is returning to the ECHL after a year off and a move from Evansville. The IceMen had been affiliated with Ottawa prior to their one-year hiatus, but the Senators are now affiliated with the Wichita Thunder. Jacksonville is planning to announce its affiliation in July.
- NHL teams currently without an ECHL affiliate: Columbus, Edmonton, Florida, Minnesota, New Jersey, St. Louis and Vancouver.
The coaching carousel is another constant in the spring in hockey. Among the new coaches in the ECHL:
- The Tulsa Oilers hired former Alaska Aces coach Rob Murray after the Aces suspended operations. Murray led the Aces to a Kelly Cup in 2014. He replaces Jason Christie, who moves on to …
- The Jacksonville IceMen announced former Tulsa coach Jason Christie as their new head coach.
- Kirk MacDonald was named the head coach of the Reading Royals after serving on an interim basis at the end of the season. He replaces Larry Courville.
- The Worcester Railers’ first head coach will be Jamie Russell, who previously coached the Elmira Jackals for two seasons.
- The Rapid City Rush announced Daniel Tetrault will be the team’s coach. He replaces Mark DeSantis.