It’s time for everyone’s favorite ECHL topic, the Future of the League. With yesterday’s Trois-Rivieres announcement of a 5 year lease agreement with an arena they now need to find a league. In a 2019 interview Commissioner Ryan Crelin said, “For us to strategically rush to 32 doesn’t make a whole lot of sense; there are a lot of factors to come to play. But the long-term plan is to work toward a model that mirrors the baseball model, and to make sure on the business front that the markets that we are in are strategic markets that can successfully house a minor-league hockey team.” So let’s take a look at what the the landscape of the ECHL could look like in the next few years.
In the North Division I expect a team to end up folding as there have been numerous rumors on the Brampton Beast folding and a lot of people expected them to fold this season, but thankfully they are still around for another season and I would love for them to turn things around and thrive to stay in the ECHL, because that could allow them to potentially move the Central Division. So that would leave Adirondack, Maine, Newfoundland, Reading, and Worcester as the 5 teams in the North. Here are the 3 teams I think will end up entering the league or making a return to the North.
As I stated earlier Trois-Rivieres has a lease agreement in place for 5 years with a possible 10 year extension. The Quebec city has long been rumored to be a target for an affiliation with the Montreal Canadiens and would be perfect for the organization having all three teams in the same province, I would say they are very likely to begin play in the 20-21 season.
Manchester, New Hampshire
A rumor making it’s round across twitter was the return of Manchester to the ECHL after a two year hiatus and a source said that pre-COVID it was a 100% sure thing that they would return to the ECHL, but are no longer sure about the status. I believe if they can get an affiliation with the Boston Bruins they would bring back fans that left during the AHL-ECHL switch, This would also bring get travel down in the North Division with Newfoundland and Reading being the outliers, which would help the travel costs down for many teams.
Elmira, New York
Elmira’s FHL days have been very successful and I heard from someone close to the situation that owner, Robbie Nichols was in talks with the ECHL on a return before they chose to go to the FHL. Nichols is still interested in a return and ECHL is on board the Enforcers could return and put a good product on the ice. They only folded due to previous owners leaving the arena in bad shape and in debt to the league. This addition would also help with travel costs.
The South Division seems pretty stable for now, but I believe they have a big chance of adding to their 7 teams; Atlanta, Greenville, Florida, Jacksonville, Norfolk, Orlando, and South Carolina.
Savannah has a new arena coming in February of 2022 and has been rumored to get a hockey team. If the ECHL could swoop in and take the market from the SPHL this would cut down travel costs with 5 of the 7 teams being within a 5 hour drive. This would help create a Georgia Rivalry with the Atlanta Gladiators, but could also create a close rivalry with the South Carolina Stingrays.
Lots of people like to speculate that the Wheeling Nailers will fold due to their low attendance, but forget they are one of the smallest markets in the ECHL, are owned by the the city’s Regional Economic Development and local youth hockey organization, and are a huge asset to the Pittsburgh Penguins. I believe they will stay put and we will see either A) 2 new expansion teams or B) some sort of divisional realignment with a new expansion team.
Iowa City, Iowa
Another team that could be entering the ECHL in the 21-22 season is Iowa City. There have been rumors the Minnesota Wild are very seriously looking at bringing their ECHL affiliate to Iowa. This would allow their affiliates in the AHL and ECHL to be close to each other. The reason I put them in the Central is because with the exception of the Nailers all teams are within 8 hour drives and would be the best in cost efficiency.
CONFIRMED: Coralville, Iowa will be getting an ECHL team in 2021-2022. Source: https://www.thegazette.com/subject/sports/minor-league/coralville-announces-it-is-getting-a-professional-hockey-team-20200917
I believe if Brampton folds then Kansas City could see a move back to the Central if the Mountain gains two teams.
You saw my realignment scenario, so here are the two cities that could see Mountain DIvision hockey in the near future.
Reno was always listed as future market on the ECHL website and the city council approved a 10 year agreement to establish minor league hockey team. With the Vegas Golden Knights buying the AHL’s San Antonio Stampede and moving them to Henderson, NV makes me believe they might buy into the ECHL. Could you imagine the Bronze Knights being added to the ECHL?
Fort Worth, Texas
Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, TX now supports ice and there has been some rumbling of them possibly joining the ECHL. This could lead to Seattle taking Idaho as there ECHL affiliate (once rumored to make the move to the AHL) and then Dallas could swoop in and take Ft. Worth and would help Allen, Tulsa, and Wichita with travel costs. Reno would only help Utah and Idaho a little bit when it comes to the long trips, but those are still 7-8 drives at least
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