It’s never good when a NHL team terminates an affiliation with an ECHL franchise. It’s even worse and weirder when it happens two months into the season. However, that’s what the Nashville Predators did when they terminated their affiliation with the Norfolk Admirals on Tuesday only six months into their affiliation.
This move is in a long line of troubling happenings for the Admirals– first was firing their long-time broadcaster because they didn’t want to have a radio feed for their games. The second happened two weeks ago when they fired their president, Mike Santos, who was reportedly the only person in the management position with any kind of hockey executive experience (it’s also a rumored reason why the affiliation was terminated). Also, the Admirals have drawn nothing in terms attendance this season, with one game reportedly having only 545 in attendance while, as a whole– they have only filled 22.8% capacity of The Scope this season.
While the owners of the team say that the team is not going to move and will finish out the ECHL season– should the team fold up, they would be the first team since the 2013-14 San Francisco Bulls to disband mid-season– as the Bulls had to fold up shop 40 games into the season.
It’s hard to believe that the team is spinning this as a good decision and one in the right direction. Since the team has been bought, they have been terrible and you can pin most of that on the ownership group– who is not in the vicinity of Norfolk. They ownership also went so far as suing the previous ownership saying they were misled when buying the team. Hard to feel sorry for a group who failed to do due diligence or doesn’t know how to run a sports organization overall.
The sad part of this is that Norfolk and the Hampton Roads area has always been a staple of minor league hockey. The Admirals were a founding member of the ECHL and were a force to be reckoned with in winning three Kelly Cups in 1991, 1992, and 1998. They moved up to the AHL when the Chicago Blackhawks saw value in their area as being good for development and solid placement for them.
Yet, things made a turn later on when the Blackhawks moved their affiliate closer to them in Rockford– Norfolk would then affiliate with the Tampa Bay Lightning– which brought them the Calder Cup in 2012, then to the Anaheim Ducks for a few season before the Ducks bought the team in 2015. That move was only to leverage it a move to San Diego for the Ducks and Edmonton turning Norfolk into the ECHL affiliate again. The fans there probably took this as a slap in the face and would rather have nothing at all than to watch the ECHL– which is understandable. Couple that with ownership issues and lack of talent brought into the team; people are revolting at a rapid pace.
Power Play 1, which is a part of Chesnut Holdings, which bought the team from the Edmonton Oilers is now responsible for the whole ordeal and really making it a shell of its former self. While they lauded former owner Ken Young, they also seemed to blame him for trying to have one staff work with two teams— which may or may not have led to the demise of the team or the team being overlooked. That said, at least the owner was familiar with the market and not someone who is coming from the outside trying to do something in New York that may not work in Norfolk.
The move to bring in the Predators seemed to have things moving in the right direction and it seemed that the ownership may have turned a corner in gaining trust. Boy, was that wrong. While the fans deserve better– them not showing up or supporting the team isn’t going to help them stay or move up in the ranks. Of course, it’s hard to support a team that is making you feel like you’re wasting money going out to see them. It’s quite the dilemma that they have in Norfolk and one you hope doesn’t lead to a team disbanding– but seems to be going in that direction overall.
One has to wonder if or when the ECHL will step in to work this out. While the fans may not like being moved down, the fact the ECHL is a better brand than when the original Admirals started in 1989 seemed to be missed around those parts. If people gave it a chance and not worried too much about labels of the league– the market could be better off. That, or get some owners or executives in there that actually know the market they are putting a team at.
EDIT: As noted by the comments, the Admirals in the ECHL at the start wasn’t original and they won two Riley Cups and one Kelly Cup.