Minor League Silly Season: Vegas Leaving Chicago, Richmond Back at It, ECHL in Quebec??

Photo via Vegas Golden Knights website

One of the bigger stories that broke for this week in the NHL/AHL landscape was the note that the Vegas Golden Knights are looking to buy an AHL team in order to move them to the Orleans Arena in Vegas to get their prospects close. It would be in line with what other Western Conference teams have been doing. Currently, the Chicago Wolves are the Knights affiliate, which is quite the ways away from each other. And in reality, that’s probably the only reason why the Knights want to leave.

As an independent team, the Wolves are one of the most successful on and off the ice in the AHL. They want the player’s best and want to win at the box office as well, to which they have been successful despite the cluttered market in the Chicagoland area. However, this news of a chance doesn’t come as a shock to Wolves Chairman Don Levin, telling the Chicago Sun-Times, “The Chicago Wolves will be here next year, we just don’t know who we’ll be affiliated with. There’s no scenario at all the Wolves will be affiliated with Vegas. We knew that before. Our affiliation would be over at the end of the year.”

The issue that arises is the need to Vegas to get an independent team to sell to them. There are some that have contracts coming up like Hershey, Grand Rapids, and Milwaukee– but all of them are in good spaces right now and won’t sell because their markets are strong. Rockford has been brought up as a selling mate because they have dropped in their attendance over the last five years. We could definitely see the IceHogs move west before the puck drops next season.


Richmond has been endorsed by the ECHL to get a hockey team with a proposed arena popping up in the Navy Hill district. Richmond has Richmond was a long-standing member of the ECHL from 1990 until 2003 as the Renegades, with the UHL having the RiverDogs 2003 until 2006, and then the Renegades name popped up again, this time in the SPHL from 2006 until 2009.

All this, of course, hinges on getting an arena in the $1.5B project which would see many restaurant and shopping areas, akin to what many cities have done with stadiums and arenas in the past. The team also has an owner ready to go and with an understanding of the ECHL structure in Fred Festa– former owner of the Greenville Swamp Rabbits.

It would be great to see Richmond back in hockey, though in this landscape, especially in the ECHL with rivals in Norfolk and Wheeling already slotted in. Now, it’s just a matter of getting the project approved and then getting the money to get the team into the new arena.


A few weeks back, the push to bring the ECHL to Trois-Rivieres, Quebec seems to have hit a road block. In an interview with SB Nation’s Montreal Canadiens blog, Dean MacDonald– the lead in bringing an expansion team into Trois-Rivieres– made a point to say that there was a lot of miscommunication between many parties and it seemed that the Mayor of the city was more focused on getting the University team into the fold rather that the ECHL and cohabitation is something they didn’t want to do. Not to mention, they would need the Canadiens to be in the fold in order to make it work.

The last part is pretty easy, as the Habs don’t have an ECHL affiliate right now. That said, the government being very indecisive and kind of throwing the expansion group curveballs doesn’t show a lot of confidence that the city wants a team there. It would be a nice fit and go with the Montreal-Laval connection already, plus adding another Canadian team to the ECHL fold; though you can’t really force yourself into that spot if the city is unwilling to have you.

Not to mention, you have to wonder if the QMJHL will see all this and try to get back into the Trois-Rivieres fold since it seems like a hot ticket to be at. If that Major Junior money gets in there, then the ECHL bid may have a bigger hill to climb.

Regicide Happens in Manchester; Monarchs Cease Operations

Photo via Manchester Monarchs Twitter

With the Manchester Monarchs folding up shop, it can looked at either one of two ways. One way is that it’s a failure of ownership to adjust to the changing landscape of entertainment and couldn’t maintain an audience. Another way is that a league change wasn’t received well and the only form of protest fans knew was to not show up.

For me, it’s combination of both because the ownership couldn’t handle was what going on and people in the community couldn’t find themselves to put money towards a team that didn’t seem to be getting better. Not only that, but dropping down to a lower-league, though there’s talent in that league, didn’t sit well with fans who were coming off their first and only Calder Cup in the AHL, only to see that team move west to Ontario.

There is some kind of bitterness I could understand with a team moving down a level of play. Some people were very happy with their AHL standing and the move to the ECHL was one that could be represented as a shot at the community not being good enough rather than a logistical thing for the LA Kings to bring their affiliate closer. What they may not have realized is that the team they were getting had been on a four-season streak of 40-plus wins. It was all about status.

Attendance dropped by 1,000 people in that first season and never rebounded. That said, the last few years in the AHL were middling at best given outside influence in life and money being tight everywhere. Regardless, the drastic drop could have been due to the league change, but the team charging the same price for the team they did in a higher level– I don’t have that access to the books.

Plus, it’s not like this team was horrible– they put together over 37 wins each season they were there, made the playoffs each of the four seasons, and had plenty of things going for them in terms of prospects just starting out so people could get in on the ground floor. But it wasn’t the AHL.

In comparison, the other teams who were moved out east found some kind of success in the move– Adirondack has grown by almost 1,000 people a game in those four seasons, though they hit a downturn when they moved to ECHL. Norfolk had plenty of rumors about their future with the declining attendance, but have gotten back to over 3,500 fans a game for a non-playoff team; but also dealt with a drastic hit from the move and ownership quarrels.

Yet, how were they able to survive and keep on going despite the move and other rumors and shake-ups?? Was it understanding the market better and adjusting?? Was it the fans actually really trying to give it an honest shot at a lower level?? How come Manchester didn’t do what was needed to survive??

To say that “ECHL hockey is not viable in Manchester” is a giant cop-out and a shot to the community of Manchester who actually supported the Monarchs through it all. On top of that, it seems that the ECHL gets painted badly due to the fact that a team that was so successful in attendance a league higher couldn’t make it a league below. Probably not many people thinking that if they’re following along, but from the far outside it could look bad overall for the league to be not looked as exciting enough for a former AHL championship city to be a viable area for ECHL hockey.

In the end, maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder. One place that maybe prospective Manchester hockey revivalist could look towards is Worcester. The AHL Sharks were a team that had its ups and down, but had a decent showing before they moved out west to become the Barracuda. After two seasons offs, the ECHL Railers came into town and have topped the 4,000-plus a night their first two seasons. That’s an ownership group who did their homework, looked at the area, and adjust accordingly to be successful off the ice, with the on-ice product learning the ropes of the ECHL and hovering the .500 mark.

Manchester can be a good hockey town. History has shown us that. It’s just a matter of the fans not feeling entitled to just having the AHL and the ownership group being smarter with the product they are trying to sell to the area.