With the NHL expanding to 31 teams from 2017-18, speculation was rife as to whether there would be a 31st American League team.
There’s only been flitting rumours regarding the latter but the expansion outfit Las Vegas Knights have found their AHL affiliate in a slightly unlikely place.
The Chicago Wolves are very much their own entity in the American League, bucking the trend by refusing to go under the wing of an NHL team, still owned by Don Levin and Buddy Meyers.
Previously affiliated with the Atlanta Thrashes, Chicago then had a truncated two year relationship with the Vancouver Canucks through 2011-13.
Since then Chicago has allied themselves with St. Louis, though all has not been well in that relationship, which was strained on both sides by all accounts.
Amongst rumours of St. Louis wanting to relocate an AHL team in Kansas and Chicago’s unhappiness with the Blues organisation, no contract extension was forthcoming following the conclusion of the 2016-17 season.
This left the door open for Las Vegas to pair themselves with the Chicago Wolves.
In what you think might be a short-term affiliation for both parties with Vegas perhaps interest in a farm team closer to them in the near future, the reported deal between the deal is a somewhat surprising five years.
How the relationship will work out between the hockey newlyweds will be interesting to watch as Chicago are pretty much the wildcards of the AHL.
Privately owned, they tend to go their own way rather than intently listen to the wishes of their NHL team. This was a problem St. Louis encountered on many occasions, especially when it came to the general development of their prospects.
On the subject of the Blues, they will still be sending players to Chicago in what’s by all accounts an open-ended agreement with no real clarity on what kind of input St. Louis may have, if any.
The balance of Las Vegas/St. Louis players on the Wolves roster should still favour the latter on the numbers count but how many will be denied playing time?
Regarding the affiliation, Golden Knights general manager George McPhee said in a statement. “I would like to thank Don Levin, Wendell Young and the rest of the Wolves organization for their commitment to the game and helping young hockey players grow to reach their full potential as professionals.
Chicago is without question one of the strongest, most passionate hockey communities in North America. This is a relationship that we truly believe will be mutually beneficial.”
Now this statement and tone is commonplace but this new arrangement appears to go a little deeper as Chicago appear to be smitten with their new partners.
As per the press release for the appointment of Wolves new Head Coach Rocky Thompson on June 7:
“The Chicago Wolves and the Vegas Golden Knights announced Wednesday that Rocky Thompson has been hired as Chicago’s head coach for the 2017-18 season.
“I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity to serve as head coach of the Chicago Wolves,” Thompson said. “Chicago is a tremendous hockey community and I look forward to helping the Golden Knights develop top players on and off the ice in front of this dedicated fan base.”
Then there is the ECHL tie-up to consider. Chicago has held a working relationship with Quad City Mallards for a few years and it’s now been made official.
Quietly in on the deal are Las Vegas, who with little fanfare have also linked themselves to the Mallards in what’s reported to be a multi-year deal, possibly the same length as the contract with Chicago.
“We’ve had a really good relationship with Quad City over the years,” said Wolves general manager Wendell Young. “We’ve had an informal arrangement to put players there and I’ve consulted with their management and coaching staff frequently. They’ve been very accommodating and we‘ve always tried to help them out, too, but now it’s official.”
The upside for Las Vegas is that they are dealing with a thoroughly established AHL team and that will save them a great deal of heartache and problems during the early stages of the franchise.
The downside is that Chicago generally tend to do things their way and you don’t have total control or the final decision.
Despite what seems like a genuine and positive attitude between the organisations at this juncture, it would be no surprise to see things turn sour sometime in the future.
It promises to provide a fascinating sideshow to the Las Vegas Golden Knights inaugural season.