As reported in the Denver Post over a week ago, the Colorado Eagles are in discussions with the Colorado Avalanche in regards to becoming their AHL affiliate as early as 2018-19.
The Eagles are currently the ECHL affiliate for Colorado (a four year agreement in place since 2016) but have ambitions to move a rung up the hockey ladder.
The Eagles president and general manager Chris Stewart has been mulling over [AHL] options according to the Denver Post, who have managed to quote Stewart regarding the speculation.
“There have been some discussions,” Stewart said of Eagles’ AHL venture with the Avalanche. “Obviously, the proximity and logistics, there’s a lot of sense for an affiliation that could possibly take us to the American Hockey League. I can’t confirm anything at this point, by any means, because there are way too many moving parts.”
“We are interested. The Avalanche has some interest. Whether or not that works with their San Antonio agreement or not, I don’t know. Like I said, there are a lot of moving parts. But we would want that affiliate at another level.”
Stewart added: “When you’re talking with the NHL, and especially the Avalanche, which has done so much for the good of hockey in the state of Colorado, I don’t want to step out of line. We’re very respectful of the Avalanche and what they’ve done for hockey, and the Eagles, as hockey continues to grow in this state.”
The Eagles GM went on to confirm that Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic and AHL commissioner David Andrews attended Eagles home games last season.
There’s generally no smoke without fire and Dave Andrews is an extremely busy man, unlikely to attend games almost 2000 miles away from AHL headquarters on a whim.
He’d have watched a fine team last year, as the Colorado Eagles went on to become Kelly Cup Champions for the first time in their history.
The Eagles play at the Budweiser Events Center (hockey capacity 5,289), and averaged an attendance of 4751 last season – good for 8th best in the ECHL.
Many teams at this level would play in rinks not befitting the American League standard and Stewart also addressed this issue when speaking with the Denver Post.
“I don’t believe that the AHL would accept the building as it sits today.
I’m not just talking about seats. The facility in general, the locker rooms, I do think there would have to be some mitigation done to the building to help facilitate an American Hockey League franchise if we went in that direction.”
Certainly the locality of the Eagles would be beneficial, with Loveland, Colorado just fifty miles north of the Pepsi Center, where the Avalanche ply their trade.
The Colorado Avalanche have kept quiet regarding the speculation as they still hold a contract with the San Antonio Rampage. During their tenure in the NHL, Colorado has partnered with six AHL teams including Cornwall Aces, Hershey Bears, Lowell Lock Monsters, Albany River Rats, Cleveland Monsters and the present incumbent Rampage.
If this move were to materialise, where would it leave Colorado’s current AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage?
Well there’s little reason to think they would slip away into obscurity as many franchises have before.
The Rampage have consistently had excellent attendances since 2010-11, regularly drawing over 6,000 patrons per game, peaking at over 7,000 for three straight seasons.
This despite very little success on the ice through their fifteen year history. Just four playoff campaigns during that time and only going as far as the second round.
With the emphasis now on NHL teams wanting their affiliates closer to home, the 900+ miles they were away from Colorado was always going to be problematic at some point.
Should Colorado chose to partner with Eagles, San Antonio could look to the St. Louis Blues as a potential fit, at least for the short-term. However the same distance issue would apply looking forward and St. Louis have been looking at other options for an AHL affiliate, according to reports.
It’ll be intriguing as to how the Spurs Sports & Entertainment group (owners of the San Antonio Rampage) choose to proceed, if the mooted deal goes through.