The whispers and hints were confirmed true today when the Colorado Eagles announced they were granted the 31st expansion American Hockey League franchise and enter into a ten year AHL affiliation agreement with the Colorado Avalanche beginning with the 2018-19 season.
What this means for the Colorado Eagles franchise is achieving the ultimate pinnacle in minor league hockey to become the primary affiliate of a NHL organization and house players who are one phone call away from the biggest stage. The Eagles franchise was born in 2003 as a member of the Central Hockey League. After two championships there, the Eagles moved to the ECHL in 2011 and won a championship in 2017 in their first season as an affiliate of the Avalanche.
The Eagles will still maintain the business side of the organization but the Avalanche will take full control of the on-ice operations as they provide the players, coaches and trainers and maintain a keen eye on their deployment. An ECHL team could count on seeing a couple NHL contracted players trickle down to them at any given time with perhaps a couple AHL contracted players as well but were still responsible for filling out the bulk of their roster. With an AHL affiliation, all players will be provided and controlled by the NHL parent club and they will also have heavy influence in AHL contracted players as well. The unfortunate reality of such a fantastic opportunity is that the championship caliber ECHL team that the Eagles and General Manager Chris Stewart have built will cease to exist as the Avalanche bring over the team which comprises the current San Antonio Rampage. Minus of course the current St. Louis Blues players who have begun to filter in as they begin their process of the transition to becoming affiliated with San Antonio next season.
The biggest upside to this agreement for the Avalanche naturally is the opportunity to have their primary affiliate only 50 miles to the north. The ease of call-ups, should they choose to utilize them, and proximity to their future players should only serve as a benefit to development. The growth and promotion of hockey in Colorado, particularly in Northern Colorado is also a goal of this partnership.
Many questions linger and will eventually need addressing as the year progresses toward the beginning of the transition and 2018-19 season. The divisional alignment in the AHL will need tweaking to add the 31st team and if the Eagles will join the other west coast teams in playing a shortened 68 game schedule is a big question to answer. The Avalanche will need to find another minor league affiliate at the ECHL level to house those players who do not fit at the AHL level if they choose to do so.
It is an exciting day for fans of hockey in Colorado who will have the opportunity to see the stars of tomorrow in their backyard and also benefitting strengthening the Avalanche in the process.