The Colorado Eagles concluded their final season in the ECHL in storybook fashion by defending their title and winning back-to-back Kelly Cup championships. A lengthy playoff run of 24 games with numerous overtimes and comebacks ended with a 3-2 game seven victory over the Florida Everblades. The Eagles were able to achieve the ultimate goal in sport, which is going out on top.
There isn’t much time to watch the confetti fall as the transition for the Eagles to the American Hockey League will happen in just a few short months for the 2018-19 season and no doubt changes have been in motion behind the scenes. Many details have yet to be announced but a few aspects of the transition are already taking shape.
The Eagles will play in the AHL Pacific Division and enjoy a reduced schedule of 68 games, which is eight games fewer than every other division in the league. The good news is that with the departure of Texas and San Antonio to the Central division now the Pacific teams will all have the same schedule length. No more point percentages to figure out the standings!
The AHL schedule release won’t happen until later in the summer but teams were allowed to reveal their opponents for the upcoming season. The Eagles will play a Pacific division heavy schedule with eight games against new division foes Bakersfield, Ontario, San Jose, Stockton and San Diego. The league will try to create a rivalry with Tucson as Colorado is set to play them in 12 contests. A select number of games remain with a few teams from the Central including the Colorado Avalanche’s prior affiliate San Antonio.
A big question on the minds of many is who will coach the Eagles as previous head coach in San Antonio, Eric Veilleux was not retained by the Avalanche. The leading candidate appears to be promoting current Eagles head coach Aaron Schneekloth, who was not only a former Eagles player but also a former teammate of Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar’s in South Carolina. With the success of coaching two championship teams, the familiarity with not only the Avalanche and Eagles organization plus having worked with several of the Avalanche’s top prospects seems like a winning formula to determine who will lead the Eagles moving forward.
Speaking of those who will don an Eagles sweater in the fall, many of the Eagles players who will have their names etched on the Kelly Cup won’t be making the transition to the AHL. The Avalanche are in charge of the roster construction and will be bringing in the bulk of the Rampage roster who still remain under contract to the Avalanche. Some high profile prospects split the season with the Rampage and Eagles who were also part of the playoff run and championship include J.C. Beaudin, Nicolas Meloche, Julien Nantel and Travis Barron will certainly be back with the Eagles next season. Beyond that the Avalanche have some tough decision to make as to how they want to shape the roster.
The first of July isn’t just an important date for constructing the NHL club but will also have major impact on how the Eagles are formed. If the Avalanche sign a lot of free agents then more prospects will begin the season up the road with the Eagles. Also, the Avalanche could sign a lot of veteran AHL free agents to take on major roles with the Eagles and push some of the younger prospects down the depth chart or even to the ECHL.
There’s also the option of promoting those long time Eagles veterans to the AHL and keep a bit more of a consistent lineup with the transition. Younger players who were on AHL contracts such as Shawn St-Amant and playoff MVP Michael Joly could be due for upgrades to NHL Entry Level Contracts or could return on AHL contracts.
One big question still remains; who will be the Avalanche’s new ECHL affiliate? There isn’t a lot of information known yet on this front but GM Joe Sakic mentioned in his season ending press conference that the Avalanche will have a new ECHL affiliate but wasn’t ready to announce yet. There are a few ECHL clubs who have affiliation vacancies such as Orlando and Greenville but the Avalanche could just as easily share an affiliation with another NHL club as many do. Hopefully that partnership will be as successful as the one the Avalanche have enjoyed with the Eagles over the last two years.