The Fort Wayne Komets have usually held a tighter grip on their roster than a political convention has on delegates. They share players about as often as a 3-year-old with toys.
General Manager David Franke has always been reluctant to give up any control of his lineup because of an affiliation. He believes Fort Wayne fans would prefer to see players skating here rather than getting limited shifts in a higher league during playoff time. He's seen too many teams' championship chances devastated by call-ups.
So why did the Komets announce Wednesday they would be an affiliate of the NHL's Anaheim Ducks and the AHL's Norfolk Admirals?
"This summer is a lot different because we don't know if the NHL is going to play," Franke said. "If they don't start the season when they are supposed to, that will throw the AHL into a mad scramble to get everything together for camps. It's a different summer as far as the business world of hockey goes. If they don't start on time, it's going to affect all the teams in the AHL and the teams that are affiliated in the ECHL."
The uncertainly also meant Franke was having difficulty finding AHL training camp spots for some of his own players besides Daniel Maggio, who is going to Chicago with the AHL. Now Chris Auger, J.M. Rizk and Brandon Marino will start training camp with Norfolk, and the Komets have the possibility of sending another player to Norfolk. It's obvious that spot could be for unsigned defenseman Frankie DeAngelis as he decides whether to play again or retire.
Franke also realizes ECHL players are going to move up and down whether the Komets have an affiliation or not. It's how the league is built. This was an opportunity for the Komets to get some players back as this agreement could easily fill in a few holes on the Komets' defensive corps.
"An affiliation really takes on a bigger importance in the ECHL," Franke said. "We now have an avenue for our players to get that opportunity in the AHL. We now have the ability to be a solid place for players to play not only as a winning, historic organization but as an opportunity to maybe get some games in the AHL. If we can show the players and the agents that we can be an ECHL franchise that has the ability to get you opportunities at the AHL level combined with the winning tradition, Fort Wayne can be a very enticing city for a player to play for."
But what about the possibility of losing key players at critical times to call-ups when the Komets may need them?
That's still a possibility, but the biggest reason for this affiliation is because Franke and coach Al Sims know the management in Anaheim and Norfolk extremely well. The Komets would not have signed unless they trusted the people on the other side of the contract.
Former Komets player and coach Bruce Boudreau, now the Ducks' coach, suggested the Frankes call Anaheim earlier this summer. The Ducks' Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations David McNab is someone Franke has known for at least 15 years. Norfolk General Manager Bob Ferguson is a former coach of the Indianapolis Ice. Sims was an assistant coach with the Ducks for three years from 1993 to 1996 and still knows several people in the Anaheim organization.
"It's important for us to maintain our roster as much as we can on a nightly basis, but at the same time we have an understanding that if they need help that's fine," Franke said. "They have an understanding with us in that we don't want to be pillaged on a regular basis and not have a solid lineup every night. They understand that. There may be times when they need a guy immediately and they may go somewhere closer to Norfolk than Fort Wayne."
But it will also be an opportunity for Komets to get a chance for AHL playing time. Franke believes his lineup is deep enough already to withstand the call-ups. The Komets already have 21 players signed with Wednesday's additions of defensemen Chris Haltigin and Tim Buttery and forwards Brayden Metz, Michael Hoban and Cory Park, all rookies. Unlike many ECHL teams, the Komets are not relying entirely on their AHL affiliate to stock the majority of the roster.
This also gives the Komets a much stronger training camp because at least five players, including goaltender Kenny Reiter, will be in the AHL when Fort Wayne opens practice Sept. 28. Some youngsters will get a chance to show what they can do.
"This is the smartest thing we could do," Franke said. "It's a great opportunity for our players. We'll get some players who have played in the Coast and maybe in the AHL. We'll still control our roster, but we're going to be more flexible."