BLAKE SEBRING: Why are so many Fort Wayne Komets fans excited about affiliation possibility?

Blake Sebring, News-Sentinel Sports Department

Sorry, but I just can’t get too fired up about any affiliation, though there’s always hope a new one might be different. Too much hyperbole and not enough substance, and heaven forbid the Frankes hope for an equal partner instead of a dictator.

Yes, I know it makes coach Gary Graham’s job easier for recruiting, and I understand why the potential players (and especially their agents) might think it helps their chances of advancing to the AHL (frankly, it doesn’t). But why are so many fans excited?

Yes, the Komets could be affiliated with the Stanley Cup finalist Vegas Golden Knights, but only on paper. In reality, anything the Komets do as part of an affiliation has absolutely nothing to do with anyone in Las Vegas. NHL teams have ECHL affiliations simply because it helps their AHL farm team. NHL teams are as far away from their ECHL affiliates as a politician elected to high office is to the average Joe. They understand they are there, but they don’t have much frame of reference. That’s not a slam, just reality.

If anything, Fort Wayne fans have learned over six ECHL seasons that affiliations are way overblown. Maybe with the exception of a goaltender, the ECHL teams are not going to receive NHL prospects. At best, they are going to see guys who have a very slim chance of making the NHL, they’re going to get leftover AHL free agents or they are going to receive players who were former prospects who are now being buried in the last year of their entry contracts. And those players are usually decent, but not always. The Komets received several duds during their affiliation with the Colorado Avalanche but had to play them.

Sometimes players who get sent down really can’t play and that’s why they are here, and sometimes that pushes better players into the stands to watch instead of playing, even during the playoffs. The AHL team may have given up on a guy, but they still want them to play just so they don’t have to hear the griping from agents. NOT OUR PROBLEM.

Affiliations serve two purposes mainly: They save money at $550 per week for individual players against the ECHL salary cap and they tie the ECHL as a league more tightly to the AHL. Sometimes the AHL team will sign some players the ECHL has suggested to two-way contracts such as Tucson did last year, but then those players spend most of the season in the AHL.

Oh, and the affiliation will likely change after two years. That’s what always happens everywhere but Toledo and Wheeling. Over the last two summers, I believe it’s 18 or 19 AHL-ECHL affiliations that have changed (It was 12 last summer). Turnover is constant because generally, the AHL wants ECHL teams to be subservient.

The heck with that! ECHL fans are paying enough that they deserve to be the priority, period.

It’s a joke, and, other than those mentioned above, I really don’t understand why anyone takes affiliations seriously. They are mostly driven by the ECHL front office which wants to kneel before the AHL and agents because it’s their best chance to move up the hockey hierarchy by keeping them happy.

Eventually, the ECHL is going to have to understand it’s simply a Class AA hockey league and start making its own paying customers the sole priority and not the AHL. Yes, that’s a sacrilegious idea. Where else is the AHL going to go with its excess players? Where else are those players going to go? The ECHL has more leverage in these situations than it realizes, but too many owners don’t know what they are doing and are afraid of somehow offending the AHL. They don’t know any other way to put a team together.

How does it serve ECHL customers to have so much roster changeover? How does it serve ECHL customers when what happens in the AHL determines so much of what happens during the ECHL playoffs, so much that the playoffs and regular season are often distinctly different? How does it serve ECHL customers when a player gets called up but the ECHL team can’t announce anything until the AHL squad does, though the ECHL team may have a game that night and fans are expecting to see that player? (Which happens more than you may think, and a couple times over the years the Komets have gotten in trouble because I’ve reported such call-ups before the AHL team wanted.)

Affiliations are so one-sided, it’s hard to get excited about them anymore. Everyone always says the same things, mostly because the affiliations are all the same.

It will be interesting to see if this one — when and if it happens — is different. The Chicago Wolves are run by classy people who like the Komets owners have been around hockey for a long time, but a strong affiliation that works out for both teams would be a surprising exception. And if this one is different, I’ll write about that as well because it will be such an interesting change.

Affiliations are just part of doing business in the ECHL, nothing to get excited about.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of News-Sentinel.com. Email Blake Sebring at bsebring@news-sentinel.com.


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