On July 16, 2018, the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL extended their affiliation agreement with the Dallas Stars for two additional years. With the NHL Seattle process in full swing, speculation has taken off that a 2020 timeline opens the door for a Steelheads relationship — fueled by Dave Tippetts recent comments that he’s headed to Boise to speak with the organization.
Sonics Rising was told by an AHL executive that they would be expanding along with Seattle if a franchise is granted and my own speculation - I don’t want to speak for all - leads me to believe that the bottle is pointing toward Idaho.
That does not mean I consider it the best fit. And truth be told, I don’t.
The relationship between an NHL team and their AHL affiliate plays a large role in player development and their distance from each other can facilitate or hinder the process.
NHL teams can list a maximum of 23 players on their playing roster at any one time but can only dress 20 on game-day. The remaining players are “scratched” and usually find themselves up in the box eating popcorn while their teammates take the ice. That is fine for road games where injury may require a last minute change but there is a much more productive place for them while at home.
On the ice.
If the two teams are geographically close, it opens the door for scratched players to skate with their AHL affiliate before returning to their NHL team prior to a road trip. Additionally, prospects can spend time with their NHL counterparts - whether on the ice or in the gym - and maintain a face-to-face relationship with player personnel.
“It’s awesome. If they (the Colorado Avalanche) are going to carry 13 forwards and 8 D, or 14 forwards and 7 D, and they are at home and want to get some guys some reps up here, they just drive up and play,” Colorado Eagles head coach Greg Cronin, whose AHL team is only 50-miles north of Denver, told Sonics Rising. “Whether they are here all week for practice it doesn’t matter. They can come in Friday, play a game, play Saturday, and go back down on Monday if they have to.”
Such a relationship can also be found in places such as San Jose where Bonney Lake, WA native Dylan Gambrell is embracing the opportunity of his AHL team sharing a rink with the Sharks.
“It’s nice that both teams are in the same facility,” Gambrell told NBC Sports. “That makes it so much easier for a guy like me who’s been going up and down a bit.”
Boise is only a short flight to Seattle but, as we all know, the process is much longer and the likelihood of day trips to get some ice time for NHL caliber players needing some work or gym time for prospects with seasoned veterans is slim to none.
A GM or coach can’t just hop in their car to meet with a player while staff from both sides are limited to distant communication. Of course, it’s not make-or-break and teams have been doing so since day one but, in such a competitive league, even small advantages can make a difference.
It then comes down to where a team can be placed that won’t harm the five WHL teams in the region.
There is an argument to be made that although the price points are similar, the fan experience is much different. WHL fans build a certain relationship with the players and have a strong desire to win while AHL teams experience high turnover rates and are more focused on development.
With that said, the costs add up and supporting two teams may be out of the question for your average family of three or four.
I’m not completely against Idaho and the distance is a lot less than many other NHL teams, but I tend to believe that relocating a team or expanding to the region would be more beneficial in the long run.
So, what do you think? Are you on-board with Idaho or would you prefer to see something in the area?