BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna began his journey though the various member cities with a stop in Bakersfield on Oct. 22. The Bakersfield Californian beat writer Mike Griffith touched bases with McKenna to talk bout the league in genera, affiliations and officials.
The league currently has 23 teams. Where do you want to be at in total number of teams?
We’ve been at 23, 24 for the last three years. We’re comfortable at that level. I don’t think we would want to be more than 30 teams. I think ultimately if we had 30 teams, the NHL 30 and the American league 30 and had the opportunity to have that affiliation with both of those leagues for all of our teams that’s where we’d like to be.
Having said that, we’re not going to rush into any markets and expand for the sake of expansion. If we can find good markets with good buildings and good ownership groups and have the ability to go in and do it in the right fashion where we can succeed for the longer term we’ll take a look at that market.
Have more ECHL teams been able to secure affiliations over the past few years?
Yes. This year, with the exception of Dayton, every team in the league has an affiliation and some have more than one. We have two or three instances where two NHL or American league teams are affiliated with one team.
Is that an ultimate goal, to have all ECHL teams affiliated?
I think it’s a good thing. We don’t demand that. I think ultimately it’s a team decision if they want to affiliate or remain independent. Some organizations prefer to stay independent but I think in general it’s a good thing. I think the more ties we have with the AHL and NHL allows us to attract good young players and it also means good young players will be assigned to our teams by those affiliates. Ultimately the quality of hockey that we’re able to present for our fans will better.
Are NHL and AHL teams placing more players at this level than in past years?
Yes. Last year about 40 percent of the players in our league were either on NHL or American league deals. I don’t have an account this year but I’m sure were at least that level again. You’re seeing two teams here tonight (Bakersfield and Stockton) that are beneficiaries of that. I think the NHL is developing more of a model along the lines of baseball where they’re starting to realize signing free agents isn’t the only way to develop a team. Given the salary cap the NHL has now I think they’re spending more time on trying to develop players within their own system. We’re seeing the number of players assigned to our league grow and in general I think that’s a good thing.
What does the league do to bring in officials, especially out West where the pool of officials is not deep?
We’re working hard. Bryan Lewis and Rod Pasma head up that end of business for us. This year we’ve brought in a good number of young officials. According to our estimation, and USA Hockey estimation, we’ve hired three of the top four young officials in the USA Hockey program. We also have two of the top referees from the Canadian Hockey League (major junior play) as well. Bryan, Rod and Joe Ernst are continually looking for good officials. They go out and scout guys in the winter and get reports from other various officiating organizations throughout the continent during the year. They go to clinics in the summer, they recruit and try to identify young officials. They also work with the NHL people to determine who they think are good young officials that we can bring to the league. Hopefully, after two or three years in our league, like the players, they are either good enough to be good officials in our league and maybe move up to the American league then to the NHL or we simply replace them and bring in guys that we think have more potential. We’re working hard to continue to improve the quality and consistency of our officials and try to make sure we’re bringing in the best young talent here as well.