Many NHL teams moved their ECHL operations closer to them this offseason by changing affiliates. This move helps with marketing and allows the NHL team brass to keep a close eye on prospects. The trend coincides with the new NHL CBA and the increasing importance of development of players.
Nearby affiliation relationships has been going on for years in certain areas of the country: Pittsburgh Penguins/Wheeling Nailers, Columbus Blue Jackets/Dayton Bombers, Philadelphia Flyers/Trenton Titans, Detroit Red Wings and Toledo Storm, and the Atlanta Thrashers/Gwinnett Gladiators.
But has become a real trend of late, with the following pairs of teams joining forces in 2006: Vancouver Canucks/Victoria Salmon Kings, Montreal Canadiens/Cincinnati Cyclones instead of Long Beach, Phoenix Coyotes/Phoenix Roadrunners (who play in the Coyotes’ old building), New Jersey Devils/Trenton Titans, and Chicago Blackhawks/Toledo Storm after Greenville closed down operations.
NHL teams typically send two to four prospects to their ECHL affiliates. This year, Montreal and Chicago begin the year sending none, compared to Tampa Bay who has sent nine. The Florida Everblades, who have an affiliation with both the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes, have nine NHL contracted players on the roster. In all, over 70 players in the ECHL are on NHL contracts.
There have been 305 former ECHL players who have gone on to play in the NHL after playing in the ECHL, including a record 47 in 2005-06. Recent years have seen many more graduates from the ECHL to the NHL — there have been 158 players who have played in the NHL after the ECHL in the past five seasons. The latest graduates are goaltenders Joey MacDonald, who moved from the Toledo Storm to the Detroit Red Wings, and Mike Smith, who moved from the Lexington Men O’ War to the Dallas Stars, recording a shutout in his first NHL start.