ECHL admits seven CHL teams days before start of 2014-15 season
UPDATE: The ECHL confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that it had approved the membership applications of the CHL's Allen Americans, Brampton Beast, Missouri Mavericks, Quad City Mallards, Rapid City Rush, Tulsa Oilers and Wichita Thunder for admission to the league for the 2014-15 season.
"These additions strengthen our base in the center of the country and give the ECHL, for the first time, a true national presence," said league commissioner Brian McKenna in a statement. "It expands our ability to act as a development league and more closely aligns our number of teams with both the American Hockey League and the National Hockey League."
McKenna noted there will be logistical challenges in the short term, but said that updates to the playing schedule, divisional alignment and the format for the Kelly Cup playoffs will be announced "at a later date."
UPDATE 2: Now this is interesting: A tweet from Mike McKenna, an executive board member with the Professional Hockey Players Association, the collective bargaining group that represents players from the ECHL and CHL, reveals that "all PHPA members that were under contract to a CHL team for 2014-15 are now deemed unrestricted agents and can sign anywhere."
He went on to explain that different CBAs were negotiated for the ECHL and the CHL, and since the latter no longer exists, it's "impossible [for the ECHL] to honor something that was legally agreed to with a different entity."
Does this mean there'll be mass roster chaos as a result of this ruling? Not likely. As with everything else, the 11th hour nature of the agreement means most will stay in place for a variety of reasons, from a lack of opportunities around the league to a desire to avoid the hassles of moving.
What it does seem to mean though is that CHL players are in for a raise. The ECHL has a minimum weekly pay scale of $415 for rookies and $460 for veterans, with a weekly team salary cap of $12,200 from the second month of the season on. That puts an financial burden on the former CHL clubs--some of which will be alleviated by the addition of three home dates each--but more importantly it could put a few extra bucks in the pockets of CHL players.
What remains to be determined is what will become of formerly contracted CHL players whose rights were retained by ECHL teams. Representatives from two CHL clubs confirmed that meetings will be held tomorrow in Chicago to discuss a variety of issues. This could be on the agenda.
The long-rumored unification of the ECHL and the Central Hockey League will finally be confirmed, according to a source in the CHL office. A second source with an ECHL club said he expected the news "any time now."
Officials from all seven CHL teams are meeting today with the ECHL to discuss rules and other league protocols. The ECHL will then vote on Tuesday to fold some or all of its teams into the new circuit.
Reports have circulated throughout the summer that talks were underway to create a unified Double-A league featuring the 22 member teams of the ECHL and the seven-team CHL. It's expected that the new circuit will retain the ECHL moniker.
Naturally, the 11thhour decision is creating scheduling chaos with training camps about to get underway and the Oct. 17 start of the ECHL season less than two weeks away. In anticipation of the news, the CHL, which is set to open on Oct. 24, has already postponed a camp for officials that was scheduled for next weekend in Tulsa.
At this point it's unimaginable that a new schedule could be created. Instead, an ECHL team source expects that the four division/two conference ECHL will play out its previously announced slate of 72 games. The CHL clubs would likely add six games to their current 66-game schedules and play out of a self-contained Central Conference that would see no regular-season crossover play with current ECHL teams. Geographically logical realignment could then be addressed ahead of the 2015-16 season. The ECHL stretches from Estero, Fla. to Anchorage, Alaska, with the CHL hosting teams from Allen, Texas to Brampton, Ontario.
It's believed that a decision on an acceptable playoff format has been reached as one of the final steps to the merger.
This could be the first of several moves that lead to a significant shakeup of the minor league hockey structure. Several West Coast-based NHL teams, including the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks have expressed concerns with the expense, time and travel barriers that come with having AHL teams based on the East Coast. It's believed that there have been discussions that would see some Eastern-based AHL cities "swap" franchise rights with ECHL cities such as Bakersfield and Stockton, California.