There will be a seismic shift in minor league hockey soon. Maybe. The New York Islanders will have to find a way to align their prospects accordingly in the new system. Maybe.
The proposed merger/expansion/jostling of the AHL, ECHL, and CHL (Central not Canadian, don’t fret) is both bold and ridiculous. The concepts have strong basis is reality, the logistics alone will be a nightmare.
Merge two leagues and give their best teams away to the upper tier. Wipe some teams from the earth at both levels? Reposition the rest to appease the NHL. What about teams already owned by NHL franchises? What about the Islanders?
The AHL Option:
There is little-to-no concern regarding the Bridgeport Sound Tigers being the AHL affiliate of the Islanders. The Islanders are the sole owners of the farm club and have the team strategically placed both near the parent club and within the layout of the American Hockey League.
As it stands now, the Islanders can call up a Sound Tiger and have that player (players) at Nassau Coliseum within 3 hours, Boston in 2 hours, the Garden or the Rock in just over one hour. That’s a very friendly time radius with a multitude of transportation options.
But what if the Sound Tigers weren’t in Bridgeport? That possibility has been floating since the idea of the Islanders move to Brooklyn became cold, hard fact. When the Isles fully move out of NVMC the barn will be all but dormant. It will be an irregularly used warehouse instead of a home with a permanent tenant. Enter the “Sound Tigers”. The Islanders could move their AHL club out of Connecticut and into the Coliseum as per Bruce Ratner, the man who has been awarded the right to renovate Nassau Coliseum and its land. The Sound Tigers will have a much more direct line to the big club, reducing travel costs from little to almost none, and keep the team within a beneficial geographic location within their AHL division and conference.
One meager hurdle stands in his way, and that’s the current lease the Sound Tigers are locked into at Harbor Yard.
When you think about it the Islanders’ strongest organizational strength is its ability to fight a lease, so this is a minor concern.
Ratner’s short-sighted vision is the Sound Tigers occupying the Coliseum as soon as the Islanders leave for Barclay’s. Why move the team into the building when you’re going to take upwards of three years to renovate the building, other team facilities, and public parking? The islanders’ six “home” games back in Nassau in 2015-16 should not affect a Sound Tigers home schedule, but there’s no reason to double up teams. The interesting part of the lease is that it mandates the building have professional hockey. This can be fulfilled by…oh my god…the Rangers. If the team from Short Island moves the Woflpack to Bridgeport they’ll uphold a criteria of the lease and have their prospects even more accessible than where they are in northern Connecticut. It’s a win for both sides.
It’s safe to say the “__________ Sound Tigers” will continue to be within an arm’s reach of the Islanders, regardless of the proclamations they’re Bridgeport residents for life.
The ECHL Option:
Here’s the tricky part. The Islanders have renewed their partnership with the Stockton Thunder. Yes, the city of Stockton that is 60mi. east of San Francisco.
As crazy as that sounds the relationship works for both parties. Fortunately (and unfortunately) for everyone involved the Thunder have been growing a solid fan base that sells out games, regardless of NHL affiliation. While that’s good for the business it’s has the potential to end in heartbreak for the players and fans.
With the 2nd – tier farm team three time zones away and outside of the rest of the league there’s a timer on the partnership, not the location. With the anticipated evolution of minor league hockey the Thunder may be reassigned to a western conference NHL team. As the Bakersfield Condors are now officially owned by the Edmonton Oilers, Stockton could very well be pushed up the food chain to become San Jose’s AHL team, and that’s pure speculation right now. As is everything related to any massive corporate merger (which this ultimately is).
As the ECHL is a New Jersey-based league with a greater geographic scope it is quite difficult to pinpoint a current franchise to assign to the Islanders. The best option would be riving a now-defunct team. Trenton and Atlantic City can be those options
As an affiliate of both the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers the Trenton Titans are well-suited in the northeast and among their higher-level partners. And both give the “new ECHL” a footprint in the NY/PHI media markets. Unless the Devils already have a say in who fits them best, the Islanders are not an illogical choice.
Atlantic City, though their existence was brief, provided the extra level of entertainment that professional sports has been looking for in places like Las Vegas. Except AC is not LV and doesn’t have the exposure. But a revived Boardwalk Bullies can (re)fill a niche.
This plan is not perfect, merely a idea of where to start. And starting may never happen as muscle movements of this breadth take time and can fall apart at any moment. But it’s good to think ahead.