We end 2017 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Arena Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #10: The Colorado Eagles leave the ECHL to join the AHL in 2018-19.
When the NHL expanded to 31 teams this season with addition of the Vegas Golden Knights, it created an odd trickle-down effect for its minor league affiliates.
The American Hockey League, which serves as a farm league for NHL clubs, only had 30 franchises entering the 2017-18 season, leaving them one short of accommodating all 31 NHL teams. That left the St. Louis Blues without a main affiliate, forcing them to send some players to the Chicago Wolves, a primary affiliate of Vegas.
Enter the Colorado Eagles. Literally.
In mid-October, the AHL announced that the Eagles of the ECHL would join the AHL for the 2018-19 season to become its 31st franchise and the minor-league affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche. In the corresponding move to balance out the league, the San Antonio Rampage, which had been the Avalanche’s AHL team, will become the farm team of the Blues.
“We are thrilled to begin this partnership with the Eagles franchise,” Avalanche Executive Vice President/General Manager Joe Sakic said in a statement at the time of the announcement. “The Eagles are a first-class organization with a history of winning. We are excited that Avalanche fans can now see our top prospects competing and developing in an outstanding environment just up the road.”
In October, the ECHL Board of Governors approved the Eagles’ request to withdraw from the league at the conclusion of the 2017-18 campaign.
“The Eagles have been a strong and competitive Member of the ECHL over the past six seasons,” said ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna in a statement. “We look forward to their participation in the ECHL this season and wish the team and their fans all the best on their future move to the AHL.”
The Eagles, which have been an ECHL franchise since 2011 and won the Kelly Cup as league champion in 2017, became a second-tier affiliate of the Avalanche in 2016. According to the ECHL’s October announcement, Colorado had begun the effort to “relocate the ECHL Membership for play in the ECHL in 2018-19 and beyond.”
The Eagles will continue to play at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, located just north of Denver. The arena currently has a seating capacity of 5,289, but renovations are being contemplated in order to increase that number and modernize the facility that opened in 2003.
“I don’t believe that the AHL would accept the building as it sits today,” Eagles general manager Chris Stewart told the Denver Post in June. “I’m not just talking about seats. The facility in general, the locker rooms, I do think there would have to be some mitigation done to the building to help facilitate an American Hockey League franchise if we went in that direction.”
RELATED STORIES: Colorado Eagles to Join AHL for 2018-19 Season