The Chicago Wolves announced on Tuesday that they have reached a partnership with the NHL expansion team Las Vegas Golden Knights.
The Wolves stated in a press release that the two teams "have forged an alliance based on their shared belief that winning is a crucial component of the American Hockey League experience." While the Wolves will develop young hockey players who are under contract with Las Vegas, the Golden Knights will ensure that the Wolves can win another AHL championship. The Wolves pointed out that Golden Knights general manager George McPhee, who managed the Washington Capitals from 2005 to 2014, saw the Capitals-affiliated Hershey Bears win three AHL championships during that timeframe.
The five-year deal will see the Golden Knights replace the St. Louis Blues as the primary NHL team affiliated with the Wolves. However, the Blues will still associate with the Wolves and supply players to the minor league team as well. Both the Knights and Blues will pay the salaries of the players they send to play in Chicago, while the Wolves will pay the Knights a set fee each season.
An Important Minor League
The American Hockey League may be viewed as the equivalent of Triple AAA teams in baseball or the NBA D-League, but it has existed in some form since 1936, and the Wolves were first created in 1994. Since its creation, the Wolves have won four championships, with the most recent in 2008. In the 2017 AHL playoffs, they made it to the second round before being eliminated in five games by the Grand Rapids Griffins.
However, while the partnership with the Golden Knights was formally announced on Tuesday, it has been an open secret for months. Las Vegas wanted an independent affiliated AHL team which was not outright owned by another team, and the Wolves were one of the few teams which fit that qualification. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that the details of the agreement had been finalized in late March, but the Wolves asked the Golden Knights not to announce it until their season was over.
In fact, the two teams have already been working together as the Golden Knights sent free agent forward Reid Duke to practice with the Wolves late last season. The Golden Knights currently only have Duke and Russian center Vadim Shipachyou on the team, but they will pick up additional players during the expansion draft in June.
Like most expansion teams in all sports, the Golden Knights will likely start off as a young, developing team which will need time to reach the playoffs or contend for a Stanley Cup. Under those circumstances, they will need a strong minor league team which can effectively develop their players.
While this partnership is clearly beneficial for the Golden Knights and the Wolves, the Blues find themselves as a secondary partner without a minor league not fully in their control. This has prompted discussion about whether the AHL may expand alongside the NHL in locations such as Kansas City or Albany.
However, the AHL last week announced that while there would be a new divisional alignment for the 2017-18 season, there would be no expansion team. The AHL has seen a large number of teams move over the past years as their NHL owners sought to relocate them to be closer to the individual teams and so may not be interested in additional changes.
Regardless, the partnership between the Golden Knights and the Wolves indicates how both teams are committed to winning a championship in their respective leagues and growing together. McPhee made it clear that he saw this move as a mutually beneficial relationship.
[Featured Image by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images]