For more than six weeks, fans of the Komets haven’t been so much basking in the glow of a third straight championship as anxiously awaiting details on what next season’s league will be like.
The IHL will be part of an 18-team coalition with the Central Hockey League, but many important facets remain unclear.
How long will the season be? How will the teams be aligned in conferences or divisions? What will be the playoff format? What will the allowances be on salaries and veterans?
Some of the answers are known to league insiders but cannot be announced because the CHL is a subsidiary of a publically traded company, Global Entertainment Corp., and commenting could draw scrutiny from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Also, the CHL must work out a collective bargaining agreement with the Professional Hockey Players’ Association – the Komets haven’t been in a unionized league since 1999 – and nothing is really final until a CBA is worked out.
The following, however, is what next season could bring:
Look for the Komets to skate a 66-game season with two-thirds of it being against other IHL teams Quad City, Bloomington, Dayton and first-year Evansville.
While players and fans alike tired of seeing the same opponents week after week – the Komets played teams a minimum of 11 times last season – there should be more variance now. IHL teams would still be played about 11 times each, but there are two fewer teams now, and the remaining 22 games would be spread among unfamiliar CHL competition.
This would mean increased travel costs for the Komets, though, and they have already planned at least one trip to Texas.
When the IHL first began talking with the CHL, it thought it would have six teams and the potential to remain its own division. The unexpected demise of Flint probably means the IHL-CHL will split into two conferences.
Talk has centered on the possibility of a northern conference of Colorado, Rapid City, Missouri, Wichita, Quad City, Bloomington, Fort Wayne, Evansville and Dayton, and a southern conference of Arizona, Odessa, Laredo, Rio Grande Valley, Tulsa, Texas, Allen, Bossier-Shreveport and Mississippi.
The implications of this are minimal, though, since the IHL-CHL wants many teams to be able to participate in the playoffs. It wouldn’t be surprising to see about 12 teams make the postseason.
The Komets have signed three players so far – defenseman Bobby Phillips and former Port Huron forwards Derek Patrosso and Brandon Naurato – but general manager David Franke said the roster restrictions haven’t yet been determined. He has been working as if last season’s CHL rules will be in place, meaning a maximum of four veterans who have played at least 301 games, with goalies not counting.
He is also planning on a minimum of five developmental players, who have played 128 games or fewer.
As for the salary cap, last season in the CHL it was $10,450 per week, while the IHL’s was $13,000. Having less money and fewer veterans means tough decisions, even in the wake of the departures of Colin Chaulk and Matt Syroczynski.
The Komets are likely prioritizing captain Guy Dupuis and center Leo Thomas, but popular players like left wing P.C. Drouin, goalie Nick Boucher and right wing Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock may not get the offers they’re looking for and bolt.
No matter how you cut it, the Komets will have a younger, less expensive, different-looking roster.
And consider this …
With Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Flint and Port Huron gone, the Komets have no historic rivals. Only Dayton is within three hours, so look for the Komets and Gems to hype that rivalry. Another one of interest could be Fort Wayne vs. Colorado, teams accustomed to dominating the politics of their respective leagues and sure to butt heads. There hasn’t been an All-Star Game in the Komets’ circuit since 2007 in the United Hockey League. It seems natural for this so-called IHL-CHL Super League to have one, and Fort Wayne might make the most sense as a venue.