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Komets considering move to ECHL

With 20 teams, and another already slated for next season in Orlando, Fla., the ECHL seems to be on more solid ice than the 14-team CHL.

And with five ECHL teams within five hours drive of Fort Wayne, it would seem to make sense for the Komets to join.

The Komets are considering a move from the CHL to the ECHL, which has positioned itself as the top AA-level developmental league for the NHL.

"We will not make any decisions public till the season is over," team president Michael Franke wrote in an email Tuesday. "We are still doing a lot of due diligence regarding our options, checking out all the options so we can make a good decision."

Multiple sources said Franke is meeting with ECHL officials this week, and that Evansville is also atop the league's wish list.

Franke wouldn't confirm that -- the ECHL meetings are taking place in Charleston, S.C. -- but he wrote no vote is imminent on the Komets' inclusion for 2012-13.

An ECHL with the 60-year-old Komets would make sense, considering there are teams in Chicago, Kalamazoo (Mich.), Toledo (Ohio), Cincinnati (Ohio) and Wheeling (W.Va.).

Except for Wheeling, those cities were rivals of Fort Wayne in the original IHL, where the Komets played until 1999. Since then, the Komets have skated eight seasons in the UHL, winning one championship, had three championship seasons in the reincarnated IHL and played two seasons in the CHL.

The Komets have averaged 7,662 fans this season, second in all of minor-league hockey to the AAA-level American Hockey League's Hershey Bears, who average 9,439.

The CHL had 18 teams last season but lost four over the summer with reigning champion Bossier-Shreveport (La.) folding, Odessa (Texas) going to the junior-level North American Hockey League, the Mississippi RiverKings joining the Single-A Southern Professional Hockey League and the Turner Conference-champion Colorado Eagles going to the ECHL.

A source said Rapid City (S.D.), Missouri and Allen (Texas) could also move to the ECHL. Bloomington (Ill.), Dayton (Ohio) and Arizona, among the lowest-drawing teams in the CHL, must evaluate if they can stay afloat.

That leaves only Wichita (Kan.), Tulsa (Okl.), Quad City (Ill.), and Texas-based teams Laredo, Rio Grande Valley and the Texas Brahmas, to decide what to do. Some could move to juniors, join the ECHL or SPHL, be sold or push for a full merger between the CHL and ECHL, which would greatly cut down on travel costs for all.

The Komets had considered joining the ECHL in 2010 – one of the stumbling blocks was a six-to-seven figure franchise fee the league required – but they chose to join the CHL along with IHL brethren Bloomington, Quad City and Dayton.

Dayton is the only current rival within five hours.

The collective bargaining agreement between the Professional Hockey Players' Association and the CHL expires after this season, as does the working agreement between IHL teams and the CHL.

"If the membership came back next year in all the (CHL) cities, it would be great," Franke said Friday, cautioning people from assuming the Komets will bolt the league.

Most teams have NHL affiliations in the ECHL, which spans from Estero, Fla., to Anchorage, Alaska.

ECHL teams can have only four veteran players in games, while CHL teams can have seven. ECHL teams have higher salary caps ($12,400 per week) than those in the CHL ($10,650 per week plus 50 percent of one exempt player).