Tomorrow the Komets will announce they are joining the ECHL, less than two weeks after they won the CHL championship.
Here's a look at the top 10 reasons fans should be excited about the move, and a few things that might make you nervous.
1) Future NHL stars: Not since they left the original IHL in 1999 have future NHL players been at Memorial Coliseum in abundance. As the AA-level feeder league for the NHL, that's about to change. Since Feb. 18, five former ECHL players made their NHL debuts.
2) Road trips: The worst part about the CHL was there weren't many road games for fans to attend. That will change in the ECHL, where there will be five teams within 300 miles. Get ready to fill up Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo, Mich., again.
3) A heated rivalry: The most heated rivalry in Komets history wasn't with Indianapolis, Kalamazoo or Rapid City; it was with Toledo. The Walleye are just 102 miles away. Alas, Ted Garvin is no longer the coach.
4) Stability: The CHL will have, at most, 12 teams this season. Some of them, like Rio Grande Valley, are on shaky ground. The CHL may not survive for long. The ECHL, which will probably have 23 teams next season, is much stronger.
5) A new challenge: The Komets have won nine championships in their 60 years, and they've done it in all four leagues in which they've played, if you count the two versions of the IHL separately. Joining the high and mighty ECHL will give new motivation to the second-oldest team in minor-league hockey.
6) Better officiating: Because this is more of a proving ground for the NHL, we should see better refereeing in the ECHL. But, as we all know, Fort Wayne fans will never be satisfied.
7) More games: The CHL played only a 66-game regular season, while the ECHL had 72 games. So that will give you three more visits to Memorial Coliseum to see your Komets.
8) More youth: For the first time in about 25 years, the Komets will be in a league in which older players looking for a paycheck can't get by without giving 100 percent effort. There are too many prospects gunning for jobs for that to happen. This is a league in which you have to deliver effort.
9) Possible affiliation: While the Komets will probably want to maintain their independence, most ECHL teams are affiliated with NHL clubs. Columbus is without a AA-level affiliate. Detroit and Chicago share Toledo. Someone will undoubtedly at least contact Fort Wayne about this.
10) No more moving: Everyone is sick of moving leagues – something the Komets will be doing for the third time since 2007 – and that includes Fort Wayne's ownership. The Frankes want to pick a league and stick with it.
Here are some things that might give you pause, though:
- While the ECHL has lots of young, fast players, they are often less polished. The games are often messy and fans may get uncomfortable with the lack of savvy.
- Everyone talks about the travel being easier in the ECHL, but that depends on how they schedule it. This season, Kalamazoo had to make two trips to South Carolina and one to Florida. Those can be pricy. The playoff finals are between teams from Estero, Fla., and Las Vegas.
- This could mean early exits for beloved players. While you can have four veterans, not including goalies, the Komets will have to decide whether players long in the tooth – Colin Chaulk, Nick Boucher, Brett Smith, Brent Henley and Leo Thomas – fit the ECHL mold.
- Coach Al Sims has won five championships with the Komets in three different leagues, but he's coached only one ECHL season, going 27-36-9 with Reading in 2001-02. This will challenge his abilities to improve young players.
- As much as we may talk about rekindling rivalries, that's easier said than done. There hadn't been heat in Fort Wayne vs. Kalamazoo for many years, and now the Komets lose some great games with Rapid City, Missouri, Bloomington and Quad City.