FORT WAYNE – The Komets will announce today that they are joining the ECHL, less than two weeks after they won the CHL championship.
Here are reasons fans should be excited about the move, and a few things that might make you nervous:
Future NHL stars: Not since they left the original IHL in 1999 have future NHL players been at Memorial Coliseum in abundance. That’s about to change. Since Feb. 18, five former ECHL players have made their NHL debuts.
Road trips: The worst part about the CHL was there weren’t many nearby road games for fans to attend. That will change in the ECHL, where there will be five teams within 300 miles.
Bring on Toledo: 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.
Stability: The CHL will have, at most, 12 teams this season, including some (Rio Grande Valley) on shaky ground. The ECHL, which will probably have 23 teams next season, is set up better for the long term.
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. The ECHL will give new motivation to the second-oldest team in minor-league hockey.
Better officiating: Because it’s a proving ground for the NHL, we should see better refereeing in the ECHL.
More games: The CHL played a 66-game regular season, while the ECHL had 72 games. So that will give you three more visits to the Coliseum.
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.
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.
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:
Learning league: The ECHL has lots of young, fast players, who are less polished. The games can be messy, and fans may get uncomfortable with the lack of savvy.
Travel budget: Everyone talks about the travel being easier in the ECHL, but that depends on how they schedule it. Kalamazoo had to make two trips to South Carolina and one to Florida this season. The playoff finals were between teams from Estero, Fla., and Las Vegas.
Losing fan favorites: This could mean early exits for beloved players. You can have four veterans, not including goalies, and the Komets will have to decide whether Colin Chaulk, Nick Boucher, Brett Smith, Brent Henley and Leo Thomas fit the ECHL mold.
Coach’s challenge: 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.
Changing rivals: Rekindling rivalries is 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.