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Pros and cons of a Double-A hockey merger

A player agent, Darryl Wolski, set off a firestorm when he tweeted Tuesday night that he was hearing “the ECHL and CHL are in talks to merge both leagues.”

While such a move has been rumored for years, especially as the ECHL has grown to 21 teams and the CHL has sagged to nine, there has been no confirmation to The Journal Gazette that such a merger is actually close to happening.

There hasn’t been a denial, either.

Neither the ECHL nor the CHL has returned requests for comment. Officials with the Komets declined comment, too.

A merger would be make geographical sense, and it would create a true national Double-A level of hockey that would make it easier for teams in the NHL and American Hockey League to align their affiliations with nearby teams.

The ECHL spans from Estero, Florida, to Anchorage, Alaska, but is imbalanced – so much so that the Komets have been moved this season to the Western Conference, along with the new Indianapolis team, Evansville, Kalamazoo, Colorado, Alaska, Bakersfield, Utah, Idaho, Stockton and Ontario.

The CHL, in which the Komets won the 2012 championship, has five particular franchises that would look attractive from a geographic and business sense to the ECHL -- Missouri, which led the league with an average attendance of 5,499 last season, Wichita (5,089), Tulsa (4,986), Rapid City (4,497) and two-time defending champion, Texas-based Allen (4,216).

The other teams are Quad City, Brampton, Denver and Arizona.

The ECHL, which was formed in 1988, is considered the go-to Double-A league for NHL prospects. The Komets have a new affiliation with the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche and the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters.

The CHL, founded in 1963, has been through mergers before. It joined with the Western Professional Hockey League in 2001. And it absorbed teams from the IHL, including the Komets, after the leagues partnered in 2010.

Wolski is the president of 2112 Hockey Agency.

My personal opinion? This will happen someday. I can’t see it happening this season, though.

There would be some obvious obstacles to this happening right away -- owners controlling multiple teams in the CHL; the collective bargaining agreement with the players association; scheduling; that teams have already begun to put their rosters together; NHL teams suddenly realizing that they would have had more geographically sensible options for their affiliates.

None of that couldn’t be overcome, but let’s bear in mind that so far we’re all going off one tweet from a guy who may or may not be in the know.

Justin A. Cohn, pro sports coordinator for The Journal Gazette, has been covering the Fort Wayne Komets since 1997. His reporting includes game stories from home and away, features about the players and personalities associated with the Komets, plus coverage of issues affecting hockey at all levels. A native of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Cohn graduated from Emory University in Atlanta. He can be reached at 260-461-8429 or by email at jcohn@jg.net.

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