As the ECHL’s lone independent team last season, the Komets had the fourth-best regular-season record and reached the second round of the playoffs.
Despite the success, general manager David Franke wanted to pursue an NHL affiliation as long as it was the right fit.
He found it in the desert.
The Komets and Arizona Coyotes jointly announced Monday they have agreed to a one-year affiliation, in which prospects will go back and forth between Double-A level Fort Wayne and the Triple-A affiliate, the Tucson Roadrunners.
“We feel they understand what it takes from the ECHL affiliate and what they can do to help the ECHL team,” Franke said. “It’s got to be a good relationship back and forth with each other. I feel we found what we were looking for with Arizona.”
About five players, including a goaltender, are expected to be assigned to the Komets from Arizona and Tucson, and the Coyotes will have spots in the training camp for Fort Wayne players.
“We are excited to partner with the Fort Wayne Komets as our new ECHL affiliate,” Coyotes president of hockey operations and general manager John Chayka said. “The Komets are a first-class organization with a very passionate fan base. We look forward to a great partnership.”
The Komets’ affiliation with the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche came to an end last summer, after Fort Wayne was displeased because its roster was regularly pillaged by the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage, often with the called-up players then sitting in the AHL stands. The Avalanche, meanwhile, was unhappy that some of its prospects, like goaltender Spencer Martin, weren’t playing in key situations. The Avalanche’s new ECHL affiliate, the Colorado Eagles, won the Kelly Cup last season.
“One of the great things about this agreement (with the Coyotes) is there are safeguards in it so we won’t have all the call-ups at one time. We won’t be losing a bunch of players in batches,” Franke said. “We were losing four or five guys at a time to San Antonio.”
While in the ECHL, Fort Wayne also had a short-lived affiliation with the Anaheim Ducks, who didn’t send the Komets as many impact players as they’d hoped they’d get.
Franke has already been working with Arizona assistant general managers Chris O'Hearn and Steve Sullivan on finalizing players for two-way contracts between the AHL and ECHL.
As the only independent team in the ECHL last season, the Komets still had seven players called up to the AHL, but Franke said: “This affiliation gives the players we have signed to the hockey club a better chance to get called up. When you’re putting a team together or recruiting a team, the players want to play at the highest level they can possibly play and this lets the players know that if they’re playing well, there’s a more direct path to the AHL. I don’t mean that we’re going to lose all our players to Tucson, but there’s now a light at the end of the tunnel for our guys.”
The Komets, who open the regular season Oct. 14 at Memorial Coliseum against the Toledo Walleye, already have signed forwards Jamie Schaafsma, Justin Hodgman, Garrett Thompson, Dennis Kravchenko, Gabriel Desjardins, Mason Baptista and Taylor Crunk, defensemen Bobby Shea, Jason Binkley, Curtis Leonard, Cody Sol and Ryan Lowney, and goaltenders Garrett Bartus and Alex Sakellaropoulos.
Hodgman played in the NHL for the Coyotes in 2014-15 and the Roadrunners, who missed the AHL playoffs last season, called up Trevor Cheek from Fort Wayne multiple times and re-signed him this summer. Tucson’s president, Bob Hoffman, worked with the Komets when he was director of operations for the Central Hockey League before its demise in 2014.
Last season, the Coyotes' ECHL affiliate was Rapid City, which had the fourth-worst record in the league.
“The Coyotes have been good to deal with and they’re committed to making sure this is a good situation for Arizona, Tucson and Fort Wayne,” Franke said. “We feel we can improve over last year, especially come playoff, and … I feel this is a great day for Komets fans.”