The Komets want to take a different approach to affiliation next season.
“I don't think we're interested in working with two teams again this year,” general manager David Franke said. “It really kind of hamstrung us on the goalie situation because we couldn't have our contracted goalie here because we had two affiliate goalies. ... When we get affiliated, or hooked up this summer, we're looking more to deal with one team and one team only.”
Last season, the Komets were affiliated with the Vegas Golden Knights and had a less-formal working agreement with the Los Angeles Kings.
The Komets have spoken to both teams about becoming Fort Wayne's sole NHL partner, though it's too early in the process to know if having just one affiliate is feasible or if other NHL teams could emerge as a potential partner.
There were headaches this season working with two NHL teams beyond netminding – skaters went back and forth to the American Hockey League and the Komets lacked control over who left and when – but the theater of Cole Kehler and Dylan Ferguson in net was most problematic.
Kehler, a Kings prospect, was 14-10-4 with a 3.05 goals-against average, a .901 save percentage and two shutouts, though he had secured his place atop Fort Wayne's depth chart with increasingly strong play. Ferguson, a rookie for the Golden Knights, was 7-4-2 with a 3.87 GAA and a .867 SP. He missed significant time with injuries and illnesses.
There can be an upside of having two NHL-contracted goalies, namely getting players with huge potential at reduced costs, but if they are playing below expectations, or unavailable to play, it can leave the ECHL team scrambling.
The Komets tried to hedge their bets by carrying a third, ECHL-contracted goalie, but that can be challenging because of a lack of roster spots and how seldom that netminder might play. Patrick Munson appeared in 12 games before being traded to Orlando. Fort Wayne had just brought in Stefanos Lekkas when the season was canceled because of COVID-19.
The Komets are accustomed to having a goalie that they signed to be reliable and available, such as Nick Boucher from 2007 to 2012, Pat Nagle from 2014 to 2017 and Michael Houser in 2017-18. In 2018-19, the Komets got Zach Fucale from Vegas and signed Lukas Hafner, Eric Levine and Alex Dubeau on their own.
“We definitely want to have an ECHL-contracted goalie on the roster this year, someone we can count on, night in and night out, if the affiliate player is not here or needs time to get his game together or whatever,” Franke said. “We definitely plan on having our own ECHL-contracted goalie on our roster this year, for sure.”
But it's too early to make sweeping declarations, especially not knowing if the 2020-21 ECHL season will start on time, if all 26 teams will survive the lost revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic and how many NHL teams will be looking for ECHL affiliates.
The Kings' ECHL affiliate from 2018-19, the Manchester Monarchs, ceased operations last year and that's why they connected with Fort Wayne. Stephen Baylis, Mason Bergh and Max Gottlieb came to Fort Wayne through either NHL or AHL contracts.
The Komets' affiliation agreement with Vegas expires this summer. Through two years of working together, there has been frustration from the Komets' end about how many players they've been sent and how many of Fort Wayne's independently signed players were called up to the AHL. But there's optimism that could improve next season with the Golden Knights buying the AHL's San Antonio Rampage and moving it to Henderson, Nevada, meaning the Komets won't have to deal with the Chicago Wolves as the AHL intermediary.
Franke said more work on an affiliation won't happen for two to four weeks and much can change amid the coronavirus pandemic. The NHL is still determining if it can complete its season.
“We've had a little conversation with Vegas, and we've had a little conversation with L.A,” Franke said. “Again, here we are early in April and we should all be playing hockey but we're not. I don't think there's an immediate need to get anything done by anybody, just because of where we're at right now and the time of year.”
Notes: Allen's Tyler Sheehy, who had 26 goals and 70 points in just 47 games, was selected the ECHL's Rookie of the Year by coaches, reporters, broadcasters and media-relations directors. ... Worcester's Connor Doherty won the ECHL's Community Service Award, chosen by the league office, for participating in over 25 events, including learn-to-skate programs, hospital visits and more.