By: Chris Greene | Follow me on Twitter @cgreenesports
The Boston Bruins recently announced a 10 year extension with their AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins. It was a record agreement and a tribute to the successful partnership between the two teams, which Bruins president, Cam Neely, cited as a major factor in securing a long-term deal. With the AHL affiliation tied down until 2029, the B’s have yet to make a decision, at least publicly, on the agreement with current ECHL affiliate, the Atlanta Gladiators, which ends this season.
The Gladiators became the ECHL affiliate of both the Boston Bruins and the Providence Bruins after signing a two-year agreement in 2015. In February of 2017, the agreement was extended a further two years, securing the affiliation until the end of the current season. With the announcement of the 10 year extension with Providence back in March, many expected the B’s to follow-up with news on their relationship with Atlanta, but we are still waiting. With the Bruins focused on the Stanley Cup playoffs, an announcement on the future of the ECHL affiliation is unlikely until the team is finished on the ice.
Boston has a number of options, the most obvious would be to extend the affiliation with Atlanta. The Bruins have a number of goaltenders in their prospect pool and the ECHL is a great place for them to hone their skills. Providence goaltender Dan Vladar featured regularly for Atlanta in the 2017-18 campaign and with Kyle Keyser eligible for the pros next season, Atlanta would be an ideal spot for him to continue his development. Throughout the regular season, as players were summoned from Providence to Boston, Atlanta reinforced Providence with the likes of Tanner Pond and Sean Bonar, while giving regular playing time to Olivier Galipeau, Joel Messner and Brett McKenzie. The fundamental role of a minor-pro affiliate is to support the senior teams, Atlanta has certainly fulfilled that role for the Bruins.
It is possible that the Bruins part ways with Atlanta. If they do, there are currently two independent ECHL teams that they could partner with, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits or the Rapid City Rush. Geographically this would not make much sense, as neither team is close to New England. Unless the B’s plan on bringing the affiliation closer to home, it would be a shame to sever ties with Atlanta after building a close relationship with them, only to start over with another team based so far away.
It was reported earlier in the season that the Manchester Monarchs are seeking new ownership, casting doubt on their future. This creates a potential opportunity for the Bruins to step in and replace the LA Kings as the senior affiliate. It would make sense to have an affiliate closer to both Boston and Providence to reduce travel between the teams, making it easier for players to move up and down and allowing the organization to keep a closer eye on prospects. Perhaps a relationship with the Bruins would help the Monarchs, who have seen their attendance decline since they were switched to the ECHL. This is of course speculation, for now the Monarchs are still affiliated with the LA Kings, though things could change quickly with new ownership.
If the Bruins were to end the affiliation with Atlanta, expect the Glads to strike a deal with the Nashville Predators organisation. The Gladiators have worked closely with the Nashville’s AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals this season. Atlanta coach, Jeff Pyle, likes to push his players towards the higher levels and a relationship with a senior team makes that possible. Atlanta would most likely become Nashville’s ECHL affiliate if Boston were to move on.
The Gladiators have certainly lived up to their side of the bargain, what Boston decides to do remains to be seen. For now we can only speculate on the future of their ECHL affiliation.