By: Mark Allred | Follow Me On Twitter @BlackAndGold277
With the close of the 2019-20 ECHL season back in March of 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Boston Bruins and the organizations “AA” minor-pro affiliate the Atlanta Gladiators ended a previous one-year agreement. Rumors were floating around about the B’s and Atlanta agreeing on another year affiliation, but the ECHL franchise opted out of play for the upcoming 2020-21 regular season.
Per hockeydb.com, the Bruins have used the ECHL services since the 1991-92 season with their first affiliation with the Johnstown Chiefs moving to the Charlotte Checkers (1993 to 1998), Greenville Grrrowl (2001-02), back to Johnstown (2007-08), Reading Royals (2009 to 2012), South Carolina Stingrays (2012 to 2015) and finally with the Atlanta Gladiators (2015 to 2020). With the official start date of the 2020-21 season for the ECHL starting on December 11th, 2020, more news about a new affiliation for the Boston organization could be coming soon.
Scrolling through Twitter over the weekend, I see a post from The Puck Authority, and this particular hockey account quoted a tweet from the Athletic.com Boston Bruins beat writer Fluto Shinzawa talking about defenseman Jakub Zboril and the huge audition he’ll be having when training camp opens up. In this article that Fluto did with Boston Bruins Director of Player Personnel John Ferguson. Although this was a fantastic piece, and highly recommend you subscribing and reading Fluto’s work, the words of a possible new minor-pro affiliation from the ending of his article above didn’t exactly go unnoticed.
One wrinkle for the Bruins is that Atlanta, their previous ECHL affiliate, suspended operations for the season. The Bruins are working on an arrangement to place players with the Jacksonville Icemen.
It has also been rumored in the past that the Boston Bruins might not want to have an ECHL affiliation because of the limited prospects that have actually seen time with Atlanta recently. Honestly, if you take the time to look back in the last few seasons Joona Koppanen, Jesse Gabrielle (No Longer W/ B’s), Kyle Keyser, and Dan Vladar have pretty much been the only names you see on the transactions pages from the AHL and ECHL.
Earlier this year (2020), longtime Providence Bruins writer and current New England Hockey Journal scribe Mark Divver mentioned when frequently asked about what’s to become of the Bruins-Gladiators affiliation with his response being, I’m not sure the Bruins want to have an ECHL team this year and might loan out the few that would be sent down. The loan process is much like what the St. Louis Blues did with goaltender Jordan Binnington and when he played a full season with the Providence Bruins as a loaned player before going onto the next year winning a Stanley Cup.
With just 41 days left until Opening Night 2020, we want to reflect on Opening Night 2018, presented by Reflections Window and Pressure Washing! pic.twitter.com/GGVWx1mJ9v— Jacksonville Icemen (@JaxIcemen) November 1, 2020
This is where the speculation comes to mind and gets the creative juices flowing. To me, this sets up two questions roaming around in my head and something to ponder moving forward.
Are the Bruins being forced to make an ECHL agreement for the upcoming season because the organization might have a plan to house more prospects than normally at that particular level? I can’t see the need for the B’s to want to talk about a full agreement if there are only one or two making stops in the coast. This whole rumor makes me think the Boston Bruins are setting up to fully utilize the space at the “AA” minor-pro level and stockpile prospects or more AHL only contracted players who need to have a place to skate with limited space on the higher Providence roster.
This also sets up another scenario that has some speculative legs. Could a one-year agreement with Jacksonville be the time needed to explore options further to bring an ECHL affiliation closer to where the NHL Bruins and AHL Bruins operate? Many NHL franchises in the past ten years have moved affiliations closer to home for immediate emergency recalls. The city of Manchester, New Hampshire continues to make noise for a pro hockey team return as the Queen City has been so supportive no matter what affiliation, league, or team came to the Granite State’s largest city.
Having an ECHL affiliation closer to New England seems like a pipe dream when looking at the trend of where the NHL Bruins have had agreements throughout time. In the past, the Boston organization’s closest affiliation was in Reading, Pennsylvania, with the rest since the 1991-92 season, primarily located in the southeastern part of the United States. I still feel the B’s want to bring an ECHL team closer, and a city like Manchester, especially if it’s linked to the already popular Boston Franchise, would be a huge spark for an area without hockey for the last two seasons.