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By: Mark Allred | Follow Me On Twitter @BlackAndGold277
The National Hockey Leagues Boston Bruins came to an agreement last week on a ten-year extension with the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League. This agreement with the top minor-pro affiliate of the B’s was one that just made sense from both sides. One, geographically having prospects and others so close to areas of operations is never a bad idea for emergency purposes, and two you can’t beat the fan support and the consistently high attendance numbers when the team is playing at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island.
The Providence Bruins have been one of the most successful franchises when it comes to minor-pro development and has been a pipeline of the NHL B’s since the 1992-93 season. Previous to last weeks agreement the Providence club has amassed a record of 1030W-782L-96T-84OTL-60SOL in 2,053 games played over 26 years as an affiliate of the parent Boston Bruins team. Providence has seen it’s a fair share of current Boston Bruins players such as Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk, and Tuukka Rask. Since the teams, inaugural season (1992-93) the Bruins have seen three regular-season titles, five division championships, one conference championship, and of course the franchise’s only Calder Cup Championship that the club captured after the 1998-99 regular season campaign.
This is not the first time a successful minor league franchise called the city of Providence home. The NHL Bruins also housed developing players of interest with a team called the Providence Reds who per HockeyDB.com had affiliations in the AHL’s inaugural campaign in 1936 to 1938 and making returns in 1958 to 1962, and for the final time from 1963-64 to the 1968-59 season. The Reds were no joke back in the day as the organization saw nine regular-season titles, 13 division championships, and four Calder Cups. Hockey Hall of Famers such as goaltender Frank Brimsek (1937 to 1939), forwards Milt Schmidt (1936-37), and Ed Westfall (1963-64).
The 2018-19 regular season for the Providence team is quickly coming to a close with six games remaining. The B’s have a 35-24-8-3 record after 70 games and sit in the fourth position in the Atlantic Division and currently occupy the seventh position when you look at the Eastern Conference and the Calder Cup Playoff outlook. The Providence club looks to secure a postseason birth for the seventh straight season after being knocked out for three consecutive years prior to the current postseason streak.
This season has certainly been a challenging one for second-year Head Coach Jay Leach, and the AHL Bruins from key developing players departing via emergency recalls to player injuries and finding suitable replacements to fill the roster. I believe in the current path of development from an organizational standpoint, but if you ask me how deep this Providence club can go in the postseason I’d love to think they can go all the way but with the up and down the regular season I’s be certainly happy with a Conference Final. Providence visited the third round briefly during the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs losing to the eventual Conference Champions Syracuse Crunch who beat the B’s in a best of seven series 4-1.
Regardless of my personal prediction or hope for a conference final appearance the Jekyll and Hyde home vs. road playoff schedule has to get better with the regular season records on either side of the coin. As mentioned the B’s have six games remaining and have done a fantastic job on home ice thus far with a record of 27-7-4-1 but have been sub-par away from the Dunk compiling a 13-17-4-2 record. Aside from the home and road rollercoaster this season the Bruins are going to have to figure out what’s not working on the road and figure it out quickly. The Checkers have a home record of 23-6-5-0 and the way things are lined up with travel the Checkers could easily get the first two games at home with an elimination contest back at the Dunk for game three. Lets’ hope that doesn’t happen.
Above is a playoff primer courtesy of theahl.com website. As you can see a postseason appearance for the seventh straight time is not going to be easy especially against the leagues best Charlotte Checkers who already clinched a playoff spot with a regular season record of 46-16-7-1 good for 100 points thus far. These two teams have a 2018-19 regular season series of 4-3-1 with Providence winning only twice at Bojangles Coliseum and needing more than 60 minutes to get it done. The Bruins record at home against the Checkers is actually not bad if the B’s can extend the first round series and play another home game. Home cooking at the Dunk this season against the Charlotte club has produced a record of 2-1-1.
What’s next for the Boston Bruins and the future plans for an ECHL affiliation?
This is a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot and trying to crack the code of what’s going on with the decision of where this Bruins organization could place prospect if needed at the ECHL level? First and foremost I believe the Atlanta Gladiators have a fantastic franchise and a return to the state of Georgia is always a good possibility. Another option is to find a location closer to areas of operation particularly with the above mentioned Providence club and the need for a constant pipeline of players that are able to participate quickly and play at the AHL level in emergency situations.
One area of New England that I’m paying close attention to is the city of Manchester, New Hampshire and the current dumpster fire that’s going on with the ECHL Manchester Monarchs franchise. This metro area once was one of the Northeasts best-attended venues when the AHL Monarchs were in the Queen city before the NHL’s LA Kings came and took the AHL club and ECHL club and swapped them around making the trip for prospects in a matter of hours instead of lengthy cross country travel. Since the AHL moved westward it seems like the fan base walked out with it as season ticket numbers and overall fan attendance has dwindled to what seems like 500 fans.
As a former season ticket holder of the AHL Monarchs and personal experience gathered from a fun place to enjoy a hockey game, it’s disturbing to hear that the ECHL is just not the product for this area and if something can’t be done soon they might miss their window to gain popularity again in the New Hampshire city with so much tradition in the sport. Purely speculating here but news in January of 2019 had the ECHL Manchester Monarchs seeking for new ownership and later reports of the organization ceasing operations for the 2019-20 season.
I know that the current agreement with the Monarchs and their affiliation with the Lod Angles kings is ongoing and seems to be in good order regardless of the ownership news but minor-pro deals are pretty much fly by night operations and walk away from deals as seen in the past from a franchise like the AHL’s Portland Pirate and their agreement with the Cross Insurance Arena. If the Kings would like to place another minor-pro franchise closer to California, this would be a tremendous time to revitalize the Manchester hockey fandom with representation from one of New England’s most popular and respected professional franchises.
Now just spitballing here but if the Bruins were to in fact be affiliated with an ECHL franchise in Manchester I’d have to believe the numbers would be better than the current product just knowing that the Bruins label would be involved. Also, a key factor is how many actual prospects would be involved as the current number of Bruins property playing with the Atlanta club is zero. This season B’s prospects Jesse Gabrielle and Joona Koppanen were the only ones to play in Atlanta as they spent a few games there at the start of the season. Gabrielle was later reassigned to play with the Wichita Thunder halfway through this season.
With a new Collective Bargaining Agreement coming up with the players and owners going toe to toe again soon, I believe it would be wise for both to come to common ground and agree on adding 10 more contracts to the max contracts allowable which are currently set at 50 contracts. What an increased number of contracts could do in my opinion is add more spots to develop and make better use of the ECHL and the availability that NHL teams have with their Premier “AA” affiliations. This will certainly increase development at the middle levels and could accelerate the progression of deserving players for looks and evaluating purposes. Ten extra contracts to play with would be a fantastic way to sign undrafted players worldwide and ones that just finished college and available to be signed as free agents.
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