The yet-to-be-named St. John’s team could officially be introduced as the ECHL’s newest franchise as early as today.
With the expected approval from the league’s board of governors, St. John’s will be the 28th team in the ECHL next season, coming in as an expansion franchise along with the Maine (Portland) Mariners.
There are currently 27 teams in the ECHL, but the Colorado Eagles will be moving to the American Hockey League next season to become the chief affiliate of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. The Eagles play out of Loveland, Co., just north of Denver.
St. John’s and Portland will be the seventh and eighth former AHL cities to join the ECHL, with Manchester, N.H., Glens Falls (Adirondack), N.Y., Worcester, Mass., Norfolk, Va., Cincinnati, Ohio and Indianapolis, Ind.
While it has not yet been determined, St. John’s will probably be a part of the North Division with the Manchester Monarchs, Adirondack Thunder, Worcester Railers, Reading, Pa., Royals, Wheeling, W.V., Nailers and Brampton, Ont., Beast.
The new St. John’s will have an affiliation with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs are currently affiliated with the Orlando Solar Bears.
St. John’s businessmen Dean MacDonald and Glenn Stanford, the latter who was the chief operating officer for the St. John’s IceCaps during their six years in the AHL, and prior to that the St. John’s Maple Leafs, went through the process of acquiring an expansion franchise in December.
All criteria were met, with the exception of one item: an arena lease agreement.
St. John’s Edge basketball owners Irwin Simon and Robert Sabbagh, through a clause in their lease agreement with Mile One Centre, had first dibs, if you will, for a hockey team to play at Mile One.
After St. John’s Sports and Entertainment — the board which runs Mile One — ruled Simon and Sabbagh had lost the exclusive rights to bring hockey into the building, the Edge group announced it would be seeking arbitration.
And given that move, SJSE said it would not negotiate with MacDonald and Stanford while the arbitration process was ongoing.
So basically, what you had was one group with a hockey team, but nowhere to play, and another group with an arena, but no hockey team.
Given that scenario, the competitors came together just over a week ago, agreeing to team up with hockey.
But while there is now a deal in place, there are many moving pieces which have to be worked out, including hockey details in a lease agreement.
The ECHL, which brands itself is the premier AA hockey league in the United States, was founded in 1988-89 as the East Coast Hockey League with the Carolina Thunderbirds, Erie Panthers, Johnstown Chiefs, Knoxville Cherokees and Virginia Lancers.
It was officially rebranded the ECHL in 2003.
Last season, 24 former ECHL players played their first NHL game. Prior to this season, the total number of players who played in the NHL following stints in the ECHL was 623.
There are currently two Newfoundlanders in the ECHL — James Melindy of the Goulds (Utah Grizzlies) and Cody Donaghey (Brampton Beast).