After a year of turning their top prospects into minor-league vagabonds, the Ducks have identified an American Hockey League affiliate.
Their multi-year deal with the Syracuse Crunch, announced Thursday, comes less than a week after the Columbus Dispatch first reported that the Blue Jackets and Crunch were in the process of parting ways. It also came as a relief to general manager Bob Murray, who has been anxious to find an AHL affiliate since the Ducks terminated their agreement with the now-defunct Iowa Chops in May, 2009.
“We are thrilled to be affiliating with the Syracuse Crunch in such a great hockey market,” Murray said in a statement. “Syracuse is steeped in hockey tradition and we are excited to partner with an ownership and management team that shares the same commitment to winning and player development as we do.”
The situation in Syracuse appears more stable than that of the expansion Des Moines-based Chops. The Crunch currently rank 11th in the 29-team American Hockey League in attendance, and their 16-year history in the AHL is tied for the sixth-longest tenure of any team in the league. Howard Dolgon leads the AHL’s longest current independent ownership group.
Earlier this month, the Blue Jackets left Syracuse for the Springfield (Mass.) Falcons, who were without an NHL affiliate when the Edmonton Oilers announced they were planting an AHL franchise in Oklahoma City, OK in February. The Crunch were previously affiliated with Vancouver from 1994-00 and Columbus from 2000-10. Syracuse also maintained a split affiliation with Vancouver and Pittsburgh during the 1997-98 and 1998-99 AHL seasons.
Following expansion into Oklahoma City the AHL is set to operate 30 teams next season. That should end a game of musical chairs that has seen one or more of the 30 NHL teams operate without an exclusive AHL affiliate each season. This season, the Ducks were the odd team out.
This season, Ducks prospects have played for AHL teams in San Antonio, Manitoba and Toronto, as well as ECHL affiliate Bakersfield.
Syracuse is 2,600 miles east of Anaheim, but is closer than Portland, Maine, the site of the Ducks’ affiliate from 2005-08, as well as Manchester, N.H. (home to the Kings’ AHL affiliate) and Worcester, Mass. (home to the Sharks’ AHL affiliate). In an interview with the Syracuse Post-Standard, Ducks assistant GM David McNab said he is not concerned by any travel issues.