Per a Wednesday report, the Blues will have a new AHL affiliate next season.
According to a report from NHL.com’s Lou Korac on Wednesday, the St. Louis Blues plan to join forces with Lamar Hunt, Jr. (the son of late Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt) and former Blues defenseman Tom Tilley to establish a new AHL team in Kansas City, Missouri for the 2017-18 season. The team is set to play in the Sprint Center, which opened in 2007. The city has long sought to attract an NHL or NBA team to the arena without success.
This news means that the Blues will end their four-season long affiliation with the Chicago Wolves. After selling off their stake in the AHL Peoria Rivermen after the 2012-13 season, the Blues joined forces with the Wolves, but that relationship has often been awkward and tumultuous.
Since the Wolves are independently owned, they have the freedom to select their own front office personnel and coaching staff, and as a result, the Blues have seemingly been dissatisfied over the years with the style the Wolves have played, the lineup decisions the coaches have made, and the organization’s occasional harsh treatment of highly-touted Blues prospects.
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There’s no denying that the Wolves are one of the AHL’s most successful franchises, and the organization may market itself better than any other AHL club. To the credit of the Wolves’ front office, they’ve made many concessions over the past couple years, and their relationship with the Blues seems to be more fluid this year than it ever has been before. But it’s not really a relationship that seemed to be in the best interest of either side, so it’s not surprising to see it end. The Wolves could seek to join forces with the Vegas Golden Knights, who will begin play next season.
Having their AHL team within the state should be good for Blues fans who want to check out some of the organization’s prospects. Under the Tom Stillman/Chris Zimmerman administration, the Blues have sought to develop fandom in Kansas City, and this affiliation should give them a better opportunity than ever to do so. If anything, the fans should be more enthusiastic about the NHL parent club in KC than they currently are in Chicago, where you can’t exactly blame the locals for not being passionate Blues backers.
If this move ultimately comes to fruition, it should be interesting to see how the transition of personnel is handled. The Blues’ hand-picked AHL coach, Craig Berube, signed a two-year deal with the Wolves this past offseason, so theoretically he’ll be bound to that organization for the 2017-18 season. It’s possible, however, that new Blues coach Mike Yeo could decide to elevate Berube to his NHL staff after Ken Hitchcock retires at the conclusion of this season.
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It’s also unknown whether a few guys who the Blues seem to have interest in but are officially under contract with the Wolves–such as defenseman Kevin Tansey, forward Sam Povorozniouk, and forward/defenseman Scooter Vaughan–would make the move over to the Blues’ new AHL club or stay with Chicago. The Wolves have a long and proud reputation for giving opportunities to players without NHL contracts, but those same opportunities will be available on the Blues’ AHL club–one controlled by a front office that openly praised all three players during the offseason and preseason.
One thing’s for certain: if the Blues keep (or even expand) their affiliation with the ECHL’s Missouri Mavericks, it’d be extremely convenient for players to go back and forth between the two clubs. The Sprint Center and the Mavericks’ arena, Silverstein Eye Centers Arena, are roughly 20 minutes apart. That’d make for very easy travel for both players shuttling between teams and front office personnel attempting to evaluate multiple prospects in person over a short period.
The Mavericks currently have an official affiliation with the New York Islanders and a “working affiliation” with the Blues, which means the two clubs have a marketing agreement and the Mavericks can accommodate a certain number of Blues prospects. Since Hunt also owns the Mavericks, though, it’s easy to see how the Blues could become the team’s primary affiliate going forward.