The St. Louis Blues’ AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, have announced that they’ll be the primary affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18, meaning that the Blues will be stuck without an official AHL team next season.
The St. Louis Blues and Chicago Wolves have been partners since the 2013-14 season, and it’s safe to say it’s been a rocky relationship. The drama in that marriage took its nastiest turn yet on Tuesday afternoon, as the Wolves confirmed a longstanding rumor, announcing that they’ll become the primary affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18. With the AHL staying at 30 teams next season as the NHL expands to 31, this means that there won’t be an AHL team which exists primarily for the purpose of providing playing time to Blues prospects.
Of course, according to Wolves owner Don Levin, that was never really the Wolves’ primary goal in the first place. Levin wasted no time ripping the Blues on Tuesday afternoon, telling Danny Ecker of Crain’s Chicago Business that “St. Louis would like to see their guys win, but wouldn’t put any effort into doing it. … They didn’t do what we expected them to do, and it was difficult.” Levin emphasized that his goal is for his franchise to win the Calder Cup, and he was evidently upset about the Blues prioritizing their NHL club over the needs of their AHL affiliate.
This same saltiness was reflected in the Wolves’ tweet announcing their affiliate change:
— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) May 16, 2017
The awkwardness surrounding this situation is amplified by the fact that the Blues will still be sending players to Chicago next season since they don’t have an AHL team. With quite a few premium prospects coming up the pipeline–Tage Thompson, Vince Dunn, Samuel Blais, Ville Husso, Jake Walman, and Jordan Kyrou, to name a few–the Blues are going to need quite a few AHL spots so that their young players can develop.
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Only time will tell how many players the Golden Knights will send to the AHL this season. While they’ve only got two players under contract right now, they have to take 30 players in the expansion draft–meaning that they’ll send at least seven players to Chicago to begin the season, unless they have injuries at the NHL level or package multiple guys in a trade for a singular player. Logic also dictates that Vegas will be the hottest spot for minor-league free agents this offseason, as many of those guys and their agents will believe that they’ve got a better chance to crack an NHL roster that’s comprised primarily of leftover players from other clubs. Of course, the Knights can also sign NHL free agents, which would further add to their stable of players.
When you combine the potential for a large contingent of Knights minor-leaguers and the fact that the Blues have more young, developing prospects who need playing time at the AHL level than they’ve had in six or seven years, it all adds up to a potentially disastrous situation for the Blues in 2017-18. On Tuesday afternoon, Blues GM Doug Armstrong expressed optimism about Golden Knights GM George McPhee‘s willingness to share resources, while also stating that the Blues will try to find an affiliate to call their own before the 2018-19 season.
For reference, in each of the past two seasons, there have been 10 players who have seen action for both the Blues and the Wolves during the course of the year. It’ll be interesting to see if the Wolves are even willing to allocate 10 spots to Blues players this season. If not, the Blues may have trouble when it comes to keeping players prepared to see NHL action on an emergency basis.