Before you stop me and say, there’s no way a Las Vegas minor league team is going to play nearly 3,000 miles away, just hear me out.
The assumption is correct, the Portland Pirates would not a perfect ECHL destination for Las Vegas, but Portland does offer an enviable location for the NHL’s second minor league to expand. The city has an arena, has an owner and general manager, had a team for 23 seasons up until their team moved at the conclusion of last season, and they want back in.
Portland lost their team, an AHL affiliate of the Florida Panthers, when they were moved to Springfield, Massachusetts and eventually sold and moved to Tucson to become an affiliate of the Arizona Coyotes. Now, with the NHL’s expansion to Las Vegas, the ECHL may be looking for a new franchise, and quick. We’ve talked about Reno, Southern Utah, Southern California as possibilities, but none of these places would be ready to go in 2017-18.
The Portland Pirates can. There are however two teams in the ECHL currently without an affiliate at the moment that may complicate the situation. Those two are the Colorado Eagles in Loveland, CO and the brand new Worcester Railers in Worcester, MA (set to begin play in 17-18). Colorado would love to align with the Avalanche and the Railers would like to pair up with someone in the northeast. Assuming Colorado joins up with the Avs, that would leave the Fort Wayne (Indiana) Comets without a pro club.
Las Vegas needs at least an AHL team and almost certainly an ECHL team come the end of June after the Expansion Draft and the Entry Draft. Based on the timeline we have in front of us, it pretty much has to be a current franchise in the league. In the early days of the Vegas franchise they’ll probably want to be shuffling players between the ECHL, AHL, and the NHL frequently. The problem is the locations just don’t exist at this point.
Who knows how this will all shake out, but I have a feeling when the puck drops in October 2017, the situation will not be ideal for Las Vegas. Whether it’s Portland, Maine, Loveland, Colorado, Fort Wayne, Indiana, or Worcester, Massachusetts the location won’t be great, but all four are better than nothing. This being said, shuffling of minor league affiliates is very common, so don’t freak out if the first ECHL affiliate is 3000 miles away, cause it actually kind of makes sense.