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Why losing affiliation with the Florida Everblades isn’t a big deal

The Tampa Bay Lightning are no longer affiliated, officially, with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL.

As we have reported previously, with new rules passed internal to the ECHL, each franchise (of which there are 28) is permitted to officially affiliate with just one NHL team. The Everblades had previously been sharing affiliation with both the nearby Lightning and the slightly-further-away Carolina Hurricanes.

One thing you might have been wondering is, “why exactly did the Carolina Hurricanes get to keep the affiliation when Tampa Bay is much closer geographically?”.

That’s easy: The answer: Peter Karmanos, Jr., the majority owner and CEO of both the Hurricanes and the Everblades. So the Lightning get squeezed out, but likely only in an “official” capacity; after all, we’ve seen over the past few seasons that the Lightning are more than willing to get creative with their prospects below the AHL level, using a since lapsed affiliation with the Brampton Beast of the Central Hockey League (now of the ECHL themselves, and affiliated with the Montreal Canadiens), loaning players out (Danick Gauthier and Dan Milan to the ECHL Wichita Thunder) or borrowing players themselves (Charlie Dodero from the ECHL Idaho Steelheads to the AHL Syracuse Crunch).

Furthermore, the ECHL level serves mostly as a feeder team for the feeder team, somewhere for the Crunch to theoretically pull their depth when Tampa Bay draws from their roster. Zero current Tampa Bay Lightning roster players have seen ECHL time, and the only one on the organization’s radar with a legitimate chance to eventually be a full-time NHLer is goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis, relegated to ECHL duty to start his rookie North American season only by default. NHLers, generally speaking, don’t start off in the ECHL. There are rare exceptions, of course, but coming out of a junior league, if you’ve got the skills to eventually make the show one day, you’re probably going to start off in the AHL and not the ECHL.

The connection between hockey’s two professional teams on the Gulf Coast was neat, sure, but it’s not a huge loss, really; the Lightning will find places at the ECHL level to put their prospects. The ECHL will likely add two more teams at some point to match the 30 teams in the NHL and, as has been noted, proximity for the ECHL club to the NHL club isn’t really a benefit in terms of development. Germain Arena — the home of the Everblades — will still be the site for development camp in the fall. It’s still part of Tampa Bay’s 2018 World Junior Championships bid. And finding a new ECHL partner that can easily supply Syracuse with injury call-ups would be a more beneficial situation overall.

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