Tampa Bay Lightning announces affiliate agreement with CHL Colorado
As expected, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Eagles of the Central Hockey League announced an affiliation agreement today. But the release from the Lightning was short on specifics. Eagles president and general manager Chris Stewart said the arrangement is part of the team's long-term plan to get more deeply involved in player development. He went on to say the arrangement does not include players, per se. But if AHL Norfolk, which the Lightning will provide only 20 players next season, needs some short-term depth, the Eagles could provide it.
"It seems workable as another place to go to potentially if we need some short-term help," Norfolk owner Ken Young said. "It sounds okay."
In addition, Stewart said the Eagles also could provide a place to play for draft choices who are not yet ready for the AHL, but do not need another season in juniors. The CHL is a low minor league, one step behind the ECHL, a league in which the Lightning does ot have an affiliate.
"The fact of the matter is, with the way free agency has gone and having to develop players through the draft now, chances are there are going to be players out there in the future who will need a good place to play that may not be ready to play in the American Hockey League," Stewart said. "They need somewhere to play, somewhere professional where they can get the proper training, a lot of ice time and be in a conducive environment where they do get better. Sometimes spending an extra year in the juniors isn’t the way to go especially if they’re not in a winning environment."
As of now, though, "There are no specifics on players at all," Stewart said. "This is a work in progress sort of thing."
But it is something Stewart sounds as if he wants badly.
"We’re looking to try to keep our fans on the edge of their seats," he said. "We’ve done that the last few years. To be able to help develop young players and help them make it to the National Hockey League will be intriguing for our fans. That’s the motivation behind it more than anything else. ... We haven’t been in the developmental business. We’ve always been in the entertainment business, so this will really help broaden our wheel base by being able to do this. Hopefully we’ll be able to play a key role in the development of a player down the road.
Stewart said the arrangement has nothing to do with the Lightning's exhibition game at the Eagles' arena on Sept. 23 against the Coyotes. Stewart said the team needs no help to sell out the 5,500-seat Budwesier Event Center, and that the exhibition game would have happened regardless.
Stewart coached Lightning co-owner Len Barrie with the Calgary Spurs in 1985-86. He also is the brother-in-law of Tampa Bay director of player personnel Jim Hammett.
Here is the announcement from the Lightning:
The Governors' Cup Champion Colorado Eagles of the Central Hockey League and the Tampa Bay Lightning of the National Hockey League announced an affiliation agreement today between the two organizations. More specific details of the agreement and the relationship between the teams will be announced on Wednesday, September 23 in a pre-game ceremony before the Lightning face-off against the Phoenix Coyotes in a preseason game at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colorado.
“We look forward to bringing NHL hockey to Loveland next month and we appreciate the Eagles and their fans for their willingness to host the Lightning and the Coyotes as we prepare for our respective seasons,” said Brian Lawton, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Lightning. “With respect to the affiliation agreement, I can say that we look to align ourselves with first class, winning organizations and we see nothing but that with Colorado. We look forward to developing an ongoing relationship with the Eagles."