Tampa Bay Lightning reaches affiliation deal with Colorado Eagles of Central Hockey League

There is no commitment to provide players, and an announcement Monday by the Lightning was bereft of details.

Even Chris Stewart, president and general manager of the Central Hockey League's Colorado Eagles said, "Specifics, there isn't any. … This is a work in progress kind of thing."

Even so, the affiliate agreement between Tampa Bay and Colorado seems to have potential benefits for both sides.

The Eagles could provide short-term roster depth for the Lightning's AHL affiliate in Norfolk, which next season will get just 20 players from the big club. And the Eagles might become a way station for Lightning draftees who are not yet ready to play in Norfolk.

Considering it does not have an ECHL affiliate, Tampa Bay could use such a stop.

Stewart acknowledged the CHL is a level below the ECHL. Still, he said players who don't need more time as juniors but are not ready for the AHL "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 get better."

What's in it for the Eagles?

"We're looking to try to keep our fans on the edge of their seats," Stewart 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."

How it all comes together remains to be seen. Norfolk owner Ken Young said helping out his team with short-term roster relief "sounds workable." And having this type of affiliate seems more cost-effective for the Lightning than an ECHL deal in which it would have to provide some players.

General manager Brian Lawton could not be reached. The Lightning promised more details Sept. 23, when it faces the Coyotes in an exhibition game at the Eagles' 5,500-seat arena in Loveland, Colo.

The affiliation has no connection, Stewart said: "The game is something we were going to do regardless. The affiliation thing was more of an afterthought."

Stewart has several Lightning connections. He coached co-owner Len Barrie in 1985-86 for Calgary of the Western Hockey League, and Tampa Bay director of player personnel, Jim Hammett, is his brother-in-law.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Lightning reaches affiliation deal with Colorado Eagles of Central Hockey League 08/17/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 8:58am]

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