Today, the Central Hockey League as we know it is changing forever.
First, the Denver Cutthroats ceased operations. Shortly thereafter, rumors of the Arizona Sundogs doing the same thing are coming to the forefront, as well. With the fall of the St. Charles Chill in May, the CHL could be down to as many as seven teams when the puck drops. It’s great that they didn’t release a schedule yet, huh??
With the buzz around the minor leagues this past month being the CHL/ECHL merger, that seems not only a long-shot at this point, but all but dead in the ground. If anything of the sort were to happen, it’d be akin to the IHL teams going into the AHL, but it not being a merger because other teams ceased operations.
The biggest move is still to come, as the three teams are owned by the same group. The Tulsa Oilers, Wichita Thunder, and Allen Americans are owned by Steven Brothers Sports Management LLC and they could be the three teams to keep an eye on not only now, but in the weeks to come. More over, this leaves shaky ground for teams like the Quad City Mallards, Missouri Mavericks, Rapid City Rush, and Brampton Beast– especially should the Steven Brothers decide it’s best to not have their three teams in the league– though I’m sure it’s very unlikely for that to happen.
When thinking about all of this, however, you have to ponder if these moves by Denver and Arizona are leading to something more for the 2015-16 season. While the CHL is saying the door is open for the Cutthroats (and presumably the Sundogs, too); what sense does it make for the teams to go back into that uncertainty when they can set themselves up to go directly into the ECHL; especially if that’s the end game for the CHL anyway. For a dormant year, Denver and Arizona can restructure what they need to, try to get the deals they need to survive, and get people hyped up for a bigger scale of Double-A hockey. Plus, with the ECHL Western Conference being a huge mess and a lot of travel for the midwest teams that were put there this season, you can imagine the ECHL is making phone calls as we speak in order to get these two western destinations under their umbrella.
With it being late in the summer, should something crazy happen– it’d be hard for a merger or for teams to jump ship to another league in a timely matter. This could very well be the last season for the CHL as we know it right now and the ECHL could get a big gain of the teams without actually having a merger take place. Add that to the Peoria Rivermen being in SPHL purgatory, the ECHL may be the place to watch in 2015-16. Of course, this isn’t the first time the CHL has been rumored to be on the brink of collapse and that was about 18 months ago to boot.
It’s a sad state of affairs for not only the CHL, but minor league hockey as a whole. In the SPHL, the Mississippi Surge and Bloomington Thunder went dormant (though Mississippi is coming back next year) and the ECHL has Las Vegas going dark for a year in order to find a new arena. While there is some hope in general, it’s hard to deal with one summer losing a a handful of teams in a matter of months.
UPDATE 08.21.14: The Arizona Sundogs officially say they are going to lay dormant for the 2014-15 season. Could this be the last domino to fall in the CHL??