Photo from the Fort Wayne Komets’ Facebook page
On Saturday, Journal-Gazette beat writer Justin Cohn brought up an interesting topic in lieu of the series between the Fort Wayne Komets and the Kalamazoo Wings, which was hours after the Komets eliminated the Wings in Game Five. After this season, the ECHL will realign and change the playoff format from divisional match-ups to the 1-8 seed style. However, the Komets will be in odd circumstances as they will move out to the Western Conference and be in a division with the Cincinnati Cyclones, Indy Fuel, Evansville IceMen, and Quad City Mallards.
Cohn brings up a pretty logical complaint for when it comes to breaking the Komets from everyone else they are rivals with, especially in Kalamazoo:
In the Komets’ 6-4 victory over the Kalamazoo Wings, which completed a five-game series victory for Fort Wayne, there were about 700 fans supporting the Komets. It was unreal how loud they were in the North Division Semifinals.
Forget about the fact Kalamazoo is West of Fort Wayne but will be in the Eastern Conference next season, the ECHL should encourage as many playoff battles between these teams as possible, not limit them.
Dare I say, it’s the biggest rivalry in the league? In terms of how many fans travel to the other team’s rink, it is without question.
Trust me, neither the Komets nor the Wings want to be in different conferences next season. Sure if they meet in the Finals, that would be unbelievable. But what are the odds of that happening?
Geographically, it doesn’t make much sense– as Cohn states Kalamazoo is west of Fort Wayne, while breaking up the Ohio combination of Cincinnati and the Toledo Walleye into two different conferences doesn’t make a lot of sense. The only big move that the ECHL really had to make was find a way to move Brampton to the Eastern Conference and one team back into the Western Conference. It didn’t need an entire overall of the league– hell, keeping the four divisions and playoff structure was entirely possible, but they decided to change it for whatever reason.
And to be honest, the fix is really an easy one– move Brampton to the North Division and move Evansville to the Central Division and then you don’t have to overhaul the entire league and really displace a lot of good rivalries by moving teams in different conferences.
Yet, it seems that the ECHL is setting up for an expansion that may or may not come. The way the conferences are aligned, they have three divisions per and a 4-5-5 set-up in those divisions. Thus, they have one spot open in the North Division (Toledo, Kalamazoo, Brampton, and Wheeling Nailers) and one open in the Central Division (Allen Americans, Wichita Thunder, Tulsa Oilers, and Missouri Mavericks). My only thought is that the ECHL is hoping that there will be expansion teams announced in Worcester and Oklahoma City in order to fill the void that will be left when their AHL franchises go away. No clue whether or not there are ownership groups willing to move forward; but with the schedule coming out this week– odds are that they won’t be getting a team in time to make it for the 2015-16 season.
Future planning could have been a reason, but to have lopsided divisions isn’t the worst thing because the top-four would get in regardless if they have seven or eight teams in that division. It would have been so much easier and have less complaints to swap Brampton for Evansville and then worry about the expansion later– but alas here we are. As much as I think Fort Wayne does grandstand a bit because of the longevity of the Komets name– they should get some respect when it comes to rivalries they have in the league.