Developing players for the NHL is the difference between a successful franchise and a bottom feeder club. The American Hockey League (AHL), International Hockey League (IHL), Central Hockey League (CHL) and East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) have all played instrumental roles in player development for many, if not all, NHL teams. The AHL and ECHL are the most prominent minor hockey leagues left today as the IHL, CHL, and many other minor leagues have folded entirely. Since 1991 Toledo has been home to an ECHL team, originally the Toledo Storm and now the Toledo Walleye. Starting with the Storm and continuing with the Walleye, Toledo have been longtime affiliates of the Detroit Red Wings. During the summer negotiations were held between Detroit and the Walleye to continue this relationship, and the result was exactly what we wanted to hear. The Walleye and Wings have agreed to remain affiliated through the 2017-2018 season!
Detroit and Toledo have a long relationship when it comes to hockey. With the exception of the 1999-2000, 2007-08, and 08-09 seasons, Toledo’s ECHL team has had an affiliation with the Detroit Red Wings. The affiliation started in 1991 thanks to the Storm’s first head coach Chris McSorley, he recognized the Red Wings popularity in the Toledo area and struck a deal with Detroit. The affiliation continued after the Storm transitioned to the Walleye, so Toledo has been home ice to some Detroit prospects for over two decades. Since 2009 Detroit has had five prospects play for Toledo and also make the Red Wings roster: Luke Glendening, Brian Lashoff, Thomas McCollum, Petr Mrazek, and Andrej Nestrasil. Nestrasil and Glendening spent the most time in Toledo out of the five, with 91 and 27 games with the Walleye respectively. Tom McCollum is the only former Walleye that doesn’t have at least 90 games of NHL experience, even though most of Nestrasil’s playing time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes. Many prospects have been promoted from the Walleye to the AHL affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins as well: Martin Frk, Jared Coreau, and Zach Nastasiuk fall into this category. Time in the ECHL served these prospects well, but there are many other ways the affiliation benefits the Red Wings and Walleye.
Affiliations are mutually beneficial relationships between NHL, AHL, and ECHL teams and the surrounding areas of those teams. The most obvious advantage of the affiliation is the long term development of young talent for the NHL, while simultaneously allowing them to contribute to the AHL/ECHL team’s regular season and playoff success in the short term. For the minor league team, in our case the Walleye, there are many more benefits. ECHL games allow the opportunity for casual and dedicated Red Wings fans to watch the prospects without paying the price of NHL tickets. The exposure of the prospect is good for the market value of both the NHL and minor league team, allowing the opportunity to sell merchandise in each other’s area of operation. Speaking of exposure, it allows the prospect to interact with the Walleye fan base. Public interaction skills are learned by the young skater at the ECHL and AHL level, while the Walleye fans get the enjoyment of spending time with potential NHLers. Finally, the Walleye are a successful team that gets the benefit of talented prospects from Detroit to add to the roster. This allows them to be playoff contenders which drives up ticket sales, in turn causing the revitalization of downtown Toledo with additional developments for recreation and dining. With all these benefits and many more, it’s no surprise that 29 of the 30 teams in the ECHL have an NHL affiliation.
With the renewal of the Toledo Walleye and Detroit Red Wings affiliation the two cities will continue to share a rich hockey past. From 1991 to 2016 Toledo and Detroit have a combined six championships, nine regular season point titles, eight Conference Championships, and 24 Division Championships. The future looks bright to add to these numbers as well, because both teams have a lot of young talent ready to take the next step for their team. Who knows, maybe another Walleye will leave The Pond for Detroit sometime soon.
Statistics were gathered from the Detroit Red Wings and Toledo Walleye websites: http://www.toledowalleye.com/
Additional Statistics about Championships and affiliations were gathered from the Walleye, Storm, and Red Wings Wikipedia pages:
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