Stepping Up to the AHL

“I had season tickets for the Avalanche in the mid-late 90’s when they were in their heyday.  It was fun to be a fan of hockey, but I didn’t have the intimate knowledge of hockey; I was a beer drinking fan.  When I got involved with the Eagles on the minor league side of hockey, it took me ten seconds to realize that the industry of hockey had a completely different set of etiquette and honor than other professional sports.  Those young men were fantastic human beings.  To be honest, I became addicted to the player first”, said CEO Martin Lind.   “I had no clue where this would end up.  In fact, when it first started, I actually made some of the first group of people on the ownership side sign a document.  The document basically said, “this [the Eagles] probably isn’t going to work, so you can’t sue me and get your money back.  It literally was that black and white.  I never would have dreamed this when I was standing in that field that is now the Budweiser Events Center with Ralph Backstrom that would be one of only 31 teams in the nation that get to develop NHL hockey players.

President and General Manager, Chris Stewart sums it all up pretty well, “We started off in the smallest pond in the league we were in which was the CHL.  We grew to be the biggest fish in that pond, and jumped into another pond where we were the smallest fish and grew and now, one more time we are going to jump into an even bigger pond that is the American Hockey League.  Now, what is even more exciting is that our fans will be able to see some of the best players developing right in front of them.  We will be a key cog in the wheel of helping develop players so that the NHL can continue to be the best hockey league in the world


Upon conclusion of the 2017-2018 season, the Colorado Eagles Hockey Club will say “Goodbye ECHL”, and “Hello American Hockey League (“AHL”).  What exactly does that mean?

To start, it means the Eagles will be a part of the premier development league for the National Hockey League, or as Colorado Eagles President and General Manager, Chris Stewart put it, “the second-best hockey league in the world.”    Gone are the days in the NHL, of teams making trades at the deadline.  Teams know they need to develop their talent from within.  Last season 88 percent of the players in the National Hockey League (“NHL) had played in the AHL. This season has seen sixty-three players make their NHL debut with twenty-three different teams. It only stands to reason that this is the kind of return on investment the NHL teams like. “The investment that is being made now in AHL teams and AHL players by the National Hockey League is dramatically different than it was even 10 years ago,” AHL president and Chief Executive Officer Dave Andrews said at the AHL All-Star Classic.  “Having a strong development system at the AHL level is really a critical part of sustaining high-quality play [with] the NHL [team]. With that level of investment by NHL teams, they want to be able to see those [prospects] daily.  “They want to monitor their progress, they want to get to practices, get to their games with [NHL] senior management.”   geographically connected to their NHL partners,” Andrews said.

Development is so important to the AHL they have a development rule.  The rule states that of the 18 skaters (not counting two goaltenders) that teams may dress for a game, at least 13 must be qualified as “development players.” Of those 13, 12 must have played in 260 or fewer professional games (including AHL, NHL and European elite leagues), and one must have played in 320 or fewer professional games. All calculations for development status are based on regular-season totals as of the start of the season.  There is no limit to the number of players that can be on a team’s roster, other than a financial one. An NHL roster can only carry 23 players on the active roster, they can have 50 standard player contracts per season, which covers many of the players for their AHL affiliate.  There are some other differences between the NHL and the AHL.  The most obvious difference is the compensation.  Part of player compensation in the ECHL comes in the form of housing provided by the team.  That is not part of compensation in the AHL.  Each team in the AHL has an Affiliation Agreement with a team in the NHL, just as the Eagles next year will be affiliated with the Colorado Avalanche.  That means the majority of an AHL team’s players have a salary that is paid by the NHL Affiliate.

“The Eagles are a proven entity in this community, it is a fantastic place and the community up here is phenomenal.  Last year we proved, that together, we could develop players and win.  That is exciting.  I think it is just a real special situation.  It is an amazing synergy that from a player development standpoint is tremendous”, said Assistant General Manager, Craig Billington.  Avalanche Executive Vice President and General Manager, (and Hall of Fame member) Joe Sakic agrees.  “We are excited that Avalanche fans can now see our top prospects competing and developing in an outstanding environment just up the road.”

Lind adds some insight into the affiliation.  ” One of the greatest things I can tell you about Sakic and Billington is that when we put this deal together there were several things I had to have.  I would not let having a better bottom line from increased ticket prices chase our current fan base away.  I am happy to say that we have a deal that will let us gradually address that.  We put together a deal that allows us to find other sources of revenue than raising ticket prices on our fans.  I think our deal for this move put our fans first.

Another thing that the Avalanche won’t change is the involvement of the Eagles organization in the northern Colorado community.  Sakic assured fans, “Even though the Eagles will be our AHL affiliate, all of the players here will be a part of the Colorado Eagles family.  Nothing will change with respect to their involvement with their fans and their community.  We do not want to take that away.  This is an incredible market with a tremendous fan base.”

Stewart is looking forward to what is to come for the Eagles organization, “I am extremely excited when you see the influence that we can have on a Stanley Winning hockey club.  That is obviously the ultimate goal, but along the way you are providing guidance to young talent that is hungry and willing to take that guidance.

Lind believes that there is always fear with change.  His message to fans is about the forthcoming change at the end of the season. “Fear Not”.  This is going to be some pretty exciting change.”

Story by: Kitt Amundson