ECHL: The Ripple Effects of the Suspension of the Newfoundland Growlers

ECHL

After the bombshell news that came out of the North Division today that the 2019 Kelly Cup Champion Newfoundland Growlers membership in the ECHL has been terminated, and Trois-Rivières Lions set to be sold to a new owner as of Tuesday, April 2nd, 2024, ripples are being felt across the ECHL. Every team is affected, even the two that are yet to play.

Newfoundland and Trois-Rivières were owned by Deacon Sports and Entertainment before today, which has seen massive financial hardships. The Lions have had rumors of a team sale swirling for months, but nothing was able to come through, even against the deadline. With that, the ECHL’s board of directors has decided to allow the Trois-Rivières Lions to continue operations while they finalize a sale.

Here is how each team and/or division could be affected:

Trois-Rivières Lions

The Lions are simultaneously in the thick of the tightest playoff race in the ECHL, holding the third playoff spot from the North Division, and uncertainty about their future. While Deacon Sports and Entertainment will maintain control of the team for now, their fate remains a mystery. Postseason success would certainly help their odds of survival. The Lions games in Newfoundland this weekend have also been canceled and will not be made up. Point percentage will instead act as the deciding factor in the postseason race.

Iowa Heartlanders

As Recently As July 2023, The Iowa Heartlanders were owned by Deacon Sports and Entertainment. While some may say the Landers dodged a bullet by being sold to Michael Devlin and Matt Getz’s Heartlanders LLC, others may say that Iowa dodged an asteroid. Landers fans everywhere take a deep exhale and rush to shake the hands of team leadership to express thanks for avoiding this fate.

Wheeling Nailers

The Wheeling Nailers will undoubtedly be moved to the North Division, which they played in through numerous division names and structures from 1991-92 to 2017-18 and the 2020-21 Seasons. Wheeling has made rivalries with every team in the Central Division in their seven years in the division but will return to old rivals like the Reading Royals and Adirondack Thunder, bringing the division back to seven teams.

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North Division

The airtight playoff race in the North Division will continue in what is arguably the most unusual way in hockey history. The cancellation of Newfoundland’s games will make Trois-Rivières and Norfolk’s remaining games that much more important, as they will play fewer games this season. Royals fans should not feel they are out of the race either, as Reading could find themselves in a playoff position when the dust settles.

Any team can sign up to two former Growlers players that were on ECHL Contracts, and those in or fighting for playoff positions across the league will be lunging themselves towards ex-Growlers to pad their rosters for the Kelly Cup push.

Division Structures and Expansion Teams

With Trois-Rivières fate still up in the air, Wheeling likely to move back to the North Division, and the Tahoe Knight Monsters and Bloomington Bison set to join the league, there will be 29 ECHL teams for the 2024-25 Season, up from 28 to start the 2023-24 season and 27 to finish. The odd number of teams will create scheduling conflicts that the league has to either sort out or quickly introduce a replacement team, such as when the Greenville Swamp Rabbits began operations as the Greenville Road Warriors as an interim, not playing any home games until their introduction as a full member of the league. If the Lions do not play next year, the issue solves itself in an unfortunate way, but division alignment remains in the air.

Here is the likely arrangement of Divisions for the 2024-25 Season if Trois-Rivières plays next season:

EastWest
NorthSouthCentralMountain
Adirondack ThunderAtlanta GladiatorsBloomington BisonAllen Americans
Maine MarinersFlorida EverbladesCincinnati CyclonesIdaho Steelheads
Norfolk AdmiralsGreenville Swamp RabbitsFort Wayne KometsKansas City Mavericks
Reading RoyalsJacksonville IcemenIndy FuelRapid City Rush
Trois-Rivières LionsOrlando Solar BearsIowa HeartlandersTahoe Knight Monsters
Wheeling NailersSavannah Ghost PiratesKalamazoo WingsTulsa Oilers
Worcester RailersSouth Carolina StingraysToledo WalleyeUtah Grizzlies
Eastern Conference Road Warriors Wichita Thunder
Italics represent a new division, bold represents an Expansion Team.

If the Lions do not play, the league is unlikely to separate the Ohio or Georgia teams due to proximity and division rivalries or the Kansas-Area Teams if they choose to revisit divisions to fix the shorthanded North Division, and would likely just have a smaller North Division and Eastern Conference, much like how MLB did from 1998-2013 and how the AHL does with smaller North and Central Divisions and more inter-division play to make up for it. This 28-team hypothetical would eliminate the need for making an overly complex schedule or adding a Road Warriors team. On the other hand, the league’s recent expansion trends seem to indicate that the ECHL’s goal of getting to 32 teams will not be interrupted, and a Road Warriors Team could act as a great trial for a city the league is interested in.

NHL and AHL Teams

With rumors swirling around the Toronto Marlies and potential relocation to Hamilton, that story quickly moves to the back burner. The Toronto Maple Leafs now have players who were assigned to the Growlers who are now without a team and will return to Toronto to either finish the season with the Marlies or start the offseason early. The Leafs have also unwillingly joined Arizona, Carolina, Columbus, and St. Louis as the only teams without ECHL affiliates. With that and the uncertainty of whether the Chicago Wolves will choose to be affiliated for the 2024-25 season, NHL and AHL teams will have to ensure that their ECHL teams are sustainable and will not capitulate. This will require investment from parent clubs as well as helping their teams manage the books.

One thought on “ECHL: The Ripple Effects of the Suspension of the Newfoundland Growlers”

  1. The Savannah Ghost Pirates will likely be losing their affiliation with Las Vegas to the new Nevada team, and will likely be looking for a new affiliate. Hopefully they can come to an agreement with one of the NHL teams with no affiliation. They constantly fill their arena (Enmarket arena) to capacity at roughly 7000.

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