The first-ever Bus League Hockey reader Q&A!

Hey, it’s the dregs of summer and content is a little on the light side, so to speak, so what better time thatn to ask YOU, the valued reader, for your questions on whatever topic you want?

We left it open for anything, and you guys for the most part stuck with hockey questions, but we did get a great baseball question!

Here’s your questions, as well and Shawn and I’s answers.

Q1

Rovitz: 

Not this year, no. There was rumor that the league had talked to a few southern cities about a team for this year, most notably Asheville, NC. But the biggest thing that they kept running into was the venues they wanted either didn’t have ice, were already booked for prime dates during hockey season, or a combination of the two.

BUT! I would expect at least one, possibly two teams in the south for the 2019-20 season. They are rumored to be zeroing in on Salisbury, MD, which, not really south but helps fill that gap between the northern teams and Carolina. There’s also talk that Charleston, WV is interested in a team, which again, not really south, but gives a closer rival to Carolina.

But when it comes to the actual south, I think there will be at least one other team in North Carolina for the 2019-20 season to give Carolina a true rival. They’ve also reportedly looked at rinks in South Carolina, and as we’ve reported before, they had interest in some former SPHL markets in Alabama and Georgia.

Shawn: 

It’s inevitable. Carolina has all-but confirmed they’re staying in the Federal Hockey League for the next five years.

The SPHL has a high-expansion ceiling, but they have a quota they need to hit for arena-size and city fit. This is where the FHL can sneak into their territory WITHOUT necessarily stepping on their toes.

The league has already come out (via our sources) to say and show they’ve been looking in the south.

From various interactions, there was exploration of southern expansion for this season too. Many different cities were viewed and considered, and I won’t be surprised when the league brings in southern teams next year.

It’s a grand idea, and with a Scott Brand-staff the teams can succeed. I seriously, firmly believe that. Look out for the Southeast Coast.

Q2

Rovitz: 

This is a great question and one Shawn and I wrestle with on the regular. Currently there is no affiliation between the FHL, SPHL and the ECHL, despite the ECHL regularly calling players up from those leagues.

I think the answer to this is yes and no? In the short term, no I don’t see it happening. The FHL hasn’t had a team with an ECHL affiliation since 2011-12 when the New Jersey Outlaws were linked with Elmira, probably not a coincidence but that team rolled through the FHL that season, before going undefeated in the playoffs. As for the SPHL, I don’t know of any that have an official affiliation, but I’m sure there are teams that have wink wink agreements with ECHL clubs.

But maybe 5-10 years down the line, I could see it. Teams more and more, particularly like Toronto, are utilizing their minor league system to hoard as many prospects as possible. So once their ECHL quota gets filled, you have to imagine that these teams look to the SPHL or FHL to try and stash away a handful of players and you start to get a system closer to baseball’s, but still not quite.

Shawn:

Like Rovitz said, we’ve discussed this ad nauseum. Currently, and for the next five years, I have to say no. The potential “A” league best bet right now is of course the SPHL, as even the worst teams call up plenty of players to the E.

Here’s my big reason against it being realistic: the Canadian Hockey League. With how expansive this three-league league is, that’s TROVES of players that are getting prime development at no affiliation costs. Yes, it’s in no way a feeder, but it’s an elite development that sends players right to the AHL/NHL. At that, players in the NCAA are more than talented enough out of school where they can jump right to the E or A.

Right now, the best thing for our independent teams ironically is to stay independent. Affiliation costs, contracts, and operation budget even ONE step above the SPHL are way more than you’d think.

The SPHL is in a prime position where they get fed to, fed past, and get to take their players to the next level. The operating costs are way less, and honestly, they’re starting to rival the ECHL in attendance, outreach, and interest. Huntsville is an ECHL city, Quad City literally was an ECHL city, but the costs and niche they fill are dynamic.

I don’t know if we’ll see “A” Hockey, because right now there’s no need. I will concede and say that I think direct affiliations will return from team to team.

Q3

Rovitz: To be honest, I have not heard of any news on ECHL expansion, but I think this ties into the previous question about affiliations, and I would guess that expansion is coming in the future, because every NHL team is going to want their own ECHL team to stash prospects and get them into their system. The bigger trend in the ECHL has been relocating ECHL teams to be closer to their NHL and AHL teams to help on travel when call-ups do happen.

But I think expansion will happen due to expansion at the top, and like we said, the prospects angle. Currently there are 31 NHL teams, soon to be 32, and 28 ECHL teams, which leaves the door open for four teams that the ECHL could add in expansion, as well as one more for the AHL.

As for where those teams might play, I think a lot of teams will have eyes on the southeast and the growing hockey market there, it really will be an arms race between the SPHL and ECHL for future markets. Maybe the Memphis area gets another shot, or Savannah, GA when they get their new arena, or a place like New Orleans. As for out west, the one city I feel confident will get a team in either the ECHL or AHL is Reno, they are renovating the arena and had been rumored as a potential spot for Vegas’ team. Perhaps a growing city like Billings in Montana wants a legit team, or big cities without teams like El Paso and Albuquerque. The west is tougher to try and figure out, but I imagine they want more teams out that way so their west division has more travel partners.

Shawn:

Reno has been on the radar for a few years to no fulfillment. With Hockey West kicking back up thanks to Vegas, the irons hot.

Savannah, Georgia will happen when the new arena is built as long as there’s ice. I’d say that’s practically a guarantee.

I think the ECHL will try to beat the SPHL to some punches in their market, and for obvious good reason. But hey, they brought back Maine, and they went all the way out to Newfoundland & Labrador, so the gates are blown open to where they could go. Just, maybe not Alaska.

I too subscribe to the hope someday of Montana getting a professional hockey team.

Q4

Rovitz: That’s what we’d like to know! We heard from multiple sources that the schedule was done sometime last week…only to have two teams say they had issues with a couple dates, so they went back to the drawing board over the weekend. Scott Brand previously said we could expect the schedule in mid- or late-June, and we’re down to three days left in the month for that to happen.

If I had to guess, the FHL is going to have one big day of reveal-a-palooza. Announce both teams, and the schedule all in one day and it will be glorious CHAOS trying to parse through all that news.

If that doesn’t happen, then I have no idea. You’d figure they’d announce one team one day, another the next, then the schedule. But that can’t happen next week because of the 4th of July. So if we don’t see an announcement by the end of this week, it might be until the second week in July.

Shawn:

Latest I’ve heard is likely first week of July. Don’t dig too deep into that belief though. It’s not on Brand’s side, from his words it’s on the two new teams side.

Protocol would certainly suggest in favor of announcing expansion first, then a schedule, but I’ll take either at this point.

Q5

Rovitz: /checks standings/ Holy shit! What a race it was, the South had one team finish at exactly .500 but no team finish more than four games under .500, that’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen and I’m not sure how that’s possible. Aside from the Stockton Ports in the North, the other seven teams all finished within seven games of each other in the standings. The NHL wishes it had parity like that!

And good on the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes to pull out that South Division title and clinch a playoff spot!

Shawn:

RC has gained some great additions from the Great Lakes Loons (“A”), and that got them well into position.

A big part of that wild first-half finish was former Central Michigan Chippewa Zach McKinstry, who is on an absolute tear right now. A late addition to the Quakes from GLL, but hitting nearly .500 in 14 games shows consistency.

The Dodgers organization from rookie ball up does a fantastic job, and this team is comprised of a lot of former Midwest League champions (2016). Look out, they’re not going to stop competing in the second-half.

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