The Boston Bruins are currently one of 26 NHL teams with an ECHL affiliate. With that team being housed in Atlanta, as it has been since 2015, Boston faces the organizational challenge of trying to develop prospects across three levels despite the limited travel at the minor league level.
Boston and Atlanta extended their affiliation contract for an additional year after last season, with the agreement set to expire after this season. There are no signs of the Bruins either extending the deal with Atlanta again or finding a new affiliate for next season.
But given the availability of a few teams closer to Boston and Providence next season as well as the uncertainty of coronavirus affecting sports in the near future, perhaps Boston may explore the possibility of re-aligning with another ECHL franchise.
The closest geographically to both Providence and Boston, the Railers are currently affiliated with the New York Islanders and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The affiliation makes sense for the Islanders to extend, but could also allow Worcester to create a more local draw should they strike a deal with Boston.
Worcester is starting to gain some traction when it comes to minor league sports, given the Boston Red Sox will be moving their AAA affiliate to the city starting in 2021. Having a Bruins affiliate in the city would add even more of a sports draw for Worcester and would give the Bruins organization an easier task of maneuvering prospects between all three levels.
Another New England option would be further north in Portland, Maine. The Maine Mariners, currently aligned with the New York Rangers and the Hartford Wolfpack, are up for a new affiliation contract at the end of this season.
Being in New England, the draw for the Bruins would already be there. The Red Sox AA affiliate is also in Portland, tying the city even closer to Boston sports. The location of the Mariners, right in downtown Portland, could also lead to easy access from Boston and Providence while allowing prospects to develop in an environment where fans can flock.
Currently an independent ECHL franchise, the Admirals play in the same division as Atlanta. Without an organization to provide a talent pool, Norfolk is firmly in last place of the league. But with Boston switching its affiliation, it can help right the ship for a franchise that has already survived the lack of support from the NHL level.
While there isn’t much of link fans-wise and with still a sizeable geographic distance, Boston could potentially have a clean slate to work with at the lower level. With a suitable color scheme as well, the Bruins may jump at the chance with an opening in Norfolk.
What happens to Atlanta?
The Nashville Predators entered a one-year deal with the Florida Everblades for an ECHL affiliate this year and could switch allegiances to Atlanta for next year if there’s an opening.
This could potentially create an interesting opportunity for the Florida Panthers to align with the Everblades as well.