The Florida Panthers may abandon their efforts to take control of the Rochester Americans (N.Y.) team next season due to the AHL clubâ€™s cash flow problems.Â The minor league teamâ€™s inability to make affiliation payments to the Panthers and the Buffalo Sabres, both of whom provide players to Rochester (for a fee of approximately $18,000 per player per season; about half the league average), along with other debt issues, has forced Florida to seriously consider whether continued AHL affiliation with the New York team makes fiscal sense.
As reported by George Richards in the Miami Herald, the Panthers are rumored to be in line to assume control of the Rochester franchise, from Buffalo, beginning with the 2008/09 season.Â The minor league team (roughly analogous to the â€œTriple Aâ€ level in baseball) has been part of the Sabre family for 29 years, but Buffalo may be moving on to adopt the AHL team in Portland, Maine, instead.Â
Should the Panthers pass on Rochester, it is possible that they will not place any players in the AHL next year, instead opting to put their young talent with the Florida Everblades of the â€˜Double Aâ€™ East Coast Hockey League (ECHL).Â The ECHL has traditionally displayed a slower, more physical style of play, but that is changing according to Panthersâ€™ scout Jack Birch.Â â€œThere are nights where teams in the ECHL are very comparable to the AHL.Â Some teams are run better than others. Our players wouldn't notice the difference with the Everblades. They run a great organization. There are some weak teams in the league, but most nights that I've been there it's pretty good. It's not a fight league anymore.''
Florida has not yet formally contacted the ECHL affiliate about the possibility of making the Everblades the prime repository for the Pantherâ€™s minor league stars, but the process should not require much time once all agree.
Bill Johnson is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network