WICHITA, Kan. – For the first time in five years, the Wichita Thunder are shopping for a new NHL affiliation. Today, the Edmonton Oilers announced that they have ceased their relationship with the Thunder and will now become the affiliate of the Fort Wayne Komets.
The pact between the Thunder and Oilers began with quite a bit of optimism on both sides, given the history that linked the two organizations, which dates back to the Wichita Wind days of the 1980s. In the first couple of years of the arrangement, the Oilers would send a half-dozen players to Wichita at the beginning of each season, with some replenishment of players during the season. Most notable of the Edmonton contracted players who played in Wichita was goaltender Stuart Skinner, who went 17-15-7 in 44 starts spanning two years. He also put up a 3.39 goals against average, a .899 save percentage, and four shutouts while in a Thunder sweater.
During the COVID pandemic season of 2020-21, the Oilers did not assign players to Wichita; instead, keeping the players in either Edmonton or Bakersfield to be part of the taxi squads or otherwise alleviate roster issues between the NHL and AHL. Last season, things appeared to be returning to normal, with four players assigned to Wichita; Matteo Gennaro, Tim Soderlund, Olivier Rodrigue, and Ostap Safin.
“We greatly appreciate the relationship with the Oilers over the last five seasons,” stated General Manager Joel T. Lomurno. “We’ve had some great talent come through Wichita.”
So the page now turns to who the Thunder could end up with as an NHL affiliate. At present, there are a handful of organizations at the NHL level that do not possess an ECHL affiliate; Los Angeles, Nashville, Ottawa, San Jose, Seattle, St. Louis, Vancouver, and Winnipeg.
There is a below-zero taste for another rendezvous with the Ottawa Senators, given how well that went in Malcolm Cameron‘s first year behind the Thunder bench. It is also widely believed that the Canadian NHL clubs will seek to work with ECHL clubs based in Canada to avoid border issues should another wave of COVID be bad enough to restrict travel. Not to mention, staying within your borders is also a cost-efficient move.
Looking at teams back here in the States, that leaves five; Los Angeles, Nashville, San Jose, Seattle, and St. Louis. There are other affiliation chairs to be filled, but two of the five NHL teams listed have yet-to-be-announced ECHL affiliates for the coming season.
We’ll have to see how things end up, but I believe the team to keep an eye on is Nashville. They have a deep crop of prospects and have signed players to AHL/ECHL contracts, which rarely happened during the Edmonton/Wichita pact. From a travel standpoint, a flight from Wichita to Milwaukee is generally three to six hours, with some connections involved.
“We look to have an announcement on a new affiliation shortly,” Lomurno said.
Time is ticking for Lomurno and the Thunder, as veteran players are soon coming onto the free agent market and looking for AHL camp spots.
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