Some have questioned why the Carolina Hurricanes might want to work with the Wolves and ditch the in-state Charlotte Checkers as their American Hockey League affiliate.
For the Wolves, it’s clear why the possible pairing makes sense: History says a potential union with the Hurricanes and general manager Don Waddell could bring them back to contending in the AHL.
The Wolves’ first parent club as an AHL team was the Atlanta Thrashers. During that time, the Wolves won two Calder Cup titles and had experienced players stick around. The 2008 championship team had guys such as Jason Krog, Brett Sterling, Darren Haydar, Steve Martins, Nathan Oystrick, Joey Crabb, Kevin Doell, Colin Stuart, Boris Valabik and Brian Sipotz, players who spent a handful of seasons with the Wolves.
Where was Waddell at that time? Running the Thrashers.
In February, Wolves chairman Don Levin told the Sun-Times, “Part of the problem is we haven’t had players here for a long time.” He also said experienced veterans can help youngsters develop.
“That’s part of the next part of the equation, is trying to deal with somebody and saying, look, we want to have three or four players that we want to sign for three or four years that we have them and become more Chicago Wolves players,” Levin said. “They have to be good to develop the younger players.”
History indicates a partnership with Waddell could make that happen. When the Wolves worked with Waddell and the Thrashers, it was in some ways a continuation of their International Hockey League tenure, which also brought two titles.
The 1998 and 2000 Turner Cup winners included star forward Steve Maltais, who played 11 seasons with the team. Defenseman Bob Nardella, now an assistant coach, was on the roster for parts of nine seasons and both IHL champions. Goalie Wendell Young, who’s now the Wolves’ general manager, played the final seven years of his career in Rosemont and added two IHL rings.
Long tenures like that weren’t exactly common in the old days when the Wolves and other IHL teams were building their rosters, but they’re unheard of in today’s AHL, where NHL parent clubs have a major say in lineups that trend young. When the 2019-20 season was suspended in March, six players (Brandon Pirri, Keegan Kolesar, Reid Duke, Nic Hague, Jake Bischoff and Oscar Dansk) were in their third season with the Wolves.
The vast majority of the Wolves’ roster is under contract with the Golden Knights, who bought the San Antonio Rampage and will move them to Nevada to make them their affiliate next season. Barring trades or free-agent signings, it’s possible a few players could return, but the bulk of the roster likely will be gone once the league makes the expected announcement that the season is over.
Meanwhile, the Wolves’ 2020-21 roster will be made up of prospects under contract with their next parent club. Instead of Kolesar or Hague, if the union with Carolina becomes official, the Wolves’ roster will feature some players currently with the Checkers and some who will be brought into the organization to play in Rosemont.
If Levin gets what he wants, a few of those players will be staying for a while.