For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blakesebring and at his blog www.tailingthekomets.com.
Former International Hockey League Commissioner Bill Beagan once said, ``Sleeping with the NHL is a little like sleeping with a porcupine. They aren't very cuddly. They are cuddly only when they have to be, when it benefits them.''
Oh, sure, NHL teams would send players to Fort Wayne over the past 25 years, but mostly they were just burying draft mistakes or banishing a player with a bad attitude. Anaheim and Norfolk sent 13 players here two years ago and then didn't re-sign one player the next season. The players knew they were at a dead end and mostly played for themselves.
Like a woman spurned one too many times, the Komets were understandably wary about affiliations, but they need one to acquire talent in the developmental-focused ECHL. It was hard for General Manager David Franke to reach out and shake hands with an NHL club because he's had his rings slipped off a few times with smooth words.
Still, Franke always said he'd take another chance if the right chance came along, and by that he meant an NHL team which understood affiliation has to be good for both sides. He thinks he finally found a true partner as the Komets announced Tuesday they are entering a one-year agreement with the Colorado Avalanche and their American Hockey League farm team the Lake Erie Monsters.
The deal is for three-to-five players and has options for further years. The Avalanche sound like they want to be true associates because they convinced Franke of their sincerity.
``It's important to be working with like-minded people, to have that understanding about what affiliations look like and how they operate.'' Colorado Assistant General Manager Craig Billington said. ``Both sides feel very strongly about communication, and we both feel very strongly about the importance of winning. There will be obstacles that we'll work through, but it's not just us and it's not just them.''
Billington and Franke both said they spent substantial time over four months designing this agreement. Both sides dipped toes in the water and hit a sheet of ice.
``We spent a lot of time developing our approach and figuring out how to maximize how it can be positive for both sides,'' Billington said. ``I think it's critical. We want our minor league system to be proud of players progressing, and we want the players to feel the pressure of being in a community that understands winning. That's what we ask of our players here. We feel very strongly about this fit.''
Wow, those are strong words, hopefully honest words, and the best thing is they aren't coming from just one person. It's obvious the Avalanche have studied the Komets as much as Fort Wayne has investigated Colorado.
The Avalanche love coach Gary Graham's philosophy which they discovered when calling players up from the Komets over the last two years.
``I was just picking his brain, and I liked the way he handled his players and pushed his guys to get a chance in the AHL,'' Colorado Director of Player Development David Oliver said. ``We all believe in the same thing, and it was a breath of fresh air listening to David and Gary. It's going to be fun. We're here to support and help them. In the meantime we're going to have a great place for our kids to play.''
The openness from the Avalanche personnel to discuss the affiliation philosophy is refreshing. Usually, NHL officials are more like, ``Get off the phone, I'm too busy here,'' but Oliver took time from playing with his kids to talk, and Billington chatted on a day when he was out of the office.
They gave the impression they truly cared about the Komets and want them to have success because they like and respect Franke and Graham. Yes, they were building a business relationship, not reading a prepared statement. It was like they were embracing the Komets as part of their system.
They understood the previous problems with Fort Wayne affiliates and stressed they were not interested in that. That's not the kind of hockey organization or people they are.
``We want players and depth and we need players at all three levels because that's the best way to develop players,'' Oliver said. ``You need time to become a better, more confident player. and it's our job to find the right guys for each program and develop them within that program. That's why the relationship with Gary and the Komets is so important.''
Keep it up, and the Avalanche might convince Fort Wayne fans the NHL can be cuddly on a regular basis.