An agreement to make the Wichita Thunder the ECHL affiliate of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators is being finalized and is expected to be announced early next week.
The agreement was first disclosed by Senators assistant general manager Randy Lee, who told an Ottawa radio station last week that the team would partner with the Thunder starting in the 2016-17 season.
Thunder general manager Joel Lomurno said the club is “very close to finalizing an NHL affliation,” but would not confirm it’s the Senators.
The Thunder has played two seasons in the ECHL without an affiliation and was one of three ECHL teams not connected last season with an NHL franchise. An ECHL club is essentially a second-level minor-league team for the NHL parent club.
Wichita, which previously played in the Central Hockey League, missed the playoffs in both seasons before opting not to renew the contract of coach Kevin McClelland, who led the Thunder for six seasons.
In May, the Thunder hired Malcolm Cameron to replace McClelland. During his introductory news conference, Cameron discussed his desire to find an NHL affiliation for the Thunder.
“That’s going to be high, high on my agenda,” Cameron said. “Obviously there’s no guarantees, but I’ve had very good relationships with the (higher-level) teams I’ve worked with in the past.”
Last season, Ottawa’s ECHL affiliate was Evansville, which finished 29-33-7-3, last in the Western Division. The Thunder’s record was 18-41-7-6. Evansville won’t be in the ECHL this season after losing its lease agreement with its arena.
Ottawa’s Triple-A American Hockey League affiliate is the Binghamton (N.Y.) Senators.
Within professional hockey affiliations, not all players are signed to contracts by parent clubs. NHL teams can assign players under contract to Double-A or Triple-A teams or promote players whether they are signed to NHL contracts or not.