If what the Tampa Bay Lightning’s American Hockey League affiliate accomplished this past season was considered to be impressive, it’s almost scary to think what the club could be capable of if it played a less strenuous schedule characterized by less travel.
Soon enough, though, we will see for ourselves.
The Lightning announced today that it entered into a multi-year affiliation agreement with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, thus ending their agreement with the Norfolk Admirals, which had served as the club’s top affiliate for the previous five seasons.
According to Lightning assistant general manager Julien BriseBois, the move had less to do with the Norfolk organization and more with cutting costs and reducing travel to provide the players with more opportunities to improve.
“We feel the move will reduce the wear on our players which will lead to fewer risks of injuries and a higher level of performance,” BriseBois said. “As a result of having more quality practice days, our players will certainly benefit.”
Players and staff currently under contract with Tampa Bay will transfer to the new affiliate beginning next season.
While the announcement appears to be an exciting one for the overall benefit and sustainability of the Lightning franchise, the timing, perhaps, couldn’t have come at a more inopportune moment.
Norfolk just completed a sweep of the Toronto Marlies to win the AHL’s Calder Cup to culminate a remarkable season in which it reeled off a professional hockey record 28-game win streak. It then went 10-0 in its final 10 postseason games and finished the entire campaign by winning 43 of its final 46 games, including the postseason.
“Obviously the timing was not ideal,” BriseBois added. “We benefited from tremendous fan support in Norfolk which helped us reach new heights as a team. When you have the type of season we just had, you build strong bonds with the fans and the community. We were happy we were able to provide the fans in Norfolk with a championship because they provided us with championship level support."
“We greatly appreciated their support and if we could have moved Norfolk up north closer to our competition, we would have. The fan support, the game experience at Scope, the support of owner Ken Young and the quality of life that Norfolk provided our players and staff were all fantastic.”
To clarify, players and staff currently under contract with Tampa Bay will transfer over to the new affiliate in Syracuse beginning next season.