Some people are calling this week's news the worst-kept secret in hockey. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't, but what has become abundantly clear is that the Crunch and the Ducks will most likely not be affiliated next year. Alex and Jen team up to talk about the reasons, the reactions, and the next stage for each team.
To those of us "in the know"--and even to some who weren't--the break up between the Ducks and the Crunch was pretty much all but sealed after the first year of the affiliation. It was clear that the two front offices weren't exactly seeing eye-to-eye by the end of last season. As you all know by now, Howard Dolgon, the Crunch's owner, isn't one to handle things quietly, which is pretty much in direct opposition to the standard operating procedure in Anaheim. I believe he was once called ape-shit-crazy by Jen [Ed. Note: True.], and although I don't exactly share that sentiment (ha), I will say that it is very seldom boring being a fan of the Crunch. Howard is an interesting person to have as an owner, there's no doubt about it. I'd imagine he can be rather difficult to deal with when he doesn't get his way.
Although the attitude of each fan base was negatively influenced by a certain member of the Syracuse press, there were real problems behind all the drama. Last year was a major personnel mess for the Crunch. Key roles on the team were left unaddressed and empty. Things festered way too long. Help came too late. The team was too inexperienced and too young to handle the pressures of a first year together. In an interview in Syracuse today, Dolgon gave props to the Ducks for addressing those issues. He said that over the summer, the Ducks certainly went out and spent money, money that was used to build up a Syracuse roster to the point where it looked absolutely fabulous on paper. Although certain cogs became rusty and dull not very long into the season, throwing the wheels off, everyone over here pretty much acknowledges that the Ducks put their money where their mouth is for us. There's not a whole lot of obvious answers as to why this particular team didn't perform up to the level it should have, and I really don't think anything that happened this season had much to do with this affiliation reaching its end game.
First impressions are, as they say, everything. I have a feeling the Crunch had their minds made up at the end of last year that they weren't going to take the third year option of the contract with the Ducks. I can't speak for Anaheim, but I'd be surprised if they didn't feel the same way. It just didn't seem like things were clicking the way they should have been, and too many negative feelings survived from that first year. In that same interview I referenced earlier, Howard made the comment that the original idea for the contract was to test the waters and see if this affiliation could survive more than two years.
In other words, there was a reason the time span was set for such a short period. It remains to be seen whether this was because the two front offices knew they had differing personalities, or because the Ducks knew they'd eventually want to wrangle their farm team into a closer geographic area, or because the Crunch knew they'd eventually want a parent club on the same coast. Howard commented that both teams found the geography a daunting obstacle to mount. It was difficult for Anaheim's front office to come out here and see things with their own eyes, just as it was difficult for our front office to liaison with them in person. Obviously, player transactions were complicated. Those stressors were in place just by the very nature of the affiliation, before anything else was added in. Although I'm sure these problems weren't exactly unknown when the affiliation was signed, add any kind of bad blood into that and things were probably not going to last very long.
As far as I know, there's two NHL clubs the Crunch could go with next year: Tampa Bay, current parent club of the Norfolk Admirals, or the Florida Panthers, current parent club of the San Antonio Rampage. I can say with almost 100% certainty that Howard will not want to partner with Florida. We saw them reek havoc on Rochester (AHL) a few years ago, and I really doubt Howard would take that risk. The prevailing theory around these parts is that we'll be with Tampa Bay next year. Norfolk is currently having one of its strongest seasons ever, and is in good contention to win it all. It'll make for an interesting transition. I personally believe there's more depth in Anaheim's system than there is in Tampa's, but I'm not being paid the big bucks to make these decisions.
All in all, this is a frustrating if not expected end to the partnership. Although as of yesterday the Crunch was dangling the idea of signing a new deal with Anaheim (the link to the Post Standard story is in this OCR blog entry), the Ducks' comments in the OCR about wishing Syracuse well pretty much killed that one. In the interview today, Howard basically also made it sound as though the two clubs are done with each other.
Although there aren't any razzle-dazzle memories from the last two years in my head, it was something special being able to see talent like Kyle Palmieri and Iiro Tarkki here. It was great getting to know Anaheim's fabulous fans. I'm not saying goodbye here at AC yet, there's still a month and a week left to this season and I'll be damned if I drop out now, but it was an honor to get to hang out with you all every now and then. Thanks for welcoming us in. You all really were a refreshing breath of fresh air from the tools in Columbus.
"This was not a surprise. We have known about this for quite some time. We will have options for next year and are currently exploring the possibilities. We hope to have a strong finish to the season and certainly wish Syracuse well in the future." -- Ducks GM Bob Murray (via OC Register)
I have to say, this is my first divorce, and it's a rather passive aggressive one at that. The Ducks have had minor league partners before (Iowa, Portland, Cincinnati, Bakersfield, etc.), but I haven't been this involved before. This one seemed doomed almost from the very beginning.
There was a war of words from Syracuse and Anaheim following the end of last season regarding the supply of players and the finish of the club. People's needs weren't being met and expectations of the relationship far exceeded the results. Not to mention this was a long - LONG - distance relationship. To go from Syracuse, New York to Anaheim, California is over 2,000 miles each way. As good as it was for frequent flyer miles, it certainly took a toll on our prospects if they were expected to play the same night as being called up or sent down.
As Alex said, I too got the feeling that the Ducks and Crunch ownership never really saw eye-to-eye. No offense to Mr. Dolgon, but I felt that he wanted to be an NHL-esque owner with an AHL team. Control was always the issue. The Ducks are a tricky franchise. We have a very hand-off owner when it comes to hockey operations, but we have a GM that works in secret. Everything that Brian Burke was, Bob Murray isn't - especially when it comes to public comments. I believe it was Murray's intention to have assistant GM David McNabb fully run the Syracuse franchise without having much input from those in Syracuse. Anaheim supplied the players, we supplied the coaches (for the most part), and Syracuse was expected to act like a nanny to the Ducklings while mom and dad took care the real business in California.
Going forward, who knows what the plans are for the Ducks. I hope they are able to ban together with other Western Conference teams to force the AHL to form a Western league of their own. I don't believe that all our prospects will be sent to the ECHL because the compete level there isn't the same as the AHL. This may be an oversimplification of the system, but I liken going from the AHL to the ECHL as going from AAA to AA in baseball. The Ducks will find another nanny for their Ducklings, they always do. It's just a matter of finding an AHL franchise that is more willing to play by Anaheim's rules.
We're not saying 'good bye' just yet; however, on behalf of the Anaheim Calling staff, we want to say a big 'THANK YOU' to the team over at CHGA! Alex and Magics have been a dream to work with and I hope we're able to partner with our next AHL team's fans half as well as we were able to work with them. I think I'm more mad about losing them than I am about losing Syracuse all together. We wish all Crunchies the best with the Lightning (if that ends up working out). Thanks for taking care of our future.