As the Washington Capitals’ new regime enters its first full month, preaching a rejuvenated commitment to developmental hockey, more decisions have been made. Already, rookie general manager Brian MacLellan, head coach Barry Trotz and the rest of the Capitals have possible front office changes to discuss, assistant coaching options to mull, a compliance buyout to use if they so desire, a new coach to hire in Hershey and, now, another minor-league situation to evaluate.
On Wednesday morning, the Reading Royals will announce their new affiliation agreement with the Philadelphia Flyers, effectively ending a two-year partnership with the Hershey Bears and, by extension, the Capitals. According to a Capitals spokesman, the team is currently “mulling” its options in the ECHL. The possibility remains that they could enter the season unaffiliated but still loan players to Reading and other ECHL teams. Some ECHL teams also maintain multiple NHL affiliates.
With the Flyers moving their American Hockey League partner to Allentown, Pa., having another minor-league affiliate nearby makes sense. After all, it’s the same reason why Washington and Hershey aligned with Reading in July 2012: shuttling players between levels was much easier than with the South Carolina Stingrays. And as Capitals Outsider described, “It’s a shame to see the ties end, the proximity allowed for perks on both ends of the agreement – Hershey routinely sent developing players down to Reading to pick up ice time when the Bears had a night off, and call-ups were able to sleep in their own beds when they practiced with the Bears.”
Though two levels removed from Washington on the promotional pecking order, with few Reading players harboring legitimate shots at ultimately reaching the Capitals, a dedicated ECHL affiliate still serves as a home for players who might not get enough time in Hershey but still need dedicated minutes, reflective of the approach Trotz echoed during his introductory news conference.
“With younger players, the longer you can have them be in a situation where they’re playing high minutes at a high level and producing, then that’s the right seat for them,” Trotz said. “If they fail to do that, then the last thing I want is for a young player to be put in a position that he can’t produce and he’s losing his confidence. You don’t need that. You’ve got to have a player, not overachieve but produce at high numbers than not produce any numbers.
“It’s like a ladder. You’re at the bottom, you’re producing, go to the next rung, next rung. If you start always at the top with a player and he can’t handle it, then he’s going down. What you’ve seen in so many players who start at the top, they get moved to the second line, then the third line, then the fourth line, then they’re out of the lineup and they’re going ‘Oh he’s not performing.’ Well it wasn’t fair to the player in the first place so to me that’s an organizational malfunction, not the player. They all arrive at different times.”
The Bears, meanwhile, are still searching for a head coach after Mike Haviland left for Colorado College. GM Doug Yingst recently told Adam Vingan that he “received 64 applications” and wants to fill it sometime in June. (For a solid rundown of possible candidates, the Patriot-News has you covered.) Last season, Hershey missed the playoffs for the first time since 2004-05.
“One thing that struck me loud and clear was that we had drafted very, very well but that perhaps some of our development had gone sideways over the last couple of years and we needed to make a big re-commitment to our affiliate in Hershey,” owner Ted Leonsis said. “I think that was news to us how we had to re-bond and really make a re-commitment to Hershey. I always felt when we were at our best as an organization was when the coaching staffs, the general managers at our AHL affiliate and NHL affiliate were in sync.”
Per the Reading Eagle, Royals president Drew Bell wouldn’t rule out a continued partnership with the Capitals and Bears, saying, “We’re not taking anything off the table.” In 2012-13, the Royals won the Kelly Cup for the first time in franchise history.