Late in the day yesterday, The Columbus Dispatch reported that the Blue Jackets' AHL affiliate team will be based in Cleveland starting next season. The team has parted ways with the Springfield Falcons, a partnership that dates back to 2010.
The new AHL affiliate will be the Lake Erie Monsters, a team that has been owned by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert since its inception in 2007. The Monsters play their home games in Quicken Loans Arena (home of the NBA Cavs), a rarity for a minor-league team to play in a major-league venue.
The Monsters previously were affiliated with the Colorado Avalanche, who are switching their affiliate to San Antonio. It would appear the Falcons will get picked up by the Arizona Coyotes.
All current CBJ prospects and players whose rights are owned by the Blue Jackets will transfer to Cleveland. That also includes the Springfield coaching staff. No word yet on if any of the coaches currently for the Monsters will stay behind or switch to San Antonio.
This is a very exciting and very important move for the franchise. It should help to unify some of the hockey within the state (now, if they could pick up the Cincinnati Cyclones as the ECHL affiliate? Look out) and will allow Jackets fans much easier access to watch prospects. There is also the logistics of having call-ups just two hours up I-71. I doubt we see too many guys get called up, only to be stranded in the northeast. The front office and scouts will also be able to watch the prospects play much more easily.
The move shouldn't come as a surprise as the AHL is shaking things up with Western expansion. We have also seen commercials for the Monsters within the last month on Fox Sports Ohio.
Official word from both clubs is expected some time today. That would mean this fits just in time for my master plan I have been relaying on Twitter - SEND NICK GILBERT TO THE NHL DRAFT LOTTERY (which is tomorrow, by the way). For those of you who don't know, Nick Gilbert is the son of Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. He has a stellar track record at the NBA Draft Lottery being the team representative for the Cavs. Now that the Gilberts are part of the CBJ family, I see no reason why the team shouldn't send the best good luck charm known to Ohio.
This is a critical move for the franchise and furthers the Columbus-Cleveland sports pipeline as the Indians picked up the Clippers as their AAA affiliate in 2009. Time will tell, but this move could unify hockey fans around the state. For fans in Columbus, it will only be a short drive up to Cleveland to see some of the future Jackets.