When True North Sports & Entertainment purchased the Atlanta Thrashers and moved them to Winnipeg, it had a profound impact on three other professional hockey teams. The Manitoba Moose became the AHL affiliate for the Winnipeg Jets and were shipped out to St. John’s, Newfoundland. This meant the Vancouver Canucks were without an AHL affiliate and the Chicago Wolves, former affiliates of the Thrashers, were without an NHL affiliate. Naturally, the two clubs came together to resolve the issue.

Of course, this means that Vancouver’s prospects will now play in Chicago, where, rumor has it, they’re not too fond of the Canucks. It’s like trying to make a good first impression with a girl who has been told by all her friends that you’re a violent chauvinist Nazi skinhead who wears a wig as a disguise. It’s a tough sell.

That’s why one of the main priorities at the start of free agency on Friday was to get on the good side of the Chicago Wolves and their fans. The only surefire NHLer that Gillis signed is Marco Sturm. The other signings are a little more calculated. While any one of them could surprise and make the Canucks, if they don’t, they’ll be star players for the Wolves.

The first player signed was Mark Mancari, who was a 2010-11 AHL First-Team All Star, scoring 64 points in 56 games last season. Over his AHL career, he has 360 points in 418 AHL games. With his size and skill, he’ll certainly get a chance to play for the Canucks, but he has never stuck in the NHL for long periods of time, so it’s expected that he’ll spend some time with the Wolves. Also, since he has a one-way contract, he’ll still receive his NHL salary while doing so, as the Canucks show that they’re willing to spend money to improve their AHL affiliate.

The Canucks also signed Andrew Ebbett, an under-sized center who has struggled to stick in the NHL for long stretches. In the AHL, however, he has been very productive, scoring 204 points in 210 regular season games and 17 points in 18 playoff games. With Henrik, Kesler, Malhotra, and Lapierre ahead of him, Ebbett will need to make the Canucks as a winger or center a top line in Chicago. And again, it’s a one-way contract that will pay him his NHL salary while with the Wolves.

Finally, the Canucks re-signed Nolan Baumgartner, who is a veteran leader and was captain of the Moose in 2010-11. He’s a 3-time AHL All-Star, served as an AHL All-Star Game captain in 2010, has scored 368 points in 818 games in the AHL, and is solid defensively.

Add in the fact that the Canucks prospect pool is significantly stronger than that of the Atlanta Thrashers, and this could be the start of a beautiful relationship. Forwards Billy Sweatt, Cody Hodgson, and Jordan Schroeder were all productive for the Moose last year, while Prab Rai, Anton Rodin, and Darren Archibald will be solid additions. Meanwhile, defensemen Kevin Connauton, Yann Sauve, Sebastian Erixon, Adam Polasek, and Ryan Parent will round out a formidable defense corps.

There were some people disappointed in what Mike Gillis did on July 1st, but the Chicago Wolves are not likely among them.

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10 comments

  1. HockeyBroad
    July 6, 2011

    Second paragraph cracked me up, no doubt. But….

    Anyway, you might be surprised at the new Wolves’ reception. See, back when the NHL had the lockout, a lot of people started supporting the local AHL teams more; but it goes further back than that. The Wolves have always been fairly independent, anyway, as they were not affiliated w/ the Blackhawks, so there wasn’t that “local connection” of “well, if I can’t afford to go to the UC, at least I can afford to go to their AHL team”. For the cost of a single seat at the UC (starting around US$45), a family of 4 can go enjoy a game at Allstate – and have some $ left over for concessions.

    I know plenty of Wolves fans who couldn’t care less which NHL team the Wolves are affiliated with – there are Wolves fans who are Blackhawks fans, there are those who are/were Thrashers fans, and plenty who like other teams. The Wolves have a pretty strong team identity in Chicago, they’ve won the Turner Cup twice and the Calder Cup twice. The Wolves fan base is pretty strong, and while yes, some who’re also Blackhawks fans might decide they can’t support the Canucks AHL affiliate (after all, the Hawks AHL team is just an hour up the road), so long as there’s a good product on the ice, the fans will come. (For myself, so long as the pyrotechnic opener – http://youtu.be/C0wHkMwFDCk – is still used, then I will still keep coming to games. And the fact it’s in town vs 90 minutes away doesn’t hurt, either.)

    The players coming to Chicago probably have more to adjust to: new city, new arena, new uniforms, new fanbase to win over.

    As a fan of the whole spectrum of hockey (love going to ECHL, AHL and NHL games pretty equally), I think having the Canucks affiliated with the Wolves is a good thing. With the new alignment of the AHL, it means the AHL Midwest division consists of the AHL teams for Canucks, Chicago, Nashville, St Louis – and now Carolina (Charlotte Checkers), which was a very good team last year. It’s not only good to help feed the existing NHL rivalries but expecting it to also improve the level of play we see in the AHL in this part of the country.

    Can’t wait — game on! :)

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    • Daniel Wagner
      July 6, 2011

      That’s what I’ve been hearing about the Wolves’ fans, which is pretty gratifying. I’m sure the dedicated Wolves fans will still cheer on the team, even if some of their favorite players are now heading to St. John’s. But it’s still nice to see the Canucks trying to make a good impression, particularly with the Wolves’ management and ownership, by bringing in some solid AHL talent to go with their up-and-coming prospects.

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    • kim r
      July 6, 2011

      Great stuff – thanks for posting it. Whether one hates the Canucks, these are still prospects and it would be really nasty to be cranky because, well, they’re prospects and sometimes they have no choice if they want to play.

      I hope they give you some good games and great entertainment.

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  2. J21
    July 6, 2011

    “Finally, the Canucks re-signed Nolan Baumgartner, who is … solid defensively.”

    Ah, the AHL. :)

    I was actually going to post a question here that HockeyBroad partially answered, namely about the independence of the Wolves and their fans. I’ve heard similar things said about that organization a number of times, but I feel I heard it the most during the 1994-95 lockout, back when the IHL was not simply an NHL minor league, and in a CFL-ish sort of way kind of fancied itself as a poor man’s competitor to the NHL.

    Since the Wolves have been in the AHL and affiliated with NHL clubs, have they always maintained this continuing sense of identity? In any real numbers? The Manitoba Moose had a little bit of this AHL fanship happening, being in a hockey-starved market and all (apparently this was not true of their original Minnesota Moose incarnation), but do the Wolves really have legions of non-Blackhawk fans, or is it the die-hard perseverence of a select few?

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  3. NedSparks
    July 6, 2011

    I’ve noticed the Wolves do indeed have thousands of fans who are not just “settling” for them in place of the Blackhawks.
    Wolves fans love the independence the team has always maintained, no matter the affiliation. Once again, the Wolves will keep their identity and not wear the colors of the parent team (Canucks), nor a Canucks patch.
    This is how it should be.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      July 6, 2011

      This is one of the major reasons the Abbotsford Heat are struggling. In the heartland of Canucks fandom, they wear the Flames colours, have a team name connected to the Flames, and have a Flames patch on their sweaters. I feel like they would have had a lot more success if they showed more independence like the Wolves have.

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      • Harrison Mooney
        July 6, 2011

        Yeah, that’s always been my big beef with the Heat. You need a team — any team — to connect to their local market. You do this by entrenching the team in the community. Flaunting the fact that they are the natural enemies of the community seems at odds with this.

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  4. anon
    July 6, 2011

    Good point.

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  5. Elana
    July 6, 2011

    Been a Wolves fan since the very beginning of ’94. The team has ALWAYS been a top notch team. They’ve always taken very good care of the players that come and go as well. So much so that many have clamored to come back and have on more than one occasion. The addition to the Vancouver Canucks doesn’t really faze the fans who’ve been with the Wolves through the victories, losses, tragedies as well as the triumphs. One thing that has always stood out about Don Levin and his passion for the team as well as his commitment to both the organization as well as the fans is that even though he wants wins and championships (just like anyone else of course) but he holds true to the fact that the team has its own uniqueness. The fact that the Wolves are the only AHL team to show ALL 80 (now 78) games on television is HUGE. Not even one NHL team can say that they are committed to ALL games being televised either nationally or on a local cable/satellite channel like the Wolves can. That too is something that keeps the fans well connected. The players are approachable and VERY accessible after games. Many great friendships with the players, wives/girlfriends and even their kids have developed and are deeply respected as well as cherished as a result of this very friendly approachable atmosphere embraced by the Wolves. Though I’ve never been much of a Canucks fan myself I did root for the team during this year’s Stanley Cup run (who knew that a week later I’d learn that the team was in fact going to be affiliated with the very team that I’ve loved for 18 years….the Wolves). However, I AM trying to become a Canucks fan and learn as much about the team, the organization as possible and even looking into possibly soon getting my hands on a logo for my vehicle like I had for the Thrashers when they were our affiliate as well as getting other Vancouver Canucks merchandise since well…they’re a part of the Wolves family now for however long the partnership/affiliation stays solid. Made great friends within Atlanta’s organization and players and will miss them greatly. On the same token I’m looking forward to hopefully gaining new friends along the way from Vancouver as well. The players from the Canucks that come to Chicago will at least have this fan to welcome them with open arms.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      July 7, 2011

      Awesome to hear from a diehard Wolves fan! But the Canucks are an NHL team that can say they are committed to all games being televised, so we have that in common. :)

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