The Sunshine State’s two NHL teams are partnering up this season and will share an AHL affiliation in Syracuse.
The Panthers were in the market for a place for their AHL guys to play this season after the Charlotte Checkers announced Monday they were opting out of the 2021 season.
Rumors that Tampa Bay would offer an invitation to the Panthers soon began and it became official on Wednesday.
According to the Crunch, the Tampa Bay coaching staff will remain in place. Benoit Groulx, coach of the Crunch, was previously employed by the Panthers and coached their AHL team in Rochester from 2008-10 and led the Amerks to a playoff berth in one of those two seasons.
Florida’s AHL coaching staff — which includes head coach Geordie Kinnear and goalie coach Leo Luongo — will be retained by the Panthers per a source.
According to terms of the deal, the Panthers will be able to assign players to the Crunch for training, practices and games.
Florida GM Bill Zito and the Syracuse Crunch have a bit of a history. In 2019, his Cleveland Monsters upset the Crunch in the first round of the AHL playoffs.
Coincidentally, the Charlotte Checkers won the Calder Cup that year.
“We are excited and honored to work with our neighbors,” Zito said in a statement.
“It is a unique chance to work in tandem with our cross-state rivals in a collaborative effort to provide the necessary environment for our prospects to train and compete in the 2020-21 AHL season.
“With safety at the forefront, this arrangement also allows our players to continue their development uninterrupted. The fact that our two competing franchises have decided to work together for the collective good is evidence of the underlying goodwill and community that truly exists in our sport and is a testimony to the character of Julien BriseBois and his staff. This type of cooperation is exciting for the future of hockey in Florida.”
This is not the first time the Panthers have shared an AHL affiliation although the situation is much different.
In 2005-06, the Panthers shared Rochester with the Buffalo Sabres mainly because Florida did not have enough players to field a full team on its own. Florida took over management of Rochester the following season before going back to San Antonio in 2011.
“From the Tampa Bay Lightning perspective, the 2020-21 AHL season is about providing a safe and steady place for our players to train, practice and play some games,’’ Lightning GM Julien BriseBois said.
“The opportunity to partner with our cross-state rivals, the Florida Panthers, for what will be a most unusual season will allow the Crunch to ice a more competitive team to the benefit of our fans and our players. We look forward to working with Bill Zito and his staff.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS AHL HISTORY
Cincinnati Cyclones (1993-95 – IHL)
Carolina Monarchs (1995-97)
New Haven Beast (1997-99)
Kentucky Thoroughblades (1998-99)
Louisville Panthers (1999-2001)
San Antonio Rampage (2002-05)
Rochester Americans (2005-06)*
Rochester Americans (2006-11)
San Antonio Rampage (2011-15)
Portland Pirates (2015-16)
Springfield Thunderbirds (2016-20)
Charlotte Checkers (2020-present)
Syracuse Crunch (2021)^
(*) — Shared with Buffalo Sabres
(^) — Shared with Tampa Bay Lightning