Although not officially announced yet, the Florida Panthers’ new AHL home will be in Charlotte, N.C. per new GM Bill Zito and coach Joel Quenneville.
The Charlotte Checkers have apparently — although, again, unofficially — lost their 10-year affiliation with the nearby Carolina Hurricanes after another shuffling within the league during last season.
The first domino to fall was the Vegas Golden Knights purchasing the San Antonio Rampage with the plan to move them to Henderson, Nevada.
With the Rampage now a Vegas affiliate (and renamed the Henderson Silver Knights), the St. Louis Blues were in the market for a new home.
They made a deal with Springfield — which was Florida’s AHL team the past four seasons.
The Chicago Wolves, which had been Vegas’ affiliate, appear to have an agreement with Carolina — leaving Charlotte open.
The Panthers-Charlotte marriage had been assumed (Florida needed an AHL team and the Checkers needed an NHL partner) but there are a few things left to work out.
A deal with the Hurricanes and Chicago has also not been announced.
Both Zito and Quenneville mentioned Thursday that Florida’s AHL team would be in Charlotte.
Zito had been the general manager of Columbus’ AHL team in Cleveland before giving up that role after being promoted within the Blue Jackets organization last summer.
He said he wants to build up Florida’s AHL team as Columbus did in Cleveland.
The Monsters won the Calder Cup in 2016 and a good many players who are currently with the Jackets played in the AHL for Cleveland.
“We’re going to have to populate Charlotte with prospects and develop them,’’ Zito said.
“I have to sink my teeth into that one, work with the people here. I have to throughly assess it and see where they were. We have to get the draft right, gets picks and prospects in there. Then we’ll move forward and put a solid development model in there which will yield future NHL players down the road.”
The Panthers will be moving into a pretty good situation in Charlotte next season — that is assuming the AHL even has a season.
The Checkers won the AHL’s Calder Cup in 2019 led in part by current Panthers’ center Aleksi Saarela.
Saarela said players are going to enjoy living and playing in Charlotte.
The Checkers play their home game at Bojangles Coliseum — which was built in the 1950s but renovated before the team moved out of the NBA arena it had shared with the Bobcats/Hornets.
“It is awesome,” Saarela said in July. “It is one of the greatest cities in the American League.
“I had a great two years there, it is a great city to live with great fans. The owner, Michael Kahn, is an unreal guy. Really helps out the players. It’s just fun to be there.”
Goalie Chris Driedger echoed Saarela’s comments saying that visiting teams often enjoyed traveling to Charlotte for games.
Charlotte is not close to the traditional AHL hub in the northeast so travel is a bit different. Instead of long bus rides late at night going from one AHL town to the next, Charlotte travels through the air to most of their games.
“I have been to Charlotte quite a few times and it’s always a great trip,” Driedger said. “We would always go for a weekend, play a few games and get them out of the way.
“It was one of the road trips we looked forward to the most. In some of the eastern cities, there is less to do. You go to Charlotte, it’s a big city with a lot of young professionals living and working there. I know the guys always enjoyed it. Their fans do a fantastic job, very supportive.”
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 (2005-11)
San Antonio Rampage (2011-15)
Portland Pirates (2015-16)
Springfield Thunderbirds (2016-20)
Charlotte Checkers (2020-present)