The ECHL will include seven new teams after accepting seven clubs from the CHL. (Getty Images)
The ECHL will include seven new teams after accepting seven clubs from the CHL. (Getty Images)

Though speculation had been running rampant for some time, the ECHL confirmed Tuesday that it is absorbing the seven teams that made up what was left of the Central Hockey League a little more than a week before its full season was set to begin. This sounds like a merger, but it isn’t. The CHL will cease operations as the ECHL now expands to 28 teams.

Among the seven CHL teams joining the ECHL: the Allen (Texas) Americans, Brampton (Ont.) Beast, Missouri Mavericks, Quad City Mallards (Moline, Ill.), Rapid City (S.D.) Rush, Tulsa (Okla.) Oilers and Wichita (Kan.) Thunder.

"The ECHL is very pleased to welcome these new Members to the League," ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna said in a statement. "These additions strengthen our base in the center of the country and give the ECHL, for the first time, a true national presence. It expands our ability to act as a development league and more closely aligns our number of teams with both the American Hockey League and the National Hockey League. 

"There will be logistical challenges in the short term, however, in the long term, it is certainly in the best interest of the ECHL, the new members and minor-league hockey in general."

This maneuver seemed inevitable as the CHL struggled to stay afloat as a small-market league. Plenty of teams have folded or moved to other leagues in recent years, leaving the 51-year-old CHL in a bit of disrepair.

Rumors that the CHL would fold seemed to crop up every year, but now that the ECHL has taken in those teams, they have saved those clubs from being shuttered according to Pro Hockey Players Association executive board member and minor league journeyman goalie Mike McKenna.

It's good news for the players that would have been affected and the cities, some of which have been homes to minor-league hockey for decades.

Now the ECHL is truly a coast-to-coast league, with an even bigger presence in the middle of the country thanks to this situation.

The ECHL has proven to be a valuable developmental league for the NHL, often utilized as a destination for players that aren’t quite ready for the AHL or need to get more ice time. It labels itself as a Double-A league, in comparison to baseball's minor league structure. Most teams are affiliated with an NHL club, with some even being connected with multiple NHL teams to shuttle their prospects to.

Also of note, this move comes on the heels of wide speculation that there will be more sweeping changes coming to minor-league hockey in North America. It has long been rumored that western NHL teams would like to see their American Hockey League affiliates playing a little closer to home to make for easier call-ups and evaluation. That would force a big shift throughout the minors, but nothing appears imminent at this point. This recent move from the ECHL, however, could make the rumored plan a little easier having just brought on seven more teams to fill out the league. It will definitely be worth monitoring.

Minor-league hockey is a tough business, so it's nice to see the ECHL making this work and keep seven teams alive, leaving more opportunities for players to play high-level hockey in North America and creating entertainment for smaller cities and towns that want hockey.