When asked if the relationship between the Florida Panthers and AHL affiliate Rochester Americans "was done", Dale Tallon responded like only Dale can, with a golf allegory, "it would be like the back nine at Augusta, with poor Rory McIlroy, I think it's done".
The affiliation has been in longstanding jeopardy for quite some time now, as both managing and ownership groups have very different beliefs and philosophies when it comes to formulating a winning relationship. It's been long rumoured that the breakup would happen at the end of the year when the current three year agreement expires, but after what seemed to be a early 2011 "festivus" where both sides aired their grievances, including what what would be a lot of "Rochester inspired" trades at and near the NHL Trade Deadline, the news comes as a bit of a surprise.The comment would mark the end of the 6 year affiliation the two clubs have had with one another. In 2005, The Panthers had dual-affiliate rights, until the Buffalo Sabres balked on renewing their deal in 2007--making the Cats and Amerks, soley exclusive to one another. For a while it was a match made in heaven, but the power struggle that would ensue and fight over development versus winning, slowly destroyed the coalition and eventually lead to a strained and frustrating relationship on both sides. Put that in an E-harmony commercial.
When asked what the plan was moving forward, Dale said "We've got a lot of options and we're looking at every possible thing that makes us better as far as the future and where we can develop our young players to get better"-- which in itself is a bit concerning considering the plethora of different outcomes this could lead to.
AHL affiliation rules dictate each club must be affiliated with an NHL team - and it's not really economically viable for an AHL team to go independent so it's unlikely the Panthers will be without an affiliate but given the fact that very few teams will be eligible and willing to "swap partners" for next seasons dance (because of the developmental stunting) there are considerable issues that rise up and many of them are recurrent from the Cats' previous engagements with the Amerks.
The big issue in this problem is that people have to realize that the NHL is an entirely different entity than the AHL-- they are in a business of their own, and until that changes the AHL will always have slightly different priorities than their affiliated partners. The AHL is a business just like the NHL, and they have to make money. AHL franchises such as Rochester have slowly bled money for years now (a lot like the Panthers), and a lot of it has to do instability with the NHL relationship-- such a huge change in infrastructure could be chaotic for the group of AHL and NHL teams caught in the middle of this. Until the economic landscape changes, there will have to be allowances made on both sides, and that means that Panthers management might have to say give into hockey operation demands of their AHL affiliate to create a stable affiliate and strong training grounds for their future players. The affiliation agreement isn't perfect, but Tallon and Florida can make it work, but they'll have to learn from some of the mistakes they made along the way (As much as this is a Florida publication, the Panthers are not innocent in all of this.)
Obviously, Tallon has options, but coming out and saying the relationship is done without having a backup plan is a bit premature. This isn't like hiring a coach, there are tons of eligible head coaches, there are only 30 AHL affiliates. Getting a right match for this organization is going to be next to impossible and chances are some of the same difficulties will arise. The prospect of re-assembling the group and infrastructure could also set the team back from a developmental standpoint. It will be interesting to see who the new affiliate will be, but it will be more interesting to see how the relationship begins, and how long Tallon and company can keep the honey moon period afloat.