There appears to be some thawing in tensions between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Chicago Wolves, their former AHL affiliate.
The Wolves made the highly unexpected choice to go it alone in the AHL, deciding to not have an NHL affiliate while the Hurricanes were left without an AHL franchise to partner with. As an independently-owned franchise that has historically prioritized Calder Cup contention above all else, there had been some tension between the Wolves and the Hurricanes, the latter of whom is likely to care more about the development of its prospects rather than Calder Cup contention.
Although the Wolves had signed some big-name veteran players such as Max Comtois, Rocco Grimaldi, Chris Terry, and Keith Kinkaid, they have struggled immensely so far this season. They currently have just one win, and their .222 points percentage ranks them last in the AHL, behind the 2-7-1 Laval Rocket.
The AHL’s development rule, which stipulates that most of a team’s lineup must be composed of players with under 260 professional games under their belt, poses an issue. Most players of quality who fit under those limits have been scooped up by NHL teams, so finding players un-affiliated with an NHL franchise that not only fit under those limits but also are up to the task of playing more than just depth roles in the AHL, is challenging.
It appears now that the Hurricanes and Wolves have found their way back to each other. Carolina team reporter Walt Ruff has reported that prospects Domenick Fensore, Griffin Mendel, and Ronan Seeley have been reassigned from the ECHL’s Norfolk Admirals to the Wolves. This comes just shortly after Vasily Ponomarev was reassigned to Chicago from the Tucson Roadrunners.
Fensore, 22, is a skilled offensive defenseman who has 10 points in nine games so far this season for the Admirals. The 2019 90th overall pick will likely take up an important offensive role for a Wolves team only really getting offensive production from one blueliner.
Seeley, 21, was a 2020 seventh-round pick who skated in 70 games for the Wolves last season, scoring 25 points. He’s likely to resume his role as a top-four defenseman in Chicago. Mendel, 24, is an undrafted former University of Denver and Quinnipiac University blueliner who offers imposing size at six-foot-six, 220 pounds. He played in 72 games for the Wolves last season, scoring 19 points, and will be a quality add for the Wolves.
Seeing as the Wolves seem to have prioritized forwards in their offseason signings of AHL veterans, it’s not a huge surprise that they’ve come to an agreement with the Hurricanes in order to get some valuable defensemen from their ECHL roster, including two with prior experience playing for Chicago.
For as much as each side of this now-shrinking divide between former affiliates may have believed they could go it alone, it appears the best path forward for both the Hurricanes (who likely don’t want to keep quality prospects in the ECHL) and the Wolves (whose early struggles indicate the necessity of an NHL affiliation) is to return to the sort of partnership that won Chicago a Calder Cup in 2022.