DULUTH -- The Gwinnett Gladiators signed an affiliation agreement with the Phoenix Coyotes for the 2011-12 season Wednesday.
The Gladiators were in search of a new NHL partner after ending an eight-year relationship with the Atlanta Thrashers several months ago. Team president Steve Chapman has been working since June on establishing a new affiliate in the NHL and reached a one-year deal with Phoenix.
"It just starts with putting feelers out," Chapman said. "Early in the summer, the truth is NHL teams aren't worried about who their ECHL affiliate is going to be. They have things like the draft and free agency to deal with. So it's just laying the groundwork at that point.
"The good news on this deal -- and there were several options -- is Brad Treliving is a guy I've known for a long time."
Treliving is the Coyotes' vice president of hockey operations and assistant general manager. He played in the ECHL in the early and mid '90s before getting into management.
"We got to talking," Chapman said, "and one of the things I said was that, to be completely honest, this is Phoenix and we just went through this (uncertainty with ownership) with Atlanta.' They said, hey, they do have some things they're uncertain about, but one of the things they are committed to is developing players.
"And they are. The more we talked, the more comfortable I got. And I think they liked our focus, to make players better and move them up."
Over the course of eight years, Gwinnett has fielded 156 call-ups involving 112 players. The Gladiators have had at least 22 players called up to the AHL in the past four seasons, including a record 28 during 2009-10.
"Obviously you look at the track record and the history of the Gladiators," Treliving said. "They are an elite franchise as far as how they're run, the facilities, the support, how they look after their players. From an organizational standpoint, they're a top organization in the ECHL.
"Then you look at the success on the ice and then the people involved. I've known Steve Chapman for a while and know the experience he has, and most important, the kind of guy he is. It was a real easy decision and what we thought was a perfect fit for us."
The Coyotes were previously affiliated with Las Vegas and will continue to have Portland as their AHL team.
That was another big piece of the puzzle for Chapman.
In the past, the Gladiators were occasionally cannibalized by their affiliates. Such is the nature of the beast at the lower end of the totem poll, but there are organizations successfully using the affiliate relationship to make all the clubs better.
"For last eight years, we almost served two different masters," Chapman said. "What I love about this is Phoenix controls the AHL team.
"We deal with Phoenix. We won't have Portland trying to do what they want to do and Phoenix trying to do what they want."
On top of that, Ray Edwards is the Pirates' head coach and another ECHL alum. Edwards played in the league, including a brief stint in Birmingham when Chapman was also there, and moved on to become a coach. He subsequently was hired as an assistant in the AHL before being named a head coach in San Antonio during the 2009-10 season.
"These guys know what it's like to be in our league," Chapman said. "They're going to do what they have to do, that's how it works, but I do like the fact that we have guys that appreciate and know where we're coming from."
"We're cognizant," Treliving said. "We've lived it. We've walked in those shoes. It's all part of the relationship, having a mutual respect. Ultimately, we've got to do what's right from a hockey standpoint, but we have an understanding."
Phoenix is the fourth NHL team Gwinnett has been affiliated with, developing prospects from Atlanta, Chicago and Columbus. The Gladiators worked with the Thrashers since their inaugural season in 2003 and later added short partnerships with the Blackhawks (2008-09 after their ECHL affiliate in Fresno ceased operations midseason) and the Blue Jackets (2009-10).
"An important thing for any successful relationship to work is knowing they're part of our family and the whole chain of how things work, the development chain," Treliving said. "They play a vital role. The whole goal is to make the players better -- whether they be in Portland or in Gwinnett -- we want to get better and help that particular team."
Chapman said the Coyotes talked about sending a goaltender, two defensemen and up to four forwards.
"If we get all that I'll be pleasantly shocked," Chapman said. "It's a good number of players. But there's a double-edged sword there. You hope to get players, but do have possibility of losing them."
It's a scenario Gwinnett has dealt with all of its eight seasons, to varying degrees. It's the price of being an ECHL team, especially one with a reputation for developing players.
"Often the ECHL team is looked at as the ugly stepchild a little and to me, that shouldn't, and definitely isn't, the case," Treliving said. "Everybody's got a different development curve. It's so important to draft well and after that it's important to develop them.
"Our hope is that we're going to continue to do that. We've got guys on the team that have played with the ECHL. It's an important level and our hope is the guys that end up in Gwinnett are good players that will help the team, but also develop and move up."