|Current season or competition:
2012–13 ECHL season
|No. of teams||23|
|Most recent champion(s)||Florida Everblades|
|Most titles||(tie) Hampton Roads Admirals and
South Carolina Stingrays (3)
|Official website||Official website|
The ECHL (formerly the East Coast Hockey League) is a mid-level professional ice hockey league based in Princeton, New Jersey with teams scattered across the United States. It is generally regarded as a tier below the American Hockey League.
The ECHL and the AHL are the only minor leagues recognized by the collective bargaining agreement between the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association, meaning any player signed to an entry-level NHL contract and designated for assignment must report to a club either in the AHL or the ECHL. Additionally, the league's players are represented by the Professional Hockey Players' Association in negotiations with the ECHL itself.
The league, which combined teams from the defunct Atlantic Coast Hockey League and All-American Hockey League, began play as the East Coast Hockey League in 1988 with 5 teams—the (Winston-Salem, North) Carolina Thunderbirds (now the Wheeling Nailers); the Erie Panthers (folded after 2011 as the Victoria Salmon Kings); the Johnstown Chiefs (now the Greenville Road Warriors); the Knoxville Cherokees (ceased operations as the Pee Dee Pride after 2005; folded after 2009 following failed relocation efforts); and the Virginia Lancers (now the Utah Grizzlies).
In September 2002, the West Coast Hockey League ceased operations, and the ECHL Board of Governors approved membership applications from the Anchorage (now Alaska) Aces, the Bakersfield Condors, the Fresno Falcons, the Idaho Steelheads, the Las Vegas Wranglers, the Long Beach Ice Dogs and the San Diego Gulls as well as from teams in Ontario, California and Reno, Nevada. Alaska, Bakersfield, Fresno, Idaho, Las Vegas, Long Beach and San Diego began play in the 2003–04 season as expansion teams. In a change reflective of the league's now-nationwide presence, the East Coast Hockey League shortened its name to the orphan initialism ECHL on May 19, 2003. The ECHL reached its largest size to date (31 teams) that season before being reduced to 28 teams for the 2004–05 season.
The league, because of geographical anomalies, has used unbalanced conferences and divisions, making for some extremely varied playoff formats and limited interconference play. Due to travel costs, the league has attempted to placate owners in keeping those costs down, which has led to the sometimes-odd playoff structures.
The ECHL has attempted to be more tech-friendly to its fans. Some improvements on the league's website have included a new schedule and statistics engine powered by League Stat, Inc. (introduced in 2006), internet radio coverage for most teams, and pay-per view broadcasting of ECHL games through B2 Networks (a subsidiary of America One Broadcasting). In 2008, the league introduced the ECHL toolbar for internet browsers which gave users short cut access to statistics, scores, transactions, and news updates.
At the annual ECHL Board of Governors Meeting on June 15, 2010, in Henderson, Nevada, the Board of Governors approved changes to the names of the conferences and divisions. The former American Conference (comprising eleven East Coast and Midwest teams) was renamed the Eastern Conference, while the National Conference (consisting of 8 West Coast teams, including the league's only Canadian team at the time), was re-designated the Western Conference. Within the Eastern Conference, the East Division was renamed the Atlantic Division, and the Western Conference's former West Division was dubbed the Mountain Division.
The league lost its only Canadian team with the folding of the Victoria Salmon Kings subsequent to the 2010–11 season. The league increased to 20 teams for the 2011–12 season with the addition of the expansion franchise Chicago Express and the Colorado Eagles who previously played in the Central Hockey League.
Following suspension of the Trenton Devils by the parent club New Jersey Devils in early July 2011, the league announced the return of the Trenton Titans (last seen in 2007) with a press conference that was made on July 28.
With the folding of the Chicago Express at the close of the 2011–12 season and the announcement of expansion franchises in Orlando, San Francisco, Evansville and Fort Wayne (both in Indiana and both from the Central Hockey League) the league will begin the 2012–13 season with 23 teams.
League alignment as of conclusion of annual ECHL Board of Governors meeting on June 25, 2012.
- An asterisk (*) denotes a franchise move. See the respective team articles for more information.
Future teams 
One team which was under suspension should resume operations in a new home arena for the 2013–14 season. Teams are being developed in two new markets, and considered in several markets that have hosted ECHL teams in the past. Representatives from all potential expansion franchises, markets that have been granted expansion franchises and franchises that have suspended operations must attend the league's annual Board of Governors Meeting between seasons and provide progress reports on their situations in order to keep their ECHL franchise rights. The Board of Governors then votes whether or not to extend the franchises' league licenses until the next Board of Governors Meeting.
At the 2012 Board of Governors Meeting, the Board elected to limit the league to 26 teams, with an emphasis on adding teams to the Western Conference.
Franchises under suspended operations 
- Columbia Inferno, earliest return to be announced; granted a one-year voluntary suspension while the team attempts to find a new home arena, then granted a one-year extension onto their voluntary suspension as they attempt to construct a new arena to host the franchise.
Defunct and relocated teams 
While the ECHL has stated in recent years they would not grant voluntary suspensions of franchises for more than one year, both the Toledo Storm (now the Toledo Walleye) and Mississippi Sea Wolves (now defunct) were granted two-year suspensions—the Sea Wolves because of Hurricane Katrina and the Storm in order to demolish their present arena and construct a new one in downtown Toledo. The Mississippi Sea Wolves resumed play for the 2007–2008 season, while the Toledo Walleye resumed play in their new arena for the 2009–2010 season. The cost of suspending operations to an ECHL franchise was "about $100,000" in 2003, and has remained unchanged as of the 2011-12 ECHL season.
On March 30, 2009, the Dayton Bombers and Mississippi Sea Wolves announced that they would suspend operations for the 2009–10 season, while the Phoenix RoadRunners announced that they will cease operations at the end of the 2008–09 season. Dayton would receive a franchise in the International Hockey League and Biloxi, MS would receive a team in the Southern Professional Hockey League the following year.
On February 15, 2010, the Tribune-Democrat reported that the Johnstown Chiefs, the only remaining founding franchise of the East Coast Hockey League to remain in its original city, would be relocating to Greenville, South Carolina, the former home of the Greenville Grrrowl (1998–2006) following the completion of the 2009-10 season.
The Victoria Salmon Kings, the only Canadian franchise in league history, folded following their Western Conference finals loss in the 2011 Kelly Cup playoffs to make way for a Western Hockey League franchise at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre. RG Properties opted to withdraw the franchise from the ECHL with full approval from the league's Board of Governors, folding the franchise instead of selling the club's ECHL rights to be moved to another market, marking the end of a franchise that began with the Erie Panthers, one of the ECHL charter teams.
The league announced on April 6, 2012, that the expansion franchise Chicago Express had withdrawn from the ECHL, effective immediately. The Express finished their inaugural season ninth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 34 wins, 26 losses, 8 overtime losses, and 4 losses in shootouts, eliminating them from playoff contention. The team also finished last in the league for attendance, averaging 2,508 fans per game (compared to the league average of 4,282 fans per game).
Four former ECHL franchises have been directly replaced in their respective markets by American Hockey League franchises. The Greensboro Monarchs were the first, being replaced by the Carolina Monarchs in 1995. The Hampton Roads Admirals were the second, giving way to the Norfolk Admirals in 2000. The Peoria Rivermen were the third. In their case, the replacement franchise retained the Worcester IceCats history but assumed the Rivermen identity for their first AHL season of 2005-06. The Charlotte Checkers were the fourth, yielding to a franchise that retained the Albany River Rats history following the club's move to Charlotte following the 2009-10 season and assumed the Checkers identity. In each case, the ECHL franchise was relinquished to the league by its respective ownership group.
Kelly Cup playoff format 
For the 2012-13 season, eight teams still qualify in the Eastern Conference: the three division winners plus the next five teams in the conference. With the addition of the expansion franchise in San Francisco, the Board of Governors changed the Western Conference seeding such that eight teams qualify: two division winners and the next six teams in the conference. This eliminated the Western Conference first-round bye.
Similar to the NHL, the division winners are seeded as the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference and the top two seeds in the Western Conference; the conference winner faces the eighth seed, second faces seventh, third faces sixth and fourth faces fifth in the conference quarterfinal round. The winner of the 1st/8th series plays the winner of the 4th/5th series while 2nd/7th winner plays against the 3rd/6th winner in the conference semifinal series.
The Board of Governors also elected to change the playoff format such that all rounds of the playoffs are now best of seven series. For 2012-13, the Conference Finals and Kelly Cup Finals will use a two-referee system.
ECHL Hall of Fame 
In celebration of the league's 20th year of play, the ECHL Board of Governors created the ECHL Hall of Fame in 2008, to recognize the achievements of players, coaches, and personnel who dedicated their careers to the league.
See also 
- Kelly Cup
- ECHL All-Star Game
- ECHL Hall of Fame
- List of ECHL seasons
- List of developmental and minor sports leagues
- List of ice hockey leagues
- Sports league attendances
- "Collective Bargaining Agreement between National Hockey League and National Hockey League Players' Association". NHL and NHLPA. July 22, 2005. Retrieved November 19, 2010.
- Press release (July 14, 2008). "ECHL Toolbar Available Now". ECHL. Archived from the original on July 19, 2008. Retrieved July 15, 2008.
- Press release (June 21, 2010). "Annual ECHL Board of Governors Meeting Concludes". ECHL. Retrieved November 11, 2010.
- Dheenshaw, Cleve (May 7, 2011). "RG opts to fold Salmon Kings franchise". Times Colonist. Retrieved May 19, 2011.
- Selvam, Ashok (June 19, 2010). "Sears Centre to house new hockey team". Daily Herald. Retrieved June 20, 2010.
- Press release (May 31, 2011). "Board of Governors approves expansion membership for Colorado". ECHL. Retrieved June 6, 2011.
- Abdur-Rahman, Sulaiman (July 6, 2011). "ECHL's Trenton Devils suspend operations". The Trentonian. Retrieved July 7, 2011.
- Rosenau, Joshua (July 27, 2011). "Trenton Titans minor league hockey team to be revived at Sun National Bank Center". The Times of Trenton. Retrieved July 28, 2011.
- Press release (July 28, 2011). "ECHL Board of Governors approves membership for Trenton Titans". ECHL. Retrieved July 28, 2011.
- Press Release. "Annual ECHL Board of Governors Meeting Concludes". ECHL. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
- Press release (February 17, 2010). "ECHL Concludes Mid-Season Board of Governors Meeting". ECHL. Retrieved November 19, 2010.
- "ECHL Club Goes Dormant Indefinitely; More Teams To Follow?". sportsbusinessdaily.com. April 2, 2003. Retrieved July 3, 2012.
- Press release (March 30, 2009). "ECHL Concludes Mid-Season Board of Governors Meeting". ECHL. Retrieved November 19, 2009.
- Mastovich, Mike (February 15, 2010). "Chiefs plan to move franchise to South Carolina". Tribune-Democrat. Retrieved February 15, 2010.
- Press release (April 6, 2012). "Chicago withdraws membership from ECHL". ECHL. Retrieved April 6, 2012.
- "Standings 2011-12 Season - Conference". ECHL. Archived from the original on April 6, 2012.
- "Attendance Report". ECHL. Archived from the original on April 6, 2012.
- Scott, David (February 11, 2010). "Checkers moving up in world". Charlotte Observer. Retrieved February 11, 2010.
- Press release (September 27, 2012). "Board of Governors approves playoff format, reserve list". ECHL. Archived from the original on October 12, 2012.
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