While the Carolina Hurricanes may be sending their AHL-bound prospects a bit further away than Charlotte for the upcoming season, the prospects will be heading to an organization with a long tenure in professional hockey.
A Brief History of the Wolves
The Wolves celebrated their 25th anniversary season in 2019-20, as they began play in October 1994 as part of the now-defunct International Hockey League (IHL). The IHL began expanding during the mid-1980s and early 1990s, including to major markets like Chicago which already had resident NHL teams.
The early years of the Wolves saw several iconic players take the ice including Steve Maltais, who still holds essentially all franchise scoring records; goaltender Wendell Young, now the team’s general manager; defenseman Steve Konroyd, currently a local TV host for Chicago Blackhawks games; defenseman Bob Nardella, currently an assistant coach for the Wolves, and former Blackhawks legend Al Secord.
The Wolves positioned themselves as a less expensive, more exciting alternative to the Chicago Blackhawks, who spent much of the 1990s and early 2000s being largely irrelevant on the ice. During that era, the Wolves captured two Turner Cups in 1998 and 2000.
When the IHL disbanded in 2001, the Wolves were admitted into the AHL, where they also became the affiliate of the Atlanta Thrashers, a partnership which brought together Wolves chairman Don Levin and Don Waddell, then the general manager of the Thrashers.
The partnership with the Thrashers lasted until 2011; during that time, the Wolves won two Calder Cups (2002, 2008) and lost in the finals in 2005. When the Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg, the partnership with the Wolves ended, beginning a period of years marked by somewhat of a revolving door of NHL affiliations.
The Wolves partnered with the Vancouver Canucks from 2011-13, St. Louis Blues from 2013-17, and Vegas Golden Knights from 2017-20. Two of the three partnerships ended as the parent NHL club chose to acquire their own AHL team to be able to have increased control over the organization and operations.
The Canucks partnership ended when Vancouver’s ownership purchased the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen and relocated the team to Utica, NY. The Golden Knights partnership ended when Vegas announced that they were purchasing the San Antonio Rampage and relocating them to Henderson, NV. (The Blues, incidentally, chose not to renew their partnership with the Wolves, instead aligning with the Rampage, which now no longer exist.)
Being one of the few surviving teams from the IHL, and now just one of a handful of independently owned and operated AHL teams, the Wolves have always thrived on being outsiders. Their jerseys, logo, and color schemes have never even made the slightest of nods to the parent NHL club — something that seemed fairly strategic during the years they played host to prospects from the Blackhawks’ most hated rivals.
They frequently had their own coaching staff, not closely connected with the NHL affiliate, leading to the perception that personnel and playing decisions were being made solely in the hunt of winning games rather than player development.
Over the past several years, most recently with now-former head coach Rocky Thompson, the coaching staff has largely been controlled by the NHL team, leading to more balanced player usage and less of a reliance on well-known veterans on AHL contracts. There are currently 11 former Wolves in the playoff bubble for the Vegas Golden Knights, with five of them seeing playing time in the post-season.
Notable Chicago Wolves Players
Wendell Young: First player to have his number retired by the organization. Played 1994-2001. Holds the franchise records in wins (169) and shutouts (16). Currently the team’s general manager.
Steve Maltais: Played from 1994-2005. Second player to have his number retired by the organization. Holds franchise records for total points (950), goals (454), assists (526), penalty minutes (1061), and games played (839).
Darren Haydar: Inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame in January 2020. Played between 2006-08 and 2010-13. Remains the AHL’s all-time leader in playoff goals (63), assists (80) and points (143).
Dan Snyder: Played 2001-03. Passed away in 2003 after injuries sustained in a car accident. The Wolves award the Dan Snyder Man of the Year award annually to the “player who demonstrates the most outstanding dedication to Chicago-area community service each year.”
Chris Chelios: Played 46 games in his final professional season, 2009-10.
Dallas Eakins: Current Anaheim Ducks coach, played 1998-2003.
Jordan Binnington: Played 119 games between 2013-17.
Jake Allen: Played 52 games in 2013-14.
Kari Lehtonen: Played 102 games between 2003-05, 2007-08, and 2009-10.
Patrick Brown, Nicolas Roy, Shea Theodore, Alex Tuch, Zach Whitecloud: Current Golden Knights players who have seen post-season action. Brown and Roy played in Chicago in 2019-20, Theodore and Tuch played for part of 2018-19, and Whitecloud played in both seasons.